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Development


Upper Northwest hits peak NIMBY about a homeless shelter

Fifty short-term apartments for homeless residents are likely coming to Idaho Avenue in upper Northwest DC. At a community meeting last night, some residents showed just how much they think the poorest people in DC need to stay far away from their exclusive enclaves.

Helder Gil posted this flyer on Twitter, which people anonymously circulated at a community meeting Thursday night on a proposed homeless shelter next to the police station on Idaho Avenue, between Cleveland Park and Cathedral Heights.

It includes the astoundingly offensive phrase, "Homeless lives matter; the lives of community homeowners matter too."

What's being proposed

Mayor Muriel Bowser set a very laudable goal of spreading out homeless shelters across all eight wards of DC. It's not best for homeless residents to all be concentrated in one small area, and puts the burden entirely on one neighborhood.

Most people expected people in some wealthy neighborhoods to fight the idea of any homeless people coming to their communities. But the flaws in how the Bowser administration executed on this plan, with seemingly too-high payments to property owners, some of whom were campaign donors, overshadowed any such debate.

Recently, the DC Council revised the plan to place all shelters on public property or land the District could acquire. In Ward 3, west of Rock Creek Park, the new site is the parking lot of the police station on Idaho Avenue. And now that the legitimate problems with the plan are past, some are indeed attacking the very idea that upper Northwest has to play any part in solving the need for homeless housing.

Many of the usual arguments against any project have come out in full force: the zoning doesn't match, our schools can't afford it, what about neighborhood security, this will up the traffic and down my property values.

Misconceptions abound

The anonymous flyer says, "We fundamentally oppose the Mayor's plan of equal distribution of homeless population—to build a shelter in each ward regardless of land availability and economic soundness." (The land seems to be quite available, actually, and economically, DC has to spend nothing to buy a parking lot it already owns.)

The letter, and people at the meeting, alleged that a shelter would harm property values. DC Council Chairman Phil Mendelson disputed that:

"There are plenty [of] empty public buildings in the city which can be renovated and used as shelters," the letter also says. First off, not really; second, this really is pretty much empty public land. What they mean is, "there are plenty of public buildings in someone else's neighborhood."

Talking about how the statements are wrong on their face is beside the point. The statements are morally wrong. Many people of DC's fancier neighborhoods, even ones who identify as Democrats ("liberal in the streets, NIMBY in the sheets") believe all of the city's need for housing, whether for homeless residents, the working poor, young college grads, or anyone else, should be solved somewhere else where "there's plenty of empty land."

Never mind that all of those other neighborhoods "over there" have people in them too, people who might be okay with some shelters or halfway housing or other social services but understandably don't want it all. Why should one part of the city get an opt out just because it's the richest part?

Not all residents of the area are hostile to the less fortunate:

Yes, to whoever said that, thank you.

Politics


For DC Council at large: Robert White

There's no doubt about it: Vincent Orange should not continue as a DC councilmember. There are two people vying to unseat him who would both make excellent councilmembers. In the Democratic primary on June 14, we urge voters to pick the one who has the best chance to win, and that is Robert White.

Robert White is a good candidate

For a race as important as this, there has sadly been little press coverage and other attention. If you haven't been hyper-engaged in the race, you may know little or nothing about Robert White, which is a shame, because he is a strong supporter of the issues that matter to the Greater Greater Washington community. We endorsed him (along with Elissa Silverman) in the general election two years ago.

White has said he supports rezoning areas such as Georgia Avenue NW, Rhode Island Avenue NE, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE to add housing. He wants to ensure that costs don't spiral out of control for middle-class families. "We have to look at all ways to increase housing options in order to push down the cost of housing," he told Edward Russell.

He's spoken in favor of adding more bus lanes, for expanding the bike lane network, and strengthening Metro, including with more funding as needed.

He has considerable public policy experience through working for many years in the office of Congresswoman Norton and then for DC Attorney General Karl Racine. He will understand how to get things done and involve residents effectively in the political process.

White has won the support of the DC Sierra Club, DC for Democracy, the JUFJ Campaign Fund, and councilmember Mary Cheh.

No to Orange

Vincent Orange, the incumbent, simply is not a constructive force on the DC Council. He introduces legislation that is simultaneously overly specific and poorly thought through.

He introduced sloppy (and likely illegal) legislation to stop creation of new housing. Then he jumped on the "tiny houses" bandwagon with a "gimmicky" piece of legislation. He even submitted two conflicting bills about Airbnb.

Maybe it's because we're wonks, but we'd like our elected officials and their staffs to actually be thinking about a policy issue and trying to solve it. Orange doesn't seem to.


