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Breakfast links: Missing the point

Photo by evanrlew on Flickr.
C100 against public participation in government?: A lot of people had fun with our redistricting game, except for Committee of 100 zoning chair Alma Gates, who thinks that the Council shouldn't listen to your ideas unless you're picked to serve on citizen committees. (Housing Complex)

Perkins pushing preferable passes: Michael Perkins' campaign for better unlimited passes on Metro is getting attention. WMATA spokesperson Lisa Farbstein seems to think Perkins is pushing a certain technology rather than a general approach. (Examiner)

Don't panic about buildings: Roger Lewis tries to assuage the fears of those who are alarmed at every development proposal and accuse public officials and architects of being greedy. (Post) ... Will this help We Love DC's Tom Bridge, currently engaged in a big debate on the Brookland listserv over the Col. Brooks Tavern project?

Pondering access for Tysons stations: Some say it is too little, too late, but Fairfax County is trying to figure out how best to provide access to the three Tysons Corner Metro stations in the near term when few people live in the immediate area. (Post)

Google Maps slow to correct errors: Michael Dresser pointed out last week that Google Maps was directing people onto an unfinished section of the ICC. Apparently Google didn't think the mistake was worth correcting over the weekend. (Baltimore Sun) ... Incidentally, the District is still "Washington D.C., DC." (Google Maps)

National Airport's historic remnants: You've probably flown in and out of National Airport, but have you seen all the historic elements remaining from DCA's history? And why is the center gate section in the newer terminal called both Terminal B and C anyway? (The Cranky Flier)

More toll increases in Maryland?: A legislative report recommends the Maryland Transportation Authority consider toll increases above and beyond those planned over the next 5 years. The report says the state's toll roads are underpriced. (WTOP)

Roads too costly to maintain: Budget pressures and rising pavement costs are forcing rural counties to revert paved roads back to gravel. One reasonable resident understands: "really, why should everybody in the rest of the county help pay for my hard surface road?" (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

And...: Starting today, DC taxis will add a $1 fuel surcharge to each fare beginning and ending in the District. (WUSA) ... Eric Fischer has updated his race and ethnicity maps to reflect the 2010 census results for the DC region (Flickr, Adam S.) ... Apparently WMATA has had some trouble estimating ridership going all the way back to its first trial day in 1976. (Examiner)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 


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"C100 against public participation in government?: A lot of people had fun with our redistricting game, except for Committee of 100 zoning chair Alma Gates, who thinks that the Council shouldn't listen to your ideas unless you're picked to serve on citizen committees. (Housing Complex)"

As usual ... a blatant mischaracterization of what a C100 person has to say. Read her post, all she said was that 'redistricting isn't a game'. I.e., If you're serious about getting involved, really get involved. I think the excercise was a fun one, and I think the tool could be expanded to be used by Council to give them real time results ... which would make it more difficult for them to 'go home' and then do the back room 'horse trading' that is such an integral part of the process. But using the results of these excercises we did to 'inform' Council, first of all isn't going to happen ... because this isn't an excercise about moving the lines around where we want, but instead an excercise of moving the lines around where they, the Council wants. Additionally, like all polling done on here, it is not 'scientific' or 'controlled'. For example, a person could do multiple iterations. As many of you did. How does David decide to weight them? Does he pick one? All? And those of you who did iterations that were meant as a joke, is he supposed to know to throw them out? And then there's the problem of people not even from DC doing these iterations. Was their participation in this merely a 'game'? And who's going to ensure David isn't even subconsciously going to 'interpret' the results in line with how his favorites on the Council would like to see the results? Remember, this process is really all about them from their perspective. Yes, this could be used as a tool to help the real process, but let's not make a game of the process by thinking that these very unscientific iterations we did on here can or should be used to influence the real process. If the tool can be used to give more transparency to the process, a lot has been gained. Saying its unscientific results should be used to influence it, is where we thread on turning a serious process into a game. You'd think the City Paper would hire only true journalists with enough experience and accumen to see this difference. Apparently not.

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 9:00 am • linkreport

I think the main point holds. Technology helps break barriers and enable more engagement across a broader segment of society than what has existed in the decades prior to this one.

Obviously redistricting isn't a "game", but to suggest that the only way one can, or should engage the process is through task forces, commissions or other "official" appointments is self-defeating.

Yes, we live in a representative democracy, and to that end, we should continue to encourage broad participation on whatever levels possible.

by Andrew on Mar 28, 2011 9:08 am • linkreport

Lance, would you prefer the public be ignorant of the realities of redistricting?

