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Posts about Shaw

Development


A tree I planted in Shaw 20 years ago was recently chopped down. I see that as a sign of life.

Twenty years ago, I planted an elm tree on the sidewalk near my house. Despite the relatively high chance that a driver would run their car into it, that never happened. It did, however, recently come down as part of a construction project. To me, my tree being gone perfectly captures just how much DC has changed.


I planted the big tree in the middle of this photo! Image from Google Maps.

Back in the spring, Greater Greater Washington ran post about how drivers just can't seem to keep from running into a building at the intersection of 6th and Penn Street NE, on the western side of Gallaudet University. It got contributors talking about 7th and Q Streets NW, where there's been a similar problem for years.

The conversation caught my attention for two reasons: First, I used to live on that block, and it was a fairly regular occurrence for drivers coming southbound on 7th and turning left onto Q to lose control and crash. I think it happened four times in the six years I lived there; a decade ago, a Metrobus plowed into the building at the southeast corner of the intersection, which is the reason it doesn't have a second story (In fairness, it wasn't the fault of the Metrobus driver, he had swerved to avoid a car whose driver had lost control in the intersection.)

But I was also drawn to a tree that's in a picture of the intersection that someone emailed out.

It was an elm, and I planted it 20 years ago.

Back then DC wasn't really planting trees. In fact, it wasn't doing all that much of anything. The city was broke and had just been taken over by the federal government because it couldn't govern itself.

But there it was, an empty treebox there. Every DC street has a designated species of tree, and for 7th NW, it's elms. So I ordered a bare-root elm seedling from a mail-order nursery, and wondered how the UPS guy was going to bring my tree— the picture in the catalog was something the size of what you see in the photo. I was crushed when it came and was about the length and thickness of a pencil and looked indistinguishable from a dead stick.

Undeterred, I planted it in my yard, where it took, and after a year or so, when it got to be a few feet tall I transplanted it out to the street. And for 20 years, as you can see, it thrived. Miraculously, an out-of-control driver never ran it over!

This corner has undergone enormous change in the past two decades, with a major mixed-use development replacing the old Kelsey Gardens on the other side of 7th Street, Dacha Beer Garden on the opposite corner, and a number of new business nearby. For nearly all of the time since I planted the elm, the corner has been in a state of semi-demolition.

And this is happening all around DC: buildings going up, roads getting paved, trees getting planted. I look around and DC isn't perfect now, but it's not bankrupt anymore either.

Last weekend I went back to my old neighborhood for the first time in a while and saw a flurry of construction: street work, new sidewalks, utility work. It even looks like the corner building might finally be redeveloped.

But I noticed something else as well: The elm is gone.

A neighbor told me it didn't survive the latest round of utility work, so it came down, along with a sycamore around the corner on Q Street (sycamores being the designated species for Q Street). It's funny to think: back when I lived there, if a tree died, it just fell over. Nobody came to properly cut it down because there was so much disinvestment going on.


20 years later, my elm is gone. Photo by the author.

It's almost paradoxical, but I see the death of this tree as a sign of life. That's how it goes: a never-ending dance of growth, destruction, and rebirth.

Architecture


Building of the Week: The Wonder Bread Factory

If you walk down S Street in Shaw, you'll pass the Wonder Bread Factory between 7th and 6th Streets NW. Though its faÁade still boasts "Wonder Bread" and "Hostess Cake," today the building is full of retail space and offices. It's a great example of adaptive reuse, which is repurposing a historic building for a new function.


Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

The oldest portion of the 641 S Street NW property dates to 1913. The building was an expansion of Dorsch's White Cross Bakery. Wonder Bread acquired the company and its property in 1936, and may have used the space principally to bake Hostess Cake products.

While many longtime Washingtonians remember the delicious smell the factory emitted, Wonder Bread moved its operations in the 1980s, closing the factory. The building's ensuing vacancy hastened its decline, and by the time Douglas Development Corporation bought the property in 1997, collapsed roofing and structural instability were part of the package. There was widespread rust, buckling floorboards, and a patina of general neglect.

The building was—and still is—full of fascinating architectural features.

One of the most distinctive is the white crosses that festoon the original three story brick building. According the Douglas Development's website, these "were meant to relieve fears that their bread might not be safe to eat after Upton Sinclair's The Jungle struck fear into people that factory food was unsanitary."

Other appealing features include the Wonder Bread sign and large multi-pane windows in the front of the building.

Attention also went into restoring finer details of the landmarked building. Open bar joists, which are triangulated lightweight steel trusses, were used to support floors, instead of simpler but anachronistic concrete decks.


The factory's open bar joists. Photo from Douglas Development.

Douglas considered a number of uses for over a decade after it bought the building in 1997, including a boutique hotel and apartment complex. In 2010, a mixed use development with retail on the first and second floors and offices on the upper floors prevailed.

Building rehabilitation went on between 2012 and 2013, and which meant a number of changes to the structure. Those included the addition of a fourth story to the factory's rear, excavation on the S Street side of the building, and a basement excavation, which created space for underground parking. A rooftop terrace also went in, and while much of the building had to be stripped to its hardy skeleton, the open spaces that characterize its original industrial use were retained.