Robert White (left) and David Garber (right) images from the candidates. Base balance scale image from Shutterstock.

What about David Garber?

The third candidate in the race is David Garber. We like him a great deal. In fact, he has been an active part of the Greater Greater Washington community in the past. A number of our contributors are his personal friends. He has a strong grasp of policy issues and good values about them.

While an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for the Navy Yard area, he consistently supported adding more housing while also fighting for more affordable housing. He posted a really smart series of tweets about this issue recently, which sound just like what we might say.

On transportation, Garber has cheered efforts toward dedicated bus lanes. He told Edward Russell, "I think it's really important that we invest in things like better dedicated bus service and 16th Street NW is a great example of that."

He would make an excellent councilmember, and if he were in a head to head race with Vincent Orange, we would eagerly endorse him.

However, the fact of this race is that there are two candidates who are very strong on our issues. There is little actual policy difference between David Garber and Robert White; meanwhile, Robert White has an advantage on experience and, most importantly, likelihood of winning.

When should you vote strategically?

In the past, there's been considerable debate among our readers, contributors, and editors about whether to vote for the person you like the most, or the one who's most likely to beat a bad alternative.

During Vincent Orange's last race in 2012, Sekou Biddle almost beat him, with 39% of the vote to Orange's 42%. But Peter Shapiro, whom we endorsed, ended up with 11%. If enough of Shapiro's supporters had gone to Biddle over Orange, Biddle could have prevailed.

Other times, "vote your heart" has had value. Sometimes a candidate doesn't win, but getting more votes positions him or her for a later run. In a 2013 special election, we supported Elissa Silverman. She didn't win (Anita Bonds did), but her strong performance positioned her well for the following year's at-large independent contest, where she won a seat.

This contest, however, is somewhat different from 2012. Robert White is genuinely a good candidate, not a distant second best. Some allied groups that supported Shapiro in 2012 are now enthusiastically behind White. There are both fewer (if any) reasons not to support White, and a stronger accumulating consensus in his favor.

In giving their views on the race, several contributors said they liked Garber, but simply didn't know White that well; many said that if White seemed to have the edge, they'd rally to his side. We wish there were a good, independent poll to help people decide (it's very unclear whether to put any stock in this one).

We actually had a whole post written about how we weren't quite yet ready to make up our minds. After more endorsements for White rolled in and evidence mounted that he had the strongest chance to beat Orange, our editors and many contributors agreed that voters would do best to support Robert White.

Early voting begins May 31, and election day is June 14. There is no contested race for any party other than the Democrats. You can find out more about times and places to vote here.

This is the official endorsement of Greater Greater Washington. To determine endorsements, we invite regular contributors and editors to participate in a survey about their preferences and opinions about upcoming races. The editorial board then decides whether to make an endorsement.

Demographics


DC's population is exploding

DC's population is growing, and it's likely to surpass the all-time high in the next decade. It's also getting whiter overall, and seeing more international immigrants and childbirths. These are some of the key takeaways from a population trends study that the Office of Planning published in April.


DC's population growth is forecasted to continue in the decades to come. All images from the Office of Planning.

DC will likely surpass its all-time high population within the next decade

Between 2000 and 2015, the District's population grew by approximately 100,000 people. This meant a reversal of a downward trend in population, which had been happening since the 1950s, when the city's population peaked at around 800,000.

There aren't any signs that population growth will slow down. In fact, the study projects the District's population will exceed the old high of 800,000 within the next ten years.

DC will continue to become whiter and more affluent

Since bottoming out in the 1980s, the District's white population has grown steadily, with a sharp increase around the turn of the century. Conversely, the rate of the black population growth has steadily declined since its peak in the 1970s.

As DC's white population continues to increase, wealth and affluence will likely increase as a corollary. Currently, pockets of wealth and affluence are unevenly concentrated in Wards 1, 2, and 3. By contrast, Wards 7 and 8 contain a disproportionate amount of poverty when compared to the other wards.


As can be seen in the images above, the educated and affluent are primarily white and heavily concentrated in northwest and central DC (Wards 1, 2, 3, and 6).


Median income in the District, 2010-2014.

International immigration and child births fuel population growth

Between 2000 and 2007, more people migrated out of the District than migrated in. Since 2007, though, the migrant population in the District has consistently remained a net positive - more people are migrating into the District than out of it.

It is worth noting that even before 2007, the influx of international migrants remained consistently positive despite the overall trend of people moving out of the District.

When taken into consideration relative to the overall migration trends of the 2000s, international immigration has accounted for a significant portion of the population increase in the city.

