Greater Greater Washington

Zoning


Fear is driving our zoning debates

Would DC's zoning update or a small change to the Height Act bring concrete towers and crab-shaped buildings to Capitol Hill and displace all of the families? (No.)


Photo by Ace Reston on Flickr.

A piece of fiction by the local historic organization raises that fear, and illustrates a key theme that Mike DeBonis explores in an article this weekend: our current planning and zoning debates have somehow taken on mythical proportions far out of scale to what's actually in any of the proposals. That's because the strife stems from some deep anxieties about the ways DC is changing.

We might not be able to stave off this hysteria, but we can keep it from steering officials or the Zoning Commission into a ditch by showing up at the zoning update public meetings this Saturday and next week, and pledging to testify when the time comes.

Cody Rice alerted us to this month's column by Capitol Hill Restoration Society President Janet Quigley:

The Capitol should have been beautiful on this clear night, but my view was blocked by a cement bridge connecting two high-rise office towers, built soon after the Height Act was repealed, on either side of the avenue. ... Across 7th Street loomed a large platinum building that looked like a crab. "Maybe those twisted corbels weren't so bad after all," I thought, as a streetcar lurched up 7th toward the car barn formerly known as the Eastern Market.

[Tunni's] moved to a bigger space at 9th and Penn. The mechanic who usedta be there closed up when they banned cars in the District a coupla years ago.

We walked down North Carolina Avenue toward Folger Park, past blocks of darkened houses sporting brass plaques for every imaginable trade association. I noticed two vacant school buildings and asked, "Where are the kids?" Clarence scowled at me as if I should know better. "Where do you think they'd be? All the houses have gone commercial and the biggest apartment built is a one-bedroom. They've moved away, along with their families and seniors and people who need affordable housing.

But they get a big kick out of coming back to visit Union Station. That casino in the main hall makes everyone a winner." A train blasted its horn as it rumbled by on Virginia Avenue, followed by another, and then another.

Two main themes jump out here. First is the evident, dripping contempt for all things transit. Streetcars "lurch" down the street and displace, rather than enhance, a market that was originally built around the streetcar.

Meanwhile, it's a tragedy that a beloved tavern was able to grow to take over a former mechanic's shop. An industrial use for cars is nostalgia; a train is a blight.

It's most ironic because streetcars were a historic element of Capitol Hill, as Topher Mathews pointed out. One might think a "restoration" society would want to restore historic transportation systems.

But before we mock this story too much, it illustrates an important second point: the way many people feel even small changes could start down a slippery slope to chaos. Make the smallest tweak in the Height Act, and in the blink of an eye there will be towers and concrete bridges astride Pennsylvania Avenue. Allow a few corner stores in residential neighborhoods, and before long there'll be nothing left but trade associations and one-bedroom apartments.

It's not only a rhetorical device; there are people who feel that each and every zoning rule, no matter how outdated or arbitrary or ill-fitting our neighborhoods' current needs, represents a hard-fought bulwark against ruin. The District is already changing rapidly; many fear a small push send it out of control.

That's the sentiment DeBonis captured in his article:

District planning officials are rewriting the city's zoning rules for the first time in 54 years, a process that has hastened anxieties about growth and at times has erupted into a pitched debate about the future of the city.

The proposed changes are smallallowing a corner store here, fewer parking spaces therebut the debate has grown in recent months ... The process, underway for four years, has been complicated as the debate has grown to encompass anxieties over city growth that have little to do with the zoning proposalsthe proliferation of bicycle amenities, new parking policies and a proposal to relax the federal law restricting building heights.

Thus, even fairly timid changes have become an epic battle.

The problem is that the zoning code is deeply flawed. It doesn't actually reflect the historic patterns of the city, unless you consider only construction after 1960 to be historic. It doesn't prohibit most of the things many residents really dislike, like ugly pop-ups or teardowns and McMansions, but it does prohibit the land use patterns that created places like Capitol Hill in the first place.

The code is too confusing and many restrictions burden homeowners even from making changes that enjoy near-universal support. Without fixes, the District won't stop changing, it just might grow and evolve in an even worse way thanks to restrictions designed to force people into suburban patterns of living back when planners thought anything else was "obsolete."

