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Our endorsements for ANC in Ward 5

Bloomingdale, Trinidad, Brookland, Fort Totten—these are a few of the neighborhoods included in Ward 5, which covers much of northeast DC. There are a lot of contested races for the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions this year, with well over 50 candidates total. We found eight who deserve your vote.


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 5, we chose eight candidates to endorse. Here, you can read their positions, along with responses from many unopposed candidates.


The historic seminary building, as seen from 13th Street NE. Photo by Jonathan Neeley.

In ANC 5A, we endorse Will Gee and Gordon-Andrew Fletcher

Much of ANC 5A is made up of Michigan Park, Fort Totten, Catholic University and the Old Soldier's Home. This ANC covers the areas east and west of the Red Line between the Brookland and Fort Totten Metro stations. One of larger controversies in the area is the development of 90 new row houses at St. Joseph's Seminary. Some neighbors have argued vociferously against this development, saying the buildings will "irrevocably damage [the] community" and destroy green space, even though the land is currently private.

A similar battle is unfolding nearby at the Takoma Metro station, which is just outside of 5A. There, a large underused parking lot has been slotted for redevelopment for years, but some community members have stalled it. One stop down, the mixed-use Cafritz development near the Fort Totten Metro is already under construction, but has been the source of community pushback in the past.

In situations like these, strong, reasonable, and proactive ANC leadership is desperately needed.

One leader we like is Will Gee, a candidate for 5A03, the district at the northeastern corner of the ANC on the Maryland border.

Will had smart and nuanced answers regarding the different developments in the area. For example, regarding Cafritz: "This is the kind of density around a Metro stop that we should be encouraging, though such a large-scale development is bound to have significant consequences, both good and bad." He similarly is excited about working with the developers at St. Joseph's, saying it is an "excellent place to add more housing" and a "critical opportunity for the Michigan Park community."

Will is a solid supporter of alternative transit, and was one of the few candidates who took our survey who unabashedly supported removing street parking if it meant improving bus infrastructure. This is a courageous and smart stance in a neighborhood where, as he puts it, such parking is "sufficiently available" and the change would be in the "neighborhood's best interest." Let's get this man a seat already.

Directly west lies 5A08, the area adjacent to the Fort Totten Metro station. Here, we endorse Gordon-Andrew Fletcher. Gordon-Andrew is also impressed by the efforts at St. Joseph's, and is "a firm believer that these townhomes will be a benefit for the area." He also envisions bike lanes along South Dakota Avenue and Riggs Road. To us, Gordon-Andrew seems like a thoughtful and responsive choice for commissioner, and we hope he gets a chance to serve his community.


Photo by Joseph Nicolia on Flickr.

In ANC 5B, we endorse Henri Makembe

North and east of the Brookland-CUA Metro stop lies Brookland and the rest of ANC 5B. Besides the development at St. Joseph's, neighbors here have their eye on the revitalization the Rhode Island Avenue corridor, and they want to know what commissioners will do to address public safety in their area.

There are only two contested races in 5B. For the first (5B03), we like Henri Makembe. Henri says that one of the reasons he is running is because he believes the "neighborhood should be thinking about how we want we want to grow in the future and go after it," and he sees Rhode Island Avenue as key to that growth. He also is supportive of developing more housing, "especially those suited for families.

Henri also envisions better connectivity between bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure and wants to work closely with the Metropolitan Police Department to improve community policing.

Finally, Henri voiced his approval for the controversial homeless shelter proposed for Ward 5. While he agrees that "legitimate questions have not been answered and the process thus far has been opaque," he is unwavering in his support. We appreciate his rational, positive, and firm approach to these issues.

The other contested race is 5B04. This is an important district for any supporters of transit-oriented development, as it runs directly adjacent to the Red Line between the Brookland and Rhode Island Avenue Metro stops.

Unfortunately, we cannot endorse either candidate here.

The challenger, Carolyn Steptoe, has long been an opponent of development in the area. Her extraordinary comment here praises the neighborhood group known as the "200 footers," who won an incredibly impactful court case halting the construction of housing on the vacant property at 901 Monroe Street.

As further proof of Carolyn's consistent opposition to smart growth, she told us that "5B04 is fully saturated" when it comes to housing, and was against the very idea of accommodating new growth and residents."

Incumbent Rayseen Woodland is not any better. Frankly, this quote in response to our questionnaire astounded us:

I am not for too much housing. The more housing that come to the community, the more changes. People bring their own perspectives and they may not match with ours. I would not like to see residential parking become more of a disaster.
We cannot support a commissioner who, rather than address the needs of our growing city and citizens, values parking and keeping new people with different ideas out. We hope you won't support such a commissioner either.

If you live in 5B04, we encourage you to get involved in your ANC (though we wish you luck), and if you're interested in running for a seat next election, make sure to let us know.


New York Avenue and Bladensburg Road. Photo by Randall Myers on Flickr.

In ANC 5C, we endorse Carlos Davis and Sumner Shaw

Further south, ANC 5C is a heavily industrial area with housing mixed throughout, including neighborhoods like Brentwood, Fort Lincoln and Woodridge. It is bordered on the south by the National Arboretum and Mount Olivet Rd, and in the north it lies mostly below Rhode Island Avenue.