As more immigrants move into the District and start or expand their families, they account for an increased proportion of the population growth in the city.


Migration trends in the District since 2001.

The number of school-aged children will boom in the next 10 years

Between 2000 and 2010, a specific subgroup - youths aged 5-10 years old - saw a steep drop off in population, accounting for 36% of the overall youth population loss. But this same group saw a 16% population increase between 2010 and 2014.

The attraction and retention of households with children is projected to grow in the years to come, which means the population of school-aged children will likely continue to increase.


Declines in the District's youth population between 2000 and 2010 have been reversed.

What are the policy implications?

As the District looks to the future, population growth and demographic projections clearly highlight opportunities for more sustainable growth.

Wealth and poverty are distributed unevenly in distinct sections of the city, and policy decisions have the potential to affect a shift in this reality as the District prepares for future population expansion.

With a projected increase in school-aged youth and retention of families, education and housing policy specifically could present a significant opportunity for reversing the trends towards an increased opportunity gap.

Pedestrians


Brookland is getting a new bridge at Monroe Street

By the end of 2018, a new bridge will replace the one that currently carries Monroe Street over the train tracks in Brookland. The project will include new sidewalks, landscaping, lighting, and traffic signals, all of which should make the area better for walking.


The proposed Monroe Street Bridge

The Monroe Street Bridge was first built in 1931, and the last time it got a repair and partial reconstruction was in 1974; today, the bridge is definitely showing its age. The bridge deck, it turns out, is cracked and depressed, and there is extensive damage and corrosion to the concrete. The District Department of Transportation started preaparing to rehabilitate the bridge back in 2014, and at a May 12th public meeting, a DDOT representative noted that the condition is such that the bridge superstructure will need to be fully replaced.

Construction will happen in two phases, with the northbound side closed and repaired first, followed by the southbound side. Though the bridge will never be completely closed, DDOT is evaluating a lengthy bicycle detour.

When the project is complete, the mostly concrete bridge will be replaced by a new three-span steel superstructure supported by the rehabilitated piers and abutments.

The walk across the bridge will be a lot more pleasant

The new bridge will benefit pedestrians the most. Sidewalks on Monroe between 7th and 9th, and even across 9th where recent construction has caused some damage, will be repaired. The exposed aggregate sidewalk, a type of sidewalk with exposed stone on the surface, will be replaced with full slabs of concrete.


Image from Google Maps.

The sidewalk on the east side of 8th Street between Monroe and Lawrence, which has also been damaged by construction and which has a sizable gap, will also be repaired and completed. Pepco power lines will go below the bridge, meaning the sidewalk won't have power line poles in the middle, and there will be better lighting for people walking.


Image from Google Maps.

Alongside the property on the southwest corner of Monroe and 7th, green buffers between the sidewalk and the street that are currently filled with gravel will get some landscaping.

Finally, the chain link fence that protects the railroad tracks below, will be replaced with an aesthetically more appealing—and harder to climb—plastic barrier.

Though the project area includes a section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail where a trail underpass was once proposed, changes to the trail will be minimal.

For people using the the MBT, the main improvement will be the addition of a timed traffic signal where the trail crosses Monroe at 8th Street. As abutments (the pieces that hold up the ends of the bridge) will not be extensively rebuilt, whatever opportunity that might have existed to run the trail beneath Monroe Street, as originally planned, seems gone.

Education


Gentrification isn't the only reason DC's test scores are rising

Student performance in the nation's capital has increased so dramatically that it has attracted significant attention and prompted many to ask whether gentrification, rather than an improvement in school quality, is behind the higher scores. Demographic change explains some of the increases in test scores, but by no means all of them.


Photo by US Department of Education on Flickr.

We drew this conclusion after analyzing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the "nation's report card," which tests representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in mathematics and reading every two years.

NAEP scores reflect not just school quality, but also the characteristics of the students taking the test. For example, the difference in scores between Massachusetts and Mississippi reflects both the impact of the state's schools and differences in state poverty rates and other demographics. Likewise, changes in NAEP performance over time can result from changes in both school quality and student demographics.

DC's school demographics have changed substantially since 2005. The NAEP data show that the proportion of white and Hispanic students in DC has roughly doubled, while the proportion of black students has declined. The question is whether DC's sizable improvement is the result of changing demographics, as some commentators claim, or improving quality.

Changing demographics are only part of changing test scores

Our analysis indicates that, based on the relationships between demographics and NAEP scores in 2005, demographic changes predict a score increase of four to six points between 2005 and 2013 (the data needed to perform this analysis on the 2015 results are not yet available).

