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Ivy City deserves some environmental justice

The DC neighborhood of Ivy City is small, poor and wedged between three major transportation arteries. The community feels worlds away from the leafy, charmed streets of many DC neighborhoods.

Photo from the Greening report.

Residents of Ivy City believe that the economic success of recent decades has passed them by, and in a way it has, quite literally: Those who drive in and out of the District on New York Avenue NE zoom past the neighborhood. All that car and truck traffic leaves pollution in its wake, contributing to serious health issues for many of Ivy City's residents.

In the latest insult, the District has proposed parking tour buses in the neighborhood. The buses do need a place to park, as the alternative is for them to circle around for hours. But must the buses—and their exhaust fumes—be sent to Ivy City?

The imperative not to concentrate things with negative public health effects, such as power plants or major highways, in poor neighborhoods is known as "environmental justice."

Continue reading my latest op-ed in the Washington Post.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. 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 now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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It's important to point out the inequities of influence different parts of the city have, even though some write this kind of thing off as a part of "market forces".

Reminds me of the branch of Rock Creek Park into Woodley Park that was permanently closed becasue it's safer not having commuters using your neighborhood as a cut through." As David points out, Ivy City "deserves to be less of a high-speed car cut-through. Aparently, Ivy City just dosen't have the same pull. Good think the government only gives handouts to the poor!

But I wouldn't say that "the economic success of recent decades has passed them by" as if that where somehow intentional. Afterall, had economic success landed on Ivy City's steps, it would also have brought realtors and new residents, ie. gentrifiers.

On another note, it's worth noting the precedent of cemeteries being used as public parks. Greenwood cemetery in Brooklyn NY by Vaux and Olmstead became the inspiration for their Central Park. Why not open up some portion of the Soldiers Home and related Cemeteries to the public?

by Thayer-D on Dec 15, 2012 3:39 pm • linkreport

I'm honestly surprised that a lot of the gentrification that has now spread up Rhode Island Avenue, North Capitol Street, Florida Avenue, and South Dakota Avenues has largely bypassed Ivy City. There are plenty of properties from the old market on Florida Avenue, through Trinidad, and up to Bladensburg Road that are attractive for redevelopment.

Once the renovation of the New York Avenue bridge over the railroad tracks is complete, the area could easily be attractive for development. You have bus service on Florida Avenue, Bladensburg Road, and within Trinidad. The NOMA metro station isn't too far away. The National Arboretum isn't too far either. There's no reason why the area couldn't support high-end condos, some retail, and so forth. If they could get a government agency or major corporation to anchor new development there it could be redeveloped.

Right now the area just has what's left of DC's limited industrial base, very sketchy hotels/motels, and fast-food places. An integrated redevelopment plan that includes frequent shuttle service to the NOMA Metro Station, streetcar on H Street, and bus service on nearby roads could actually work.

I'm still somewhat surprised that Trinidad and the Ivy City area haven't experienced the gentrification that has taken over the rest of that part of DC. The real estate is just too valuable.

by Rain17 on Dec 15, 2012 10:25 pm • linkreport

A piece of supplemental info:

The Department of Housing and Community Development has focused a lot of energy on Ivy City. In addition to the planning work linked in your Op-Ed, the agency has financed the redevelopment of 58 homes over the last 5 years. This map shows how extensive this revitalization work is/will be:

Here's a more complete description of the project:

(Disclaimer: I work for DHCD, but am not speaking on behalf of the agency)

by Chris DP on Dec 16, 2012 1:22 am • linkreport

I know I sound like a broken record, but the car sewers really are the problem. NY Avenue deserves a more appropriate name -- sort of truth in labeling: It's not an "Avenue." It's a dirty, smelly, ugly, traffic sewer. A lane diet with some nice landscaping would be an awesome and relatively inexpensive way to help the surrounding neighborhoods.

by Greenbelt on Dec 16, 2012 10:37 am • linkreport

+1 Greenbelt

Its not clear to me if we are charging the tour buses to park, but if we charged enough and it went to the residents and the engines were turned off, the residents might decide to allow tour buses. IOW, let the residents decide, instead of having it imposed upon them.

by SJE on Dec 16, 2012 11:32 am • linkreport

A la Rain17's comments, from an objective planner standpoint, I do think that it makes sense to change the land use of Ivy City, a la "Arlington in the Wilson Blvd. corridor" but that is very controversial and the city just hasn't handled planning in that corridor very well.

However, you're crazy to think that it's odd that such hasn't happened already. It is locationally and use challenged and in the normal course of events, developers making their way over there only happens once all other better positioned projects have been developed. There are way more better opportunities present in other locations, including transit locations...

The real estate crash killed the best market-based proposals to do "fix" the New York "Avenue" corridor, Abdo's Arboretum Place + PREIT's redevelopment of the Hecht's Warehouse. Although Douglas Dev. bought the Warehouse and propose it as a lower cost/s.f. site for "back office" functions for law firms and such located downtown.

WRT SJE's point, I am not familiar with such a charge, although I think it is a good idea. A similar kind of parking tax was proposed by a community organization in the PGH Hill District, wrt parking at arena-based events.

by Richard Layman on Dec 16, 2012 6:52 pm • linkreport

The DC neighborhood of Ivy City is small, poor and wedged between three major transportation arteries.

Which makes it the logical place for a bus depot.

by Tyro on Dec 16, 2012 7:42 pm • linkreport

The city NEEDS places for projects like this bus lot. Ivy City is perfect, being mostly industrial and in the city's transportation center. If the residents have a problem, maybe the city could sponsor them to relocate.

by Bill on Dec 16, 2012 10:17 pm • linkreport

There is a lot much lower hanging fruit in DC than Ivy City. Metro access there is not terribly convenient and New York Ave would not make for a pleasant walk anyway. So in many ways I can see how it is a perfect spot.

On the otherhand, I don't see how the city can prioritize tour buses over residents. Make the bus companies get together and pay for an improved bus garage with proper ventilation and pollution control. I guarantee they will find another site quickly enough.

by Alan B on Dec 17, 2012 9:47 am • linkreport

Park the tour buses at the RFK Stadium lot. There's plenty of room and easonably good separation from the surrounding neighborhood. It's Metro-accessible in an emergency, and it's a straight shot to the Mall, the Capitol, and other tourist areas.

by Publius Washingtoniensis on Dec 17, 2012 10:42 am • linkreport

RFK is already available to tour buses. Few use it, because it does not serve their needs. It is too far away from their pick-up drop-off locations. The buses often only need to drop off their passengers for a short time, then pick them back up. By the time they get to RFK to park, they already have to turn back to do the pick-up. In that case, they determine that they might as well cruise the streets, or double-park somewhere.

by Alex B. on Dec 17, 2012 10:48 am • linkreport

The larger question is how do we plan for and site relatively undesirable uses such as tour bus parking, UPS truck depots, sewage treatment plants, PEPCO equipment garages, etc. there are necessary to support a 21st century city. It is similar to the issue of gasoline fueling stations that are slowly disappearing in the District. The planners need to reserve some locations for these activities. It is not fair or practical to say they can all be located in Maryland or Virginia and it may not even make sense to try and evenly distribute them across DC. Certainly there needs to be some shared distribution of undesirable but necessary uses but it also may make sense to maintain or expand industrial zones protected from residential encroachment.

by Steve Strauss on Dec 17, 2012 12:26 pm • linkreport

@David Alpert-Thanks for underlining environmental justice, the built environment and health consequences.

by Tina on Dec 17, 2012 12:27 pm • linkreport

It is not fair or practical to say they can all be located in Maryland or Virginia

Two questions: First, are we in danger of having *zero* gas stations in the District? Second, why on Earth is it a matter of "fairness" whether DC has fewer gas stations than in MD or VA? Fair to whom?

by oboe on Dec 17, 2012 12:33 pm • linkreport

Steve Strauss -- as you probably know, wrt your point, THAT'S WHY YEARS AGO OP DID AN INDUSTRIAL LANDS STUDY. Too bad it is mostly ignored.

2. Note that in the comp plan amendments cycle I submitted an amendment to take matter of right use for schools and churches out of the CM zoning categories, because these usually nonprofit organizations can outbid industrial users, because industrial users are "stuck" pricing property based on a revenue model and have to pay property taxes too. Churches and schools have to do neither.

The UCB site where this and similar studies are archived is a good resource on this general issue.

Anyway, OP rejected that amendment proposal. Pretty stupid if you ask me.

3. I fear that the Kenyan McDuffie initiative on a W5 industrial lands study is designed to allow more nonindustrial uses in industrially zoned areas.

4. Publius/Alex B. -- while Alex B. is right about tour buses, convenience and SW DC, National Mall, and Union Station locations, certainly compared to the Ivy City location, RFK is probably a better alternative.

by Richard Layman on Dec 17, 2012 1:50 pm • linkreport

The city is fighting itself here. In the past couple years, it's drawn up a small area plan and directed millions of dollars in an orchestrated effort to double the homeownership rate in Ivy City. Then overnight this bus lot gets pushed through without an environmental impact study, without any input from area residents. New York Avenue and the district's school bus lot already cause headaches in the neighborhood. Ivy City deserves a break.

by Mike on Dec 17, 2012 4:59 pm • linkreport

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