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Development


The YMCA is closing its downtown branch, and our contributors have something to say about it

The DC YMCA recently decided to close its downtown National Capital location. Many community members are unhappy with the decision to sell the 37-year old location for redevelopment.


YMCA National Capital branch. Image from Google Streetview.

In fact, we received a letter from a reader expressing frustration (edited for clarity):
I'm sending this along as a Y community member distressed about the peremptory closure of the facility as of the end of this year...I learned about the closure Friday morning from a fellow swimmer... I am shocked at the lack of any public process whatsoever in the trade of a vital community facility for what [I] understand are condos. This seems par for course for DC... that there are no community programs or resources in downtown DC (see Franklin School) and a lack of fiduciary responsibility on the part of the Y Board. The YWCA downtown (where I swam previously) was also closed in a similar fashion to make way for the corporate office building that is there now. I hope the GGW will consider covering this matter.
As a member of the National Capital Y, I can certainly sympathize with this reader. Like others, I was also upset to learn that the branch is closing from Borderstan rather than directly from the organization, no less.

But is it really fair to characterize this as selling out to greedy developers? The YMCA's board made the decision to sell its 37-year-old building as part of an effort to both expand programming beyond the gym and do more for communities that need help.

Situations like these, along with ones like the controversy over plans to redevelop privately-owned church land at 18th and Church Streets nearby, are a reminder of one constant in neighborhoods: places change. When I moved into Dupont Circle about four years ago, many of my favorite businesses and places didn't even exist there yet. Change has not lessened my neighborhood; it's made for a net gain.


The pool at the closing YMCA National Capital. Photo by Esther Dyson on Flickr.

Here is what other Greater Greater Washington contributors have to say:

Dan Malouff talks about the situation in the context of city amenities:

The Y may not be a park exactly, but as a community space it sort of functions like one. And sure, obviously it sucks to lose a "park." But there are some important differences that make this a pretty understandable move for YMCA. The Y is a private organization, with private goals. It's not like the city, or some evil developer, is forcing them to leave the neighborhood. They want to sell because they think that's the best move for them. Why's that? Because YMCA's mission—their whole reason to exist—is to bring social services to underserved communities. And as much as Dupont residents may enjoy a cheap gym, they aren't the Y's target market. Duponters have other options. By selling their 17th Street building, YMCA will make boatloads of cash, which they can spend on improving services in parts of the city where they're more needed.
Owen Chaput builds on Dan's point that the Y is free to make this decision:
The YMCA's board is selling an extremely valuable property in a prosperous neighborhood to improve its services in other (perhaps less prosperous) neighborhoods. That sounds fiscally responsible to me, and anyways it's up to the board to decide how to use its limited resources to meet the organization's mission.

Regardless, it's ultimately at the discretion of the YMCA board to interpret their mission and use their assets as they see fit. If the public doesn't like it, they can not donate to the YMCA or encourage DC government to remove any public support it offers the YMCA. Absent a contract with DC stating otherwise or evidence of some illegal activity, I don't understand why government should have a say in whether a non-profit operates services at any particular address in DC.

Payton Chung talks about non-profits who have to make often difficult decisions:
A lot of private institutions hold land for the public purpose. But like any other business, even a non-profit will sometimes need to make decisions that might sometimes upset some of their customers or neighbors.

Ten years ago, a social services center that actually was in my backyard, in a fast-gentrifying Chicago neighborhood, sold its building for development. Unlike the people they served, or facilities in the many neighborhoods that didn't gentrify, that organization was able to sell its building, move services closer to the families that it served, and build an endowment for the future.

On 14th St. NW, several social service organizations have used surging real estate prices as an opportunity to further their missions. In some cases, where the clientele remains in the neighborhood, the organizations have done joint-venture deals to remain on the site while developing above—as with the Anthony Bowen YMCA or Whitman-Walker Health's Elizabeth Taylor building.

For the Central Union Mission and Martha's Table, though, 14th St. isn't a convenient location for their clientele. Both are using millions of dollars gained from selling their land to expand their services and to move to new locations that better serve their clients. Yet when these groups announced their plans to leave 14th St., there wasn't hue and cry on local blogs' message boards.