All of these amenities attracted new tenants, like WeWorkDC, Event Space DC, and Youth for Understanding USA. When iStrategyLabss signed a lease in 2014, the building was 100 percent occupied.


Photo by Patrick on Flickr.

It may have taken a while to turn the Wonder Bread factory into a new building, but today's tenants are clearly proud of their spaces. WeWork devotes an entire paragraph to describing the history and renovation of the building on the location's webpage.

More broadly, while the tech industry tends to be a forward-thinking one, it clearly finds value in historic places. At its peak, web-based coupon service LivingSocial boasted six offices in Washington, many in adaptively reused or renovated buildings. Also, Twitter's San Francisco operations are headquartered in an old furniture mart, and AirBnb renovated a warehouse nearby.

Adaptive reuse is also useful in difficult or expensive construction markets. While Washington lacks San Francisco's zoning nightmare, rehabilitating a building still has financial incentives here. These come principally in the form of Historic Preservation Tax Credits. This federal program grants certain buildings that are listed on the National Register 10 or 20 percent tax credits for reusing a structure based on the Secretary of the Interior's standards.

The Wonder Bread Factory is an example of an architectural gem successfully repurposed for 21st century economic needs and philosophical desires.

Transit


Sexual violence isnít uncommon on Metro. Hereís what WMATA is doing to fix that.

More people experience sexual assault on Metro trains and buses than you might think, and the victims are often women, trans people, and people of color. Metro just launched a new campaign to combat that, and it's a great first step (but is just a step) toward a safer ride for everyone.


A sign from Metro's new campaign to curb sexual violence. All images from WMATA.

On April 12, a woman was sexually assaulted at knifepoint on the Red Line. It was morning rush hour.

This violent attack shocked local news outlets and the general public. "I don't know many people who would have thought this would have happened in such a public arena—and that somebody would have the audacity to do that, particularly at 10 am," Assistant State's Attorney Elizabeth Haynos told the Washington Post.

But for those of us who have been tracking similar incidents of harassment and assault on DC's public transit system, this incident fit a pattern. Metro Transit Police data showed that most incidents of public sexual harassment and assault occurred on the busier Red and Orange lines, most frequently during rush hour, just like the April 12th attack.

One in five Metro or Metrobus riders have experienced sexual harassment on the system. That's according to WMATA's first comprehensive study of sexual harassment on a city's public transit system, which the agency partnered with Collective Action for Safe Spaces (CASS) and Stop Street Harassment to conduct in January 2016.

Of the people who were harassed, 75% experienced verbal harassment, 26% had been touched in a sexual way, and 2% had been raped.

Metro has worked on this issue in the past, but it's beefing up its efforts

CASS and Stop Street Harassment have worked with WMATA to address the problem of sexual harassment since 2012. The two agencies have helped WMATA train its staff and track verbal and physical harassment through an online reporting portal, as well as run an awareness campaign with anti-harassment messaging across the system and annual outreach days at Metro stations to let riders know how to report.


One of the signs from Metro's 2012 campaign.

Now, WMATA is working with CASS and Stop Street Harassment on a new awareness campaign to demonstrate its commitment to serving those who are most marginalized and most likely to be targeted by sexual and gender-based harassment. This is because women of color, and especially trans women of color, experience street harassment differently, often by the people meant to protect them; this happened in a recent incident in which Metro Transit Police arrested and assaulted a young black woman at the Columbia Heights station.

On November 4th, an awareness campaign launched with ads featuring the faces of trans women of color and Muslim women. The ads, which appear on trains, at Metro stops, and on buses, come on the heels of incidents where these identities were targeted at DC's Shaw Library and Banneker Pool.

Some versions of the ads are directed toward people who experience harassment, with a simple message of support: "You deserve to be treated with respect." The remaining ads encourage bystanders to speak out and report harassment.

The new campaign has three goals:

  1. Support people who experience harassment with messages letting riders know they deserve to be treated with respect.
  2. Promote a culture of bystander intervention, where everyone is responsible for speaking out against harassment and making public transit safer.
  3. Elevate our city's most marginalized identities by featuring the faces of people who are part of marginalized groups, such as trans women of color and Muslim women, who face harassment most severely and most frequently.
This is a great start, but there's a lot more work to do

Learning to stop harassment on its own is not enough if WMATA does not take steps to ensure that its staff and police force are applying their anti-harassment training to communities of color, and especially trans women of color, who are most likely to be targeted.