For example, the Federal Government has a large budget deficit. Large portions of the electorate are erroneously under the impression that eliminating foreign aid will close the gap, when the truth is that foreign aid represents the rounding error in the overall deficit. This kind of misinformation is bad for democracy.

If nothing else, David's redistricting tool lets the population gain some experience in the realities of redistricting. This will increase the public's knowledge of the process and will be a positive for the community, no matter the outcome.

by Alex B. on Mar 28, 2011 9:13 am • linkreport

Erik Fisher's modeling needs some work... or the census data do.
There are more than a few dots INSIDE Dupont circle with an exclusion zone directly around it... I'm confident that there aren't HUNDREDS of people living inside the circle. Or weren't on 1 April 2010.

Also love when my hometown paper is referenced on something so depressing as ripping up roads. (I'm pro transit but also pro farm.)

by David F-H on Mar 28, 2011 9:17 am • linkreport

Lance: Alma specifically said "David's invitation should not be taken seriously by residents of the city and time should not be spent considering them by Members of Council." Seems pretty clear.

by David Alpert on Mar 28, 2011 9:20 am • linkreport

Sounds to me like the Committee of 100 Property Owners is afraid of the masses becoming a part of the redistricting process. It challenges the exclusiveness of the process.

by aaa on Mar 28, 2011 9:25 am • linkreport

Why should any recommendations of the Committee of 100, an unelected group, be given any more weight by the Council than a compendium of maps compiled by GGW readers, another unelected group?

by ah on Mar 28, 2011 9:27 am • linkreport

@Alex, If nothing else, David's redistricting tool lets the population gain some experience in the realities of redistricting. This will increase the public's knowledge of the process and will be a positive for the community, no matter the outcome.

I don't disagree with you. And I don't think what Alma said was in opposition to this. I think she merely pointed out that if you want to get involved in the process, really get involved in the process. And what's wrong with that?

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 9:35 am • linkreport

@David, I agree with Alma that the results of this poll shouldn't be made available for Council for their use. Because it was conducted in an unscientific fashion you can't draw any conclusions from it ... Or at least you shouldn't be drawing any conclusions from it because without scientific methods for collecting the data, the conclusions drawn from it are based on nothing but the interpretor's own ideas. And that is the danger, either you'll summarize the findings, or the Councilmembers will and then either you or they will draw the conclusions you want from it ... and that doesn't do anything to make the process more open and democratic.

If anything, I think Alma was saying 'don't be placated into thinking by doing an interation on line, that you've really participated in the process, because you haven't.' And that IS a true statement.

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 9:44 am • linkreport

Just a clarification about the last link. Estimating ridership is something you do during or after. The article states that Metro had projected and/or forecast 10,000 riders on the trial day and got 51,000. That was not an estimate, that was a prediction.

by MDE on Mar 28, 2011 9:50 am • linkreport

Lance: And the committees are scientific how?

Did you really just say you think that information about resident thoughts on redistricting should not be provided to the Council?

How again is Lydia's post anything other than totally accurate? Your comment, like Alma's, lays bare what she called "the Committee of 100's PR problem."

by David Alpert on Mar 28, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

Also I don't think the tool is meant to be used by the council but to help illuminate the process for residents. Like if during the redistricting they propose sweeping changes a lot of the populace can use their own experience to make the council justify its decisions. I don't think anyone reasonbly assumes that their map they spent a few minutes will influence the council but it will help inform that individual a little about whats at stake.

Also, the news was abuzz with stories on how a similar program used to redistric Va. was doing wonders to inform people of how complicated redistricting is and what faced the Va. gov't. Is this any different?

by Canaan on Mar 28, 2011 10:07 am • linkreport

David. I don't know of any plans of the C100 to participate in the process. Ie your question is disingenuous to begin with. But where it participating it wouldn't be claiming to represent the peoples view as you are doing . Just the subject matter experts view.

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 10:09 am • linkreport

Yeah, neither Alma or Lance are proposing a healthy vision of representational democracy. Alma is saying that the only way to participate in a decision that has profound "affects" is to do exactly and only as she has: namely, join nebulous citizens committees. Nothing wrong with participating in this way (so long as it's not simply a way to weed out certain types if people and views). But it's incredibly insulting to suggest that absent an ability or willingness to participate in this fashion, your opinions don't matter and should be actively ignored. By that same logic, we ought to ignore editorials and letters to the editor, because, hey, they're not participating in the exact same way that Alma prescribes.

