The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about East Of The River

Development


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?

Sustainability


A more accessible Anacostia Park would mean a healthier community

Anacostia Park is part more than 1,200 acres of parks and wetlands that sit along the Anacostia River. It's not in great shape, but there are people working to turn it around. If they succeed, residents are set to reap the health and social benefits that come with quality parks.


The waterfront trail running through Anacostia Park. All photos by the author unless otherwise noted.

Overshadowed by the Washington Monument on the National Mall, the Anacostia Waterfront, which the National Parks Service and District government manage together, is one of Washington's most undervalued landmarks.

Originally planned nearly 100 years ago, the waterfront was designed under the McMillan Plan to be a grand public park running along the river, featuring promenades, islands, and bathing lagoons.


Image from the Anacostia Waterfront Trust.

Over the ensuing century, however, Anacostia Park was neglected and underused. Despite all that it has to offer, Anacostia Park never achieved the kind of recognition from tourists or regular use from residents that places like Rock Creek and Meridian Hill do.

Part of the problem is that much of the park is bounded is by the Anacostia River on one side and a busy highway on the other, limiting access by public transportation and connection to the rest of the city.

Parks can help address public health issues in Anacostia

Communities east of the Anacostia River are plagued with elevated rates of asthma, diabetes, and heart disease, so much so that there's clearly an expanding the gulf between these underserved areas and the rest of the District. According to the city's most recent assessment, residents of Ward 8 have the highest rates of obesity and are the least likely to exercise of anyone in the city.

The health woes people in Anacostia face persist despite the fact that many people live within a mile of Anacostia Park or Waterfront Trail.


The Anacostia Waterfront trail has an aast and west branch along both sides of the river, and runs for a total of 15 miles.

There's proof that the active lifestyle parks encourage mean lower obesity rates and high blood pressure rates as well as fewer doctor's visits and fewer annual medical costs. Further benefits include lower levels of cholesterol and respiratory diseases, enhanced survival after a heart attack, faster recovery from surgery, fewer medical complaints, and reduced stress.

Recognizing what Anacostia Park can do for residents as well as how much it's been ignored, recent administrations—starting with Anthony Williams, who was in office from 1999 until 2007—have championed the park and waterfront, slowly shifting investment across the river. In the past decade, new playgrounds have gone up, and 15 miles of new trails have formed the nucleus of the Anacostia Waterfront Trail.

Both what's coming to the Waterfront and what's already there make for tremendous opportunity to serve community health needs in Wards 7 and 8.


Anacostia park lacks the public transportation options that other places have. This is the only bikeshare station located along the eastern branch of the Waterfront Trail.

New programing is a great tool for increasing park attendance. Last year, the National Park Service hosted the first annual Anacostia River Festival to promote "the history, ecology, and communities along its riverbanks." The inaugural event was an opportunity for the community and local politicians to come out in support of the Park and another is in the works for this upcoming spring.

Here's how DC can connect Anacostia Park to its community

For progress to continue, interest in Anacostia Park has to go beyond these periodic events and promising proposals. The easiest way to support active use is making sure people know about all that Anacostia Park has to offer.

According to the American Planning Association, for a park to increase physical activity it needs to be accessible, close to where people live, and have good lighting, toilets, and drinking water, and attractive scenery. Today, Anacostia Park has some of these things, but others are sorely lacking.


This is the south-eastern tip of Anacostia Park and Waterfront Trail, seen from across the river at Yards Park.

The first thing that would get more people using Anacostia Park would be creating convenient points of access. Creative infrastructure and programs could be replicated in Anacostia Park based on what other cities have used to successfully boost attendance and forge a connection with the community.

In Chicago, The Garfield Park Conservatory Alliance helped community members create a "Quality of Life Plan," identifying top issues facing the community in order to craft policies that the park to meet the most pressing needs. Since 2005, the initiative has facilitated coordination between local employers, provided employment for 84 local youth, and mobilized over 10,000 residents to support a number of projects.

In New York, a collaboration between the Prospect Park Alliance, the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and the Brooklyn Academy of Science and the Environment (BASE) High School resulted in a curriculum based on the physical and educational resources of the Botanic Garden. Such a partnership could be replicated between the National Arboretum, Park Service, and City if the interest and collective will are demonstrated.

Fortunately, creating new ways to access the park and things to do once people are there does not require large sums of money because Anacostia Park doesn't need to be built or set aside. What it does demand, however, is public and private support as well as a willingness to incorporate the communities these changes are meant to benefit into the planning process.