CASS, in partnership with Stop Street Harassment, continues to keep pressure on WMATA to step up its efforts to address violence against DC's most vulnerable communities. Here are the latest recommendations from local advocates to make public transit safe and welcoming for everyone:

  1. Expand anti-harassment training currently required for frontline staff to include supervisors, who are responsible for building a culture of safety and respect.
  2. Disarm Metro Transit Police to reduce violence and remove barriers for bystanders who want to intervene to stop police harassment. There's a case to be made that disarming Metro Transit Police will reduce violence against riders, foster an environment where police can build relationships with community members based in mutual respect rather than fear and the threat of violence, and that it would make officers safer, too.
  3. Expand trans cultural competency training to all frontline staff. Recently, training to better understand and serve trans communities was piloted for Metro Transit Police. Local advocates still receive many reports of harassment by WMATA employees and station managers who are hostile toward trans riders. Trans cultural competency training can help WMATA better understand and serve DC's trans communities.
  4. Train all frontline staff, supervisors, and Metro Transit Police to address implicit biases, and specifically to address officers' hidden prejudices that may cause police to disproportionately stop and harass communities of color. The Department of Justice (DOJ) has recommended this training for many police departments and already implemented it for its own law enforcement agents and lawyers.
  5. Make anti-harassment materials available in DC's eight most common non-English languages: Spanish, Amharic, French, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic and Bengali.
WMATA has taken an excellent first step with the new awareness campaign to demonstrate its commitment to marginalized communities. Now, it needs to back the campaign with action steps to ensure that anti-harassment advocacy serves everyone.

Politics


Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 6

There's a lot to Ward 6. On one end, you can be standing in Navy Yard, outside of Nationals Park, while on the other you're in Shaw. And as you travel between the two, you might pass the Supreme Court! Ward 6's neighborhoods have experienced a lot of change recently, and many of its Advisory Neighborhood Commission races are hotly contested. We looked through these races and found seven candidates to endorse.


Map created with Mapbox, data from OpenStreetMap.

 

What are ANCs, and why should I care?

Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, or ANCs, are neighborhood councils of unpaid, elected representatives who meet monthly and weigh in with the government about important issues to the community. ANCs are very important on housing and transportation. An ANC's opposition to new housing, retail, a bike lane, bus improvements, etc. can stymie or significantly delay valuable projects. On the other hand, proactive and positive-thinking ANCs give the government suggestions for ways to improve the neighborhood and rally resident support.

Each ANC is divided into a number of Single Member Districts (SMDs), averaging about 2,000 voters. Races often hinge on a small handful of votes; Your vote, every vote, really counts.

Not sure which SMD you live in? Find out here.

Here are our endorsements

After reviewing the candidate responses from each competitive race in Ward 6, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.


Photo by Ryan Blanding on Flickr.

In ANC 6A we endorse Yair Inspektor and Stephanie Zimny

ANC 6A is the northeastern corner of Ward 6, including the neighborhoods east of 8th Street between East Capitol Street and Florida Avenue/Benning Road. Sections of the H Street Corridor and Lincoln Park are part of this commission. Maryland Avenue cuts diagonally across the ANC, meaning commissioners will have a chance to influence the outcomes of the ongoing Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project, a multi-year process by the District Department of Transportation to fix the corridor which has "a history of hazardous conditions for pedestrian travel."

For ANC 6A05, directly in the middle of this neighborhood, we endorse Yair Inspektor. Citing examples from many conversations with neighbors about the Maryland Avenue Project, Yair is cautiously "in support of the plan," though he does believe that"additional traffic mitigation and diversion strategies should be considered." He claims that as commissioner, his "aim is to build relationships with and between all of our neighbors, and to insure that Capitol Hill remains a home for people of various incomes and backgrounds."

Yair's opponent did not complete our survey despite multiple attempts to reach him, and our one complaint of Yair is that he seemed at times hesitant to take firm positions on an issue. Nonetheless, we are impressed by Yair's commitment to community and his willingness to learn and engage with neighborhood issues.

Just north is 6A06. Here, we support Stephanie Zimny. Stephanie is fully in support of the Maryland Avenue project, and has years of experience addressing development in the neighborhood, serving on the 6A Economic Development and Zoning Committee. She believes that "a good working relationship with all community members and business interests, as well as a knowledge of zoning rules and development insight can lead to smart development that benefits the whole community." We're with you there.

In general, all of Stephanie's answers revealed a reasonable, well-informed, and capable candidate. We did not received a response from either of Stephanie's two opponents, but our readers pointed out that one, Peter Grant, has "been leading the effort to halt the Maryland Avenue Pedestrian Safety Project," and in fact "[s]topping the project may be the reason why he is running." We see Stephanie as a solid choice in this race.


Union Station. Photo by www.GlynLowe.com on Flickr.

In ANC 6B we chose not to endorse, and in ANC 6C there are no competitive races

ANCs in Ward 6 are generally known for being positive, productive, and reasonable, as many have spent years deftly negotiating important developments across the ward. 6B in particular has proven home to strong neighborhood leaders over the years, moderating the debate about the redevelopment of the Hine school and incorporating smart opportunities for housing and transportation developments throughout the neighborhood.

There is only one contested race in 6B: K. Denise Krepp and Cam Norris are vying for the 6B10 seat, with Krepp being the incumbent. Both candidates' surveys had some good points and some vague sections, and we didn't feel that there was a clear choice. Please read their responses carefully and make your own decision here.