The YMCA, too, has seen its clientele leave from Scott Circle. Its membership has dropped by 70%, despite spending millions of dollars to upgrade the facilities. A decline of that magnitude would put just about anything else out of business, and it's honestly surprising that the Y held on so long there.

Plenty of other smaller things bothered me about this letter. I once owned a condominium, and resent when the term "condos" is bandied about as if places for human beings to live are somehow a bad thing.

David Alpert says this might be the right move for more people than first meets the eye:
On a slightly different tack there is a general urbanism/planning question that comes up about whether "the market" takes care of things like recreation. Certainly we don't let education be based on the market need; cities put public schools in rich and poor neighborhoods. They also put in parks and playgrounds.

The market often doesn't seem to meet the need for things like parks. We're seeing that with NoMa, where because of a mistake when the area was upzoned, there's no place set aside for a park and a strong economic disincentive for any property owner to put one in. Plans like the one for White Flint are trying to deal with some of this by tying maximum density to provision of one of a number of public services the area needs.

In the case of indoor recreation, the market isn't really providing fitness opportunities in low-income areas that well, which is why nonprofits like the YMCA are playing a needed role, but in the wealthier areas the market actually seems to be doing okay. There are a lot of private fitness facilities in new buildings in the downtown area. They cost more to use than the YMCA, for sure, but while I don't know the economic circumstances of this letter writer, financial hardship might not be the reason she uses the YMCA.

For all we know, Akridge is already thinking about putting a fitness club in some of the building they plan to build.

So, personally, while I'm super-bummed to be losing my YMCA (especially that glorious pool!), I also recognize that it might well serve the YMCA's mission to close the branch. And with YMCA Anthony Bowen a mile away, and at least four other gyms/fitness centers (to say nothing of city-owned rec facilities) as close a walk from my place as the closing Y branch, this too shall pass.

A net loss for me? Sure. A net win for the Y's mission of serving underserved populations? Yes.

What do you think about the YMCA's decision? Let us know in the comments.

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Parking


Can a housing development go up in Petworth if it doesn't build new parking?

The developers behind a proposal for a new residential building in Petworth say it doesn't need parking because there are plenty of non-car transportation options nearby. Some residents disagree, saying the area can't accommodate new housing if new parking doesn't come with it. But take a walk around and you'll see their concerns are overblown.


Image from Rooney Properties.

In April 2015, Rooney Properties purchased the property at 3701 New Hampshire Avenue NW. Rooney began making plans to redevelop the site, formerly home to Sweet Mango, into a mixed-use building with ground floor retail and 21 living units in accordance with the property's zoning.

The property is configured as a triangle, with Rock Creek Church Road to the south and New Hampshire Avenue to the north. It is located near seven bus lines, the Georgia Avenue-Petworth Metro rail station, and a Capital Bikeshare station. Due to these factors, the developer is seeking a zoning variance to exclude parking from the development. But with a number of other new developments to the north and south also receiving parking relief in the past few years, residents are concerned that exempting 3701 New Hampshire Avenue from parking requirements will make it harder for everyone to park.


Base image from Google Maps.

Last week, the plans to redevelop the site encountered opposition from ANC 4C and members of the community. Petworth News did a good job covering the blow by blow of the meeting, accurately describing it as dysfunctional. One of the key areas of opposition in that meeting had to do with how the 21-unit building would impact residential street parking.

Last month, ANC 1A also weighed in on the variances required for this project to move forward. Based on the Comprehensive Plan, the goals of the Georgia Avenue Overlay for the corridor, and need for more density and housing in the community, and how the developer is proposing to find solutions to accommodate potential car owners, ANC 1A passed a resolution in support of this development (read here). It is important to note that neither ANC 1A's support nor ANC 4C's opposition was unanimous.

Concerns over parking are a bit inflated

It is fair to say that parking is an important issue—and an important quality of life issue. It must also be recognized that no two developments are exactly the same. In the case of 3701 New Hampshire, due to the oddly shaped lot, it just isn't physically possible to build underground parking on the property, especially to the extent that zoning would require. The property also doesn't have abutting properties to the north or south within the Georgia Avenue Overlay that would be able to be added to the development making parking possible.