Rhode Island Avenue's future is critically important to many of these neighbors, but perhaps more immediately pressing are the continuing controversies and stories coming from Brookland Manor, a large block of low-income housing that is set for redevelopment but is under scrutiny because of allegations of discriminatory practices.

The strip of land running north along of Bladensburg Road and bordering Brookland Manor is 5C02. In a close race, Carlos Davis struck us as the strongest candidate for this seat.

Carlos is in favor of bike lanes along Bladensburg, and is frustrated by the many missing sidewalks in his neighborhood, something he will work to fix. He envisions walkable urban villages for his neighborhoods, something he thinks is readily achievable with consistent "community and developer engagement."

Opponent Kevin Mullone seems generally reasonable, but he believes "the city is over saturated with new apartment units" and was against removing any street parking even if it meant improved bus services. We encourage you to give Carlos your vote.

Geographically the largest district in the ANC, the southern edge of the area bordering the National Arboretum is 5C04. There are three candidates running for the same seat here, and we think Sumner Shaw is a good choice.

Sumner has good ideas for the continued enhancement of Rhode Island Avenue, and seemed generally open to new ideas, as shown by his response about Brookland Manor: "I feel that progress in the form of development is a good thing as long as the constituents and their concerns are included prior and during said such progress."

More than anything, we think Sumner is a much better choice than his opponent Bernice Young. In reply to Brookland Manor: "No comment." Sorry, voters deserve to know where a candidate stands on perhaps the most public controversy in the ANC. Other answers were similarly terse and unhelpful. How would she like the neighborhood to look in 20 years? "I would like it to stay the same."

The third candidate, Jacqueline Manning, did not respond to our survey. Given the options, we think Sumner is the best choice here.


Trinidad. Photo by nauseaflip on Flickr.

In ANC 5D, we endorse Adam Roberts

Resdients who live in Ivy City, Trinidad, and Carver Langston live and vote in ANC 5D. It's a narrow district bounded on the southern edge by Florida Avenue and Benning Road, and on the north generally by New York Avenue.

Given those two thoroughfares, transportation is a big issue for the neighborhood. ANC commissioners will have opportunities to make their streets safer during their terms, as well as influence any work done around the Starburst Plaza at the end of the H Street corridor. We also wanted to know what prospective commissioners had to say about the ongoing redevelopment at Union Market, including the newer debates surfacing about historic preservation.

Within this ANC, the triangle in between Maryland Avenue, Bladensburg Road and Mount Olivet Road is 5D03, and for this seat we endorse Adam Roberts.

Adam's previous term has been busy, and he was proud to support "projects that have both positively activated space and met or surpassed the city's affordable housing requirements," including "13 brand new Habitat for Humanity homes" along Florida Avenue.

He recognizes that more can be done to expand the uses of the Starburst Plaza and looks forward to the coming redevelopment of the Hechinger Mall as opportunity to bring resources and vitality to the area. On transportation: "We do not need a six-lane highway running through Bladensburg; bike lanes are one way to slow down vehicular traffic, and get more visible people on the road, which I believe will certainly help deter crime."

Sounds good to us. We think Adam will continue to be a thoughtful, active and competent commissioner moving forward.


Eckington. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

In ANC 5E, we endorse Hannah Powell and Michael Henderson

Along both sides of North Capitol Street are neighborhoods like Bloomingdale, Eckington, and Edgewood, to name a few. This area is covered by ANC 5E. The well-fought-over McMillan Sand Filtration Site (what all those "Save McMillan Park" signs are about) is a huge issue for this ANC to tackle in the next few years, as well the substantial mixed-use redevelopment of the Rhode Island Shopping center adjacent to the Rhode Island Metro stop.

There's potential for a serious influx of housing and smart development in some of these areas, though it will take strong support from ANC leaders to help make that happen.

One person who has our confidence is Hannah Powell in 5E03, which is the eastern half of Eckington.

Out of the three candidates running in this race, two responded to our survey and we liked both. Hannah's opponent, Mike Aiello, had strong answers to our questionnaire on transportation, historic preservation, and housing. It is clear he has a strong grasp of the issues in the neighborhood, but he did not take as clear a stance on McMillan.

On the other hand, Hannah summarizes the situation at McMillan very well: "While it would be wonderful to turn the site back into the large park it was before WWII, it is readily apparent that there is simply no way the District can fund the needed repairs on its own. Absent a public-private partnership and compromises on all sides, the site will likely remain in disrepair and fenced off from the community, unusable by anyone."

She also supports the plans for the Rhode Island Shopping Center: "I am supportive of smart, sustainable development clustered close to Metro, and the MRP/Rhode Island Avenue development is, for the most part, a good example of exactly that," though she says that "[t]he developers stand to gain significantly by increasing the number of housing units through their" request for zoning relief, and the community "should also share in the benefits, including an increase in affordable housing units." Hear, hear.

One reader also respected Hannah's "desire to welcome new residents but to honor and maintain the diversity of the existing neighborhood," in particular regarding different housing types and options.

In the end, Hannah rose to the top our list for this district.

In the middle of the ANC lies 5E10, where we endorse Michael Henderson. This SMD abuts the Rhode Island site directly, and it was good to read that Michael is "happy to see the Rhode Island Shopping Center being redeveloped," though he promises to advocate for better access for residents in Edgewood Terrace, more affordable housing, and more green space as part of the project. He did not take a strong stance on McMillan, but at least seemed open to see some positive development happen there.

