Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Economic Development


Amid scandal, don't lose sight of Gray's policy achievements

The charges filed yesterday against Vincent Gray's former assistant campaign treasurer will surely reinforce the image in many voters' minds of a scandal-plagued mayor who has accomplished nothing for the District. The scandals may be real, but his administration has also racked up some important achievements across the government.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

Instead of halting progress or even reversing course on bicycle infrastructure, streetcars, and education reform, the Gray administration is strengthening DC's commitment to these innovations. It has set clear priorities for traffic safety, performance parking, and sustainability, helped unem­ployed residents get jobs, and restored the rainy-day fund instead of spending it down.

None of this justifies any of the alleged illegal acts that happened in the campaign, but neither is this unimportant.

Ultimately, Gray's mayoralty will leave a lasting effect on the budget and city services, and residents, whether they voted for and endorsed Adrian Fenty (as I did) or Gray, should care a great deal about what the capable people in the administration, unconnected to the campaign or any campaign finance, are doing.

We've also yet to find out whether the mayor himself was part of any illegal activity or knew about it. Based on what we know thus far, it appears that Gray made some very poor choices about whom to trust early on. Since then, he's replaced most of these poor hires with better staff, who are better at sharing the administration's positive accomplishments, such as:

One City One Hire

The administration's program to help unemployed residents find jobs has now suc­cee­ded in getting employers to hire 3,000 unemployed District residents in the past year.

There are numerous obstacles to getting people into jobs, but employers' lack of trust in DC's jobless has been among the most intractable. One City One Hire officials work to restore this trust by personally vetting resumes of unemployed DC residents and asking employers to consider a couple of handpicked resumes for each opening.

Some feel that this is what the Department of Employment Services (DOES) was supposed to be doing all along. This is technically true. It's also true that DC Public Schools are supposed to be properly educating our children. We shouldn't withhold credit where credit is due when DCPS or DOES fulfills its mission.

Sector-specific economic development

Under previous administrations, the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development was concerned almost exclusively with real estate deals. Although targeted real estate deals are important, only Mayor Gray has really invested in developing other sectors that are strategically important to the city.

The Mayor's broader focus has produced new positions critical to the city's economy, even if the officers filling those positions often operate behind the scenes. For example, newly hired DMPED officials regularly meet with leaders of the technology, government contractor, and health care communities to align identify ways DC can support these strategically important sectors.

A newly reconstituted Workforce Investment Council, whose executive director Alison Gerber was recruited from the Aspen Institute, has made it clear that workforce development dollars must be targeted to high demand sectors. As a result, for the first time, workforce development in DC is no longer scattershot, with the Gray Administration targeting key sectors.

DOES has cut off funding to several training providers whose training wasn't aligned with these sectors. A new Workforce Intermediary will ensure that the needs of hospitality and construction employers are addressed by training providers.

Continued capital investments without raiding city's reserves

DC residents were aware of the many capital improvements made under former Mayor Fenty, but fewer were aware that Fenty drew down the "rainy day" fund of $700 million to pay for some of these improvements.

Mayor Gray has continued the pace of capital improvements, with renovations of Takoma Education Campus and Woodson, Cardozo and Anacostia High Schools. While maintaining the pace of the previous Administration, Mayor Gray has managed to replenish our reserve fund, bringing it up to $1.1 billion.

Sustainability plan

If you haven't seen the objectives Mayor Gray set for 2032 in his Sustainable DC plan, then you should take a look. These objectives should provide the basis for numerous DC government initiatives over the next two decades covering issues as diverse as our food supply and obesity, along with transportation, tree canopy, and waste.

For some these strategic plans and objectives may seem mere feel-good talk, but these objectives matter. Historically, DC government has looked to such comprehensive plans and small area plans in designing legislation and framing countless policy debates in subsequent years.

Cameras and parking

Study after study proves that traffic cameras save lives. Mayor Gray significantly expanded traffic cameras in this year's budget, a politically courageous move that will continue DC's trend of lower and lower traffic fatalities.

While the DC Council created visionary pilots in performance parking, the previous administration never made it much of a priority to adjust meter rates to manage curbside space effectively. The Gray administration has expanded performance parking and made it clear this is a priority.