3701 New Hampshire Avenue NW today. Photo by Owen Chaput.

Keeping this in mind, along with the property's close proximity to a Metro station, several bus lines, and a Capital Bikeshare station, there is no reason why this building should not be built. Furthermore, ANC 1A's request to remove the loading zone and associated curb cut on Rock Creek Church Road as part of their approval should add two on-street parking spaces to the block.

To manage parking, Rooney Properties (the developer) is planning to provide new residents with SmarTrip cards, a bike share membership and car share membership for the first three years. Rooney is also including space for bicycle maintenance and storage within the new building, and the lobby of the building will offer a transit screen that shows the number of bikes available and a real-time Metro train schedule.

Finally, Rooney is also actively seeking off-street parking options and has noted that several of the recent buildings in the area that have off-street parking are not parked up. The developer would be willing to provide free parking in these garages to new residents for three years as well.

Here's what parking the area currently has

According to the Petworth News report from the ANC 4C meeting, the following gives an idea of how much off-street parking is available in the immediate area. The Swift apartments (above Safeway) have 70 spots leased of their available 158 spots. The Park Place development has 138 spots leased of their 181 spots, and the 3 Trees Flats has 115 spots leased of their 130 spots. There is a lot of untapped parking potential in these buildings.

But another part of the story that wasn't part of the ANC 4C discussion—one important to developing some understanding of the potential hardships the immediate neighbors may face—is how much off-street parking exists in the community.


Rock Creek Church Road NW, with the development site to the north (left in the photo). Photo by Owen Chaput.

Residents from the 700 block of Rock Creek Church Road were among those expressing concern about the potential impact this development could have on that block, so I took the time to walk the alleys to the north and south of that block to see if any off-street parking existed for these properties currently. What I learned was that 63% of the residential properties on the 700 block of Rock Creek Church Road currently have some form of off-street parking that they are currently using, or have the potential to use. If I include the west side of Warder street, this goes down to 61%.

The map below shows the location of the proposed development and all the residential properties that have off-street parking.


(Map key: Orange=two-car garage; Yellow=one-car garage; Red=four car garage; Dark Blue=two car parking pad; Light Blue=one car parking pad)

Here is how the parking on the residential properties represented on the map above breaks down:

  • There are 54 residential properties on Rock Creek Church Road and the west side of Warder Street. 33 of these properties (61%) have off-street parking.
  • 10 residences (18%) have garages. There is 1 four car garage, 6 two car garages, and 3 one car garages.
  • 23 residences (42.5%) have parking pads. 6 properties have two car parking pads. 17 properties have one car parking pads.
  • Note: in taking this survey of parking, I did not include a garage if its entrance was bricked in, but did include a garage if the doors were merely boarded up. In one case, I included a single-car garage that was too small for a modern car, but which had a driveway currently used for off street parking.

Garages and parking pads abound on the north side of the 700 block of Rock Creek Church Road. Photo by the author.

Overall, in adding all this up, there are currently 48 spaces on this block for off-street parking. In looking at the south side of the 700 block of Quincy, each residential property there similarly has at least one off-street parking space.

With the amount of off-street parking currently in this area, one starts to question why parking is so tight currently Ö and based on my observations I believe some (but definitely not all) of this stress is caused by factors other than housing.

For instance, the 700 block of Quebec Place and nearby blocks are often stressed due to church parking from the Fisherman of Men Church. I have also witnessed on several occasions residents from further north in Ward 4 using Quebec, Rock Creek Church, and other nearby streets as commuter parking so that they can easily drive, park, and ride Metro. Whether there are solutions to these stresses or not, they certainly aren't related to development or housing in the immediate community.

Factoring all of this together, I believe that the benefits of the proposed development far outweigh the cons, and that the impact the building may have on parking and the surrounding community will not live up to people's worse case scenarios.

The case is scheduled to go before the Board of Zoning Adjustment on November 17, 2015.

A version of this post recently ran on Park View, DC.