Lance's vision is similarly warped. By insisting on scientific standards, he too is suggesting a standard that would ignore editorials and letters to the editor, etc.

It's hard not to conclude that these arguments are not about how</> people are participating in the process, but rather who is participating.

by TM on Mar 28, 2011 10:22 am • linkreport


I think David is including the Redistricting Task Force in "the committees." And even those "official" groups aren't any more scientific or representative than the C100 or a bunch of people on a blog thinking about the issue. It's a select group of people who have the time and connection to get on that task force. They just happen to be rubber-stamped by the right people.

On top of that you're completely whitewashing Alma's comments - the tone of her post comes straight from her high horse and is totally dismissive of any input other than the "official" input. It's pretty clear that she thinks the council should just put on blinders and not listen to any input other than whatever the Task Force decides to give.

by MLD on Mar 28, 2011 10:29 am • linkreport

Lance: As MLD said, I meant the task force(s). My understanding is that there are ward-specific task forces, so those are the committees I was talking about.

by David Alpert on Mar 28, 2011 10:36 am • linkreport

David Alpert, a well known blogger, has reduced the redistricting process to a "game," It is not. Redrawing ward boundaries is serious business and not one that should be left to the whims of a blogger.

Why is redistricting not a game? What's wrong with games? Does the C100 realize that the gaming industry in the US is larger than the movie industry? Does the C100 realize that games play an essential role in defense training?

If redistricting is not a game, then why are council members not being serious? ShirleySurely using words like 'apartheid' is not a sign of being serious?

Quite frankly, letting everyone see how silly this process is, and allowing citizens to fire back at the proposals of the council is very serious business. It's called transparent democracy. Something that DC can learn a lot from.

It is quite disgusting how council members treat wards as personal property, including the people in it. Someone mentioned the horse-trading in the redistricting business. Horses don't matter in districts. It's people that count. So, it's people trading.

Wards are nothing more than squiggly lines on a map. The notion that wards need to be defended is silly. The notion that wards get pitted against each other is silly. People in one ward are not different from people in another ward. They're all people, living in the same city.

Furthermore, Alpert is not suggesting in any ways shape or form that he should do the redistricting. He is merely providing the city council with input. As far as I know, everyone in this country has the right to petition the government, including bloggers. Alpert is providing input to the government through a process open to everyone. ShirleySurely that is more serious that giving all kinds of advise to the government as a highly restricted club of people.

And what is the basis of this assumption that bloggers are not serious?

by Jasper on Mar 28, 2011 10:48 am • linkreport

The article about converting paved roads to gravel is a repeat of a similar article in the NYT from about a year ago. At that time, I believe someone (perhaps a commenter here) went on to point out that the conversion of pavement to gravel is not new and that the miles of new paved roads built in any recent year still far exceed any miles returned to gravel.
There may be examples of deteriorating infrastructure in the US, but this isn't one of them.

by Josh S on Mar 28, 2011 10:52 am • linkreport


Surely by now you know better than to involve yourself in matters best left to the real stakeholders. Who do you think you are, commenting on issues that affect the city you live in and pay taxes to? You need to leave these matters to the members of an elite, invitation-only organization and to people who have the limitless free time (and close connections to elected officials) needed to serve on official task forces. Follow my example: I've learned to keep quiet ever since Lance set me straight that as someone who does not own a car, I have no right to voice my opinions or participate in civic affairs. I have learned to leave all civic matters to the Committee of 100 and trust in their noblesse oblige. (I think the way he put it is that what does my opinion matter, since I am too poor to even own a car. He will probably say he was joking, but I think he was showing his and his organization's true colors. They hate that GGW and other upstarts have invaded what was once almost exclusively their space.)

by rg on Mar 28, 2011 10:53 am • linkreport

The "de-paving" sounds to me like:

1. A stunt to draw attention
2. recognition that these roads are being used more for farm equipment than automobiles.
3. Noticing the price of asphalt is rising again

Two years after President Obama repaved every damn highway in the county, I'm not sure this de-paving thing is turning into a major trend.

by charlie on Mar 28, 2011 11:00 am • linkreport

Google how bloody long does it take to fix a simple error like "Washington D.C., DC"? It wasn't always like that, so obviously at some point one of your "intelligent" employees screwed it up.

by Martin on Mar 28, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

I would have expected a link to the prominently displayed WaPo story on the dramatic increase in property crime. I would think that has a big impact on "livability."

by EJ on Mar 28, 2011 11:03 am • linkreport

Seems like Alma took issue with GGW's introducing as a "game" what she believes is a "serious issue" deserving serious consideration.