But the actual score increases have generally far outpaced the gains predicted by demographic change alone. For example, in fourth-grade math, demographics predicted a four-point increase, but scores increased 17 points.

The figure below shows predicted and actual score increases for all four tests for DC schools overall (including charters) and the traditional school district (DC Public Schools). Only in eighth-grade reading scores at DC Public Schools do demographic shifts explain more than half of the score increase.


Graph from the Urban Institute.

To be sure, our analysis does not account for all potentially important demographic factors. In particular, we do not include any measures of family income. Though researchers often use eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch as a proxy for determining income level, changes to who is eligible make this measure unreliable. With the eighth-grade scores, we did attempt to use parents' education as a proxy for socioeconomic status, but our results did not appreciably change: changes in demographics still did not account for changes in academic performance.

The bottom line is that gentrification alone cannot explain why student scores improved in Washington, DC, a conclusion that echoes previous analyses using publicly available data. DC education saw many changes over this period, including reform-oriented chancellors, mayoral control, and a rapidly expanding charter sector, but we cannot identify which policy changes, if any, produced these results.

And despite the large gains, DC NAEP scores still reveal substantial achievement gaps—for example, the gap between average scores for black and white students was 56 points in 2015; the gap between Hispanics and whites was 49 points.

In other words, much work remains to be done.

Here's how we drew our conclusions

Our analysis of student-level NAEP data from DC, including students from charter and traditional public schools, compares the increase in scores from 2005 to 2013 with the increase that might have been expected based on shifts in demographic factors including race/ethnicity, gender, age, and language spoken at home. The methodology is similar to the one used in a new online tool showing state NAEP performance (the tool excludes DC because it is not a state).

We used restricted-use, student-level data from NCES to generate these results. (That means that researchers have to get special permission to access files that have scores on a kid-by-kid (but de-identified) basis, whereas most people would have to use data that averaged for entire states and cities (by subject and year).

We measured the relationship between DC student scores in 2005 and the student factors of gender, race and ethnicity, age, and frequency of English spoken at home. We then predicted what each student's score in 2013 would have been if the relationships between demographics and scores were the same in 2013 as they were in 2005. We then compared the average predicted score of the 2013 test-takers (relative to the 2005 average score) to the actual 2013 score (also relative to the 2005 average score).

We tried model variants that included special education status, limited English proficiency status, and eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunch. Including these variables tended to lower the predicted score change (indicating that an even larger portion of the score changes came from non-demographic changes). However, because these variable are also subject to district and school-level definitions (direct certification/community eligibility may have increased the numbers of FRPL-eligible students, for example), we chose not to include these variables in our prediction, and focused only on demographic changes.

Crossposted from the Urban Wire.

Architecture


Building of the Week: Smithsonian American Art Museum and Kogod Courtyard

The exterior of the Smithsonian American Art Museum embodies cornerstones of DC architecture: Greek Revival, historic, and massive. Cynics might even call it forgettable and ubiquitous. The building's history, along with a new interior courtyard, defy those labels, helping it live up to Walt Whitman's claim that this is the "noblest of Washington buildings."


Smithsonian American Art Museum + Kogod Courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The museum building, which also houses the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery, occupies a double city block from 7th Street to 9th Street between F Street to G Street NW, across from the Verizon Center.

Originally the home of the US Patent Office, the building was conceived as a celebration of American innovation represented by the patent process. A slew of famous architects, including Washington Monument designer Robert Mills and Thomas U. Walter, who worked on the US Capitol building, worked on it during construction, which occurred in phases from 1836 to 1868.


A front elevation of the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was not restricted to just patents. It housed Department of the Interior bureaus, a Civil War military hospital and barracks, and President Lincoln's 1865 inaugural ball at different times. The Civil Service Commission set-up shop in the building after the Patent Office departed in 1932.

In the 1950s, the Civil Service Commission building was threatened with demolition, as it occupied a prime downtown site in the booming District. However, the burgeoning historic preservation movement in the city successfully appealed to President Dwight Eisenhower to save it.

The building became a National Historic Landmark in 1965, highlighting its cultural significance. Only a small fraction of historically significant buildings get this designation, and itand reinforces the oft-repeated claim that the building is one of the finest examples of Greek Revival architecture in DC.

Life as a museum

The Patent Office building joined the Smithsonian Institution when it opened its doors as the National Portrait Gallery and Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM) in January 1968 after four years of renovations. This returned the structure to its original function: showing off some of the best talent America had to offer, though now in art instead of technical innovation.


The exterior entrance to the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery. Image by the Smithsonian.