Continued momentum in education reform, streetcars and bike lanes

Some predicted that education reform, the streetcar and bike lanes would stop under Mayor Gray. Let's be clear: that hasn't happened. Mayor Gray has increased the investment in streetcars, pledging $100 million in capital funds starting last year.

The pace of bike lane construction slowed a bit at first, but DDOT is now putting in bike lanes on many streets throughout the city, and is on track to build the L Street track this summer and M street soon after. He even vociferously defended Capital Bikeshare over Twitter to skeptical New York reporters.

Finally, Mayor Gray has continued the process of education reform, despite the fears of many DC residents. Teachers are still being evaluated and sometimes fired based on performance, not on seniority.

The Gray administration's education reforms have included important initiatives which haven't received the same attention and publicity accorded the teacher firings. The administration has already made strides toward improving our special education system and opened multiple Early Stages centers aimed at early identification of kids with special needs. These investments have reduced by 20% the number of children bused, at DC's expense, to non-public special education, saving significant money.

I'm not nominating Mayor Gray for sainthood, but residents need to reexamine the fairly widespread belief that the administration is not getting anything done. While Adrian Fenty was very good at getting press attention for his actions, this administration is acting more quietly.

We should condemn any illegal behavior from the campaign, but we must also give the mayor and his staff credit for the ways the administration is making DC greater for the long term.


What can DC learn from its successful subsidies?

New data from the Office of the DC CFO reveals that the initial wave of development subsidies, such as Gallery Place, have repaid to the city well ahead of schedule. While excellent news for the city's finances, these subsidies also provide important lessons that some present-day corporate subsidies don't always follow.

Photo by dctim1 on Flickr.

The hefty return to the city's coffers vindicates proponents who have faced years of criticism for their deals with developers. Authors of these successful subsidies followed 2 important rules.

First, they identified corporate activities that would yield indirect, "knock-on" benefits that are strategically important beyond the direct tax revenues of the activities. Second, they narrowly targeted the subsidies to only the size necessary to create that "knock-on" benefit.

First wave of subsidies reap healthy return

Most pre-recession subsidies were made through tax increment financing (TIFs), in which future gains in sales and/or property taxes from a development are used to repay bonds that finance a developer subsidy.

Each of these TIFs are repaying to the city well ahead of schedule, providing needed funds for schools, social services and other cash-strapped priorities in DC.

Many of these projects were harshly criticized at the time as corporate giveaways. So the speedy repayment of these subsidies lends credibility to the arguments of their proponents, such as Councilmember Jack Evans and former Mayor Williams, and to TIFs in general.

Spy Museum2001$6,900,000Paid in 2007 instead of 2014
Gallery Place2002$73,650,000Returned $15,175,861 to city above debt payments
Mandarin Oriental Hotel2002$46,000,000
Embassy Suites2003$11,000,000Paid in 2011 instead of 2016
DC USA2004$40,000,000Estimated to be paid in 2015 instead of 2026
Capitol Hill Towers2006$11,500,000$2.4 remaining, matures in 2029

These TIFs were successful because they were designed in accordance with two principles of effective corporate subsidies. As will be seen below, present-day corporate subsidies haven't always followed one or the other of these two principles.

1) Focus on knock-on benefits: Advocates for corporate subsidies often appeal to the tax revenue that would be lost if a developer doesn't build a building or a company chooses not to locate in one's city. Successful subsidies, however, are more focused on knock-on benefits that are strategically important to a city's finances.

Granting subsidies so that a company's activitiesdeveloping a property, locating in one's citywill yield tax revenue only encourages rent seeking by all companies who develop a property or choose to locate in the city.

When the desired activity is to locate in one's city, a "race to the bottom" ensues between states which only hurts their collective ability to pay for education and social services.

That's why effective subsidies are designed to yield knock-on benefits that support a city's strategic goals, like developing a particular sector or a particular part of the city.

The first wave of TIFs were intended to steer the development of downtown away from office buildings and towards multi-use. As Councilmember Evans explained it, "The highest [revenue] use is an office building but then you end up with a Crystal City complex which I can't stand."