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Development


South Park weighs in on gentrification with "SoDoSoPa"

As more people seek urban living, communities around the country are trying to meet the demand. That even goes for fictional places like South Park, which skewers gentrification this season with a new neighborhood called "SoDoSoPa":

In last week's episode, the town decides to redevelop the poor part of town into a trendy arts and restaurant district called "SoDoSoPa" in order to attract a Whole Foods. This fake ad for the community, complete with shots of sleek lofts, fancy restaurants, and bearded hipsters, could pass for lots of places in our region.

The episode also looks at how revitalization projects impact the people who already live there. South Park's mayor reassures Kenny's blue-collar family that she'll listen to their worries about the development. Instead, SoDoSoPa uses Kenny's blue-collar family as a marketing tool, advertising its proximity to "historic Kenny's house." Kenny's little sister asks her dad why they can't go outside to enjoy the cleaned-up neighborhood, and he replies that they can't afford to.

The video inspired a lengthy thread on Reddit's South Park board asking commenters to name their city's "SoDoSoPa" neighborhood. Naturally, one commenter suggested NoMa for the DC area, in addition to other redeveloping areas, including downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, and Tysons Corner.

What depictions of urban issues on TV have you enjoyed recently?

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Development


This building is way too short

Along Florida Avenue between U Street and California, at the southern edge of Adams Morgan, there's a block-long strip of retail containing Pleasant Pops, Mint, and until recently, Hans Pedr' Kaffe. It's also missing something big: housing on top.


1781 Florida Avenue, NW. Photos by the author.

In a city full of mixed-use buildings, this one sticks out like a sore thumb. It's just too short. It looks like a suburban strip mall in its low, horizontal nature. And it's right in Adams Morgan, where there's plenty of demand (these days, anyway) for housing. It looks very out of place in DC.


Image from Google Maps.

This site used to house the Kilimanjaro nightclub and a parking garage. According to Cheryl Cort, who lives a few blocks away, violence in the late 1980s hastened its decline. the apartment building across the street was vacant for many years.

The zoning on this site is C-2-A, low-density commercial development, and is also part of the Reed-Cooke Overlay. That limits non-residential Floor-Area Ratio to 1.5, residential to 2.5, and height to 40 feet, if I'm reading the zoning correctly. But it's likely not even hitting those limits, since the sloping site means it's only one story high on some sides.


1781 Florida Avenue, NW. Photos by the author.

This is not in a historic district (it's just outside two districts). If it were, and someone proposed redeveloping this today with five stories of housing, it would probably evoke a usual chorus of objections that such a building would be "too tall." But it's not; a taller building would be more compatible with this area because existing buildings are more vertical in nature and new buildings are generally taller than this one. Arguably, this building is too short to be compatible.

But since this was already redeveloped recently, it's likely to stay as is for some time. That's a big missed opportunity.

What other buildings do you think are too short and/or represent missed opportunities for more housing?

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Development


Prince George's zombie subdivisions need to die

Prince George's County has a backlog of suburban-style subdivisions that were approved for construction years ago, but never built. Now, the county faces a choice: Let those projects live on and sap up demand, or cancel them so more urban developments can rise.


Photo by Seamoor on Flickr.

Ever since 2009, the Prince George's County Council has continually extended the approval periods for unbuilt development projects, mostly consisting of single-family residential subdivisions located outside of the Beltway and away from transit.

Originally, the council granted these extensions to provide temporary relief to distressed developers in the wake of the Great Recession. But the recession is over. And while housing prices continue to rebound in Prince George's, there is no current market demand for massive new single-family subdivisions outside of the Beltway.

Instead of extending them for two more years, through the end of 2017, it's time for the council to give up the ghost on these long-dead projects.

Zombie projects are clogging the county's pipeline

About 80% of the development projects approved but not yet constructed in Prince George's County are low-density single-family homes. Over 13,000 of them are planned for outside of the Beltway, away from transit. This chart from 2011 shows just how widely spread out these projects are:


Image from M-NCPPC.

But the county already has more single-family units than it knows what to do with, and developers seemingly haven't found it to be in their financial interest to pursue more of these projects for years.

Everyone but the council seems to realize these projects are effectively dead. It simply makes no sense to keep trying to bring these zombie projects back to life.

County planners have already concluded that such scattered sprawl development is unhelpful for the county because it makes it "difficult to establish a critical mass of high-density development around any existing Metro station, as envisioned by the General Plan."

Moreover, the county's continued lack of focus on high-quality mixed-use transit-oriented development puts it "at a continued disadvantage relative to its neighbors when it comes to attracting residents and employers who value the connectivity and amenities that other such communities provide."

When approving the current General Plan last year, the existing pipeline of approved-but-unbuilt projects outside of the Beltway led planners and the council to conclude that the county actually had "too many" Metro stations, even before taking into account the future Purple Line light rail stations, and that developing all of them would "undermine economic growth."

But if the council would instead allow these old projects to die a natural death, developers and planners could reorient their efforts to smarter projects. Even if the market later shows there's still demand for single family homes, starting over would give officials a chance to design them with more walkable streets.

Ideally, the county could direct some much-needed attention towards its gateway neighborhoods and Metro stations near DC.

The council's Planning, Zoning, and Economic Development (PZED) Committee will consider the latest extension bills, CB-80-2015 and CB-81-2015, on Wednesday, September 30, at 1:30 pm in Room 2027 of the County Administration Building. If the committee votes to favorably recommend the bill, the full council will then consider it at a later date.

Residents can attend the PZED meeting in person, or submit written comments. Use this link to address comments to PZED Chair Andrea Harrison, with copies to committee director Jackie Brown and committee administrative aide Barbara Stone.

A version of this post appeared on Prince George's Urbanist.

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Development


Fairfax is moving forward with a huge development north of Reston Town Center

Fairfax County is redeveloping the space that the Reston Regional library and a homeless shelter sit on, just north of Reston Town Center. Last week, the project's second phase got the green light after the county and a private owner agreed to a land swap.


Images from the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services.

The boundaries of the fifty acre area are Reston Hospital on Town Center Parkway to the west, Fountain Drive to the east, Baron Cameron Avenue to the north, and New Dominion Parkway to the south. It's adjacent to the Spectrum shopping center, whose mixed use complex was approved in 2013.

The current area will be divided into nine blocks, with a central park of more than two acres. The county will handle redeveloping six of the segments, which include the current library, homeless shelter, and other county services. The Reston Citizens Association (RCA) published a suggested plan for a larger library that incorporates the current Embry Rucker Community Shelter site (which would be relocated to one of Fairfax's blocks). The RCA's voice carries some weight, but the final decision is Fairfax County's.

Already underway with the first phase of the project, the county will be accepting approved developer proposals for blocks 7 and 8, where the Reston Regional Library and the Embry Rucker Community Shelter currently sit. The hope is to add mixed-use elements, such as a coffee shop adjacent to the library or transitional housing. The county closed a developer qualifications request for proposals on August 20 of this year; the second RFP will ask the pre-qualified teams for public-private development proposals.

Thanks to a land swap with a private owner, Fairfax can move forward

To ensure that Reston and the county are not without services like the North County Human Services Building and Reston District Police Station, Fairfax is doing a 1:1 land swap with Inova, a nonprofit healthcare system, which owns part of the land. Fairfax County is actually exchanging Fairfax County Park Authority land, which is the blocks that Inova will develop.

The land swap was approved by the Board of Supervisors at a September 22 meeting. This approval will allow Fairfax County to develop all their portions independently. Once this change of ownership is finalized, Fairfax County will be able to start Phase 2 of the redevelopment.

Inova has not determined what it will do with its blocks (2,4 and 6) which currently contain the freestanding ER center, Sunrise Senior Living, and the recently closed Cameron Glen Health and Rehab Center.

Residents want current services to be there in the future

After a meeting to gather community feedback in July, the Reston Citizens Association published a white paper stating its concerns about the project. At a similar meeting Saturday the 20th, residents again voiced concerns about the marginalization of the library and homeless shelter. They were worried that both facilities would be downsized. Many county libraries have added more digital services, which require less space, but attendees argued that Reston Regional has a large base of printed book readers.

One resident noted that Fairfax County approved a $10 million bond to improve the Reston Regional Library in 2012. None of the county representatives at the meeting said how that money would be used in the scope of Phase 1. My table mate felt that the public-private partnerships have tended to favor the wants of large developers, which aren't always in the best interest of Reston citizens.

Another concern was that the project wouldn't have enough affordable housing. Andrew Miller, Project Coordinator from the Public-Private Partnerships Branch of the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, said that any housing developments would be subject to Fairfax County's Affordable Dwelling Unit Program.

Each individual block will go through its own zoning and development approval process. Miller mentioned that the Fairfax County Park Authority is contributing five acres to the project, and may want to use the 90,000 square feet of its development rights to add a RECenter. The Block 9 project is owned by the Fairfax County Redevelopment and Housing Authority and "would be rezoned and redeveloped separately at a future time."

For future information on this development, please visit fairfaxcounty.gov/dpwes/restontowncenternorth.

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Public Spaces


A lesson from NoMa: Itís important to build parks early

NoMa has laid out an ambitious plan to invest $50 million into new parks in the booming neighborhood. But rapidly rising property prices are making it increasingly difficult to realize those plans.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

NoMa's 2012 public realm design plan includes everything from brightening the underpasses at the heart of NoMa, to a "mid-block alley"—aka a meanderfrom New York Avenue to K Street NE, to a "Pepco Park" on an empty lot north of New York Avenue that the utility owns. Last year, DC granted the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) $50 million to help make the plan happen.


NoMa's 2012 public realm design plan. Image from NoMa BID.

Some elements of the plan are moving forward. NoMa has selected designs for the underpasses on L Street and M Street NE and received commitments from developers to include the NoMa Meander in their plans from New York Avenue to Pierce Street.


The latest NoMa Meander plan. Image from NoMa BID.

"That's a place where the developers are providing privately-owned space, they're improving that space at their own cost — so there'll be kind of water features and everything in there and the city won't have to pay any money for it," said Robin Eve-Jasper, president of NoMa BID, on the meander in April.

NoMa is also finding creative uses for temporary public space. It has convinced developers to lend undeveloped land in the neighborhood for popular summer activites, including the NoMa Summer Screen and Wunter Garden.

Turning land into parks is expensive

Making space available for public use while it's waiting to be developed, however, is one thing; realizing plans for permanent parks is another. Ditto Residential, Sivan Properties, and Zusin Development recently outbid NoMa for an 8,720 square foot triangle plot bounded by Florida Avenue, 3rd and N Streets NE where they plan to build a new parking-free mixed-use building.

NoMa had hoped to build a new N Street Park on the plot. The proposed park would have served "the adjoining neighborhood, improve[d] pedestrian conditions along Florida Avenue and integrate[d] with development south of N Street," according to the design realm plan.


Proposed N Street Park. Rendering from NoMa BID.

Stacie West, director of parks projects for the NoMa Parks Foundation, says the BID submitted a "strong offer" for the property but that the owner accepted the offer from Ditto.

The loss of this plot, a small piece of NoMa's grand park plans, makes clear the need to set aside green space early when developing a neighborhood. You do not need to look far for a good example of this: Navy Yard.

DC has an example of how to do this right

Yards Park along the Anacostia River waterfront was planned early in Navy Yard's resurgence. The park opened in 2010, only two years after the opening of Nationals Park, which really sparked redevelopment in the neighborhood.

The park has become a focal point of Navy Yard. It has a wading pool popular with children, hosts a well-attended Friday night concert series and, as part of the Anacostia Riverwalk, is on the jogging routes of many runners.


Photo by Colton Brown on Flickr.

Development continues to go in around Yards Park. The Capital Riverfront BID estimated that only about 43% of the planned 11,981 residential units earmarked for the neighborhood were open or under construction at the end of 2014, its annual report shows.

Yards Park, and nearby Nationals Park, serve as the center of development in Navy Yard, even as most still-planned development will occur a few blocks in from the waterfront.

What can be done in NoMa now?