To foster dialogue between the community and other stakeholders, The Anacostia Waterfront Trust has recently partnered with 13 other organizations to form the Anacostia Park and Community Collaborative.

While still taking shape, the APCC is designed to engage with nearby residents in order to promote active use and develop long term plans. Efforts like these can help ensure that the many projects and initiatives intended to help residents of the Anacostia Waterfront actually serve their purpose.

Other parks are blossoming nearby

Work is ongoing to create an additional 13 miles of trails connecting the park to other sites along the Waterfront, including the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, Yards Park, and the National Arboretum.

Another example of a Waterfront project that can do a lot for its community is the 11th Street Bridge Park. The project will include an education center, outdoor performance spaces, and urban agriculture, and when it's finished, it will be a link Wards 6, 7, and 8.


Image from the 11th Street Bridge Park design team.

Development


Good deal or not? DC will build a Wizards practice facility near Congress Heights Metro

Tens of millions of dollars in public money would pay for a pro basketball practice facility and small arena at the St. Elizabeths campus, under a deal reported Monday. Will it spur needed economic development or take away funds from needed public projects like schools?


Photo by Keith Allison on Flickr.

A recent candidate for public office said about sports subsidies, "We have to make the case that this is really going to generate the type of economic revenue that would make our up-front investment worth it. We still have a lot of capital needs in the District of Columbia, schools being really at the top of the list."

That was Muriel Bowser in 2014. Will she make a persuasive case for this one?

What's in the deal?

Under the deal, Events DC, the authority that runs DC's convention center, would pay up to $32.5 million toward building the facility, which it would own. The NBA Washington Wizards would use the complex as a practice facility, while the WNBA's Mystics would play games there instead of the Verizon Center. It would also host arts, cultural and community events.

The buildings could cost up to $56.3 million, and the difference could come from some combination of funds from the DC budget and from Monumental Sports & Entertainment, the entity that owns the Wizards and Mystics. The exact mix is reportedly still being negotiated, and would also need approval from the DC Council (not a foregone conclusion).

Monumental would also contribute $10 million for as-yet-undisclosed (or undecided) amenities for the nearby Congress Heights area, Jonathan O'Connell reported in the Washington Post. Meanwhile, the District would provide the land gratis, along with roads, lighting, utilities, and parking lots.

Is this a good idea?

While its sports deals haven't come close to the ridiculous giveaways of some stadium deals, DC has still been willing to throw substantial public money at pro sports despite near-unanimity among economists that such deals rarely make fiscal sense.

If there is any good spot, St. Elizabeths isn't such a bad one. DC took control of the huge east campus, which abuts Congress Heights Metro, and the Gray Administration announced grand plans for a technology innovation center there, but progress has been very slow.

If this center actually kicks off economic growth at St. Elizabeths, that could be valuable, as could drawing people across the Anacostia River to a part of the city many never see. What we don't know, and have only heard snippets about secondhand, is whether the lack of change at St. Elizabeths is due to a lack of private sector interest or just government slowness; for example, most of the site still lacks power and roads.

DC will have to put those in as part of this deal; if it simply put them in anyway, would that be enough to trigger growth without a large sports subsidy? Economic development officials have not disclosed enough to answer that.

What would candidate Bowser say?

During her 2014 campaign, I interviewed Bowser along with her competitors, and sports subsidies were one of the topics. She said,

My approach is that there is economic development that it's okay for the city to incentivize... but it has to make sense for us. ...

We also have to make the case that this is really going to generate the type of economic revenue that would make our up-front investment worth it. We still have a lot of capital needs in the District of Columbia, schools being really at the top of the list, and other public buildings. So what are we going to get out of this investment?

Now having said all that, I think that this team has been a good neighbor in the District. There are a lot of District residents that support this team. And I hope they come to a deal that makes sense for us.

Bowser was talking then about the proposed deal for a soccer stadium at Buzzard Point. She primarily opposed a "land swap" where the District would give developer Akridge the Reeves Center at 14th and U in exchange for land in Buzzard Point, and she later followed through and blocked that piece of the plan.

But the soccer deal ultimately cost about $150 million out of the DC budget. Supporters said it would revitalize Buzzard Point and keep a beloved soccer team in the city, while detractors noted that the budget delayed many capital projects like school renovations.

Bowser added at the time, "I think when you know we have a billionaire owner, which we do, some people have to ask the question of why do we have to give them $150 million. We have a lot of priorities for DC."

Watch this segment of my interview with Bowser here:

Development


When dreaming of Olympics or anything else, beware of "planning down"

A team of architects and business leaders met in secret for many months to devise a big proposal for the Olympics in DC. Some parts of it have merit (and some don't), and ideas should always be welcome. But some things about the way they talk about the need to "transform" DC feel wrong.


