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Posts about Height Limit

Architecture


Neighborhood commission catches "height-itis" on a Dupont Circle church and condo project

If a building is taller than 59 feet but you can't see it, does it make a sound? In Dupont Circle, it makes a big racket in one ongoing development controversy.


Images from CAS Riegler.

The St. Thomas Episcopal Parish, whose main church at the corner of 18th Street and Church Street burned down due to arson in 1970, wants to build a new church. To fund that, they want to use part of their property to build a new condo building.

The proposed church is not particularly controversial, especially now that the parish revised their design to a better one than they had first proposed. But many neighbors are fiercely fighting the adjacent condo building, which will be closer to nearby row houses. (Disclosure: My house is almost directly across the street.)

The building has now gone before the Historic Preservation Review Board three times, and will return for a fourth on Thursday. I've been fine with the condo building proposal since fairly early in the process, and the Dupont Circle Conservancy supported the version proposed in March. The HPRB and local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, however, have asked for more changes to further shrink the building.

The ANC reached what members thought was a compromise in March, where they agreed to support the condo building, but only as long as the perceived height for a pedestrian around the building was no more than 59 feet. And, in fact, on the recent versions of the proposal, if you are standing on the sidewalk across from the building, you won't be able to see any parts that are taller.

While I think it was unnecessary in this case, this can be a smart approach. Small setbacks on the upper floors of a building can do a lot to make a building feel shorter when walking past on the street, without actually taking away much of the opportunity to add housing. You can get a large building that feels small instead of blocking the building and the potential new residents it can hold.

Beware of "height-itis"

Unfortunately, many neighbors focus not on the human experience but the total number of feet at the building's highest point. Let's call this "height-itis." Some of this comes from the fact that developers often talk at early community meetings about the height that zoning allows, and present a "massing diagram" which depicts a large box filling the zoning envelope.

Even if the developers never considered building such a box, some neighbors get caught up in talking about the total number of feet. Later architectural plans also show elevations, where high floors are just as visible as low ones.

Other elements of a building, like materials, windows, landscaping, and street-level detail, ultimately will matter much more than height. Developers generally have some leeway to make design changes, but if forced to lop off whole floors from the building, it severely constrains how much they can "shape" the building lower down and still make the project work economically.

"Height-itis" often makes it harder, not easier, for residents to get changes that will actually affect their property, like setbacks on upper floors to minimize the shadows a building casts. It can also lead to buildings that look boxier and less appealing (just as DC's height limit does downtown).

The Dupont ANC gets stuck

This is where a tricky detail comes in. The ANC's resolution says the condo building (not the church building) should look to be no more than 59 feet from anywhere on Church Street, 18th Street, P Street, or the nearby alley. If you go far enough down a street, then set back parts of the building would become visible, but the whole building is also far away and much smaller visually.

That's why historic preservation standards generally look only at the appearance of a building from right nearby. For example, other neighbors are adding a fourth story to their row house, which I will be able to see from my upstairs windows, but it's set back so you can't see it from the sidewalk (and, honestly, I'd be fine with it even if they didn't have to set it so far back, since the design looks very well done).

But the ANC's resolution is stricter. And many HPRB members look not at detailed legalistic standards, but the overall tenor of community feedback. Just having the ANC say it doesn't support the project has held it up significantly.

Further, the HPRB is not immune to "height-itis." One member, Graham Davidson of Hartman-Cox Architects, is in fact one of its most acute sufferers. He consistently suggests that buildings take off a floor and is rarely satisfied with setbacks that simply make it look shorter, as in a contentious case at 13th and U in 2013.

So HPRB has sent the project back for revisions multiple times. Last month, board members had only very minor changes, which the developer made. But Davidson opposed a motion to let the preservation staff handle any further issues, and instead suggested the project return on what's called the "consent calendar," where the board can approve it without a hearing and vote.

