Should urbanists be nervous about Vince Gray? Part 3: Does Gray believe in Smart Growth?
This one is easy. On Smart Growth, Gray is on the right side.
Sorry, antis. It's true that many who oppose a growing city and think that a three-story townhouse is a skyscraper supported Vince Gray early, figuring he must be better than Mayor Fenty. However, they would be disappointed with a Gray mayoralty.
Gray recently walked along Wisconsin Avenue from Tenleytown to Friendship Heights with a group of residents of the area. They pointed out the many glaring flaws in Wisconsin's streetscape. There's the CVS at Wisconsin and Brandywine, where the sidewalk becomes a sharply sloped ramp to a roof parking deck leaving a 2-foot space for pedestrians between fences and telephone poles. Near the other end, there's the Western bus garage, a half-block blank wall right along Wisconsin and literally atop the Metro. And there are plenty of examples in between.
Gray nodded eagerly when residents and even his own campaign manager outlined their ideas for how Tenley Circle could feel more like a college town if more retail and housing accompanied American's plans to move the law school there. And his reaction bordered on incredulity when Friendship Heights residents told him that many people would oppose any new buildings on the site of the bus garage.
Gray is also very excited for the potential of "downtown Ward 7," the corner of Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road, to become a walkable hub for the surrounding neighborhoods (complete with streetcars!) His approach and that of Mayor Fenty may differ a bit only in implementation: Gray's approach is to plan then act, while Fenty's Office of the Deputy Mayor seems far more focused in simply closing real estate deals.
Sometimes getting the deal done moves the ball forward more than a plan, but when buildings last for 50 years or more, moving hastily can lock in bad design for a generation. In Ward 7, the Donatelli development at the northwest corner of Minnesota and Benning has shaped up to be a real disappointment even in ways that have little to do with the economy. DMPED chose Donatelli's plan despite community consensus around another bid. DMPED also plunked a parking lot down at 5th and I and totally blew it with the Tenley Library.
On development, Gray's approach will be to create a good plan and hear out all the opponents before moving ahead, while Fenty's approach has been to move ahead without any plans or much listening. Here, both approaches have merit, and I'd give a small edge to Gray's. Perhaps some bold planning and community engagement could have resulted in improvements along the Wisconsin Avenue corridor, where recent development has more often produced a boring low-scale bank rather than anything transformative.
But as one Smart Growth proponent recently pointed out, we are fortunate. We have two candidates who have made a clear commitment to many parts of a Smart Growth vision. They'd implement it with different styles and might focus on different elements, but four years from now, there will be more housing opportunities near commercial corridors and Metro stations regardless of who is Mayor.
Fenty and Gray share a lot of other policy ideas as well. Education reform? Fenty's for it. Gray's for it.
Next: But what about streetcars?
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