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Kenyan McDuffie talks education and growth

With a special election for the Ward 5 seat on the DC Council coming up on May 15, the candidates are hot to deliver their messages and woo voters. Kenyan McDuffie, whom Greater Greater Washington endorsed 2 years ago, is starting to articulate ideas for how he might lead Ward 5.

McDuffie speaks to Ward 5 residents. Image from video by Tom Bridge.

With development opportunities at the McMillan Sand Filtration site, near the Brookland Metro, and along Rhode Island and New York Avenues, there is a lot of change coming to Ward 5 that needs stewardship, oversight, and community input.

McDuffie expressed a commitment to "livable, walkable" communities, nodding his cap to Councilmember Tommy Wells, who uses these words a lot. I hope he, and by extension the residents of Ward 5, do more than use the words.

Ward 5 is home to massive big box development with large surface parking lots, fast-moving commuter roads like Rhode Island and New York Avenues, busy intersections, and has perhaps the least amount of bicycle infrastructure and Capital Bikeshare coverage in the city.

Yet it also has three Red Line Metro stops and the Met Branch trail, and room for new transit-oriented development. McDuffie also mentioned a priority of "solving traffic problems" associated with development. I hope that he, and other candidates in Ward 5, understand the benefits of changes which slow down cars but benefit travel by transit, on foot and by bicycle.

Ward 1 and Capitol Hill provide good examples of residential and retail density with bike infrastucture that create desirable destinations and connections between adjacent communities. The tree-lined streets of residential Ward 5 can have the best of both worlds—good urbanism while preserving a sense of suburban tranquility.

McDuffie has made education a key point of his candidacy, creating an education priorities page on his website. He says he will "tackle truancy," "prepare students for higher education," and "increase vocational programs."

At a recent meet-and-greet, someone asked about the disposition of vacant or underutilized DCPS school buildings. McDuffie gave what I consider the "correct" answer without hesitating: make sure that operators who have shown themselves to be effective at educating kids have a fair crack at the buildings, and if that avenue is exhausted, seek a deal that is good for the city in terms of generating the most revenue.

As with most campaign platforms, the lofty pronouncements may be on the right track but don't delve into as much detail. It's easy to promise to address big problems, but harder to specify exactly how, (or how to pay for any changes). The challenge for voters is to read between the lines and guess what the candidates will do if and when they sit on the council.

The education priorities page does not address school modernization, school funding, or the equity and adequacy issues raised in the recent DC Public Education Finance Reform Commission report (and covered in the Washington Post). It also does not address any of the various education proposals that Kwame Brown has floated in the past few weeks. Will McDuffie side with Brown or take a different approach? What about the other Ward 5 hopefuls?

I look forward to hearing more about the specifics of McDuffie's views, and what the other Ward 5 candidates and at-large candidates running in the April primary have to say. I hope they will write position papers on their website, post on this blog, and even engage with voters in comments.

Steven Glazerman is an economist who studies education policy and specializes in teacher labor markets. He has lived in the DC area off and on since 1987 and settled in the U Street neighborhood in 2001. He is a Senior Fellow at Mathematica Policy Research, but any of his views expressed here are his own and do not represent Mathematica. 


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I love the criticism of the Home Depot on RI Ave. If that Home Depot (and its parking lot) didn't exist, every single homeowner, handyman, and contractor doing work in this city would have to travel to DC or MD, and give them the tax revenue and jobs, to buy what they need. An of course, I am sure that few "mom and pop" hardware stores would easily take up the slack of the 100 or so employees of the Home Depot that would be lost...

That Home Depot does more for the economic health of that Ward than a 100 bike trails ever could. If anything, Ward 5 should demand that its council member try to get a Lowes to open up as well.

by dcdriver on Mar 1, 2012 2:03 pm • linkreport

dcdriver: You're absolutely right, those jobs wouldn't exist if the Home Depot wasn't there. You're also asserting a position that doesn't exist - that we can't chew gum and walk at the same time in Ward 5.

There's absolutely nothing that says things like Home Depot couldn't be built in a way that's smarter and a more efficient use of limited land resources in our city, especially land that is adjacent to major transit hubs.

Critiquing poor design choices undertaken in the past isn't a blanket indictment, it's what smart leaders do when looking to see how we can do things better going forward.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 1, 2012 2:12 pm • linkreport

I would say that that Home Depot has been a tremendous boon... to people who live 3 to 8 miles away from it.