The ANC, however, passed yet another resolution opposing the project, saying that it doesn't meet the letter of their March resolution. Opponents are pushing for HPRB to take it off the consent calendar and force yet another hearing because of this.

The ANC says make it shorter, but acknowledges making it shorter is silly

Their resolution is strange. On the one hand, it says the ANC won't support the project. But on the other, it says,

Whereas the ANC 2B Zoning, Preservation and Development committee acknowledges the current design with its limited visible elements above 59 feet subjectively creates a more textured and attractive building and removing the 7th floor altogether may lead to a subjectively less attractive building design.
In other words, they know lopping off the floor would make the building worse, but hung their hats on 59 feet before, and won't budge. The resolutions have also been unanimous, even though some members have told me privately that they don't actually object to the building at this point.

Unfortunately, the effect is for the ANC to force HPRB to eventually disregard their views, perhaps diminishing the ANC's credibility. It also has delayed this project and forced everyone to attend numerous hearings.

Asking to improve a project is fine, but neighbor requests and ANC resolutions are most effective when they're well-considered. Succumbing to "height-itis," and then being stubbornly unwilling to consider more creative ways to deal with concerns, is not a good way to represent neighborhood interests on complex development projects.

Update: HPRB voted Thursday morning to approve the project on the consent calendar. Davidson and fellow board member Nancy Metzger advocated for further delay and hearings, but other board members supported moving the project forward.

Architecture


See the view from atop The Cairo

The Cairo is DC's oldest and tallest residential skyscraper. When it opened in 1894, policymakers were so troubled over its height that they soon enacted the District's famous height limit. 121 years later, The Cairo still towers over Dupont so much that it offers one of the city's best views.

Scroll right to view panorama. Click for larger version. All photos by the author.

The first panorama begins looking north. The patch of trees at the extreme left edge of the image are in Meridian Hill Park. Scrolling right the view shifts to look east, then turns to straight south and downtown DC. The panorama's right edge looks southwest, with the peaks of Rosslyn in the background.

This second panorama continues to pan west. Beginning with downtown on the left edge, scrolling right yields views of Rosslyn, Q Street rowhouses, and eventually the National Cathedral.

Scroll right to view panorama. Click for larger version.

Here's the view directly north:

Zoomed in on Meridian Hill:

Straight south, with the White House peeking around a corner, and the Potomac River in the distance:

16th Street downtown:

Rosslyn:

Q Street looking west:

Q Street looking east:

Scroll right to view panorama.

The Cathedral of Saint Matthew:

Scroll right to view panorama.

For more photos, see the complete album on Flickr.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Politics


David Catania on Metro, economic development, streetcars, affordable housing, bike lanes, building heights, and more

We chatted with David Catania, DC councilmember at large and an independent candidate for mayor of the District of Columbia, today at noon. Here is a transcript of the discussion.


Photo by tedeytan on Flickr.

David Alpert: Welcome to our chat. I'm here in Catania HQ with Aimee Custis, Ashley Robbins, Jonathan Neeley, and Abigail Zenner. We'll get started in just a minute.

I am going to be asking questions verbally to Mr. Catania, who will answer verbally. Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan will be taking turns typing in his words.

That means that if there are any typos, they are our fault and not Mr. Catania's. We suggested this arrangement to ensure we can get a lot of questions and answers in (it has nothing to do with Mr. Catania's typing ability).

I want to ask as many of your questions as possible. Please tweet them with hashtag #ggwchat and I will be able to post them directly to the chat.

David Alpert: Okay, David Catania is here with us. Let's get started!

Welcome to the chat, Councilmember Catania!

David Catania: Thank you very much! I'm really excited to participate. I've been looking forward to this conversation for a long time and I'm eager to get started!

David Alpert: To get started: What makes you the best candidate for mayor of DC?

David Catania: The District of Columbia has had reversals the last twenty years. When I first joined the council, we had a pretty bad budget shortfall. We've worked very had to reverse this trajectory. I have the vision and the values to make that happen.