Readers wrote in that Michael's answers reflected his "thoughtful nature and his commitment to making Edgewood an even better place to live." We hope he lives up to that!


McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by carfreedc on Flickr.

It is worth mentioning that there were many candidates in 5E that we chose not to endorse, primarily because of their answers about the McMillan site.

In 5E06, Katherine McLelland did not commit to much in her answers, and in particular on McMillan she refused to take a stance either way: "Whichever the direction that our ANC is in favor of, I am personally in favor of." In 5E07, Aravind Muthukrishnan wants a museum on the site, and Bertha Holliday had a host of concerns about the current proposal and seemed to threaten "delays, modifications, and increased costs." Finally in 5E09, Kirby Vining has been an outspoken "Save McMillan Park" activist for some time, and in our survey was against adding housing or bike infrastructure in his neighborhood.

The McMillan site is one of the few remaining large parcels of land in the District where we can significantly add to our housing stock and bring mixed-use amenities to the area. Having reasonable, compromising, and courageous commissioners nearby will make a real difference for the neighborhood and the city as a whole. We hope readers help vote some in.

Want to read the responses of all of the Ward 5 ANC candidates who responded to our questionnaire and judge for yourself? Check out the full PDF for Ward 5. 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.

Pedestrians


Sidewalk snow shoveling hall of shame: Walmart, Autozone, Exxon, Hechinger Mall

Shoveling from the weekend's snowstorm is a big job. Many residents and businesses have cleared sidewalks, but some have not. Those that deserve a special circle of hell: businesses who had no trouble shoveling huge parking lots but left their sidewalks impassable.


Photos by Steve Money on Twitter.

Like the Georgia Avenue Walmart, which Steve Money says cleared its delivery area but piled snow high on the sidewalk. That forced people on foot to walk in the road on busy Missouri Avenue.

The same goes for Autozone, right near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro. Shane Farthing says someone in a wheelchair had to go into the street to get to the Metro.


Photo by Shane Farthing on Twitter.

Kate Sweeney nominated the Exxon at Franklin and 12th streets NE in Brookland. She says, "They never shovel the sidewalks. Infuriating! The parking lot isn't totally clear but they've shoveled enough that people can get to the pumps."


Photo by Kate Sweeney.

The Hechinger Mall and 7-11 on Bladensburg Road also shoveled parking but not sidewalks, says Dan Malouff, who had to walk in the road to get home Tuesday night.


Photos by Dan Malouff.

What will DC do?

One thing these businesses have in common is that their customer base is largely or entirely arriving by car, so access on foot is not a priority. But even if it's not in their interest to make it safe for people to walk, it's important.

Last year, the DC Council passed a law authorizing the government to fine property owners who don't shovel their sidewalks by eight daylight hours after a storm. Mayor Muriel Bowser, who wasn't a fan of the idea when she was a councilmember, announced she wouldn't enforce the law, but then later announced that she would in fact enforce it, on businesses in particular.

I actually think it's reasonable for her to forebear on giving any tickets to individual homeowners for now. People have had a lot of time to shovel by now, but there's not much reason to slap a $25 ticket on an elderly homeowner or something like that. However, Walmart and Autozone aren't unable to shovel; they are choosing not to.

These are the kinds of properties DC should fine. If anything, the issue is whether the fine isn't large enough. When the bill was being debated, I advocated for very small fines for an individual homeowner and potentially large ones for a very big commercial property.

If a company owns a large site with a big parking lot and can clear it, but doesn't bother to open the sidewalk, only government action, or maybe shaming, will change that.

Thanks to the many people who sent in photos and sorry we couldn't use them all (at least not yet)! If you see other big offenders, post them in the comments or send them to snow@ggwash.org.

Housing


House prices are skyrocketing in central DC neighborhoods, but not in outlying ones

Have house prices in your neighborhood doubled or tripled in the last decade or so, making buying a house seem far out of reach? Or did the bust leave many house and condo owners underwater and they still haven't recovered? It depends on where you live.

The DC government statistical number crunchers behind the District, Measured blog made some great graphs of changes in the real estate market for single-family homes.

The graph above shows how in the last six years, prices have risen the most in neighborhoods like Eckington and Brookland, places which had modestly-priced housing but good access to transportation and/or downtown. The biggest rise by far was Trinidad, where the prices have jumped 141% since 2009.

Before 2009, of course, prices dropped significantly in many areas. Most central DC neighborhoods have seen prices rise since the bust even more than they dropped, but that's not the case in two general parts of the city: many neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, where prices were sky-high before the bust, and east of the Anacostia River.

East of the river, the insane real estate market of central DC seems very far away; as Congress Heights blogger Nikki Peele wrote,

My condo, which I purchased in 2007 for the very modest price of $150,000 is now appraising at $65,000—and I am one of the lucky ones! Some of my friend's who own Ward 8 condos have units that are appraising for less than $30,000! Then I have friends who just walked away from their condos entirely.

This graph shows how prices in various neighborhoods changed over time. See how the three east of the river neighborhoods in this graph (Congress Heights, Deanwood, and Hillcrest) look so different from the west of the river ones. Hillcrest is one of the wealthiest areas east of the Anacostia and had a price trajectory very similar to Petworth until 2009; after that, their paths diverged.

The neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park, by contrast, are largely in a wholly different class.