The knock-on activitiesmore downtown residents and more downtown shoppersthe downtown TIFs triggered are not only strengthening those investments, but also producing tax revenue from downtown in many other forms. That's what happens when knock-on benefits are the goal, not the direct tax revenues of an investment.

2) Narrowly target subsidy to yield knock-on benefits: There are always risks with corporate subsidies. The company could pick up and leave without it, or maybe they would have completed the project even without the subsidy.

That's why it's critical to limit a city's exposure. Subsidies are investments, and investments have risks. The DC CFO narrowly targeted the first wave of TIFs to be only as much as is needed to stimulate the intended knock-on benefits for the city.

For each TIF application, the CFO conducted a gap analysis. This analysis compares the amount of private financing that should be available for a development to the costs of the project. The CFO would only certify TIFs at that subsidy amount. The head of economic development finance for the DC CFO, John Ross, explained the process this way:

CFO had to do a certification, and that certification had to include a list of issues. One of them was whether the TIF would cover the debt service payments. One was whether the project would move forward without government support. One was the level of benefits of the TIF that would go to the community. Without that, the TIF could not even go to the Council.
While time-consuming, such a process ensures that subsidies are narrowly targeted to yield the benefits intended.

Present-day subsidies often veer from principles of early TIFs

If the District's first corporate subsidies have reaped such healthy returns, several present-day subsidies veer from the principles behind the successful subsidies.

Some recent large TIFs, like Southwest Waterfront and O Street Market, as well as the proposed LivingSocial tax break, don't follow these principles.

There has been no financial gap analysis for more recent TIFs. Without ensuring that any financing gap actually exists, DC doesn't know if development projects would have happened anyway and it risks overpaying.

The first wave of TIFs were granted under the TIF Authorization Act of 1998 which required a thorough financial analysis and certification by the CFO.

Though no longer empowered to certify TIFs, the CFO still provides financial assessments of TIF applications to the Council and Mayor. These assessments raised particular concerns about 2 TIFs: City Market at O Street and the Southwest Waterfront.

City Market at O Street2008$46,500,000
Southwest Waterfront2014$198,000,000

The CFO, in his assessment, complained that both the O Street and Southwest Waterfront TIFs were being granted with less information about the project than would be required to issue a complete financial evaluation. There were no final plans or cost estimates for either project.

In fact, neither application included a specific financial commitment from the private developer, making impossible any analysis of the necessary size of the subsidy. The O Street application said that the developer for the hotel hadn't even been identified yet, even though the hotel was supposed to provide 44% of the incremental tax revenues to repay the bond.

While the CFO's office was included in negotiations with the developers after raising concerns in their analyses, the process for granting these TIFs was clearly intended to increase speed at the expense of financial scrutiny.

More recently, the proposed LivingSocial subsidy of up to $32 million to remain and consolidate their operations in the District also veers from proven principles of corporate subsidies.

Proponents of this subsidy often appeal to the tax revenues from LivingSocial that will far exceed this subsidy. Paying for tax revenue, however, only rewards companies who threaten to leave while encouraging a race to the bottom between states competing for companies.

The LivingSocial proposed subsidy is intended to be targeted. The subsidy doesn't begin until 2015 and scales based on the number of DC residents employed, which must be at least half of LivingSocial employees.

But are these jobs that we should be paying for? They aren't strategically aligned with the needs of the city's unemployed, and most of the jobs won't contribute to building a tech sector.

According to a source, only 15% of LivingSocial jobs are in technology, IT, and product development. A subsidy that was targeted to generate knock-on benefits that are strategically important would thus focus on retaining that 15% of LivingSocial positions.

The debate around corporate subsidies is too often dominated by loud voices at the extremes. But experience shows that corporate subsidies can work, and they can also be a waste of precious dollars.

The next time you read of a proposed corporate subsidy, avoid these hyperbolic extremes and ask if the subsidy adheres to these two proven lessons for effective subsidies. If it does, defend the administration that proposes the subsidy, If it doesn't, as recent subsidies have not, then ask questions.