It would be wonderful if one could assuage these fears, or at least convince people that the zoning update's actual changes won't bring Armageddon. So far, despite the Office of Planning's efforts to patiently explain and re-explain plans at an endless series of neighborhood and community association meetings almost all in Ward 3, where the opposition centers, it hasn't worked; opponents keep repeating false and alarmist claims about the secret conspiracy to force everyone out of cars.

The only thing we can do is try to educate city leaders and convince them to let the process move forward. That's why it's crucial to attend one of the upcoming zoning update meetings this Saturday 12/8 in Southwest Waterfront, Tuesday 12/11 in Penn Quarter, or Thursday 12/13 in Anacostia. And pledge to testify when the hearings begin before the Zoning Commission.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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Thanks for the heads up on this piece. This is the kind of insider talk that needs to be publicized more broadly.

Of course, now that we know that they can't be trusted on accurately reporting on zoning, why in the world does anybody listen to them on preservation?

Wally

by Wallace Eldridge on Dec 3, 2012 1:14 pm • linkreport

I read the post article expecting to find a bunch of fear mongoring over the Height Restriction being lifted, and it's all about parking. The height stuff all comes from an opinion piece in a local paper that isn't even aware that DC had streetcars. It's a bit unfair to lump the height issue in with all the other necessary changes as if you need to be for all, or you're engaging in fear mongoring.
Many of the changes being proposed are the same laws that enabled our population to reached 800k, without touching the height restriction. It would help your argument if you separated fear mongering from legitimate issues.

by Thayer-D on Dec 3, 2012 1:18 pm • linkreport

The issue with "concrete towers" though isn't such fiction though because that's a lot of what replaced the older "main street" fabric of downtown and inner neighborhoods. I still contend if the archtiectural profession dealt with why so much new building was antithetical to a nice pedestrian environment, you'd see a lot less pressure from preservationists insisting on keeping all the older buildings. For more perspective on that preservation, it helps remembering that we destroyed so much in every American town, that it's natural for the old guard to man the ramparts at any mention of change. (They've been hurt before...) It's also worth remembering that those where the folks taking all the heat to preserve the charming blocks of U Street and Logan circle from further destruction.

by Thayer-D on Dec 3, 2012 1:24 pm • linkreport

Quigley is so rabidly anti-development of any sort that she's laughably out of touch--except for the fact that her position of president of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society gives her a platform to appear legitimate and the result is people take ehr seriously. CHRS, Committee of 100, and the rest of these sorts of "citizen groups" are a relentless impedimet to geting anything done.

by Birdie on Dec 3, 2012 1:26 pm • linkreport

The Capitol was beautiful on this clear night, framed by an unencumbered view between museums, residences, and office towers on either side of the avenue.

Across 7th Street loomed a brilliant platinum building that appeared to pay homage to local blue crabs. "Maybe those twisted corbels weren't so bad after all," I thought, as a streetcar glided up 7th toward the car barn which fit in nicely near Eastern Market, complementing each other and helping restore the historic aesthetic.

The mechanic at 9th and Penn closed up when, a couple years ago, they allotted more space to the bustle of customers walking and cycling about. He decided to embrace his passion for beer and open his own brewery there on the corner, now a popular destination.

We walked down North Carolina Avenue toward Folger Park, past blocks of pretty houses sporting brass plaques for every imaginable trade association, dazzlingly decorated as part of a friendly Christmas competition.

I noticed two vacant school buildings and asked, "Where are the kids?" Clarence scowled at me as if I should know better. "Where do you think they'd be? It's a weekend: they're playing out in the parks -- a great amenity to families and seniors and those who choose or can't afford naught but free recreation.