Stakeholders could have insisted on a more creative design that fits in with the urban environment. Even Walmart has proposed some sensible ways to embed big box retail into an urban fabric. It can be done.

by Steven Glazerman on Mar 1, 2012 2:13 pm • linkreport

Critiquing poor design choices undertaken in the past isn't a blanket indictment, it's what smart leaders do when looking to see how we can do things better going forward

The "critiques" go beyond the usual "I wish XYZ." Instead, (at least the blogs I've read) they are indeed blanket indictments usually like "well if they really were 'smart' and 'concerned about the city', they would have done..." It's an over and done w/story now and constant harping makes many people roll their eyes. You can't reinvent the wheel but you can make future ones ride more smoothly.

"Those poor people, only if they were smart like us, they would have done..."

Monday morning quarterbacking.

by HogWash on Mar 1, 2012 3:01 pm • linkreport

@Geoff: hardware stores present unique challenges because of the large and unwieldy nature of many of the items that they sell. Almost nobody going there is planning to buy things that they can take home with them by bike or metro, and they will want space to be able to both bring their cars and stage them to load purchases into them. I agree that many other traditionally-big-box stores like Target have done a commendable job of fitting into the urban landscape of DC, but the strategies Target employed (like shared underground parking) are much more practical for people buying socks than those buying 4'x8' sheets of drywall.

I'm saying all of this as a ward 5 resident, cyclist, and non-car-owner, but also as someone who has participated in semi-extensive home renovations that involved that Home Depot. We found its accessibility very useful, and almost all of our trips there involved borrowing a car or getting a zipcar, despite the fact that getting to the home depot by bike would have been easy.

Maybe, then, that just means that if we accept cars as necessary for a hardware store, we shouldn't waste transit-accessible real estate on building one, and it should move, or maybe there are, indeed, strategies to make it more urban, but as much as I agree with you that the current strip-mall-ish situation is an eyesore, I'm skeptical that the lessons of Target or Wal-Mart are directly applicable here.

by Andrew Pendleton on Mar 1, 2012 3:02 pm • linkreport


We can do better.

The problem isn't Home Depot as a retailer; rather it's a problem with a suburban big box next to a metro station.

by Alex B. on Mar 1, 2012 3:16 pm • linkreport

Worth reading this press release about the Manhattan Home Depot. Delivery services are available for things you can't walk out of the store with.

Home Depot knows how to do an urban format store, and that means more than just store layout - it means understanding that retailing to those that might travel by means other than a private vehicle requires different thinking. That kind of "best practice" wasn't pushed in DC.

I'd say it's fair to note that the councilmember whose braggadocio about bringing this store (whose pigment matches his last name) still doesn't think about best practices like this when he discusses development. Would that he would "get it."

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 1, 2012 3:30 pm • linkreport

@Alex: other hardware stores in DC look very similar to the one in the picture you linked to, with no parking besides street parking (Logan Hardware and True Value on 17th both spring to mind), but they have almost no inventory of building materials, large appliances, or large power tools. They're great if you need a hammer or some screws, but that's a small subset of what a larger hardware store sells. I don't see how that store would be able to accommodate ten customers all trying to get tens or hundreds of pounds of lumber home at the same time, and I've easily seen that many vehicles being loaded in the staging area at the RI Ave store on a Saturday.

I generally consider myself to be a fan of new urbanist thinking, but why does urbanism have to mean city dwellers can't buy building materials or appliances without going out to the suburbs? Zipcar and the like have allowed our household to be car-free, but the calculus around car ownership would certainly be different if we not only had to get a zipcar to buy large items, but also had to drive it three times as far as we do now, and pay the additional rental fees to cover that extra time, because our preoccupation with maximizing density meant that entire categories of goods couldn't be sold within the city at all. Maybe that kind of thing is not a huge concern in Manhattan, which is dominated by renters in big apartment buildings who don't do their own maintenance, but ward 5 has high levels of home ownership, and needing home improvement supplies is, I would wager, common enough that it should be accommodated within the rubric of making ward 5 a "livable community."

@Geoff: delivery services are offered at the RI ave Home Depot, too, but they require a minimum order and are fairly expensive, particularly as compared to getting a zipcar. I worry about the tendency of supporters of smart growth to speak from a position of privilege: "you don't need a parking lot; you can just bike here and then pay $75 to have your materials delivered the one mile back to your house" sounds a little too Marie Antoinette-ish for my comfort. Granted, that's potentially just an organizational policy problem at this particular store that could be resolved with political pressure, but delivery is not the answer to all problems.

by Andrew Pendleton on Mar 1, 2012 4:09 pm • linkreport

is galliher and huguely still in business? isnt that a lumberyard in the district?