Little-known Kenilworth-Parkside is neighborhood to watch

A typical DC resident may never have heard of the Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood in Ward 7, but the federal government definitely has. It's betting that an $800,000 investment in a local placemaking initiative can put this small Northeast neighborhood back on the map.

A block of Kenilworth-Parkside. Image from Google Street View.

In 2010, Kenilworth-Parkside received $500,000 as one of the Department of Education's 21 national Promise Neighborhoods. Just last month, the Department of Housing and Urban Development awarded DC a $300,000 Choice Neighborhood planning grant for the same neighborhood.

With these grants in hand, and a major vote of confidence from the federal government, the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative plans to transform the educational, health, and wellness outcomes for the 7,000 residents living in the isolated, oft-forgotten neighborhood.

For a neighborhood that has been the recipient of two of the Obama Administration's most celebrated community development efforts, there's been little fanfare in the city outside this small patch of Ward 7. Fortunately, that's not holding the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI) back.

DCPNI is a new 501(c)3 organization led by Irasema Salcido, founder and CEO of the Cesar Chavez Public Charter Schools for Public Policy, which has a Parkside campus. DCPNI organized a permanent Board of Directors in October 2011 and has been working since to pursue its goals for 2012. A January 2012 report by the Urban Institute outlines in great detail how DCPNI plans to transform the neighborhood.

Kenilworth-Parkside sits squeezed between the Anacostia River and DC-295 to the east and west, and a sprawling decommissioned Pepco plant and the District border to its north and south. The disadvantageous geography and years of disinvestment left Kenilworth-Parkside sinking further and further into disrepair.

Kenilworth-Parkside neighborhood. Image from DCPNI on Google Maps.

Despite having Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens and its acres of green space in the neighborhood, Kenilworth-Parkside still shows all of the typical indicators of urban blight.

Statistics on the residents in the DCPNI footprint are dire. Median household incomes are barely half of the city's median. Rates of teenage births are some of the highest in the nation. Single females head 90% of families.

Yet, at least until now, it's lacked any kind of investment which many of DC's now "up-and-coming" neighborhoods have received.

Enter DCPNI. In 2008, Salcido launched the Initiative based on the principles of Geoffrey Canada's Harlem Children's Zone. DCPNI launched their efforts after winning funding from the US Department of Education.

The 2012 plan is ambitious. DCPNI is proposing home visits to pregnant women and mothers of young children. They want to build a community library of children's books. For the neighborhood's school children, they will launching an experiential learning program to visits to local museums and monuments with directed classroom instruction.

DCPNI, which holds tours of the neighborhood on the fourth Thursday of every month, is perhaps the city's foremost example of a place-making initiative. They are taking all of the most current research on comprehensive, services-based community development and applying it to one unique geographic area.

DC should keep its eye on Kenilworth-Parkside. Stakeholders of the Choice planning grant will inevitably apply for implementation funding when it becomes available in an effort to revitalize more than 300 units of dilapidated public housing. In June, Educare, a brand-new early childhood education center serving 175 Headstart-eligible children, will open its doors.

Victory Square, a new senior affordable apartment building built by Victory Housing, began accepting applications this week and will open in the spring. And all the while, DCPNI continues to establish partnerships with local businesses and organizations and organize programs that aim to strike at the core of Kenilworth-Parkside's ills in just the way that Canada tackled a swath of Harlem.

Over the next few years, as the 21 Promise Neighborhoods get to work across the country, community development advocates will learn whether or not federal money can be applied to local community development initiatives successfully and efficiently to improve public health, housing and education outcomes.

Lucky for the DC region, there's a site right in our backyard to follow, support, and learn more about. You just have to know where to look.


Build streetcars where growth will cover the cost

Where should DC build its next streetcars after the H Street and Anacostia lines under construction today? That should depend on which neighborhoods want to help make them succeed.

Photo by DDOTDC on Flickr.

The streetcar, ultimately, is an economic development tool with transportation benefits, rather than strictly a mobility tool. A streetcar makes new development more desirable and increases the value of existing homes, offices and stores.

To pay for the streetcar, DC should set up mechanisms to capture this added value from the neighborhoods that benefit. Before promising a line to any corridor, policymakers should work with local businesses and residents to set up a financing plan.

In other corridors, like Wisconsin Avenue, where access isn't the obstacle to growth, bus priority is a better transportation tool than the streetcar.

The streetcar is not about speed

The streetcar is not going to be faster than a bus. It may be slower, since the streetcar could get stuck behind other vehicles more often. Some plans even suggest that in future corridors, the streetcar run the local service and most buses switch to limited-stop.

Experiences in other cities have shown that a streetcar makes many people more willing to live, eat and shop along a corridor, though. It's a smoother ride, and laying tracks creates a sense of permanence. Property owners consequently are more likely to build on empty lots or open businesses in vacant storefronts as a result.

But a streetcar is much more expensive to build than a bus. The Office of Planning report on streetcar land use concludes that streetcars can generate more economic benefits than they cost. But all corridors are not created equal. Some can support more economic benefits than others. The best ones are those that can accommodate a lot of redevelopment.

With declining federal revenues, DC can't count on outside financing for the streetcar lines. With DC residents paying for the streetcar themselves, the lines should go where they'll bring enough benefits to justify the cost.

Neighborhoods: Want a streetcar? Help pay for it.

Property owners could agree to a "value capture" system, where if their property increases in value as a result of the streetcar, some of that extra value goes back to the streetcar to pay for construction.

The Office of Planning report estimates that capturing some of the real estate benefits of the streetcar could pay for 40-60% of the cost of building one (page 68). But it also says, "The increases in real estate values and development that the streetcar could spur over a ten-year periodlooking only at land within a quarter-mile of new routeswould exceed the projected cost of creating the system by 600% to 1,000%" (page 7). Therefore, even greater value capture, and picking corridors willing to agree to greater value capture, could fund even more of the system.

Projected benefits from the streetcar for retail (left), residential (center), and office (right) markets. Images from the DC Office of Planning.

Neighborhoods can also make a streetcar more or less economical. Residents around a commercial corridor could agree to targeted changes to the zoning that allow for more new residents or jobs right next to the streetcar, to bring in revenue and take advantage of the new transit service.

The chart below, from the OP report, looks at the effect on the housing market of each segment. Those in the upper right spur new development in places there is a lot of opportunity. Segments in the upper left, on the other hand, increase property values but there isn't a lot of room in the zoning to add more housing.

In these areas, it would make more sense to ask for targeted increases right near streetcar stops if neighborhoods want a streetcar line. That will make sure the line actually generates economic value to justify the cost.

Transformation opportunities for streetcar lines. Segments in red are planned for Phase 1, yellow Phase 2, and blue Phase 3. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

The segments in the lower left don't receive much economic value from a streetcar. Many are actually the spots where the lines connect to Metro stations; the streetcar won't change housing demand much because Metro already has. Elsewhere, the segments likely aren't worthwhile and DC should invest in other transit instead.

The lonely 1A segment, way at the bottom left of the chart, is the segment on South Capitol Street. It is between a military base and a freeway, where absolutely nobody lives and no new development is possible. It's hard to justify running streetcar service there, although it is a great site for a maintenance facility.

Red areas show where zoning constrains streetcar-driven development. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

Our experiences with building Metro provides an analogue. Arlington planned higher-density urban villages next to each Metro station, while preserving the surrounding neighborhoods a few blocks away. That gave Arlington tremendous growth without increased traffic, putting it in a very strong fiscal position for a long time. Streetcars won't be able to support densities as high as Metro, but the principle is the same.

In the San Francisco area, towns with BART lines built around the same time, in contrast, typically downzoned the land around the stations to prohibit walkable urbanism and ensure park-and-ride lots. They didn't recognize the value of building new, less car-dependent neighborhoods atop the stations. Once BART had decided to put a line there, they had no leverage to encourage communities to maximize the investment.

Moving forward, DC officials should work with individual neighborhoods to consider the potential benefits of the streetcar. If a community has plenty of development potential, a streetcar might pay for itself now. Or, maybe the community can agree to a few simple steps, like allowing some extra housing, offices and retail, or setting up a value capture system that best takes advantage of the opportunity from building a streetcar.

Want a streetcar sooner? Then work out changes to help pay for one. Don't want any change? Then maybe DC should put the streetcar elsewhere, at least for a while.

Wisconsin Avenue needs better buses, not streetcars

Some corridors could certainly benefit from better transit, but the streetcar isn't the right mode. Take Wisconsin Avenue. The buses that ply this corridor have some of the highest ridership in DC, and could use more capacity. A streetcar could increase capacity, since vehicles are larger, but at great cost. Meanwhile, it won't spur new development to cover that cost.

Wisconsin Giant proposal. Image from the project team.
Wisconsin Avenue has many sites ripe for development that are similar in scale to many of the existing apartment buildings, but the obstacle has never been transit access.

Few new buildings are built along Wisconsin Avenue. This isn't because of any shortage of demand or access. Rather, new buildings aren't going up because of some neighbors' intense and often litigious oppo­sition.

The Wisconsin Giant, for instance, is a mere 5-story development, yet it endured decades of legal, historic, and other obstacles. Most residents nearby may support new construction, but a streetcar won't change the dynamic.

Photo by Complete Sts. on Flickr.
Instead, Wisconsin Avenue needs bus priority treatment. Dedicated lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, off-board payment, and more limited stop service could all give residents and workers a faster route downtown, which is really what they need. It takes a long time to get downtown on the 30s. A streetcar won't fix that, but bus priority could.

Right now, DDOT and WMATA are studying the possibility of adding dedicated bus lanes during rush periods to H and I Streets crosstown. If successful, these will significantly speed the trip by bus for the 30s and many other lines. DC should make sure these work, and also begin studying how to best configure Wisconsin Avenue for efficient bus service, even at the cost of hampering other modes.

Mary Cheh, who represents Ward 3, also now chairs the transportation committee in the DC Council. She's expressed some disappointment that her ward is largely left out of the streetcar plan, and pushed Gabe Klein (when he was in DC) and Harriet Tregoning to study a Wisconsin Avenue line.

However, Ward 3 just isn't a place that needs the economic development of a streetcar. Cheh would best serve DC by supporting a streetcar in the neighborhoods which need growth and pushing for other transit improvements in her neighborhoods which need mobility instead.

At his talk last week, Jarrett Walker said that many cities build streetcars just because they can't make the bus system easier to understand. DC should distinguish between the best place for streetcars and the best place for buses.

In neighborhoods with significant economic development potential, like on H Street NE, Georgia Avenue, and many other corridors, a streetcar makes sense. Where transit isn't the obstacle to growth, like on Wisconsin Avenue, we should also improve transit, but use the right mode for the job.


Sustainability and equity should be part of development

Making American cities sustainable is about much more than just greener buildings. Programs such as economic development initiatives can contribute to sustainability and need to incorporate equity for residents, said speakers on a recent panel at the National Building Museum.

Photo by Mastery of Maps on Flickr.

The Penn Institute for Urban Research, along with the Urban Institute, Next American City, and the National Building Museum sponsored Tuesday's panel discussion on "Urban Sustainability Initiatives: Challenges and Opportunities."

Speakers included Dr. Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secre­tary for Policy Development and Research at the US Department of Housing and Urban Development; Rolf Pendall of the Urban Institute; Anita Hairston of PolicyLink; Dr. Catherine Ross from Georgia Tech's College of Archi­tecture; Paul Brophy of the Brookings Institution; and Eugenie Birch of the Penn Institute.

Instead of the typical focus of many sustainability panels on how designing, renovating or refitting greener buildings can bring jobs, panelists instead talked about how economic development itself can contribute to sustainability.

In older industrial cities, policymakers will have to find ways to make those cities more attractive to both attract and retain people. Without public policy actions, most people would otherwise settle in high-growth areas, putting additional strain on already-scarce resources such as water and land.

Neighborhoods in these cities (and elsewhere) also need to become attractive to bring in knowledge workers and help the low-income population. Besides the ethical value of helping low-income people, a large low-income population in a city increases negative perceptions of a region and hurts its global economic competitiveness.

To achieve this, all levels of government will have to think creatively about sustainability planning, given scarce financial resources. Communities will have to find ways to incentivize private actors, both for-profit and nonprofit, and link their self-interests and the interests of the whole community.

While places are important, making sustainable places is really about people, and allowing people to do what they need to in a place. Dr. Bostic gave an example of how local government employees find themselves priced out of living in the Southern California community where they worked. He argued that the people will ultimately be what allow a place to succeed.

The other speakers also referenced the importance of the people to the place. Dr. Ross contended that sustainability should be resident-driven, neighborhood-focused, and empowerment-oriented. Ms. Hairston said that demographic changes will produce big economic disparities in the country's metropolitan regions. Referencing his work in local government, Mr. Brophy argued that increasing regulation of federal funds (to decrease corruption, among other reasons) has made it difficult to attract creative people to work on those programs.

Mr. Pendall said policymakers need to recognize that there are different policy impacts and priorities for different populations. With regard to environmental concerns, the focus should be on the effect of larger housing lot sizes and vehicle miles traveled rather than only on increasing density and access to public transportation. Larger lot sizes result in more spread-out housing and other land use patterns, while many low-income families depend on private automobiles to travel to jobs, schools, or other opportunities outside their communities or inaccessible by public transportation.

Speakers referenced several HUD and nonprofit programs they felt were making a difference in communities, including Strong Cities, Strong Communities. But they also listed other challenges confronting urban regions, especially in light of the acceleration of processes and globalization. These problems include managing vacant urban land for rational use and dealing with the large number of single-family suburban homes that will be coming into the housing market in the near future as baby boomers move to different homes in retirement.

Economic development can provide a powerful tool for helping communities grow within their means. And the developments and other assets communities create today will likely be with them far into the future.


Lang/Trachtenberg economic development transition pushes archaic transportation approach

I'm working on analyzing the transportation claims in Mayor Gray's transportation transition document. Meanwhile, the economic development document contains some terrible transportation policy recommendations that need no further research.

Photo by Joe Shlabotnik on Flickr.

That transition team, headed by Chamber of Commerce head Barbara Lang and former GW president Stephen Joel Trachtenberg, recommends that DC focus its transportation policy on making it easier for people to drive in and out of the District in order to bring in more jobs.

The transportation section, starting at the bottom of page 6, suggests retiming signals primarily around moving cars in and out, adding reversible lanes, and paying for traffic officers to direct traffic on major routes to Maryland and Virginia. These all represent the wrong approach. Basically, this is a traffic plan that comes from people who don't know much about transportation.

The following words appear nowhere in the document: Metro, bus, transit, bicycle, walk, carpool. There is one sensible recommendation, to better enforce no parking and double parking rules.

Roads in and out and downtown are already very busy, despite a century of public policy around moving vehicles in and out. Parking is scarce and expensive. To grow, DC doesn't need to move more vehicles. It needs to find ways to transport more people without adding more vehicles.

Bus and HOV lanes, for example, would let the same number of vehicles carry more people and provide faster ways in and out of DC for transit riders and sluggers. It would also do so without making dangerous roads, like Connecticut Avenue, even more dangerous for pedestrians.

It's also odd that this transition team thinks that the best way to bring jobs to DC is to move more suburban residents in and out in single passenger vehicles. Maryland and Virginia residents don't pay taxes to DC, and most of the jobs in the District now are government or nonprofit jobs that don't pay taxes either. Why should DC prioritize continuing this status quo?

DC needs more jobs in technology and other intellectual, "creative class" sectors which will attract people who want to live near their jobs. It also needs more jobs which can employ those who live in DC today but haven't been able to find jobs. This plan helps with neither.

This isn't such a surprise from Barbara Lang. She testified at a Council hearing in 2008 that it's not safe for her female employees to take Metro because they occasionally work until 10 or 11 at night. She also didn't know if she provides any SmartBenefits to employees.

It's too bad the DC Chamber of Commerce is instead acting like the Maryland and Virginia Chamber of Commerce. DC needs a business community that believes in the city and in growing the city's strengths, including its relatively low car dependence. The Chamber of Commerce needs a leader who recognizes that, and in the meantime, Gray should put little stock in Lang's ideas fresh from the 1950s.

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