It's a combination of record and experience coupled with the items I helped champion in my 17 years, and in our vision statement, which you can find at cataniaplatform.com, people can see the specifics of what I'd like to do to secure our city's future.

David Alpert: What initiatives from other cities do you admire and which you would like to bring to DC?

David Catania: During this campaign I've been talking a lot about what Mayor Bloomberg has done at Roosevelt Island. Specifically, the partnership between the city and Cornell and Israel Institute of Technology. It's a very ambitious $2 billion program to double the number of engineers and people with Ph.Ds in engineering in New York City. Mayor Bloomberg understood that financial services is a sector of the economy that's shrinking in New York. Doubling the number of engineers and individuals with PhDs in engineering is critical.

In 2000, I authored the New Economy Transformation Act, which included a host of incentives to bring tech companies to the city. We've been successful under this program. There were financial incentives, and other incentives. We've brought over 200 companies to the city. These companies, in order to grow, have to have a work force that permits them to grow, and that means more engineers than we are producing here locally.

Engineers are incredible job multipliers. Every engineer produces 4.2 jobs. In our city, our two largest industries are government and legal services, and these are not growing industries, in fact they're shrinking. The next mayor has to be consumed with how we'll continue to grow our economy, and I propose an increase in new economy companies.

I'd like to see this growth located on the St. Elizabeth's campus, the same campus as Homeland Security. Successful innovation is often the function of a partnership between government, education, and private sector. I see the St. Elizabeth's campus as a focal point for opportunity in our city.

David Alpert: OK, let's talk about transit for a bit. Andrew asked: In the several years that I've been a resident of DC, late-night, off-peak, and weekend Metrorail service has slowed to a trickle, while WMATA's much-touted bus investments have had little tangible benefit for riders. What will you do to encourage Metro to provide services that are more useful to DC residents?

David Catania: Many of the issues surrounding late night service with Metro is a function of our underinvestment in maintenance in the past. The system is really under a great deal of duress because of that lack of investment, which means it's often harder for us to keep the system in service.

Some of the ideas that are proposed under the Metro Momentum plan, which include additional pocket tracks and investments, will help with reliability but over the next 25 years will cost quite a bit.

I think there's quite a lot we can do about late night service for public transit across the city. It means greater investments in dedicated bus lanes and extended hours, and it means increasing our maintenance budget for Metro through a dedicated funding service so we're not constantly putting band-aids on a system with a legacy of underinvestment.

David Alpert: You mentioned the streetcar program. Earlier this year, the DC Council diverted much of the funding for the streetcar program to tax cuts. What's your plan to fund the streetcar program, and how soon would you enact it once mayor?

David Catania: I'd like to first explain, I have a long history with the streetcars. It started with Dan Tangherlini in 2002 who was with WMATA and I was a WMATA alternate.

In 2004, the very first streetcar proposed was the Anacostia light rail program. It was budgeted, and shepherded it through not only the Council but also WMATA, and I was there ten years ago for the groundbreaking.

The complications associated with the right of way meant that line was moved to H Street. I think it's important to explain this. When it came time to purchase the first three cars, I was instrumental in identifying the first ten million dollars for the first three cars.

In 2004, Dan Tangherlini and I took a leap of faith and bought the cars before we had a system. I believe that created a momentum for the light rail system that has seen it to fruition.

The council during the six-year capital improvement plan did reduce the nine million dollar investment not by half, but significantly. I'm still dedicated to the entire North-South and East-West lines. It may take a few more years to accomplish than proposed but we have to be flexible with it.

When I'm elected mayor, I'm going to look at ways at capturing increased property values and increased assessments of light rail, so the system can be funded by the virtue of increased property taxes created by the increase in property investment.

At the end of the day, its not about whether we'll build East-West versus North-South. I plan to be a part of completing that commitment.

David Alpert: Years ago, you argued that it was important for the streetcar to start in Ward 8. But a lot of people in Ward 8, including the councilmember, don't support it. Do you still think we should build the streetcar there, and if you're mayor, how will you work with Ward 8 to build support for it?

David Catania: I don't think there was ever any accurate polling to suggest a lot of people don't support it. To the contrary, I think there's a lot of evidence people do support it. And that Ward 8 is one of the most transit-dependent communities in the city.

I stand by that view and I hope we can reengage CSX regarding the right-of-way along the Anacostia. National Harbor is essentially the downtown of Prince George's County and I'd like to be able to connect people to opportunities there.

David Catania: Absolutely. I think we're going to learn some lessons the hard way with how we're approaching light rail on H Street. I think it would have been smarter for us to have designated rights of way down the street rather than on the sides. I think that's going to create safety traffic, transportation, and delivery issues.

We're expecting 170,000 additional residents over the next 25 years. We have to find a way to efficiently and safely and economically transport individuals around the city. I'm a fan of dedicated bus service as light rail, but when I look at he capacity of light rail cars than buses, light rail has double the capacity of buses. There's a great case for efficiency in dedicated lanes for light rail and for the expansion of the system.

David Catania: This is a more than $20 billion expenditure over the next 25 years. I've been very vocal about themed to have a designated funding source for wmata. For all jurisdictions that participate, I think there's great value in certainty. For some that might mean an additional funding source. Before we talk about funding Momentum, we have to talk about our existing capital improvement plans.

I'm sure your readers appreciate that, for instance, when were purchasing the additional cars to fund a eight car service, because we don't have a dedicated funding source, Metro isn't always able to exercise options on procurements. We have to start from scratch.

That's an incredibly inefficient way to purchase cars or other materials for our system. So a dedicated funding source will rationalize our funding with respect to our existing needs. Going forward, I'd hope that dedicated source would lead to additional resources.

I for one would lead that as the mayor of the District of Columbia. Metro is the tie that binds us, and if we don't take care of it, it will lead to our undoing. I'd look at gas tax, I'd look at regional sales tax, and I'd look at capturing value from the properties that are immediately adjacent to Metro stations that bear the greatest benefit from proximity to Metro.

David Alpert: Let's move to housing and development for a bit.

David Catania: The city doesn't have a housing plan, period. And I appreciate the often narrow self interest, but as a mayor, you have to house the whole family. That means there's a focus on individuals below 30% AMI—we need to have a focus on them. We have individuals who require partial assistance, and then we have those who make very good livings but there's still a lack of affordability.

We need to look at a couple of things, one, the city owned land that's in our possession and how we make that available. We look at easing and improving the regulatory ability to get licenses issued and plans approved and that means sitting down with planners and developers about what they're facing. I think we have quite a lot of unallocated federal resources—$110 million for affordable housing that went unused.

Simply put, we lack a plan, and it's one of our biggest challenges. We used to have a really robust HPAP program, a housing purchasing plan. In 2008, we spent nearly $30 million helping individuals purchase their own homes, with up to $70,000 per family in down payment and closing cost assistance.

So, NYC provides a great example on how to provide mixed income housing opportunities. They merge federal resources with local support. In New York, they take their tax-exempt bonds, which we presently don't use all of ours, and we marry them with 30-year exemptions on property tax in exchange for 20% of the units in the building being available to low-income individuals.

So it gives you the opportunity to have mixed income in what are otherwise, higher income buildings. The city's been able to produce thousands of units that aren't strictly market based.

David Alpert: You mentioned city-owned land. The council is now debating whether to require a certain amount of affordable housing in any project built on public land. What do you think about such a requirement?

David Catania: On its face, it's very compelling. But having hard and fast percentages can play mischief in advancing housing generally. For example, when we try to do mixed-income development. It's illustrated in our New Communities projects. We try to create mixed income in communities where there's no demand for middle income, so the entire project stalls because we have these artificial expectations.

In theory, I absolutely support the requirement of low and moderate incomes in housing developments. But we have to look project by project and at the end of the day the financials have to work.