Hand drawing city photo from Shutterstock.

It's terrific that some wealthy business leaders want to help the District. A generation ago, people in the suburbs were turning their backs on DC. Even now, as Jonathan O'Connell notes in his article on the Olympic bid, too often DC, Maryland, and Virginia compete to out-subsidize large businesses just so they'll move a few miles across a border.

The Olympic bid group didn't have that attitude. Russ Ramsey, who led the effort, lives in Great Falls, Virginia, but he wanted the Olympics to revive the area around the Anacostia River. The Anacostia can certainly benefit from having more friends, and areas around it more investment.

However, there's something a little disquieting about a group of business leaders and architects formulating this plan in secret, drawing pictures of stadiums on all manner of public land and arguing it would have lasting benefits for the city without really speaking to the public about what they'd like to be left with after an Olympics.

Let's call this "planning down"

There was a lot of discussion recently about "punching down" as a concept in comedy (see: criticisms of Trevor Noah, or criticisms by Garry Trudeau). Basically, it's when comedians make fun of groups of people who are less powerful in society than themselves. This secret planning feels like something similar; let's call it, "planning down."

"Planning down" would be what happens when one group of people decide they know what's best for another area whose populace is less powerful. Many residents felt this way when they heard about the machinations for the Olympics. Those of us who did should hold on to the feeling, as residents in poorer neighborhoods feel the same far more often.

John Muller, for example, has often written about communities in Historic Anacostia, Barry Farm, and elsewhere where residents feel government officials come in for "public meetings" seemingly already having decided what they want. (The same thing often happens in more politically powerful neighborhoods, but residents have more success forcing their views into the debate.)

We need to have discussions about the futures of such communities that truly engage residents in thinking about what they want for their communities. (Some government agencies have indeed done this.) There are certainly constraints—there are specific economic criteria a neighborhood needs to support a grocery store, for instance. But I think people can understand these constraints and work with them if given the chance.

The planning profession, in fact, enshrined principles around public participation in its ethical codes after the era of urban renewal which demolished many working-class neighborhoods to build "towers in the park," like in DC's Southwest Waterfront and parts of many other US cities. (You're more likely to encounter dismissive non-listening from certain transportation engineers.)

However, public engagement isn't the same as "letting the neighborhood decide." Sometimes, deferring to neighbors means letting a more-powerful group use zoning, preservation, or other tools to exclude others. For a non-Washington example, look at Toronto's "density creep" controversy, where a group of people in million-dollar homes worried about new half-million-dollar homes hurting their property values. You could say those doing the excluding are "zoning down"; it's not planning down to criticize the practice.

Some decision-makers fear taking any action unless every community stakeholder is in agreement. That's not the way to avoid planning down. It's possible to involve people in a conversation, then move ahead with some decision recognizing that no choice, whether to act or not act, will be universally popular. The key is to listen first (and hopefully make the right choice).


Superhero businessman photo from Shutterstock.

DC doesn't need to be "saved"

O'Connell concludes his article on the Olympic bid by asking, "The question is, who will be the private-sector leader for the future of Washington?" It would be most welcome to have private-sector individuals wanting to do more for DC, or the region, or their specific communities. We just need them to lead more from behind, facilitating conversations rather than deciding unilaterally what the future should be.

Many of us in the Greater Greater Washington community are somewhat more privileged than many DC residents as well. We should keep these same lessons in mind just as much when we talk about neighborhoods east of the Anacostia or elsewhere, especially if we don't know many people in those areas.

We can't just say we know what's right for other, less privileged areas; we need to understand the circumstances and hopes of the people who live there. We can't do that entirely on a blog that's easiest to read if you work in an office with a computer, either.

We can all do more to strengthen the public dialogue around planning, to encourage planning up instead of planning down. And we should. Greater Greater Washington is going to be working on building these bridges and elevating voices from diverse communities much more in the future. Stay tuned.

Roads


DC made it more appealing to drive through East of the River neighborhoods to get between Maryland and Virginia. You'll never guess what happened next.

When DC rebuilt the 11th Street Bridge with more lanes and more highway ramps, officials insisted it would make traffic better, while many worried it would only worsen the situation by encouraging drivers to cut through DC between Maryland and Virginia. Now, residents east of the Anacostia say that the change has been a disaster for their communities.


Photo by Gary Butler on Twitter.