The building was transformed again with the addition of the Kogod Courtyard in 2007. World renowned architect Norman Foster teamed with Gustafson Guthrie Nichols on the courtyard, making sure to address concerns from preservationists about changing the character of the protected structure with an undulating glass ceiling that was modern and distinct but did not disrupt the historic building or block natural light.


The Kogod courtyard. Photo by Foster and Partners.

The courtyard design clearly draws inspiration from Foster's earlier work on the Great Court at the British Museum. However, he was limited on the number of alterations he could make to the historic structure at SAAM and designed a "thin rubber seal a few feet deep [that] connects the glass canopy to the original rooftops, so that its weblike structure seems to hover just above the roofline of the old stone building," The New York Times said in 2007.

Eight columns in the Kogod Courtyard support the roof.


The Kogod courtyard canopy. Image by Foster and Partners.

Foster's design does not defer to the historic architecture, but it certainly still respects it. The soaring glass canopy is one of the most captivating features of the building.

The resulting museum and courtyard is now a space in which Washington residents visit regularly, even when not viewing art. The courtyard is often filled with people working on laptops and reading on winter weekdays—a testament to its popularity as one of Washington DC's iconic public spaces.

Public Spaces


Check out these ideas for the new Third Street park in NoMa

A new park is set to go up in NoMa, at 3rd and L Streets NE, and the NoMa Parks Foundation recently unveiled three potential designs. Each has a dog park and an area for small children, including a unique jungle gym-like structure to increase play space in the small park.


The jungle gym-like "wall-holla" proposed for the Third Street park. Image by Carve.

The park will be the first in a planned system of parks in the near northeast neighborhood. Hoping to maximize space in the nearly 8,000-square foot plot, each plan by landscape architecture firm Lee and Associates splits the land about evenly between dogs and humans, with the jungle gym structure—called a "wall-holla"adding play space for children on a vertical plane.

"You have microunits, this is a micropark," says Jeff Lee, founding principal of Lee and Associates, at a meeting on the designs earlier in May.


The three plans by Lee and Associates for the Third Street park. All images by NoMa Parks Foundation and Lee and Associates unless otherwise noted.

The first two designs dubbed "The Wall-North" and "The Wall-West" place the space for dogs up against the wall of the Loree Grande on the southern edge of park with the outer areas of the park reserved for children and neighborhood residents. This layout dedicates the sunniest areas of the park to children and residents.


The Wall-North design.

"Incorporating the wall-holla is so important in options one and two," said Tony Goodman, the ANC commissioner for 6C06 that includes NoMa, at the meeting. The structures, which he has looked at elsewhere, have capacity for a lot of children and will maximize use of the space.

"They're very cool," said Goodman, adding that the first one in the DC area is being installed in Gaithersburg.


The Wall-West design.

One aspect of the The Wall-West that jumps out are the many curving benches that allows users to face each other. This would cater to NoMa's deaf residents and students at nearby Gallaudet University, which includes seating arrangements that enable visual communication in its DeafSpace design standards.


The Mounds design.

The third design, "The Mounds," does not include a dedicated children area but adds a knoll and bridge for dogs.

Responding to resident input

The designs for the Third Street park are a result of strong resident desires for a dog park and space for children in the neighborhood. NoMa currently lacks both.

There were a lot of questions about the designs at the meeting, as residents like some aspects and not others. For example, a number of people did not like the lack of separation between space for children and others in The Mounds.

The lack of separation in the design is about seeing how the elements of The Mounds would fit into the overall scheme for the park rather than a final proposal, says Lee.

The final design for the Third Street park is likely to include various elements from the three proposals, he says. Lee and Associates can combine aspects residents like and remove ones they do not as it moves through the design process.

Despite support for a dog park in the neighborhood, some residents asked whether NoMa should hold off on designs for the space until the uses for the planned NoMa Green off the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT) are determined.

"I'm going to be completely honest, this is a somewhat dark, small site," said Robin-Eve Jasper, president of NoMa BID. "It's a great site for a greatly designed small dog park."

She continued: "We don't need to wait on designing this. We need to think of this as a little jewel that's convenient for people in this area."

NoMa plans to hire a designer for the NoMa Green and a small plot at the corner of the MBT and R Street NE donated by developer Foulger-Pratt within the next few months, says Jasper.

In addition, there is a small dog park owned by The Gale Eckington but open to all residents across Harry Thomas Way from the planned green site.

Lee and his team will refine their designs next, likely focusing on the two wall designs based on the resident comments at the meeting. The neighborhood will hold another community meeting once this process is complete.

Construction of the Third Street park is expected to take about three months with a target opening date in 2017.

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