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Ward 8's Parklands a model for neighborhood revitalization

As the federal government returns control of St. Elizabeths East and Walter Reed to the DC government, the District has an opportunity to re-envision those neighborhoods. The Parklands in Ward 8, a neighborhood that has seen dramatic improvement over the last 2 decades, offers a successful model of equitable development.

Photo by DG-rad on Flickr.

The Parklands succeeded with a combination of a for-profit developer, passionate residents, a community development corporation, nonprofits, newly-opened federal land, and federal investment incentives. Hey, no one ever said this stuff was easy.

In the early 1990s, the Parklands in the Congress Heights neighborhood of Southeast, DC was a 1,400 apartment complex with a rate of a murder a month per block. "But in 1991, in the midst of a drug and crime wave that had hit Southeast especially hard, the high rate of casualties was hardly unprecedented" writes Tony Proscio, author of Becoming What We Can Be: Stories of Community Development in Washington, DC.

The book then goes on to chronicle the magnificent turn-around of first the Parklands, then the neighborhood as a whole. Despite the blight and crime, a number of residents were determined to work together to make it a better place. Even before redevelopment occurred, community leader Brenda Jones founded the Parklands Community Center to provide youth with a safe space to learn and play.

Then in 1991 William C Smith & Co. acquired the Parklands apartment complex and renovated it to include "smaller scale clusters of 'villages' within the wider area. The renamed 'Villages of Parklands, which formally opened in 1994, made room for the humanizing lawns and walkways that contribute not only to social interaction and recreation but, just as important, to safety."

It became clear amid the rejuvenation of the neighborhood that children needed a place to grow and learn. William C Smith & Co teamed up with the nonprofit Building Bridges Across the River (BBAR) to create a community center for Ward 8. Through generous contributions from local philanthropic organizations and the District of Columbia government, and the hard work of BBAR, the Town Hall Education, Arts, and Recreation Campus (THEARC) was born.

THEARC sits on a site formerly used by the Department of the Interior, which was returned to the District after sitting vacant for years. Today, it houses the Washington Middle School for Girls, Boys and Girls Club, a Children's National Medical Center clinic, the Washington Ballet, Corcoran College of Art & Design, and the Levine School of Music.

By 2007, a grocery store opened in the neighborhood, the first in two decades. The Giant at the Shops at Park Village was made possible through the city's use of land that had previously been Camp Simms Military Base, investment leveraged by the New Markets Tax Credit, the advocacy of the East of the River Community Development Corporation, and William C Smith & Co. Today, a neighborhood once ridden with crime and blight now has a grocery store, a sit down restaurant, a world class community center, and truly mixed income housing; from subsidized housing, to rental, to single family homes.

This large-scale redevelopment was made possible because of the commitment of the private, nonprofit, and government sectors. It was the ability to leverage investment in a multitude of ways that made redevelopment of the Parklands inclusive for all levels of income. The redevelopment of St. Elizabeths and Walter Reed should look to emulate this model.

For more stories of community redevelopment in Washington, including Columbia Heights, Edgewood Terrace, and H St, check out Becoming What We Can Be: Stories of Community Development in Washington, DC by Tony Proscio.

Elizabeth Falcon is the campaign organizer for the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development (CNHED), an association of affordable housing developers, community organizations, government agencies and more in DC. She writes about how policies affect affordable housing at the Housing For All blog. 


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Nice article.

I have pointed out on this blog time and again that there is a lot of development in W8, and the prices are much lower than EotR. There is still a lot more available land to develop here. This is a good neighborhood that closer to downtown than most of upper NW. People need to see what a tremendous opportunity this area is.

by goldfish on Oct 15, 2012 10:33 am • linkreport

If I don't have a Kindle is there a way to get a hard copy of this?

by John Muller on Oct 15, 2012 11:12 am • linkreport

The book is available for Kindle, Nook, and iPad. You can also buy a PDF at A limited number of hard copies were produced. You can find out more information about how to contact me at

by Quinn Pregliasco on Oct 15, 2012 11:17 am • linkreport

You can also read kindle books on your browser unless I'm mistaken.

by drumz on Oct 15, 2012 11:49 am • linkreport

Kindle makes apps for almost all devices...

by Ms. D on Oct 15, 2012 4:56 pm • linkreport

A bit of a happier story than the reality. Yes, the grocery store, the improvement of the strip mall (love the library in there), the IHOP, and the ARC are all tremendous community assets.

But some of the facts are off here: First, W.C. Smith did not partner with Building Bridges Across the River, which suggests a pre-existing community organization. They created BBAR for the express purpose of building the ARC:

Second, there is still high poverty and crime in the Villages at Parkland, and surrounding communities. No, not like the early 90s, but nowhere is like the early 90s any more. But the ARC serves a limited catchment area that could be expanded with more publicity about services, like the Children's Hospital clinic, and a dedicated bus rounding up local youth and transporting them to the facility, eliminating the risk some folks face walking through Parklands to the ARC.

So yes, we've come a ways. We still have a ways to go.

by a change gon' come on Oct 16, 2012 7:02 pm • linkreport

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