A few important caveats: This data is all for single-family homes (detached houses, semi-detached, and townhouses), not condos. It's sale prices, not rentals. So this tells you about the cost of buying a house on its own land, but not the cost to many other residents of living in these areas.

The data also doesn't control for home size; that's not so important when looking at the change in prices, but absolute price of houses absolutely does vary based on size.

What do you notice in the data?

Arts


Art doesn't have to be intimidating or distant. Here are 5 great ways to see art besides in a museum.

We hear a lot about building new housing, retail, and offices, but space for artists to work is also a valuable part of neighborhoods. It's not just for the artists themselves. When artists have work spaces in our communities, it can make art more accessible to the regular person.


Lucinda Murphy discusses her art with open studio visitors. All photos from Mid City Artists.

Many artists open up their studios to the general public, either regularly or during special events, and May is a big time for these "open studios." The next few weekends are great times to look at art, meet artists, and see the kinds of spaces artists use for their creative work, with events in Dupont/Logan/U Street, Trinidad, and Mount Rainier/Hyattsville, plus regular opportunities in Brookland and Alexandria.

Open studios are also a chance to better understand art in a non-judgmental environment. Talking to local artists about their work is a great way to make art more approachable.

For many of us, art evokes images of revered masterpieces, mostly by long-dead people, chosen by unseen professional curators and placed in marble-lined grand and imposing halls of museums.

There's nothing wrong with that, for the purpose it serves—great works from the past should be on display in places that befit their significance. But there's a lot more to art. And visual art is not just paintings, but photography, sculpture, glasswork, quilts, furniture, and much more.

Some people make art as a hobby; a significant group of people, for their living. But the visual arts can often seem intimidating to those not steeped in that world.


Robert Wiener discusses his glass artwork with visitors during Mid City Artists' open studios.

I went to the open studios for the Mid City Artists, in the Dupont, Logan, and U Street area, last year, and found everyone to be very friendly and not at all haughty. They are proud of what they have created. And yes, they are potentially interested in selling something, though I never encountered any pressure.

In fact, according to Sondra Arkin, a founder of Mid City Artists (and a neighbor), many of the artists who participate feel it as a much a way to spread the word about the fact that living people make art in living spaces than purely as a commercial effort (though, still, they would be happy for some sales, too).

She writes,

Some established artists in the neighborhood ... don't find the activity of open studios fits with their practice. It is more difficult than one could imagine to disrupt your work for what amounts to a weekend party. [But] for the artist, it is a great opportunity to test the waters on new work, demonstrate techniques, and explain their passion to create visual art. It is worth the work, and ... makes the city more like the small town we envisioned.
Here are some ways to interact with art and artists this month:

Mid City Artists' open studios is May 17th and 18th, with 13 artists along and near 14th Street. Most studios are open from about 12-5. There are guided tours by experts at select times each afternoon, but it's also fun to just wander around and pop in, including to see the studio spaces for the artists in residential buildings.

Gateway Arts District, around Rhode Island Avenue in Mount Rainier and Hyattsville just over the DC line, is having open studios this Saturday, May 10, also from 12-5.

Art in the Alley in Trinidad showcases artists' work in an alley off Florida Avenue, between Montello and Trinidad Avenues (near 12th Street NE). That's also this Saturday, May 10, from 6-10 pm.

Other artist spaces with seasonal open studios include 52 O Street (whose website hasn't been updated with 2014 open studios information) (update: but which is having its open studios this weekend as well), and the Jackson Art Center in Georgetown (which had its open studios in late April).

Plus, many art spaces have open studios on a regular basis, or all the time.

Arts Walk at Monroe Street Market is a promenade in a new building by the Brookland Metro lined with artist studios. The artists each have their own open hours, and the studios coordinate to all be open on the third Thursday of each month.

The Torpedo Factory, at the waterfront end of King Street in Alexandria, is a sort of permanent open studio, where participating artists have work space in a building where anyone can stop by when they are there.

And the occasional Artomatic event brings together local artists to all show off their work, at least when its organizers can find a temporarily vacant office building and a willing landlord.


Brian Petro discusses his work with open studio visitors. Photo by Colin Winterbottom.

Education


Turning around a failing DCPS school isn't impossible, but you need the right principal

There's no set formula for the notoriously difficult task of turning around a failing school. But if you find the right principal and give him or her enough resources and freedom, you might be on your way.


Photo of Wheatley Education Campus from DCPS website.

The pace of improvement at DCPS schools has generally been painfully slow, but a few have seen significant gains in proficiency in recent years while continuing to serve high-poverty populations. One of those is Wheatley Education Campus in Trinidad, where proficiency rates have more than doubled since 2008. Is there a way to replicate that success?

When Scott Cartland took over as principal of the preK-8 campus 6 years ago, he was in for a shock. He had spent the previous 7 years as an administrator at two high-performing elementary schools in Upper Northwest. Wheatley—or, as it was then known, Webb-Wheatley—was something else entirely.

"I felt like we walked into total chaos," he says. "The culture was just so negative and dysfunctional."

In a way, Cartland was lucky: the school's performance had been so poor that it was being reconstituted under the federal No Child Left Behind law. That meant Cartland was free to replace the staff, and he ended up keeping only 4 or 5 teachers out of about 30.

But that had its disadvantages as well. With so many new teachers, "the kids don't know anybody," he says, and "relationships are important."