ANC 6C includes much the area surrounding Union Station and is also home to many talented commissioners. This election, all of these candidates are running unopposed, so we did not offer endorsements here as per our process outlined here.


Buzzard Point. Photo by Geoff Alexander on Flickr.

In ANC 6D, we endorse Gail Fast, Cara Lea Shockley, and Katelynd Mahoney.

If you live anywhere in the growing areas around the Navy Yard, Waterfront, and L'Enfant Plaza Metro stations, you probably live in 6D. These neighborhoods have experienced extraordinary amounts of growth and change in recent years, and commissioners there need to be sharp and active to keep pace and keep neighbors informed.

Two waterfront developments dominate conversation in these neighborhoods: the redevelopment of Buzzard Point around the new DC United Soccer Stadium, and the proposed 11th Street Bridge Park, an elevated park reminiscent of the High Line in New York City that will span the Anacostia River.

Four candidates are running for a seat in 6D01, the area in between 14th and 4th Street SW and from Independence Avenue to the Washington Channel. Out of the two who returned our questionnaire, we really liked Gail Fast.

Gail in unafraid of the many changes happening around the area, acknowledging that redevelopment in all of Southwest "is already in full swing, and done correctly should be a benefit to all the City, with increased tax revenue from new development, added housing, and better use of the waterfront for all of the community."

Gail is supportive of the plans for Buzzard Point but gives an entirely thorough explanation of why she believes "that there is a lack of monitoring and enforcement on the part of the city" and that "there could be (if there isn't one already) a public health threat" in the area, primarily from pollution.

Gail is also excited about the workforce development proposals incorporated into the 11th Street Bridge Park plan, seeing the project as a chance "new employment, for social integration, and for social equity." She vows to strongly advocate for more affordably housing among all the construction in the area, and has experience serving on many planning committees for the neighborhood.

Opponent Wes Ven Johnson also completed our questionnaire, but did not impress us as much as Gail. When asked about accommodating more housing in his district, Wes's primary concern was "that the new buildings blend in with current buildings and do not block out their views." He also was against the recent Bard development, which would have brought both cultural space and housing to the area. He says he advocated for the proposal that cut the buildings floors from nine to four or five. The other two candidates here did not respond to our survey.

The area generally surrounding South Capitol Street south of Independence Ave is 6D02, and there we endorse Cara Lea Shockley. Like Gail, Cara is most excited about the job opportunities present in the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan, only she hopes these promises are made good this time around, as similar local hire proposals have not been upheld in the past. At Buzzard Point Cara was unique among candidates in sharing that she thinks "putting the soccer stadium there is a mistake," providing a dire analysis of the traffic impact she imagines it will bring.

Transportation is a key issue for Cara. She thinks "[b]ike lanes are extremely important," and wants "to see fewer cars" in the neighborhood, in part by advocating for adding more car sharing locations. On parking: "I've seen cities work which have little or no street parking, and I think it should be the direction we move in." We didn't get a response from Cara's opponent, and we like a lot of what we see in Cara's responses.


11th Street Bridge Park Proposal. Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park Equitable Development Plan (click for link).

Finally, the southern tip of the ANC encompasses much of Buzzard Point and Fort McNair. Here there is another highly-contested race, with four candidates running for the seat of 6D05. Three of these responded to us, and while two seem strong, we decided ultimately to endorse Katelynd Mahoney.

It's not every day that you find a commissioner who describes the "influx of housing coming to all corners of the neighborhood" as "[a] major blessing." You had us at hello.

But seriously, Katelynd's detailed and researched answers were good on a lot of points. She has particular recommendations for bike infrastructure and sidewalk improvements, and even though she claims both bus transit and parking are "severely lacking in ANC6D," she is willing to prioritize the needs of the bus system over more parking. Last, while she has some specific reservations, Katelynd supports both the controversial homeless shelter planned for the area and the redevelopment of Buzzard Point.

At least one reader is also very excited about the prospect of Katelynd winning this election: "Katelynd is the perfect example of what an ANC commissioner should be." That's a very high bar to clear, Katelynd!

In this race, Dana Lutenegger also seems like a reasonable candidate, but again, we felt that Katelynd was the strongest in the end. Dana wants to strongly advocate for more affordable housing, and had great answers on how to address crime and add new bike lanes. She He did seem reticent to remove any parking even to improve bus service, and was unsupportive of the the Bard development, saying it's too tall.

The incumbent, Roger Moffat, also responded to our questionnaire, but he did not articulate clear stances on many issues. What is more, many readers wrote in that they were unimpressed with Moffat's tenure, saying he did not always attend ANC meetings, was not responsive, and was more focused on parking than any other transportation issue.

All in all, we strongly favor Katelynd for ANC 6D05.


Photo by beautifulcataya on Flickr.

In ANC6E, we endorse Alexander Padro and Lily Roberts

This northwestern arm of the ward stretches narrowly out into Mount Vernon Triangle and Shaw. A large portion of this area is called Northwest One, and it's the former site of a collection of troubled low-income housing developments that was demolished to make room for mixed-income housing. Today it's mostly parking lots, though one remaining cooperative, Sursum Corda, is progressing with plans for redevelopment.