One of the things I want to focus on is that we spend a lot of time talking about new construction and at the same time we're ignoring the avalanche we're facing in the world of preserving existing affordable housing. There are more than 50 buildings under affordability covenants that in the next give years will be released from those covenants.

These are buildings that were financed with federal low income housing tax credits and federal tax-exempt bonds. These buildings lose any limitations on increases in rent, we're facing an avalanche of thousands of units that will lose affordability in the next five years.

I appreciate that we should be focused on building new units but as much attention must be focused on preserving existing units. Up until now, I've seen no plan of this. Recently, I was able to intervene and help the residents of Museum Square keep their apartments, but we need a global solution to these affordability challenges.

David Alpert: AC asks: You've talked a little about existing supply, but a lot of affordable housing advocates in the city are curious to hear you on record about Inclusionary Zoning. Can you tell us where you stand on that program?

David Catania: I supported inclusionary zoning in 2006. Inclusionary zoning is a fantastic principle, but it has yet to produce any meaningful supply. In the first five, six, seven years of inclusionary zoning, fewer than 100 units were created, and I think the real number is closer to 50.

We need to understand more deeply why inclusionary zoning is not producing the supply that we were anticipating and hoping for. So often we can have really terrific ideas that fail in execution, and we need to circle back and examine why that is. Sometimes you need mid-stream corrections.

Utilize a provision in the bill that I authored in 2002, which gives the District the opportunity to purchase when Section 8s are coming out. The reality is that individuals who are in building-based Section 8 apartments are not able to purchase the units, so giving those tenants the opportunity to purchase is to give them something that isn't real. That's what lead me to the district opportunity to purchase so that we can, as a city, manage these purchases. I think it's an indispensable tool and one that's never been used in maintaining affordability.

David Catania: To be clear, in the old city, I don't favor any change to the height requirement. In the rest of the city, I think these issues should be decided by our local legislature and local mayor with input from the population.

I personally am not keen on the notion of raising the height limit in our city. I believe there's plenty of infill capacity in our city to meet needs, but you can never say never. At this point, I don't support it though.

David Alpert: Especially when the height limit restricts the amount of housing near existing transit.

David Catania: One of the things that we can do is expand the quantity of transit. Light rail provides that opportunity. I agree if we were holding steady in our current infrastructure, it does really push greater density around those locations. But if through dedicated bus lanes and an expansion of light rain, we could extend the transit capacity throughout the city, it diminishes the need for intense density around a few locations.

David Catania: I think the community has done an excellent job in putting together this 25-year plan. One of our biggest challenges, if I'm not mistaken, that it's a nearly $50 billion investment and only half the funds have been procured, so we're going to have to get creative in terms of financing.

Financing aside, I think there are a lot of exciting components. The two-year plan has some elements I'd like to move forward with immediately, from Klingle to Anacostia trails. Sidewalk safety and dedicated bus lanes are important. The continued focus on pedestrian safety is important. There are many elements in the two-year plan and the 25-year plan that are exciting.

The challenge is for us to make the investments today and begin planning today for that transition. I'm eager to get started with this execution. We're going to have 140,000 new residents over the next quarter century.

In terms of an organizing philosophy around transportation, there are issues with ethics, engineering, education, and enforcement. Each of them plays a role in building a balanced, community-centric transportation system.

David Alpert: You mentioned a few elements like buses and sidewalks but we haven't gotten to talk yet about bicycles. ChrisRHamilton asked in the last chat: Progressive mayors across the country have started to compete for businesses and the best and the brightest young folks by making their cities the most bike-friendly. While the District is making good incremental progress on becoming more bike-friendly, largely following the initiatives started under Mayor Fenty, do you envision ramping up the pace of change in installing protected bike lanes, bike parking and bikeshare so that it is more transformative or do you think the current pace of change is good enough?