Proficiency rates—the usual measure of a school's success—barely budged for the first several years. But the past two years have seen a marked increase. The 2013 rates were 37% in math and 31% in reading. That may not sound impressive, but consider that in 2009 they were 13% in both subjects.

Change takes time

One of the lessons Cartland draws from his experience is that change takes time. And it takes even more time before it shows up in proficiency rates.

DC's standardized test scores group students into 4 categories: Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. The system is set up to measure a school's success primarily by the percentage of students in the Proficient or Advanced categories.

But at a school like Wheatley, where over half the students were Below Basic in math in 2008, it takes a while before significant numbers can move up to Proficient. The vast majority will move up to Basic first, and the school gets little credit when they do.

Another challenge is the tremendous amount of movement between schools in DC. Cartland says that a third of his students are new every year, and about 20 of them arrive after having been "kicked out of charters." So each year the tests are assessing a different group of students.

How has Cartland managed to get the school on an upward trajectory despite these obstacles?

First, he was careful about who he hired. He looked for teachers and administrators who would be willing to work as a team, and who would "buy into the idea that this is important work, not just a teaching job."

Cartland says that to be successful at a high-poverty school, teachers need to be able to build strong relationships with kids, and they need excellent classroom management skills. Perhaps most important, they have to be constantly striving to improve, and they can't quit when the going gets tough. "It never gets easy," Cartland says.

Second, he focused on creating an environment that was calm enough to allow teaching to take place. That required "lots of conversations with teachers" about making behavioral expectations clear and being consistent about consequences. Creating this kind of positive school culture, Cartland says, isn't just about punishing kids but also about "giving kids the tools to work out problems."

Finding the right partners

Third, Cartland entered into a number of beneficial partnerships with other organizations. The Flamboyan Foundation has helped teachers engage parents in their children's education. Turnaround for Children has been crucial in connecting kids who are struggling with the social services they needed.

Reading Partners provides tutoring. (Disclosure: I volunteer as a tutor with Reading Partners at Wheatley.) A couple of other organizations sponsor cultural field trips that are tied to the curriculum.

Another kind of partnership that Cartland clearly values is the DC Collaborative for Change, or DC3, a network of 9 DCPS elementary schools that share ideas and engage in professional development together.

Some of the schools are struggling to improve, like Wheatley and Walker-Jones Education Campus, while others, like Janney and Mann in Upper Northwest, serve a more affluent population. The premise of the collaboration is not that the higher-performing schools will "teach" the lower-performing ones, but rather that all of these schools can learn from one another.

Cartland says being part of DC3 has helped him maintain a consistent instructional philosophy. It's also enabled him to operate with more autonomy than some other principals have, because DCPS has given the DC3 schools greater control over things like budgeting and professional development.

And now that Wheatley has a positive school culture more or less in place, Cartland is turning more of his attention to academics. With the help of a Breakthrough Schools grant announced today, next year he'll introduce a new competency-based approach in the middle school grades. He says that will give kids more ownership of their educational experience and also allow them to move at their own pace.

That approach, he says, should also enable Wheatley to engage and challenge kids at any ability level, including children from middle-class families now moving into the neighborhood. The school hasn't yet seen any effects of gentrification, but Cartland says Wheatley will be ready if and when that happens.

Autonomy plus the right leader

The relative autonomy Cartland has enjoyed may be the key to Wheatley's transformation. It's enabled him to basically choose the staff he wanted and to shape the school largely as he saw fit. Every school is different, Cartland says, and there's no fixed menu of improvements that will work across the board.

Some argue that autonomy is the basic reason for the success of high-performing charter schools. And some have advocated giving greater autonomy to traditional public schools in hopes that it will have similar effects.

But autonomy only works when the individuals exercising it have clear goals and understand how to achieve them. Most DCPS schools where principals have had the authority to replace teachers haven't seen the kind of improvement Wheatley has. Low-performing schools that have made progress, including Kelly Miller Middle School and Tubman Elementary School as well as Wheatley, have been led by strong principals.

And while there are programs that have brought good results in a number of high-poverty schools, like Flamboyan and Turnaround for Children, even the best program will only work if a school implements it well. And good implementation depends largely on the school's principal.

So if we're going to replicate the kind of success Wheatley has experienced, the first step may be to replicate Scott Cartland, or at least identify others like him. Then we'll need to give those principals the time, the freedom, and the resources to figure out what will work to improve their schools, and to make it happen.

The question is: with so many low-performing schools in DC, are there enough Scott Cartlands out there to go around?

Preservation


Preservation board members regret ever allowing roof decks

DC's Historic Preservation Review Board approved a roof deck for a row house near 15th and T last month, but not before a few members lamented ever setting a precedent of allowing them in the first place.


Left: The rear of the house on T Street requesting a deck. Right: A less attractive deck across the alley. Photos from the DC Historic Preservation Office.

In the Dupont, Logan, and U Street historic districts, many alleys have a wide variety of decks on the backs and tops of row houses. The practice for many years has been to deny additions to row houses which are visible from in front of the house, but to be much more permissive about changes on the alley side.

Following that precedent, Historic Preservation Office staff reviewer Kim Elliott recommended the board approve the deck.

However, Elliott also noted that unlike on some blocks, all of the 2-story row houses here have the same, uninterrupted roof line from the back (as well as the front). The 3-foot high railing for this deck would create a pop-up effect from the rear. Elliott pointed out that the board started allowing roof decks some years ago, setting a precedent.

The Historic Preservation Review Board ultimately agreed with Elliott and approved the deck, though Bob Sonderman suggested making the owner shrink the deck a few more feet by pushing the railing back away from the rear of the house.

Members Graham Davidson, an architect at Hartman-Cox, and Nancy Metzger, formerly with the Capitol Hill Restoration Society, both wondered if the board might have made a mistake allowing roof decks in the first place. The pair have been fairly consistently the most skeptical of buildings and have pushed hardest for changes like removing floors from new buildings.

Here are the comments from Davidson and Metzger on this case during the board's meeting:

Still allow decks, but insist on quality?

Davidson noted that many of these decks are fairly "poorly built" and "clunky," because people are trying to get them done at low cost. He'd like to "improve the quality of alleys" throughout the city. That's a worthy impulse, but why do many preservationists thus feel that the solution is to reject the decks or shrink them toward invisibility?

The preservation board also has power over the materials people use for additions, decks, and other projects. It can demand a higher quality of design and construction.

As with the pop-up across from Geoff Hatchard's house in Trinidad, which he just wrote about, he doesn't seem to object so much to the house getting a 3rd story as to the cheap vinyl siding design. In that case, we might wish a preservation board had the power, and willingness, to let the 3rd story go through but demand better quality.

The DC Comprehensive Plan calls for exploring "conservation districts," a less restrictive form of historic preservation. Preservation can control, or not control, 2 categories of changes: where and how large to build, on the one hand, and its materials and quality, on the other.

Some might want a conservation district to be the equivalent of lower zoning, where the board gets to veto anything that builds up in any way, but it would make far more sense for such a district to permit additions that meet zoning rules, but ensure that their appearance be compatible with surrounding buildings.

Of course, "compatible" is always tricky to define, as is "higher quality." Most neighbors would want an addition like the one on Geoff's street to simply make the building look like it had always had 3 stories. But many preservationists think that any new construction should stand out from the old, and might push instead for something of modern appearance. This is a question the neighborhood should discuss if such a district came into being for Trinidad, and written guidelines should codify those choices.

Preservation, even a limited form, would potentially raise the cost of building. Certainly it might make the pop-up across from Geoff more expensive. In some neighborhoods, that can limit new supply and/or make new housing more costly. In an area like Trinidad today, though, prices are rising so fast that rules to push for higher quality would likely affect profit margins more than the growth of supply.

On T Street and other areas with historic protection, the city could indeed "improve the quality of alleys" as Davidson wishes. But let's not define "higher quality" as "bereft of decks." Instead, it can mean "filled with attractive decks that don't look cheap."

Pedestrians


Florida Avenue shouldn't have to wait for real sidewalks

Florida Avenue, NE is one of the most dangerous roads in DC for all modes of transportation, and a 71-year-old pedestrian was just recently killed trying to cross. Past studies have recommended widening the sidewalks here, but residents likely have to wait even longer for fixes as DDOT embarks on yet another study.


Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

Gallaudet University, a Metro station, an elementary school, homes and businesses line the 6-lane road. It has very narrow sidewalks which don't meet Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, and no parked cars or street trees to serve as buffers.

This road has seen many deaths over the past few years. Most recently, 71-year-old Ruby Whitfield was killed while walking across Florida Avenue NE in a marked crosswalk. The driver, a 32-year-old Annapolis man, was reportedly drunk and speeding, and fled the scene. MPD quickly apprehended him.

While the section of Florida Avenue from 2nd Street NE to West Virginia Avenue NE is 6 lanes wide, the block where Ms. Whitfield was killed has fewer driving lanes, with relatively wider sidewalks and street trees. The driver had just crossed West Virginia Avenue into this adjacent block.

At a vigil on Florida Avenue a few days after Ms. Whitfield died, Mayor Gray committed to quickly installing a new traffic signal at the intersection with 11th Street NE, and allowing parking at all times on this block to reduce the road to one lane per direction. This might have saved Ms. Whitfield's life, and is a positive first step, but it is not nearly enough.


Photograph by John Nelson reproduced with permission.

The road is not adequate for growing pedestrian usage

Pedestrian traffic has increased significantly in this area as the NoMa area grows and new attractions such as Union Market open. Florida Avenue is also home to Two Rivers Public Charter School and Gallaudet University. The NoMa-Gallaudet Metro station, which opened in 2004 one block from Florida Avenue, has the fastest growth rate of any in the system.

The sidewalks in many areas, especially on the south side of the street, are often only 2 feet wide. Numerous obstructions such as light poles and sign posts reduce the effective width even further. The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) repainted some of the crosswalks in 2011, but this is not as helpful as creating actual ADA-compliant sidewalks with proper widths and ramps.


Photos by Yancey Burns.

For the thousands of students, staff, and visitors to Gallaudet University, the narrow sidewalks are particularly hazardous because it's not possible to communicate in sign language while walking single-file down a narrow sidewalk.

Hansel Bauman, the University's Director of Campus Planning & Design (and a resident of the Trinidad neighborhood) has led an initiative called "DeafSpace" to create architectural design guidelines that quantify ways to enhance communication and livability. It is ironic and sad that the main street to campus does not provide for the needs of their community.

The volume of cars traveling on Florida Avenue NE does not justify the current road configuration, particularly because this street is already narrower for most of its length. DDOT & the Office of Planning have written numerous studies and reports over the past few years that recommend reducing the number of travel lanes and installing wider sidewalks on Florida Avenue.

Most recently, the NoMa Neighborhood Access Study & Transportation Management Plan included this project on its "Immediate Action List" for completion within 24 months. That study was published in early 2010, and to date DDOT has not put forth any preliminary plans or come close to starting construction.

Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT Associate Director for Policy, Planning, and Sustainability, said in an email that DDOT is "starting a planning study from New York to West Virginia with the goal of improving safety and operations, and that will explore the ability to reduce the number of travel lanes."

The planning study won't wrap up until the middle of 2014. Then, if funding is available, DDOT could potentially begin design and construction. However, all of this would take several years. Ms. Whitfield's neighbors and friends, and everyone else who uses this street, should not continue to wait.

Government


New ANC 5D selects meeting location that avoids residents

The new ANC 5D, which includes the neighborhoods of Ivy City, Trinidad, Carver Langston, and Gallaudet University, will hold its second monthly meeting next Tuesday at a location outside the ANC's boundaries. Why would the level of DC government closest to the people purposely meet at a place that makes it difficult for residents to attend?


Boundaries of ANC 5D. Image from Office of ANCs, annotated by the author.

When the ANCs were redrawn last year, I was part of the team that created the map for Ward 5 which the DC Council adopted.

We made a serious effort to push for geographically-smaller ANCs than the 3 large ones the ward had previously. One significant reason was to help residents reach meetings without driving long distances. We purposely drew what ultimately became ANC 5D to unite dense, urban, rowhouse neighborhoods in the southeastern part of the ward into a compact commission.

There are multiple community spaces that could house meetings within the ANC: Gallaudet University, churches, two recreation centers, multiple schools, and other locations open to the public. It would be easy to find a place where residents could walk a couple blocks to interact with their elected representatives.

Last month, the newly-seated ANC met for the first time at the Metropolitan Police Department's Fifth District headquarters, on Bladensburg Road in the Arboretum neighborhood. While located outside of the new ANC, this location is within the boundaries of the former ANC 5B, which included all of the new ANC 5D as well as more area to the north (Arboretum, Gateway, Brentwood, Langdon, and part of Brookland).

It made sense to hold the meeting at a familiar location, and I assumed this would be a temporary location until the commission chose a regular meeting space inside the new ANC's boundaries.

Unfortunately, at this meeting, the commission announced they would continue to meet regularly at the police station. They gave spurious reasons:

  • Meetings would be held at the police station because people's emotions run high at these ANC events and it would be good to have the police nearby in case things get out of hand. If this were the case, why don't other ANCs all hold meetings in police stations?
  • There is nowhere in the ANC that could hold the thousands of people who live in the ANC all at once. I have attended ANC meetings for years now, and I've never seen attendance higher than a couple dozen people. As noted above, there are many places in the neighborhoods that could hold ANC meetings.
  • Everyone drives to these meetings anyway, so it doesn't matter if it's far from the homes in the constituent neighborhoods. This is the most facetious reasoning of all. It's a chicken-and-egg situation—people drive to the meetings now because there's no easier way to get to the meetings. Biking is difficult because the most direct route (Bladensburg Road) is a dangerous six-lane arterial with speeding commuters and a long, steep hill.

    Only one bus route (the B2) runs up to the police station from where most of the population lives, and it doesn't run frequently in the evenings when meetings are held. The end result is that those without cars have multiple reasons to not attend ANC meetings.

    According to the latest Census estimates, approximately 51% of the households in ANC 5D have a car. By holding the meetings in a place where driving an automobile is the most logical way to attend, the ANC is selecting for a certain type of resident, and not receiving the input of at least half of the community.

The ANC did announce that they would hold some meetings inside the commission boundaries at some point, but there's no reason not to hold them all there. They should rescind as soon as possible the decision to hold meetings at the police station. It's the smart, sensible, democratic thing to do.

Rob Pitingolo, NeighborhoodInfo DC, assisted with data for this post.

Government


Ward 5 needs more, smaller ANC's

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force recently began the process of deciding if and how to redraw the ward's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs). The task force should create more ANC's with fewer Single Member Districts (SMDs) in each.

SMDs are the individual districts that make up each ANC. Each SMD serves around 2,000 constituents. Commissioners are unpaid, non partisan, and elected to 2-year terms.

Every ward has their ANCs arranged slightly differently. The most common set up is 4 or 5 commissions with fewer than 10 SMDs in each. For example, Ward 7 has 5 commissions, each consisting of 7 SMDs.

Currently, Ward 5 has only 3 ANCs, each with 12 SMDs. This is problematic because each covers a large geographic area, encompassing a wide range of neighborhoods with vastly different characteristics and needs.


Current ANC boundaries.

A more responsive system could be created by revising ANCs to be based on historic neighborhood boundaries, future economic development prospects, and common-sense issues of geography. This would improve local governance by ensuring that commissioners were voting on issues that they were engaged in and would impact their constituents. It would also make it easier for interested citizens to attend meetings and get involved in local government.

ANC's should comprise neighborhood clusters that are near each other and have similar densities and zoning characteristics.

For example, ANC 5C includes some of Ward 5's most densely populated neighborhoods along the North Capitol Street corridor, sparsely populated areas around the Armed Forces Retirement Home, and most of Catholic University. These neighborhoods have little in common and cover an area almost 3 miles from north to south.