In the far northwest of the ANC, 6E01 is the neighborhoods surrounding Rhode Island Avenue between 11th and 7th Street. Incumbent Alexander Padro earned our endorsement for this seat.

During his tenure, Alexander negotiated to ensure Sursum Corda residents have a right to return after the redevelopment of their cooperative and was able to secure over $500,000 in community benefits for the surrounding recreation centers and service facilities. He is very experienced and knowledgeable (eight terms as commissioner), and had solid answers about housing and transportation in the neighborhood, including clear support for the controversial bike lanes along 6th Street.

We empathize with Alexander's characterization of parking as "[t]he 'P' word" in neighborhood politics, and while we get it that "[o]pposition to removal of on street parking is almost universal among residents," we hope he endeavors to try and find ways to ensure bicycle and bus infrastructure get appropriate priority as well as automobile needs. Alexander's opponent did not respond to our survey.

Truxton Circle and the district north of New York Avenue near Dunbar High School comprise 6E04. This is another four-candidate race, and we think Lily Roberts is the best of them.

Lily strongly advocates for "[a]dding housing at multiple price points," and wants to see the large surface parking lots throughout the area removed in favor of diverse housing and development options. She is excited about the work being done at Sursum Corda, though she thinks there are "far too many parking spaces (about 4x the required number)" included in the plans "in one of the most walkable parts of the city." Lily is also adamant that the government move faster this time around compared to how it acted with places like neighboring Temple Courts.

Her answers on transportation showed an in-depth understanding of the issues and her neighborhood, and she self-reports that she is not afraid to get wonky on things like "data-driven parking regulations." Join the crowd, Lily.

As one reader put it, "Lily's understanding of planning issues is both granular and global, and as both a social worker and a policy analyst, she has the right combo of brains and heart to do the job right."

One other candidate, Phil Tsolakidis, also completed our questionnaire. Phil had good and thoughtful answers to many of our questions, but he was unwilling to consider removing any street parking to improve bus service. Overall, we believe Lily is the best candidate between the two.

Last but not least, ANC 6E05 is Mt. Vernon Triangle, formed by New York Avenue, Massachusetts Avenue and 4th Street. Both candidates here responded to our questions, and we had a hard time choosing a clear winner for our endorsement.

Incumbent and chairperson Marge Maceda did not write much, but was generally supportive of bike lanes (including those proposed on 6th Street) and other transportation improvements. Challenger Alex Marriott clearly understands the benefits of, and favors, adding more housing. He also promises to increase communication between the ANC and residents. Both candidates were opposed to removing street parking under any circumstance.

We couldn't identify a clear choice here; both say some good things, and neither raised any red flags for us. We encourage readers to look carefully at their options and make what seems like the best choice to them.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 6 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 6. You can also see responses and our endorsements for all 8 wards on our 2016 ANC Endorsements Page, and we'll publish our rationale for those in upcoming posts.

These are official endorsements of Greater Greater Washington. To determine this year's endorsements, we sent a reader-generated candidate questionnaire to all ANC candidates. We then published candidate responses and collected feedback. Staff evaluated all candidate responses and feedback for contested races and presented endorsements to our volunteer editorial board, which then made the final decision.

Arts


Festivals like Saturday's Art All Night are great for cities

Local DC performing and visual artists and installations will invade seven DC neighborhoods Saturday night as part of a free program called Art All Night. This year's festival, and events like it, are great for fostering urbanism.


Artist Monsieur Arthur mixes paints for a live feed projection on the front of the Carnegie Library at Art All Night 2015. Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.


Art All Night includes dozens of individual events in seven neighborhoods that are part of the DC Main Streets program: Shaw, Dupont Circle, H Street, North Capitol, Congress Heights, Tenleytown, and Van Ness, from 7pm to 3am. (The full schedule of events for each neighborhood is online here.)

Art All Night started in Shaw in 2011, inspired by the Nuit Blanche festival in Paris. This year it features almost exclusively local DC artists (with a few invited international guests), "in celebration of the Made in DC initiative," according to event organizers.


Shaw Shaws installation at 2015 Art All Night. Photo by Victoria Pickering.

Festivals make us consider the urban fabric in new ways

Art All Night founder Ariana Austin has described it as an opportunity for the community to get exposed to local and international artists and "encounter the city in a new way."

That's true, but it only scratches the surface on why festivals like this one are a boon to communities.

GGWash contributor David Meni went to the Art All Night exhibits along North Capitol Street in the Truxton Circle/Bloomingdale area last year. He says nearly all of the art installations and concerts there took place in vacant lots that would be fenced off at any other time.

"These are spaces that would normally be overlooked or even intentionally avoided. I think one of the biggest values of Art All Night, at least in that area, was to get folks from the community and neighborhoods nearby engaged with those spaces and envisioning their potential. There's a particularly large vacant lot at the intersection of Florida and North Capitol, but for this one night it was active with artists and music and food vendors—I'm sure that got a lot of people thinking about how that lot could be used in ways that bring the community together year-round."

"An arts festival is akin to a parade, marathon, or any other big urban event," adds contributor Abby Lynch. "They can draw people to a new part of the city, let us experience it in a different way. They can also take a busy area and activate it at a different time—I'm guessing that Van Ness isn't typically that busy at 2 or 3 am, so this is bringing new activity to the area in that sense as well."


Photo by Victoria Pickering on Flickr.

They can be an economic opportunity, too

Van Ness Main Streets sees art and cultural programming as an opportunity to use art for business revitalization. "Our Jazz @ VN series was developed to showcase our local restaurants and create an activity to highlight our restaurants as well DC's vibrant jazz scene," says Theresa Cameron, the organization's executive director.

These sorts of events can provide mini-breaks to an overly restrictive zoning scheme too, points out contributor Canaan Merchant. "Mini businesses that may not make sense in a brick and mortar space can still flourish in a festival space and the great thing is that the brick and mortar places do well as well, which makes me think that a rising tide lifts all boats."

Abby also adds that festivals like this "compliment the activities of brick and mortar institutions, too. They can concentrate programing to draw a big crowd in a way that a performing arts center with two stages and shows every Thursday through Sunday just can't. That big crowd is also a good way to showcase lots of artists (or arts groups) for a broad audience, providing them exposure in a way they wouldn't get if they were to produce a show on their own. And a healthy creative community is a good thing for a city."

In fact, some urbanists have argued that cities should focus less on museums as a development magnet and more on festivals. Why? The flexibility and overhead of festivals can provide a greater return on investment than capital-intensive museums. Certainly, that doesn't mean DC should jettison the Smithsonian, but it's an interesting argument.

Development


When the Metro first arrived in Shaw and Columbia Heights, they were far different than they are today

During rush hour, northbound Yellow Line trains need to reverse direction at Mount Vernon Square because there isn't enough capacity for all of them to run to Greenbelt. That's because when Metro designed the Yellow Line, it was hard to imagine neighborhoods like Shaw and U Street developing as rapidly as they did.


This pre-2004 map shows original full-time Yellow Line service. Image from WMATA.

Why can't Yellow Line go farther north full time?

For the Yellow Line to operate north of Mount Vernon Square full-time, there would need to be a pocket track somewhere between that station and Greenbelt, so that Yellow Line trains could turn back towards Virginia without impeding Green Line trains at rush hour. (Right now, a few Rush+ Yellow Line trains do go all the way to Greenbelt, but usually only about four per hour during peak periods).

The tunnel that carries the Green and Yellow Lines under 7th Street and U Street NW opened in two stages: from L'Enfant Plaza to Gallery Place in April 1983, and from Gallery Place to U Street in May 1991. These tracks initially only provided service for the Yellow Line, but the Green Line would soon utilize the tunnel when it began operation from U Street to Anacostia in December 1991. Check out the Evolution of Metrorail graphic below, which we initially ran two years ago to see how service has changed:

The tracks running through the 7th Street tunnel had always been intended to be shared by the Green and Yellow Lines, but only for a short portion. Although it was intended for the Green Line to operate along the entire length of the tunnel - continuing onwards to Petworth, Fort Totten, and northwest Prince George's County - the Yellow Line would short turn at a pocket track somewhere along the route, so as not to overwhelm operations at Greenbelt (as I discussed in my first post on this topic).

Metro's planners opted to build the necessary pocket track at Mount Vernon Square station, which meant that Yellow Line trains would have to end their route and turn back towards Virginia without serving neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Petworth. Except for the brief six-month period between the opening of Mount Vernon Square, Shaw, and U Street stations in June 1991 and the commencement of Green Line service that December, the Yellow Line has always terminated at Mount Vernon Square in regular rush hour service.

Off-peak Yellow Line service all the way to Fort Totten began in 2006. This has certainly been a first step towards meeting the increased demand in DC's Mid-City area (generally thought of as the neighborhoods served by the Green Line from Shaw to Petworth). However, these areas have now grown enough in population that full-time Yellow Line service is warranted, despite the significant obstacles that stand in the way.

The growth of Mid-City has led to a need for increased Metro service

Massive redevelopment in Mid-City began around the turn of the century, and has continued at a frantic pace to the present day. That's meant increased demand for service along the Green/Yellow Lines at all hours.

When the Mid-City section of the Green Line opened in 1991 (between Gallery Place and U Street) and was completed in 1999 (from U Street to Fort Totten), the area was still reeling from the destruction caused by the 1968 riots. Shaw and Columbia Heights were still plagued with empty storefronts, and the landscape was pockmarked with empty lots where incinerated buildings had once stood.


Aftermath of DC's 1968 riots. Image from the Library of Congress.

The corridor has since benefitted from an incredible amount of reinvestment since the opening of the new Green (later Green/Yellow) Line stations in the 1990s. New construction has ranged in scale from projects like Progression Place, a huge mixed-use center that was recently built directly atop Shaw Metro, to smaller infill developments aimed at repairing the urban fabric.


Apartments at the Columbia Heights station. Photo by Alice Crain on Flickr.

A problem inherent in the system's design

Unfortunately, plans for Metro service patterns in Mid-City didn't anticipate the future growth that these neighborhoods would face. The Yellow Line was designed to provide a direct connection from Virginia to downtown for the commuting crowd; it travels express between Pentagon and L'Enfant Plaza, then provides a connection to each of the other Metro lines downtown before turning back at Mount Vernon Square.

The system's planners didn't predict that a significant amount of Yellow Line passengers would desire to travel past downtown, to neighborhoods like Shaw and Columbia Heights. Thus, it was assumed that the Green Line would provide adequate service for this portion of the line. Hence the pocket track going in at Mount Vernon Square, rather than at a more northern station like U Street.

So, could Metro build a new pocket track to account for the development spree?

Unfortunately, because this service pattern is cemented by the chosen location to build a pocket track, any attempt to correct this past oversight will be very laborious and costly.

It would be extremely difficult to add a pocket track to the Green and Yellow Lines anywhere between Mount Vernon Square and the District line because the tracks run almost entirely underground all the way to West Hyattsville. It would be prohibitively disruptive and expensive to excavate along the existing route and construct a pocket track between the mainline tracks—a WMATA study placed the cost of a Fort Totten pocket at $150 million.

Although the lower platform at Fort Totten is mostly built in an open cut (a shallow excavation that puts the tracks slightly below ground level), the tracks emerge directly from tunnels on both sides. The necessary location for a pocket track - the east side of the station, on the far side of the platforms from the city - is also the location of the B&E Connector track, a non-revenue link between the Red and Green Lines. The combination of these factors would make the construction of a pocket at this location very complex.


The track layout at Fort Totten. Light-colored tracks are below ground. Graphic by the author.

The next logical place to build a pocket track beyond Fort Totten is in Prince George's County, at the point where the tracks emerge from underground near West Hyattsville station. However, while construction of a pocket here wouldn't require excavation, it would still be extremely difficult and disruptive because the tracks are side-by-side on an elevated viaduct.

Because a pocket would have to be built between the existing mainline tracks, Metro would have to reconstruct a roughly 600-foot section of this elevated viaduct in order to pull the tracks apart and create space for a third track in between. This would be comparably disruptive and expensive to constructing a pocket track underground near Fort Totten. What's really required is a section of track that is at-grade, e.g. resting at ground level rather than underground or on a viaduct.


The Green Line viaduct and platforms at West Hyattsville. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The next feasible place to build a pocket track would be at the above-ground embankment behind Home Depot on East-West Highway near Prince George's Plaza station (although that, too, might be difficult due to the curve at that location).

Of course, a pocket track gets less and less useful the further it is from downtown. The next possible location for a pocket would be near College Park, at which point Yellow Line trains might as well continue all the way to Greenbelt.

It looks like for now, stations north of Mount Vernon Square will have to make do without full-time Yellow Line service. Until WMATA can procure $150 million to add an expensive new underground pocket track at Fort Totten, as well as $100 million for new rolling stock (plus millions more in annual operating funds), rush hour Yellow Line trains will have to continue to terminate at Mount Vernon Square. But the temporary terminus at U Street offers us a glimpse of what could have been if Metro had built a pocket track there back in 1991.

Housing


The Area Median Income (AMI), explained

There are a number of programs used to create affordable housing in the region, including housing vouchers, inclusionary zoning, low-income housing tax credits and public housing.


Photo by Images Money on Flickr.

Each of these programs use a central statistic—the area median income, or AMI—to determine whether families are eligible for the program.

In this explainer, I focus on how the AMI is calculated and what it means for affordable housing in the region.

The area median income (AMI) is the household income for the median—or middle—household in a region.

As a quick refresher, if you were to line up each household in the area from the poorest to the wealthiest, the household in the middle would be the median household.

Each year, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) calculates the median income for every metropolitan region in the country. HUD focuses on the region—rather than just the city—because families searching for housing are likely to look beyond the city itself to find a place to live.


A rendering of the Channing E. Phillips Homes, which will go up next to the Shaw Metro and will be affordable to families making 60% of the area median income. Image from AHC Inc.

In DC, the region includes more than twenty nearby cities and counties, including Prince George's County, the city of Alexandria, and Fairfax County. Families in these suburbs tend to be wealthier than those in the District, so the AMI is higher than it would be if HUD calculated the AMI for the city alone.

HUD uses the five-year estimates of the American Community Survey—a national survey similar to the Census—to measure household income. They begin with the median income for a family of four.

In the Washington region, the AMI is $109,200 for a family of four.

Because the metropolitan region includes some of the country's wealthiest suburbs, this is among the highest AMIs in the country.

The table below reports the median income for families of various sizes in our metropolitan region. Because family incomes differ by the number of people in the household, HUD uses a formula to adjust the AMI for families of different sizes.

These adjusted AMIs are used to calculate affordability throughout the region, including Prince George's County, Alexandria and the District itself.

Table 1: The AMI in the DC Metropolitan Region, by Household Size:

Household SizeMedian Household Income
1$76,020
2$86,880
3$97,740
4$108,600
5$117,290
6$125,980

To determine whether a family is eligible for various housing programs we compare a family's income to a percentage of the AMI.

We typically distinguish between three types of households. Households earning less than 80 percent of the AMI are considered low-income households by HUD. Very low-income households earn less than 50 percent of the AMI and extremely low-income households earn less than 30 percent of the AMI.

Other eligibility standards, including 60 percent AMI or 110 percent AMI, are occasionally used to determine affordability.

In Table 2, I report the income associated with each affordability threshold. In our region, a four-person households earning 80 percent of the AMI earns about $87,360 each year. A four-person household earning 30 percent of the AMI earns about $32,760 each year.

Table 2: Affordable Housing Standards in the Region:

Percent AMIHousehold Income
30%$32,600
50%$54,300
60%$65,160
80%$70,150
100%$108,600
110%$130,320

Every affordable housing program in the region uses these AMI calculations to determine eligibility

Housing vouchers are generally available for families earning 30 percent AMI. This means that families earning $32,760 or less are eligible for vouchers.

The mandatory inclusionary zoning program in the District requires builders include units available at mostly 80 percent AMI, but also some at 50 percent. Families of four earning up to $70,150 would be eligible for these units.

And affordable housing developments cap rents below market rate to ensure that families can live in these units without spending more than 30 percent of their income on rent. In the Channing Phillips Homes, a new affordable housing development in Shaw, apartments will be targeted at households earning up to 60 percent AMI. This means that a four-person household earning $65,520 or less would be eligible to live in the development. Rents would be capped to ensure that households can afford the rent without paying more than 30 percent of their income.

Critics of these affordability standards argue that poor families in the city are disadvantaged by the AMI calculation

By including the entire region in the AMI calculation, HUD includes many wealthy suburbs of the District. Since these suburbs have a higher median income than the city, the AMI for the region is higher than it would be for the city alone.

As a result, the poorest families in a region, who typically live in the city, earn substantially below 30% of the AMI in the region. There is virtually no housing assistance designed specifically for those families.

Correction: The original version of this post reported median income and housing income requirements that were different from the 2016 rules. The post has been updated to with accurate numbers.

History


Was your neighborhood "obsolete" in 1950?

The National Capital Park and Planning Commission, forerunner to today's NCPC, declared most of Shaw, Mount Vernon Square and Triangle, Capitol Hill, Southwest, Buena Vista and other neighborhoods "obsolete" in 1950. Yes, amazingly, they really used that term.


"Problem areas" and "obsolete characteristics" according to NCPPC, 1950.

That's some of the astounding information in the 1950 document Washington, Present and Future from NCPPC. ShawNeighborhood listserv participant RayM scanned a number of pages showing plans to radically remove multi-family dwellings from historic neighborhoods and force the kind of low-density, single-use, less walkable pattern of development that permanently destroyed many urban areas.

What was wrong? People lived in neighborhoods with alley dwellings, some of which were less well maintained. In The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs talked about how planners in Boston declared the North End a similar "slum" simply because people lived at a certain population density per acre, and the view at the time was that government had to force people to live more spread out.

There are certainly reasons to believe race played a part as well; these neighborhoods were predominantly African-American. The solution, people thought at the time, was to tear down the old neighborhoods and build new ones in the "towers in the park" style of the housing projects we all know and loathe today. Here is their plan for Shaw:

Fortunately for Shaw, a thriving neighborhood with beautiful old row houses and some of DC's best-preserved carriage homes, most of this plan never came to pass. It largely did, however, in Southwest:

Besides wholesale demolition of neighborhoods, planners tried to push people out of so-called "blighted" neighborhoods with zoning. On Capitol Hill, for instance, the zoning plan wanted to take the fabric of different size buildings coexisting and declare that illegal. Instead, all commerce in the NE quadrant of the Hill would be restricted to H Street, Massachusetts, and a 2-block stretch of 8th, and all multifamily to Maryland Avenue.

They also wanted to widen 11th Street and demolish everything for 2 blocks on either side of East Capitol to create a new extended Mall. (This is the reason that the street between A and C NE is Constitution, not B, and likewise in SE is Independence, even though the original L'Enfant plan called them B Street).

Many of these decisions were efforts to segregate

It's important to recognize that some characteristics of the District today come directly out of explicit "social engineering" decisions that planners pushed on the District when the 1958 zoning code was written. Rules against accessory dwellings and corner stores, parking minimums and single-use zoning were all efforts to zone many of the people, mostly African-American, out of the neighborhoods.

That's just one reason to be pleased that last January, DC's Zoning Commission adopted a new zoning code that will take effect on September 6th, doing away with the code that came from this era.

This post originally ran in 2012, but since the history hasn't changed and the new zoning code goes into effect soon, we wanted to share it again!

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