David Catania: There are many core elements of moveDC that I embrace, including 200 miles of bike lanes. When I go back to the issues of education and enforcement, I think we've done a really terrible job of educating the public on what bikes contribute to our community. Obviously, there are huge environmental benefits from cycling. It also helps dramatically reduce demand for existing roadways—we're up to 14,000 cyclists.

The third area which is rarely talked about is how cycling contributes to the economic development of our city. Many people bike out of economic necessity. But for others—the cost of operating an average medium size sedan in our country is between $8,000 and 9,000 per year. If we can convince more of our residents to forgo that investment and instead use bicycles, they'll spend those thousands of dollars here locally in housing, retail and supporting our local economy. This may be overly simplistic but if you look at 14k cyclists forgoing that 8k a year, there's over $100 million in economic opportunity for our city when we're not buying cars and fighting wars overseas but instead investing in our communities. It's a very powerful economic development tool and we've never communicated that importance to the population.

Long story short, count me in. There are very important tools for our city. The better opportunity is to educate our city as to where they're located.

We can get really into the weeds about how some of our streets are better for bike lanes than others. Our one-way streets that are 30-feet wide provide great opportunities for one lane of traffic, one lane of bikes, and one for parked cars.

I prefer to look at things where we can have win-win instead of zero sum. The bike plan isn't taking anything away from drivers but is in fact is a traffic calming device.

David Alpert: You talked about a win-win and not zero sum, but bike planners have concluded that not everywhere is it possible to build a bike lane without taking away any parking or any travel lane. How do you balance the need to get community input with the fact that at some point, not everyone is going to be on board with everything?

David Catania: It's really a challenge to make generalized answers to hypotheticals. I've made it a practice to cast a wide net and bring people together, and it doesn't mean everyone gets exactly what they want, but that there's a give and take and sometimes you lose in some items and lose in others. I know tough decisions have to be made. But you have to make them.

David Alpert: You've talked in your platform about Vision Zero, the idea that no loss of life or serious injury is acceptable within a given area's transportation system. How, specifically, would you start taking action on Vision Zero?

David Catania: Sweden has figured out how to reduce their deaths by more than 40% by a combination of engineering and values. I commend both the mayors of San Francisco and New York for executing elements of Vision Zero. I think education is an incredibly important element.

One of the things I like about the Swedish model is the emphasis on simple things. When you open the car door, you open it by using your right hand rather than your left. It actually physically forces a person to turn and get accustomed to looking for a cyclist. That's a simple example.

Through engineering roads that are safer, establishing consistent speed limits depending on the likelihood of pedestrian use, issues of concentration at the most dangerous intersections. The use of engineering and evidence and education to lower incidents. There are ways for us to take elements and execute it right away.

So creating an infrastructure that accommodates those with an underpinning of the value of human life is something I don't think we do here, and we should. Respect for human life and understanding human frailties.

It's looking at educating our population, at re-engaging a traffic enforcement division. The enforcement in our own city is a missing component as well as the underlying respect for human life. Educating pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers is critical. And having an enforcement mechanism.

David Alpert: And that's all the time we have. Thank you so much for joining us for the chat!

David Catania: I just really appreciate the five of you coming over and going through this trouble. And I appreciate people weighing in with their questions.

We're a growing, vibrant city. For that to continue, we have to pay attention to the fundamentals of not just transportation and housing, but also issues of crime, economic development education, and at the same time we have to be prepared for crises as they come whether they be Ebola or it be changing economics.

And I really appreciate everyone coming today and the opportunity to share with your readers.

David Alpert: Thank you so much to David Catania, to all of you who submitted questions on Twitter, to our super tweeter Abigail, and to our tireless and lightning-fast typists Aimee, Ashley, and Jonathan.

Please post your thoughts on Mr. Catania's statements in the comments on the post. And thank you all for joining us today!

Architecture


Forget the Washington Monument; DC's tallest tower is actually in Ward 4

Most people consider the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument to be DC's tallest tower. It's certainly the city's most iconic. But it's not the tallest. That distinction belongs to the 761-foot Hughes Tower.