This variation is problematic when the whole ANC votes on something that will in reality only impact a few SMDs. The controversy over Big Bear Cafe's attempts to secure a liquor license pitted commissioners from miles away against supportive commissioners from the neighborhood.

Issues can also arise when commissioners deal with changes or challenges from areas outside their borders that do not affect the larger ANC. For instance, the Eckington and Truxton Circle neighborhoods in ANC 5C are located very close to development in the newly branded NoMa neighborhood. They have to deal with related economic development and housing issues that will have little impact on 5C commissioners from farther north.

Many of the problems inherent in ANC5C's makeup could be solved by reducing its size and moving its northern most SMD's to another commission. A better, smaller ANC 5C could look like this:


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

Similarly, the neighborhoods of Trinidad and Carver-Langston in ANC 5B, located north of Florida Ave and Benning Road, NE are part of the rapid economic development based around the H Street corridor. But ANC 5B stretches for miles towards the Maryland border. It includes the National Arboretum, and has several SMDs clustered around Rhode Island Avenue, NE.

These areas have different economic centers and geographies. It makes little sense for them to be involved in each other's parochial decisions.

These issues can be solved by creating a smaller ANC representing Trinidad, Carver-Langston, Ivy City and Gallaudet University:


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

As currently constituted, several of Ward 5's economic corridors, historic neighborhoods and institutions are split between multiple ANCs. This makes it difficult to create coherent and effective policy.

Catholic University, the surrounding neighborhood of Brookland, and its main street of 12th Street are currently split between three ANCs. The nearby Rhode Island Avenue corridor also touches three separate commissions. Creating one ANC to encompass Catholic University, Brookland and neighborhoods to the north and south of Rhode Island Avenue, NE would allow local leaders to make smart decisions about the future of this area without undue outside influence.


Image by the author. Click for interactive map.

These examples do not form a complete plan for redrawing Ward 5's ANCs. But they do show that the existing commissions can be broken down in a more logical and effective manner.

The three ANCs in Ward 5 are vast. The current setup does not make participation in local politics easy for anyone, but it is especially problematic for seniors, people with small children and those without cars or easy access to transit.

Ward 5 isn't the only ward considering more, smaller ANCs. In Ward 1, which is currently divided into 4 commisions, ANC 1A and 1B each have 11 commissioners. 1B would now grow to 13 commissioners if its borders don't change. Kent Boese has proposed adding a 5th ANC in Ward 1, giving each 6-9 SMDs.

Creating smaller ANCs will make it easier for regular citizens to get involved in local affairs. This line of thinking appeared at the first task force meeting when members suggested that citizens will be more likely to attend meetings if they know it will be a short trip from their house.

The Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force has a chance to improve governance and get more people involved when making their recommendations. They should move forward by creating more ANCs and decreasing the size of the existing commissions.

Their next meeting will be held on Wednesday, August 24 at the 5th District Police Station, 1805 Bladensburg Road NE. Visit the Ward 5 Redistricting Task Force's blog for more information.

Roads


What's the longest street in DC with no traffic control?

West Virginia Avenue forms the boundary between Gallaudet University and Trinidad. A fence lines the university property, making diffusion between the school and the neighborhood difficult. Were it not there, crossing West Virginia Avenue would still be very difficult, because traffic doesn't have to stop anywhere along this boundary.


Photo by Daquella manera on Flickr.

The road is often busy with Maryland commuters heading to and from Capitol Hill and downtown, buses coming from and going to the Bladensburg Road bus garage, and municipal vehicles coming from the DPW garages north of the neighborhood.

Neighborhood traffic looking to leave the neighborhood often has to wait a long time for a break in the traffic, and cyclists run the risk of riding on a street, though designated as a bicycle route, full of large trucks and buses doing well over the 25 mph speed limit.

It made me wonder if there was any place in DC other than freeways, parkways, and other limited access roads like Military Road or North Capitol Street north of Michigan Avenue, where traffic has such a long stretch without having to worry about stop signs, traffic lights, or even yield signs. Here's what I found:


Image from Google Maps. Click for interactive version.

The only stretches longer than West Virginia Avenue (between Florida Avenue and Mount Olivet Road) that I found are on Massachusetts Avenue SE (east of Randle Circle), Ridge Road SE (along Fort Dupont Park), and Hayes Street/Jay Street NE (around the Mayfair neighborhood).

All of these examples are streets that lie between a neighborhood and adjacent institutional land, whether a park or a school. West Virginia Avenue is unique among the four in that it is the only one to border a gridded neighborhood.

I'm currently participating in the Ivy City and Trinidad Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative, which is looking to leverage grant money for better housing, neighborhood services, business development, and greening in the neighborhoods. At one of the meetings, participants brought up the dangerous nature of West Virginia Avenue, and some of us recommended traffic calming (preferably some stop signs) along the road to slow traffic and create breaks and give cars on neighborhood streets a better chance to exit Trinidad. With the potential for increased connectivity between Gallaudet University that was also discussed, traffic calming will be a necessity so cyclists and pedestrians can safely get from homes in the neighborhood to classes and jobs at the school.

Can you think of any longer stretches of city street in DC where traffic doesn't have to worry about pedestrians legally crossing the street or having to slow down for a traffic light or sign? If so, please, describe them in the comments.

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