There is no way to roll back the development that has already gone into—or is planned for—NoMa. According to Eve-Jasper, the neighborhood is expected to become the densest in Washington DC when it is fully built out.

But moving forward, the District government should budget more money for parks to serve NoMa's existing and coming residents. This would allow the BID to make more competitive offers for land, like the plot that was to become the N Street Park and other green spaces in the neighborhood.

NoMa BID also should continue its efforts partnering with developers to create open space in NoMa, as it has with the meander.

Through a combination of these and other tactics, hopefully NoMa can achieve the vast majority of its public realm design plan. Creating public spaces that will benefit the neighborhood and the city for generations to come.

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Development


Plans are gelling for a park over the Anacostia. Here are ways to ensure it helps, not displaces, existing residents.

The group behind the plan to build a park on the old 11th Street Bridge is seriously committed to making sure the project is a net gain for the communities around it. It wants to work with both the District government and nonprofits to grow the local workforce, boost small businesses, and increase the area's affordable housing stock.


The 11th Street Bridge Park will concentrate activity on the east side of the Anacostia River. Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park.

The plan includes 19 concrete recommendations for how to bring economic opportunities to the neighborhoods adjacent to the park without also bringing the negatives that neighborhoods often experience when they get wealthier.

Of course, the 11th Street Bridge Park team, based out of Ward 8's Building Bridges across the River at THEARC, exists mostly to build a park on the foundations of an old highway bridge over the Anacostia River. And it's getting there. The team has raised around 11 of the 45 million dollars required to build and endow the park.

The typical gentrification narrative doesn't work for Anacostia residents

But by its very nature—it would connect Capitol Hill to Historic Anacostia—the coming park will be another chapter in the larger narrative of change in neighborhoods east of the Anacostia River.


The Census tracts the Bridge Park team wants to focus its social efforts on. Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park.

For years, activists have lamented the District's tendency to place social services and subsidized housing in Historic Anacostia. Residents want to see an the increase in home prices, new restaurants, and a refreshed neighborhood image that investment would foster. They say, it's OK if some of that comes from wealthier residents, moving in, as long as they can be around to enjoy it.

Media coverage of gentrification often frames it a zero-sum class conflict with strong racial and cultural overtones. Academic coverage tends to see it as an inevitable outcome of real estate developers seeking big profits on cheap investments. But studies of whether these theories actually predict demographic changes show a mixed record.

The Bridge Park's Equitable Development Task Force is recommending a different approach. It has avoided the inflammatory language of gentrification, instead honing in on investments now that can prevent the involuntary displacement of current residents in the future.


Features of the Bridge Park will celebrate the area's legacy. Image from OMA/OLIN.

The bridge park can take an innovative approach to change

Scott Kratz, the Bridge Park team's leader, sees the project as a chance for the District government and grassroots activists to cooperate on efforts to help grow a neighborhood that has suffered badly from disinvestment.

The Bridge Park team plans to implement a few of the task force's ideas itself. For example, they want to incubate small retail businesses on the bridge, and making the routes to the park more walkable, so people venture into Anacostia's retail strip.

And while the Bridge Park can't do all that much by way of building new housing or pushing for a legislative overhaul of the District's hiring laws, it can reach out and focus the attention of institutions that are already working on those issues on this specific moment and time.


Anacostia's 13th and W Street SE. Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

Working with the city, Kratz's team wants to establish a community land trust, connect residents to existing public programs, and put local businesses in any buildings built by the District.

Working with seasoned nonprofit organizations, the team wants to push for more housing in the area, both market-rate and affordable, encourage nonprofit developers, and connect teenagers to mentorships.


Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park.

It's a long list, and some goals are bigger than others. But it shows a vision of constructive approaches to the economic changes that have been happening in DC. It may also be a test case for other economic development projects. If the city is serious about using the Wizards practice facility to improve Congress Heights, maybe it could look to the task force's action plan for ways to go beyond just putting the building in a low-income neighborhood.

You can read the full list here. The task force is accepting comments throughout September. It will present its first round of revisions in October 3rd, and a final, more detailed set of strategies on November 5th.

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