Hughes Tower. Photo by thebrightwoodian on Flickr.

Hughes Tower is in Brightwood, near the corner of Georgia Avenue and Peabody Street NW. It's primarily a radio transmission tower, broadcasting signals for the Metropolitan Police Department.

The tower is owned by the District of Columbia, and was built in 1989.

Although the tower vastly overshoots DC's usual height limit, transmission towers are one of several exempted categories of structures. Thus, a 761-foot tower doesn't necessarily violate federal law, though DC's zoning code imposes other limits that prevent anyone from just building such a tower. The National Capital Planning Commission also wasn't happy about this one.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Architecture


Ask GGW: What are good pro-urbanist kids' books?

On Twitter, Topher Mathews recently joked, "Daughter being indoctrinated with pro-Height Act propaganda in daycare."

This book appears to be about how two animals get into a competition and build their houses higher and higher, until they fall over from the wind. It might subtly encourage a view that tall buildings are bad, but probably it's just a fun parable about cooperation.

Geoff Hatchard then mused about whether there are more urbanist-oriented kid books.

Sophie loves Subway, by Anastasia Suen and Karen Katz, which shows a mother and daughter riding on the New York subway. (Though rail geeks might notice that the specific combinations of lines in the images of stations don't actually exist.)


Image from Subway.

What good urbanist children's books, about buildings and/or transportation in cities, do you know?

Government


In the planning process, social media talk is often cheap

People who testify at long public hearings or write letters aren't the only ones with opinions about important planning issues. A lot of conversation happens online, on Twitter and blogs, but commissions that make decisions often don't see or consider this kind of public opinion. How can the old, formal processes mesh with new ways of communicating?

Last summer, the National Capital Planning Commission and the DC Office of Planning analyzed the District's height limits in a report requested by Congress. Residents joined in a spirited conversation, not only about the shape and form of the nation's capital, but also about the future of our city.

District residents, local stakeholders, and citizens across the nation voiced strong opinions on both sides of the issue. I was responsible for designing NCPC's process for engaging with residents and stakeholders, and reviewing their feedback. I found a big divide between those who participated online versus in person.

Those who attended public meetings, submitted letters, or delivered testimony generally opposed changes to the federal law. Meanwhile, those who spoke up on social media like Twitter and blogs such as this one were more open to exploring opportunities for strategic changes.

However, at the end of the day, only comments we received through the NCPC website or in person at hearings could shape our work as planners and be passed along to members of the Commission to inform their decisions. The people who spoke up online, other than through the project's website, weren't part of the formal process and didn't get the same weight.

Feedback on building height is just one example of how new methods of communication are revolutionizing how people engage with plans and projects. How can planners better respond to and incorporate all the public's opinions? What we can do to make it easier for you to get your opinions in the places where it will count?

Discuss this online or in person on April 9


Image from NCPC.
We will discuss this issue further at a panel on April 9, "Talk vs. Action: Making Your Opinion Count" at NCPC's offices, 401 9th Street NW, Suite 500. I will moderate a discussion about how new forms of communication and public engagement are trans­forming the public process and decision-making.

Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert is on the panel, as are Cheryl Cort of the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Don Edwards of Justice and Sustainability Associates, and NBC4 reporter Tom Sherwood.

We will talk about questions like:

  • How can public agencies and other organizations reach out to bridge the communication gap?
  • Should online commenters be encouraged to use traditional, tested approaches?
  • Should organizations formally consider feedback presented through informal channels?
  • Are there new or better ways to foster conversations amongst these different audiences?
I want this program to reflect you. Send in your thoughts, opinions, and questions by posting them to the comment section below. I will keep an eye on this post and incorporate what you have to say into the program. Also, you can tweet your thoughts to me @NCPCgov, using hashtag #SpeakerSeries.

And, I hope that you will show up to the program. The NCPC Speaker Series is free and open to the public - just let us know you are coming with an RSVP.

We have also created a short promo video:

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