A bit high-minded and out of touch but that seems to be the issue here. In her response, I did not believe she intimated that only "special people" and their ideas should be considered. At least I didn't get that

by HogWash on Mar 28, 2011 11:42 am • linkreport


There are so many errors on Google Maps, that's just the start of it. But I don't think the problem is exclusive to the Maps product, since the "Washington, D.C., DC" comes up on other Google products.

by Adam L on Mar 28, 2011 11:45 am • linkreport

@HogWash 'In her response, I did not believe she intimated that only "special people" and their ideas should be considered. At least I didn't get that.

Nor did I. Hence why I started on this thread with 'As usual ... a blatant mischaracterization of what a C100 person has to say.' And I did point out that the City Paper is the source of this mischaracterization.

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 12:16 pm • linkreport

@David, Okay ... Sorry I see now where it was 'committees' you referenced. I agree ... no one is 'scientific'. You know my sceptism on the whole process. This issue is more dear to the ward Councilmembers than any other issue that comes before them, because it determines whether they're out of job or not, where their pool of influence lies (and thus their pool of contributors), etc. During the last redistricting effort, both Graham and Patterson used the process to banish some potent political rivals from their wards. (I.e., as your simulation demonstrated, you can't move the residing CM's home out of their ward, but you can move nearly any other home out of that ward.)

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport


It seems to me that the City Paper published Gates' email in full - how is that a mischaracterization?

by Alex B. on Mar 28, 2011 12:52 pm • linkreport

@Alex B, It's Lydia d's comments that are the mischaracterization.

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 12:59 pm • linkreport

Re: Redistricting:

While I don't agree with Lance's view with regards to the weight that should be given to these maps, he brings up a good point regarding aggregation. The maps early on were often fairly tame and realistic suggestions. As time went on, the new maps got less and less realistic. While some I think were challenging the notion of wards as we know them, others were fanciful thought experiments or forms of artistic expressions. Including these maps could lead to some bizarre results when they are averaged together. So have you given any thought to methodology David?

by Steven Yates on Mar 28, 2011 1:20 pm • linkreport

The maps people are making have not gotten more fantastic; just the ones being posted here.

I have some ideas about methodology but I don't want people to try to enter maps specifically to game the results, so I'll share them later.

by David Alpert on Mar 28, 2011 1:21 pm • linkreport

I just participated in supporting a redistriciting committee for a Virginia County. Public imput is important and was conisdered by this committee--there were actually similar tools to David's put on the County website to allow people make their own specific plans. More importanly, howerver, part of the public input to the committee was a required questionaire. The reasons why the porposed boundaries were submitted and an analysis of the effects makes for a more interesting submission for committee members to consider rather than quick map boundary swaps without explained rhyme or reason.

by GISman on Mar 28, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

I think everyone missed David's introduction, which said "Everyone, please play this silly game and then the actual redistricting will take place according to my whims. Whee!"

Seriously, what was Alma Gates thinking writing this ridiculous screed? The Council should be thanking David profusely for doing all this work to create a tool they can use to make their own work easier, not to mention the platform he created for aggregating citizen input. It blows me away that someone could actually say those things she did.

by Ward 1 Guy on Mar 28, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

@Ward 1 Guy. I think people are missing David's point as easily as they are missing Alma's.

David made it known that this was a fun exercise and would be used as an entree to the council..more or less.

Alma makes it known that she doesn't think redistricting is a game and the results (of the game) shouldn't be used as serious consideration for the council.

This article is more of a follow-up to Lydia's characterization of Alma's letter, than the letter itself.

BTW, Lance commented that this was a fun tool and should be given to the council for serious consideration. Can Lance and Alma be members of the same group and have different opinions?

by HogWash on Mar 28, 2011 3:03 pm • linkreport

I think the most useful aspect of David's redistricting tool (I prefer that term to "game") is that made it infinitely clear that redistricting can be accomplished this time around with only a very few adjustments to the ward boundaries. If the council members spend months horse trading to get the results they want we will all know what a blatant political charade they're engaging in.

by jimble on Mar 28, 2011 3:14 pm • linkreport

I think David's "game" was one of the most insightful things I have seen in several weeks. Not only does it give citizens a good insight into how difficult the process can be, but it provides data for the government on how the citizens might want to see it done. It's win-win. I cannot see the C100 comment as anything other than a put down on the whole process.

by SJE on Mar 28, 2011 4:01 pm • linkreport

So folks - just to play devil's advocate, and to clear a few things up - from what I know of the C100, unless it explicitly states it, comments from individuals do not represent the entire organization. Alma never said she was presenting their point of view, just hers.