But they get a big kick out of coming back to visit Union Station, with its magnificent trains coming and going every few minutes. That casino in the main hall caters to some though I personally choose to pass it by. A train rolled by on Virginia Avenue, followed by another, and then another, bringing in more and more goods to our markets.

by Bossi on Dec 3, 2012 1:30 pm • linkreport

I am delighted we have identified the height act as a bogeyman

by Charlie on Dec 3, 2012 1:51 pm • linkreport

@Bossi,

A chilling look at our dystopian future. Well done.

by Oboe on Dec 3, 2012 1:53 pm • linkreport

We all know that the original Tunnicliffs was at 9th and Penn, right? The building was eventually a beer garden and was torn down in the 30s to build a service station (not the one on the site now).

I'd assume CHRS would WELCOME a return to the site's historic usage, no?

On the other hand, I have to recommend Distad's (the service station there now). Excellent service, and just walking distance from Tunni's current incarnation!

by Tim Krepp on Dec 3, 2012 2:06 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D,

I think the "legitimate issues vs fear mongering" affects all issues. There are reasonable and unreasonable approaches to the height limit. Ms. Quigley's is clearly unreasonable. There are also reasonable and unreasonable approaches to parking, development and whatever.

The main question is, when someone publicly expresses an argument so unreasonable why even try to engage in a debate over it?

by drumz on Dec 3, 2012 2:10 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D: about 9-10 years ago I heard a speech by Andres Duany where he made a point related to yours. He said that cities as they grew went through cycles of building-demolishing-building bigger etc. and that it has only been the last 50 years when that process wasn't iteratively positive. Meaning that in the earlier cycles the new (and bigger/better) was better. Now when something is torn down and the site is rebuilt it's usually worse than what it replaces.

Although the broader discussions wrt zoning update are more complicated. They do touch on legitimate issues that need to be discussed. At the same time they do reflect fear of change. Hey, we all have that kind of fear. And for the most part it gets at the conundrum I discuss a lot, that plannning has two priorities, achieving citywide and neighborhood objectives, but typically residents only care about neighborhood objectives, whether or not they are congruent with overall goals and policies, and that this sets the stage for acrimony.

by Richard Layman on Dec 3, 2012 2:28 pm • linkreport

I fear that lifting the height act could attract financial resources into the downtown area that would otherise be directed east of the Anacostia River and/or to the vacant land surrounding Metro stations in Prince Georges County.

But I have no real evidence.

by JimT on Dec 3, 2012 2:32 pm • linkreport

The logical next question should therefore be "What is driving that fear?"

Some of it, invariably, is status quo stubbornness, a dislike of anything that might affect one's current surroundings and preferences, and just plain "Old Man Yells at Cloud" curmudgeonliness.

I suspect that at least some of the sharp and fearful reaction, particularly from those who are not fully-versed in all the nuances and intricacies of smart growth/urbanism/TOD/etc., comes from the absolute terms in which some of the arguments are being made.

If density is presented as a kind of cure-all, then one can see how a lower-information resident may believe that the ultimate goal is to recreate Manhattan - or Shanghai or Kowloon Walled City.

Similarly, if the arguments regarding the Height Act are all made as absolute arguments against any height limit, without any caveats or restrictions, then it becomes much easier to believe that urbanists' ultimate goal is Matt Yglesias's fantasy of skyscrapers covering every inch of central Washington. If mixed-use is always good and always better than single-use, then it is much easier to believe that urbanists want to attach a Cosi to the Vietnam Memorial and put an Apple store in the Library of Congress. If TOD means that every space around a Metro station not occupied by a high-rise is a mistake to be corrected, then charges that the pro-growth set would see Arlington Cemetery decked over by condos and the National Zoo turned into Woodley Town Center.

Long story short: when arguing for making changes to the status quo, it is risky to lead with all absolute arguments and then bury the caveats and qualifications in the footnotes. Assuaging people that your goal is not to turn the world upside is made more difficult when the logical end of all your stated arguments - at least in their simplest, most commonly-stated form - would, in fact, lead to radical transformation.

by Dizzy on Dec 3, 2012 2:41 pm • linkreport

Ditto Tim Krepp. We all know that that the original Tunnicliff's was at 9th & PA?!? At least, the President of the Capitol Hill Parking - er Restoration - Society must know that. Right?!? How could she not know that?!? Even dumb old me knows that.