The 11th Street Bridge connects the Southeast Freeway, which divides Capitol Hill and the Navy Yard area and is now signed I-695, with the Anacostia neighborhood and 295. North of there, the highway along the east bank of the Anacostia is called DC-295; west, it's I-295.

Before a massive project to rebuild the bridge over the past few years, there was no direct car connection from DC-295 to the bridge. Some drivers got off 295 at Pennsylvania Avenue and crossed the river there before getting back on the highway.

It made a certain sense to add a connection. Surely it's logical to have ramps connecting all of the highways, right? Some drivers in neighborhoods around DC-295 found their commutes quite awkward, and the drivers getting off the highway and back on clogged up some neighborhood roads.

However, some people warned that the cure could be worse than the disease. By building a connection, it would be simpler for people already driving this route, but could also attract more drivers to make the trip, adding to traffic and pollution for people living near the highways.

I predicted in 2008 that map software would soon move away from exclusively suggesting the Beltway to circumvent DC, directing unsuspecting itinerant travelers through DC and on the 11th Street bridge. Sure enough, that started happening.


Image from Google Maps.

The Capitol Hill Restoration Society, a preservation group, commissioned their own independent traffic study of the bridge project. It predicted that traffic would increase on DC-295, the bridge, the Southeast/Southwest Freeway (695 and 395), Pennsylvania Avenue in the neighborhoods on both sides of the river, and in other places, while decreasing on the Beltway and on 295 near Bolling Air Force Base.


Drawing by the author.

At the time, DDOT officials defended the project, saying that even if it increases traffic in DC, it should move some from local streets to the highway. The project's "Purpose and Need," in fact, said a goal was to "reduce the volume of freeway traffic that spills onto the neighborhood streets due to current traffic patterns."

By that yardstick, the project seems to have failed. Residents east of the river say traffic has gotten worse in their neighborhoods. Gary Butler, Justin Lini, and Marie Fritz told Martin Di Caro that more people are driving on 295, creating traffic jams, leading people to try getting off and taking local streets to get around the traffic.

DDOT might double down despite evidence of the danger

DDOT engineer Muhammed Khalid seems to feel that the solution is to keep doing even more of what his agency has already been doing. He confirmed to WAMU that traffic got worse on 295, but said all DDOT has to do is "adjust" the "deficiencies" to "minimize or mitigate" traffic problems. In other words, he wants to do even more road work to move more cars on 295.

That will almost surely only draw even more traffic to 295, making traffic worse somewhere else, and pushing people off the highway again into neighborhoods.

Khalid's comments sound like what you hear from a lot of transportation engineers who learned one way to do things in engineering school and haven't noticed the ways our understanding of traffic have advanced since. Traditional traffic engineering sees wider roads or more interchange ramps as the solution to any traffic problem. Unfortunately, in reality those steps only induce more traffic and make the problem worse.

If DDOT just keeps doing the same thing, the people east of the Anacostia will pay the price in worse air quality and even more traffic.

Transit


Many Silver Line riders make a long trek from Metro's eastern branches

Fifteen percent of commuters who take Metro's Silver Line to Tysons Corner or Wiehle Avenue come from east of the Anacostia River in DC or Prince George's County. These long commutes result from a growth pattern that puts jobs in far-flung western suburbs and affordable housing in the east. They're part of the price our region pays for sprawl.


Wiehle Avenue station. Photo by Matt Johnson.

Data released last week from Metro shows that 150 of the 983 morning rush hour riders arriving daily at Wiehle Avenue come from the system's easternmost stations. With 126 out of 827 passengers coming from the same area, the new Tysons station has similar numbers. The percentage is even higher at Spring Hill station.

These numbers are particularly noteworthy because only 20% of Metro's morning riders come from east of the Anacostia or Prince George's in the first place.

Silver Line stationAM peak riders
from EOTR/PG
Total AM
peak riders
Percentage
McLean383879%
Tysons Corner12682715%
Spring Hill8440620%
Greensboro343848%
Wiehle Ave15098315%
Total432298714%
Click on a column header to sort.

Some of those arriving at Wiehle Avenue are no doubt well-off homeowners who chose long commutes in order to live near Chesapeake Bay. After years of long car treks around the crowded Beltway, they might well prefer to park at New Carrollton or Largo and take a train trip of 70 minutes or more.

But the most common motivation for Silver Line riders from the east side is surely economic necessity, as most board at stations that draw riders from less affluent neighborhoods nearby.

Going from New Carrollton or Addison Road to Reston is a tough commute no matter how one travels, and if you have to wait for the bus at one or both ends, it's brutal. These ridership figures are a reminder of how painful it is when low wages meet land use policies that separate jobs from affordable housing.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC