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See where building construction is happening in DC

DC is growing by 1100 people every month, and to accommodate them, the city will need more buildings. A new map shows where new construction in the city is taking place.

The Map Attacks blog made this heat map of every active building permit in DC using the District's GIS data. Red areas have the most building permits, followed by orange, yellow, and green areas. The map includes all kinds of permits, from high-rise apartment towers to kitchen renovations.

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of construction occurring in downtown DC, though there's also a significant amount of building taking place near U Street. H Street and Columbia Heights are no slouch, as well as Fort Totten, where a new Walmart is under construction.

It's interesting that those areas all seem to be busier than NoMa or Navy Yard, where entire neighborhoods have risen in the past few years. And it's notable that the bulk of new construction is occurring east of Rock Creek Park.

That's a good thing after decades of disinvestment, but it also illustrates how resistance to new development west of the park has pushed demand further east. Meanwhile, areas east of the Anacostia River still aren't seeing much of the city's new construction.

What do you see in the map?

Dan Reed is an urban planner at Nelson\Nygaard. He writes his own blog, Just Up the Pike, and serves as the Land Use Chair for the Action Committee for Transit. He lives in downtown Silver Spring. All opinions are his own. 


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It's interesting that those areas all seem to be busier than NoMa or Navy Yard, where entire neighborhoods have risen in the past few years.

That's certainly not a conclusion I would draw from this map, based on the methodology.

A small kitchen renovation in someone's condo counts the same as a massive office or apartment building.

From the link: "Of course, not every building permit is created the same. This dataset captures large construction projects like the O Street Market development in Shaw, as well as someone renovating their bathroom in Georgetown."

by Alex B. on Jan 14, 2014 12:14 pm • linkreport

is there not a risk that somebody who obtains a building permit to convert their attic will get equal weight in this analysis as somebody who obtains a permit to build a 300-unit condo tower?

A cursory look at the map shows some scarcely believable results. For example, Cleveland Park shows more construction than Brookland.

by renegade09 on Jan 14, 2014 12:16 pm • linkreport

Is the permit weighted by the amount of units in this map? Doesn't seem like it. If I understand correctly a building permit for a new bathroom reno would be the same as a building permit for a 300 unit apartment tower?

Also, it acts really funky when zooming in and out in how it conglomerates.

by Navid Roshan on Jan 14, 2014 12:31 pm • linkreport

Hmm, just after Redfin named upper NW as one of the hottest real estate markets in the country.

Isn't about half the population growth births? I guess they are new residents but they aren't buying condos.

by charlie on Jan 14, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

It's true that Upper Northwest is a hot real estate market, but that's almost entirely resale of single-family homes.

by Neil Flanagan on Jan 14, 2014 12:53 pm • linkreport

My understanding is that a building permit can be acquired prospectively and doesn't necessarily mean anything is being built now or ever will be. That said this map seems to follow my experience. Most of the big construction I've seen is still downtown, near Northeast, or in Ward 1.

by BTA on Jan 14, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

So if it is all kinds of permits mixed together the map is (kind of) worthless. A much clearer picture would be had if one simply filtered out all but the "New Building" permits. Other permits for substantial work are "addition", "addition, alteration, repair", "alteration and repair". Those would also be a useful map.
Open data may be valuable, but needs to be understood.

by MG on Jan 14, 2014 1:28 pm • linkreport

There's a large building under construction on 2nd street NE, just across from Kaiser Permanente, that doesn't appear on the heatmap when you zoom in. Weird. Likewise, the big building just west of the Met Branch trail in NOMA don't show up. Is the underlying data just that old?

by Jeff Lemieux on Jan 14, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

Navid Roshan: Is the permit weighted by the amount of units in this map? Doesn't seem like it. If I understand correctly a building permit for a new bathroom reno would be the same as a building permit for a 300 unit apartment tower?
They each would be one building permit though I'm assuming these are limited to "B" permits rather than the multiple other types like "E" (electrical) or "WP" (waterproofing) or whatnot.

Each permit is represented by a green dot which consolidate into red areas when zooming out so naturally more dense areas would be redder. Interesting map nonetheless.

And the active mixed-use construction just east of Takoma metro is missing for what it's worth.

by Bob See on Jan 14, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

@Bob, Don't disagree. I just wanted to understand the map better. I still think it has its utility, though it would be very interesting to see a weighted map of building permits weighted to number of units (and also as one suggested only for new permits). I'd imagine the map would shift more east and south in its heat if that were the case (though still centrally also)

by Navid Roshan on Jan 14, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

Do the data sets contain value of construction of information? DCRA collects this data on the building permit application. It would be nice to see the "heat" weighted by cost of construction. If you follow the link, it says it reflects "active" building permits. That would mean anything issued within the past year, or currently under construction.

by Paul on Jan 14, 2014 1:57 pm • linkreport

MG, Navid Roshan:

Separating out new construction vs addition/alteration/repair would be very difficult as all those types of projects are lumped under a "B" permit...unless I'm mistaken one would need to read the project description for each issued permit or permit application to determine that.

by Bob See on Jan 14, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

I see my office on 19th and K street where the owners have brilliantly decided to get a building permit to make the lobby uglier and turn the state of the art fitness center in the basement into a state of the art fitness center in the basement.

I know the rent is high, but sometimes that doesnt mean you have to keep renovating just for the sake of renovating.

by Richard on Jan 14, 2014 2:47 pm • linkreport

The concept is very cool but the data is terrible. The map only shows 1 active project in NoMa.

by Campy on Jan 14, 2014 4:17 pm • linkreport

I believe the red heat map near Cleveland Park may be the leaking mustard gas canisters under Cathedral Commons.

by Alf on Jan 14, 2014 6:36 pm • linkreport

Good to know the cathedral commons construction has disappeared. Should make things less crowded here in NW. Or maybe that's just the mustard gas I'm breathing.

by Ben on Jan 15, 2014 6:30 am • linkreport

I thought you were all for "Smart Growth". adaptive re-use of existing structures, renovating derelict buildings,
clever and resourceful, creative solutions that conserve energy and materials. It doesn't take much intelligence to "biuld,build, build or drill baby drill.Fill the skyline with cranes and call that "smart". Tell me GGW how many organizations in the "coalition For Smart Growth"? I guess all the folks who support conservation and leaving some part of the city as parks, some forests standing and some areas of the country un-mined and un-drilled and UNPOLLUTED are "stupid growth" types. Building endlessly is a destructive un-sustainable delusion!

by Daniel Wolkoff on Jan 15, 2014 6:50 am • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.] Yes, there are parts where people recreated, slept out on hot nights and have fond memories. However that is the part that s currently fenced off around the reservoir. The part that is the sand filtration site has been and always will be off limits, unless the current adaptive reuse proposal is allowed to proceed.

The people have spoken through the politicians and community groups that we want the space put to active use as a park, as a residential area and as a neighborhood center for commerce. At this point, anything is better than a fenced off, rotting industrial site - you know, the one that has been that way for 30+ years.

by William on Jan 15, 2014 8:20 am • linkreport

Your comments remind me of the character (Steve Martin) in the film "The Jerk" who thinks the guy shooting at him is actually trying to take out the cans directly behind him..."He hates these cans! He hates these cans!"

Not sure what your point is about this article. Its merely showing different represent data on a map. Its not drawing any conclusions about good or bad development...anyway

by Ben on Jan 15, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

And then there is the 10 unit, three story building in the 1400 block of 22nd St SE that was built from the front sidewalk to the edge of the back alley facing the side of a long existing corner house...what a terrible thing to do to our block of two story townhouses and single family homes.

by Carol A Casperson on Jan 15, 2014 10:53 am • linkreport

The DCRA data is awful. Permits often don't show up, show up well after work is done, or are never removed. Garbage in garbage out.

by Adam on Jan 15, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

I believe the red warm map near Cleveland Recreation area may be the dripping mustard gas containers under Church Commons.

by 6 Pillars Construction on Jan 20, 2014 12:59 am • linkreport

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