Nobody who is really serious about historic preservation and the integrity of historic neighborhoods would argue that a gas station (regardless of how excellent their service) with a design appropriate to an aging 1960s highway strip is a more integral part of a late-19th century historic district that blossomed during the streetcar era than a historic tavern or ... a streetcar. Therefore, CHPS -- er CHRS -- must not be a serious historic preservation organization. That's the only conclusion I can reach if their President is taking a pro-gas station, anti-historic tavern and anti-streetcar position.

In the end, I agree that it's fun (and easy) to critique and deconstruct Quigley's piece. But it's also really sad that a historic preservation outfit that did so much to save the neighborhood has become the preeminent champion of plentiful parking and gas stations and the leading opponent of the mode of electric rail transit around which the neighborhood developed.

Sigh....

by rg on Dec 3, 2012 2:47 pm • linkreport

Ironically, the neighborhood preservation movement was sparked by the insertion of gas stations into neighborhoods. Putting gas stations in the Old Charleston neighborhood in Charleston, SC touched off the neighborhood preservation movement around 1920.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Preservation_Society_of_Charleston

by Richard Layman on Dec 3, 2012 3:14 pm • linkreport

"If demoscray is presented as a kind of cure-all, then one can see how a lower-information Tory may believe that the ultimate goal is to Revolutionary France - or Cromwells regime, or "democratic" Athens at its worst.

Similarly, if the arguments regarding the expanding the power of the propertyless are all made as absolute arguments against any limit, without any caveats or restrictions, then it becomes much easier to believe that democrats' ultimate goal is Marx'st fantasy of a dictatatorship of the proletariat, in which property has been abolished . If soveriengy of the Commons is always good and always better than mixed soveregienty, then it is much easier to believe that democarts want abolish upper houses of legislatures, executive powers, independent judiciaries, and local govts.

Long story short: when arguing for making changes to the status quo, it is risky to lead with all absolute arguments and then bury the caveats and qualifications in the footnotes. Assuaging people that your goal is not to turn the world upside is made more difficult when the logical end of all your stated arguments - at least in their simplest, most commonly-stated form - would, in fact, lead to radical transformation.

"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 3, 2012 3:30 pm • linkreport

IOW - the resistance sounds much like the resistance in pre-Reform Britain- the fear at that time that even the most modest reforms would lead to something like the French Revolution. Its not at all clear that that kind of reaction can be disarmed by the use of caveats and qualifiers on the part of advocates of modest change - there will always be somewhere, a radical advocate, and radical examples. While explaining the limits of the policies one advocates for has its merits, it should not be done to the point it sacrificed clarity, or fails to make the argument for WHY the moderate policy change makes sense - and, I think, it should not be expected that explaining those limits will reduce exaggerations that in at least some cases are made in bad faith.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 3, 2012 3:34 pm • linkreport

Christopher Silver ("The racial origins of zoning: Southern cities from 1910–40," Planning Perspectives, vol. 6, 1991) discusses the motivation for historic preservation in Charleston:
It is significant not only that Charleston still experimented with racial zoning as late as 1931 but also that it was one of the first cities to link racial exclusion to neighborhood preservation. According to the Knowles general city plan, the area embraced by the newly created Old and Historic District, which in 1931 still contained several thousand Black residents, was to become White. The testimony of local preservationists indicates that displacement of Blacks from the historic area was one of the implicit goals of the plan and a desired outcome of neighborhood revitalization.

by Ben Ross on Dec 3, 2012 3:43 pm • linkreport

FWIW I think you're on a very slippery slope. Less careful readers would say you're equating preservation with racism. Granted the South had it then and still has it. And zoning related racist policies were hardly limited to Charleston or the creation of a preservation district there. Also see e.g., if we're gonna quote journal articles:

Connerly, Charles. 2002. “From Racial Zoning to Community Empowerment: The Interstate Highway System and the African-American Community in Birmingham, Alabama.” Journal of Planning Education and Research 22: 99-114.

and even http://www.examiner.com/article/how-blockbusting-and-bigotry-aided-the-downfall-of-baltimore-city

etc. etc.

but there is no question that preservation is used to selectively interpret the past and present and to reshape communities in various ways, see

- http://www.amazon.com/HISTORY-URBAN-PLACES-DISTRICTS-LANDSCAPE/dp/0814207901

- http://www.amazon.com/Preserving-Old-Dominion-Preservation-Traditionalism/dp/0813914507/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354571238&sr=1-1&keywords=preserving+the+old+dominion

- http://www.amazon.com/Preserving-Historic-New-England-Progressivism/dp/0195093631/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1354571260&sr=1-2

also see the definition of "cheerleading" and apply it to local communities, local politics, etc.

by Richard Layman on Dec 3, 2012 4:48 pm • linkreport

@AWITC

Cute, and even has a hint of truth to some extent, but the democrats (not sure if you mean small d or big D here) have generally been quite explicit that they favor a system of checks and balances and a separation of powers, rather than a mass plebiscite. Similarly, the 'moderate left' or whatever you want to call it also explicitly made their arguments for a more equitable society with strong support for private property to distinguish themselves from anarchists and communists.

Politicians usually take great pains to frame their arguments in a careful way, one that assuages the masses' concerns and does not come off as radical, because their electoral prospects depends on it. Urbanist bloggers generally do not, although David makes a game effort and usually does a pretty good job. Tone does matter.

by Dizzy on Dec 3, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

Dizzy

I was thinking small d - in particular people during late 18th century and early 19th century england - when any proposed reform of the byzantine suffrage rules (its not just that you needed to own property to vote, but how much differed dramatically depending on which constituency you voted in - and if you owned enough property in multiple constituencies, you could vote in all of them) open (not secret) ballots, vastly unequal representation (rotten boroughs with a dozen voters having the same representation as a major city) etc were EACH treated as if they entailed the French Revolution. Where, in fact, democrats DID argue against checks and balances. And of course the right argued that democratic rules would inevitably mean the loss of property rights, whatever moderate democrats wanted.

Re your second paragraph - I am not clear who you want to take a quieter tone - To take DC as an example - Mayor Grey?
Ms Tregoning? Yglesias?

A. I think in fact even Mr Yglesias' ideal world doesn't look like whats painted by that newsletter (banning cars?)

B. In any discussion of any issue there ARE going to be some voices that are extreme. Its foolish to think that there won't be.

C. I think theres plenty of moderation among urbanist bloggers. Baidenfeld (?) in Atlantic cities wrote in FAVOR of the DC height limit. I see no more extremism among the high readership urbanist bloggers than among bloggers on most issues. I think thats a red herring. The reasons for the depth of opposition mostly lie elsewhere.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 3, 2012 5:11 pm • linkreport

Arguing for a well-modulated tone doesn't mean being blind to the fact that some others may be arguing in bad faith. But we're not talking about the intransigents on the other side here, we're talking about the "mushy middle."

Matt's job is to be provocative and contrarian (I'm pretty sure they make you sign a Contrarianism Contract when you start working at Slate), so I'm ok with him being "out there" even when I disagree with him. Tregoning has done a pretty good job, I think, probably owing to the fact that she too depends on broad political support for continued job survival.

Note that I didn't say I wanted a "quieter" tone or accuse urbanist bloggers of "extremism." What I charged was that they were doing a poor job of getting their arguments across in a way that secures popular buy-in. I do not think you can ascribe all of those who have not come around to an urbanist viewpoint to bad faith. Instead, I think that some of the concepts that urbanists have chosen to rally around and trumpet (density, mixed-use, transit and TOD, development, anti-Height Act) have been presented in an absolute kind of way. The logic follows: if relaxing the Height Act is good, then removing all height restrictions is better. If a little more density is good, a lot more is better! And so on.

There have been some areas where the message has gotten through and adjustments have been made. "Multi-modal," although a bit clunky, is a much better frame to use than merely pushing biking or transit on their own, since many/most people will not avail themselves of those options on a daily/regular basis. "Smart growth" is a good one as well, for it implies cognition and judgment, rather than simplistic and reflexive schema. Those are the kinds of things you can rally a majority of the public around.

by Dizzy on Dec 3, 2012 5:39 pm • linkreport

I think part of it may be outlook. A lot of the ggw stories on the zoning update deal with generalities. But the pushback is at specific neighborhood level concerns that are extrapolated generally to the entire update and the argument is over how granular we are trying to be.