Now, given, her tone was obviously off-putting. But what she was trying to tell you was what the current process is for redistricting - information that should be of interest to all of us.

I think some good points were raised here - neither an old-school task force nor a loosely formatted survey mapping tool are adequate by themselves to solve this problem. Both have their place, and both provide input and information.

Seriously - can't you just validate another point of view, or rationally discuss it without wasting all this time going back and forth to see who can out-snark each other? It is really pretty lame. And the hating on the C100 can be pretty funny at times, but now it is bordering on hysterical. Enough already. Move on!

by Ruby on Mar 28, 2011 5:06 pm • linkreport

@jimble 'If the council members spend months horse trading to get the results they want we will all know what a blatant political charade they're engaging in.

Yessss ... and that's the point I've been making. This tool can't be helpful in gauging how the lines should be redrawn to reflect the public's wishes ... because it's not the public's wishes which will matter in the process ... but instead to at least make it harder for the politicians to say that they have to do xyz, because that's how the numbers crunch up. They'll have to be a bit more fortright and say things like 'I don't want to lose the SE waterfront to Barry because I've worked hard to put it together and the loss of continuity could jeopardize the outcome.

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 5:15 pm • linkreport

@Ruby 'Seriously - can't you just validate another point of view, or rationally discuss it without wasting all this time going back and forth to see who can out-snark each other?'

You make an excellent point. I sometimes think David's qualms with the C100, and the C100's qualms with him have gotten to where the issues almost become secondary ... and who can outsnark the other is the most important 'accomplishment'.

I still hope to see that turn around. David's got a lot to offer this town in terms of communicating and mobilizing 'the people that care', but lacks the experience to understand the whole lay of the land. And the C100 has the experience ... and 88 years behind it ... to understand the whole lay of the land, but lacks the communication skills of this century, and thus the ability to mobilize 'the people that care'. Imagine the synergistic benefits of putting the two together!

by Lance on Mar 28, 2011 5:26 pm • linkreport

Just another note on the redistricting itself. David's tool/game is an excellent way of how districting should be done: without demographic data.

Gerrymandering comes from the fact that political nerds get together and nefariously tilt future electoral results in their direction. City Council members do the same, by entrenching their own base. This is anti-democratic and a disservice to their constituents.

by Jasper on Mar 29, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

To prevent gerrymandering, one could give a couple of high-school students a tool like David's and give them the assignment to create districts that are as compact as possible. You could even do this throughout an entire state as a homework assignment, and average the results to yield the final map. Being ineligible to vote, and mostly not caring about politics would prevent any political influence. So, here's my solution to gerrymandering:

Let high-school students draw the districts.

by Jasper on Mar 29, 2011 10:04 am • linkreport

Jasper - That sounds good in principle, but you know that kids just get their parents to do their homework already.

by ah on Mar 29, 2011 10:10 am • linkreport

@ ah: kids just get their parents to do their homework already.

No problem. The majority of parents does not care either. They have a life to deal with.

Gerrymandering is only an issue for the political industry that depends on which party is in control. It is actually very few people. But because they're in charge, they make it a very big deal. It's their world on the line.

The average citizen does not care. Hell, barely half of them show up to vote. In VA, 44% showed up during the last general elections. And that is 44% of registered voters. I can't quickly find numbers on the registration rate other than that's around 2/3. 44% of 2/3 is less than a third of eligible voters showing up. Kinda pathetic.

by Jasper on Mar 29, 2011 11:17 am • linkreport

Jasper: how is there gerrymandering if all wards in the city are Democratic? There is a racial dimension, but I do not see how any tinkering at the edges of the wards would shift allegiances.

by SJE on Mar 29, 2011 12:32 pm • linkreport

@SJE: Gerrymandering in DC is about solidifying the voting base of the council members. In effect, the council members are making it easier for them to get re-elected, and harder for new-comers to get elected.

I do not see how any tinkering at the edges of the wards would shift allegiances.

Neither do I. But just wait and see what the council members come up with. Barry's opening shot was apartheid. Clearly, he cares.

by Jasper on Mar 29, 2011 12:43 pm • linkreport

Even if you move Ward 8's boundaries (most likely into Ward 7), Barry is going to be representing a similar demographic. I don't see him going anywhere.

by SJE on Mar 29, 2011 3:52 pm • linkreport

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