by CuriousaboutLumber on Mar 1, 2012 4:34 pm • linkreport


Yes, fitting a Home Depot into an urban environment is tough. I don't think anybody is disputing you on that one. But that development has been a disaster in the way that it has cut the neighborhood off from the metro stop as well as the retail in that shopping center. Is it reasonable to expect the Home Depot to have only street parking or only a small garage? Probably not. But why not build a multi-deck parking garage and stick it behind the store rather than in the front? Heck, they even built something like that at their store in Springfield. Or if you absolutely need all that surface parking (which is never full), then why not make it so the grocery store, shoe store, etc. have the option to have entrances that address the street? Why not intersperse some residential with all those stores? That development wasn't even built that long ago. It's not like it went up in the 80s or something - even though it looks that way.

by J on Mar 1, 2012 7:00 pm • linkreport

Steven nails it...

Yes, the jobs are great. It's awesome to not have to go to the suburbs for major home improvement purposes, but the store still could have been built in a way that better suits the urban, transit-accessible environment that it inhabits. I walk through that parking lot every day. Even a *few* minor improvements would make this experience 900% better. Like, how about you leave a pedestrian walkway in the existing fire lane, rather than using every single square inch of it for displays? To be fair, their current garden center display is MILES better than anything they've done before...they left a walkway BEHIND a few rows of plants, allowing me to walk past without walking out into traffic (we'll see if this continues through the season), but they have a large display of picnic tables and sheds that's pretty hard to get around, and they do NOTHING to keep people from parking in the fire lane and blocking it up for anyone that needs to use it (um, including the fire department). The ship has sailed on the placement of the loading zone (they could have moved the store over a few feet and placed it on the side of the store, meaning that pedestrians would have to cross a lane of traffic rather than a cluster of parking, forklifts, etc.), but they could do some moderately-intensive work to put a sidewalk outside of the covered area (this would require moving some landscaping islands to keep the travel lane wide enough, hence moderately intensive), and paint some crosswalk stripes to the walk, and improve its placement vastly. They could also move the doors to the garden center and the attendant displays (and people pulling up to load their cars) to the side of the store and improve the situation immensely there. It's not like that section of the parking lot ever has more than a few cars in it, anyway.

By far, though, my biggest beef with Home Depot is being a bad neighbor. Graffiti is rampant on their property, and it takes them a good long time to clean it up, if they do at all. Trash is EVERYWHERE (would a few trash cans kill couldn't hurt to try this). I'm constantly encountering day laborers drinking, gambling, using drugs, etc. on their property, and they just don't seem to care. I get the lack of a loitering law, but they could certainly do more to help enforce public nuisance issues on their property. The worst part is, management DOES NOT CARE, neither about how they impose on the community nor about the shopping experience in their store. Trust me, we have complained...and complained and complained and complained...about things that are well within the power of management to fix, and they do little or nothing in response to our complaints. They're there, and they'll darn well do as they please.

I could come up with several ways the store itself could have been built in a more urban-friendly manner, but I'm a realist and will settle for making the parking lot reasonably safe for people to walk through and improving their environment for both shoppers and members of the surrounding community. At most, I'm asking them to invest a couple thousand dollars in pedestrian improvements, graffiti removal, better security, trash mitigation, and customer service. Not much, for a store that I've heard is near the top of the heap in terms of revenue.

by Ms. D on Mar 1, 2012 7:14 pm • linkreport

Oh, and I also really like McDuffie. He seems to get it, far more than any of the other candidates. I didn't run into any of his canvassers for his petition to run (shame, he's the one I was most excited to see), but I know who I'll be voting for - again - this spring. I've noticed a lot of new blood in the 'hood in the last few years...time to start chatting up the new neighbors about him...

by Ms. D on Mar 1, 2012 7:34 pm • linkreport

It's one thing to talk about education but what has he actually done about education. McDuffie and Zapata were the only candidates who bothered to even attend the ward 5 community meeting held by DCPS. McDuffie didn't speak but Zapata was all over DCPS. She spearheaded the whole campaign for a ward 5 middle school. I want to read an article comparing what candidates have actually done since moving to the ward rather than promises.

by Ward 5 mommy on Mar 13, 2012 10:10 pm • linkreport

Ward 5 mommy: From McDuffie's bio on his website, he was "a board member of the McKinley Technology Campus Corporation, which assisted with the reopening of the school," so that's something that he has actually, actively done involving schools in Ward 5.

Regarding the end of your comment ("since moving to the ward"), he was born and raised in Ward 5. Just to clarify that he's not "moving in" to run.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Mar 14, 2012 6:56 am • linkreport

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