One example is the accessory apartments. I generally think they should be allowed by right and deregulated at a point where it's not de facto banned via rules. But invariably someone will come along and say it won't work in their neighborhood because of X and shouldn't be in the city at all. Then it's just rhetoric skills I you can convince others that GGW or whoever want to force you to build an addition to house an illegal immigrant family.

TL;DR I don't think it's absolutes vs. nuance but big picture thinking vs. little picture details that somehow mutates into parochialism.

by Drumz on Dec 3, 2012 5:41 pm • linkreport

Further,

It's not even A vs. B but rather that A is confused for B and sometimes intentionally.

by Drumz on Dec 3, 2012 5:46 pm • linkreport

This article does little but condescend.

If these proposed changes are timid, what are they? How will changes proposed benefit the city?

Why does the height limit need to be removed or increased, when there is much land in Ward 5 and EOTR that is undeveloped?

How exactly do the proposed changes "actually reflect the historic patterns of the city" in a way current regulations do not?

Capitol Hill is built, so what made Cap Hill Cap Hill is not needed anymore in Cap Hill. But Cap Hill is one neighborhood. How would returning these options benefit the development of the remainder of the city?

This article continues the "Us v. Them" rather than step outside it and provide points its readers can use to educate themselves and others and to make educated testimony in upcoming meetings.

by gtsix on Dec 3, 2012 5:55 pm • linkreport

The "height limit needs to be increased or eliminated when there is much land in Ward 5 and EOTR that is undeveloped" because people don't want to be in Ward 5 or EOTR, they want to be in the happening, hip "central places" (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_place_theory). And since the land there is mostly used up, you have to build higher to accommodate them. People move outward only when there are no other choices and there are opportunities to reproduce the space in ways that they want it to be.

by Richard Layman on Dec 3, 2012 7:21 pm • linkreport

"height limit needs to be increased or eliminated...because people don't want to be EOTR, they want to be in the happening, hip "central places"

People (middle class) didn't want to be in the city 50 years ago. People (white) didn't want to be West of Rock Creek Park 40 years ago, People (lawyers) didn't want to be in the old downtown 30 years ago, People (heterosexual) didn't want to be in Logan circle 30 years ago, etc.

The history of urbanism shows that beautiful and vibrant cities aren't incompadible with a whole range of regulations. In fact the natural limit of load bearing masonry walls (10-12 stories ironically) never seemed to be an obstacle of many a great city, which typically has more than one hip center.

by Thayer-D on Dec 3, 2012 8:47 pm • linkreport

since the land there is mostly used up, you have to build higher to accommodate them.

No you do not have to accommodate them. And if we do not, people go elsewhere -- and there are lots of "elsewheres" in DC.

Spent some time talking with longer-term residents lately. They said that in the 80s, the line between "good" and "mugged" was the park, or downtown around 16th St. If you had to go to the Capitol, you did not go more than one or two blocks away from it. Most of DC was given over to aggressive panhandlers, streetwalkers, petty drug dealers, or drunk and/or drugged-out petty criminals. An evening stroll was an invitation to be accosted by such people, or worse.

Now I know that this is an exaggeration, but the contrast with today -- today I feel that I can go into any neighborhood in DC without fear -- is astonishing. The city has a lot to offer, particularly now that the schools are improving; and the new-found safety means there is a huge amount of DC that is ripe for new building.

by goldfish on Dec 3, 2012 9:45 pm • linkreport

Dizzy

In Arlington County,Va TOD was implemented by the county with the idea of protecting SFH suburban neighborhoods - and thats essentially what's happened - you still encounter "antis" fiercely complaining about it. Some of it is interest - some is ignorance - and some really is a deep cultural discomfort that is beyond argument.

Is it better to try to communicate the reality of urbanist proposals to replace the straw men -sure. Will it help-I hope so. Will it convince all of the mushy middle - I doubt it. Even a perfect communication campaign won't convince all - and being more moderate in rhetoric is only one potential way to improve communication.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Dec 3, 2012 11:36 pm • linkreport

goldfish -- I have been here for more than 25 years. I remember all those attitudes. Sometimes they were based on reality, a lot of time on not. It was just that trends didn't favor urban choices, and the city was declining in terms of services and the growth of the municipal workforce.

I was at a play at the Landsburgh last year I think, and I overheard an older white man talking about how the area is still dangerous, but worth coming to. Clearly he was a suburbanite.

... but I don't think I can go into _any_ city neighborhood without fear even if I do go into many neighborhoods, especially with a camera.

by Richard Layman on Dec 4, 2012 4:27 am • linkreport

Richard,
I used to photograph just about any old american city I could get my hands on back in the 1980's. Back then you just looked for the MLK Boulevard on a map and you where sure to find the best architecture. As for the fear I always went during school hours and on a bike. Cold weather never hurt either, but I'm with goldfish on this one. Nowadays, the racial additudes are sooo much better that you hardly get a second look in most of the city. I know it's true of many cities especially if they're still flat on their back, but wow, DC's improved!

by Thayer-D on Dec 4, 2012 6:46 am • linkreport

David - how long is lifelong- you seem especially young to be making such pronouncements. DC is a unique city and its height restrictions should not be tampered with. Anyone can emulate the cement cities which are the product of greed - bigger and better. Bigger is not better. Spain underwent a building bust similar to what is going on now in DC. Today Spain's major cities have far too many half full or empty buildings, an unemployment rate over 15% with the youth unemployment of 60%. They went on a building bust and are now paying the consequences.

by Mary C. Young on Dec 4, 2012 10:55 am • linkreport

Good thing we don't have 15% unemployment and 60% youth unemployment then.

Plus DC's fall in the housing collapse was not nearly as bad as the rest of the country. Moreover, the major commercial projects that were stalled have pretty much all started again now that banks aren't in a credit crunch.

And is DC's sole uniqueness because of height?

by drumz on Dec 4, 2012 11:04 am • linkreport

Will it convince all of the mushy middle - I doubt it. Even a perfect communication campaign won't convince all - and being more moderate in rhetoric is only one potential way to improve communication.

I wouldn't even characterize it as being "more moderate" in rhetoric. More like "more modulated" or "more targeted." Yes, there will always be opposition, but considering how modest in scope these proposed changes are, the lack of clear and overwhelming popular support for them is, to me, a sign of failed communication and outreach more than anything else.

by Dizzy on Dec 4, 2012 11:21 am • linkreport

@Mary C Young...

I am not an expert on the Spanish housing market but I lived in Barcelona for about four years and worked frequently in Madrid.

Much of the Spanish housing bust existed on the far perimeter of major cities like Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, etc., or in aggressively sold vacation units. The idea that there is comparability between those very suburban / vacation areas and DC is such a stretch that there is really no comparison.

The idea that Spanish cities are full of empty spaces is not accurate. The way-out Spanish suburbs, yes, but the cities not so much.

Paxton Helms

by Paxton Helms on Dec 4, 2012 1:08 pm • linkreport

Taking photos on Alabama Ave. SE caused some significant consternation by people in the shots. And riding in parts of Trinidad used to make me feel pretty uncomfortable even pretty recently. That being said, working on the 2000 Census, I went into plenty of "scary" places.

by Richard Layman on Dec 4, 2012 3:27 pm • linkreport

(My Alabama-Good Hope-MLK sojourn was in July.)

I won't count the Nation of Islam guy screaming at me a couple months ago because he was in my shot of I-395 and particularly upset at being a recorded image...

by Richard Layman on Dec 4, 2012 3:30 pm • linkreport

Come to think about it, being a Latino Americano probably helped not getting chased down. There's a way of setting up the shot that film made more important than shooting 2-3 digital shots. That setting up I think telegraphs you're not just snapping shots of people on the fly.

by Thayer-D on Dec 5, 2012 4:03 am • linkreport

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