Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Public Housing


Events roundup: Movies and more

Take an evening to relax and enjoy a documentary (or two)! The Summer in the City film series kicks off tomorrow with an illuminating look at public housing in America in the 1950s and 60s. If movies aren't your thing, RSVP for a reception to honor 50 years of the Urban Mass Transit Act.

Photo by Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Flickr.

Pruitt-Igoe on the big screen: Watch the tale of the infamous St. Louis public housing development and the residents who share their experiences and challenges living in public housing in the 50s and 60s. This film is the first of five films the Housing for All campaign is showing this summer. It starts at 6 pm, Wednesday, July 2 at the Southwest Library at 900 Wesley Place SW.

After the jump: Transportation Tuesday at APTA, more movies, and a women's health and biking workshop...

Happy 50th, UMTA! The American Public Transportation Association will be hosting a presentation and discussion to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964. The act has played a pivotal role in the mass transit renaissance in the US in the last half-century.

The event is July 8th at 1666 K Street NW, 11th Floor. A wine and cheese reception will begin at 5:00 pm, with the presentation and discussion to run from 5:30 pm to 6:30 pm. Please RSVP to Cynthia Owens at or 202-496-4851.

The Legend of Disco Dan: This film follows infamous graffiti artist Cool "Disco" Dan as he discusses the changing city he once marked. The documentary highlights the culture of DC during the crack epidemic and the evolution of Go-Go. See the film at the MLK Library, 901 G Street NW, on Wednesday, June 9th at 6:00 pm.

Biking and Women's health: Ladies! Join WABA's Women & Bicycles initiative to talk biking and women's health in Georgetown. Women's Health Expert and Roll Model Laurie from Proteus Bicycles is hosting a skillshare on women's health and biking on Sunday, July 13 at 1:00 pm at the Georgetown Library, 3260 R St. NW.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at


Is Barry Farm going Dutch?

Here's something you don't see every day; a dozen urban planners from the Netherlands walking through Barry Farm, a large public housing complex in DC's Ward 8. Through a collaboration of the Dutch Embassy and the city, Barry Farm and Northwest One (the area around First and K Sts. NW) are receiving the attention of leading new urbanists.

Photo by author.

An amalgamation of six companies that combine the skills of architects, planners, and social scientists, members of the "GoDutch Consortium" were in DC to run workshops and meet with residents to develop a model of lasting sustainability. Urban renewal in the Netherlands is "not just about bricks but about the social" and is "three dimensional," according to members of the Consortium.

Diminished municipal budgets on both sides of the Atlantic have created a hard-edged reality where policy makers realize that to repeat the failed social policies of the past fifty years would be not only socially disastrous but financially ruinous.

The "national government's policy of building housing for poor people stacked all together, sociologically and culturally" has not worked, according to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was subdued as he addressed the group.

Originally settled by emancipated former slaves, Barry Farm is a hilly 25 acres that holds 432 public housing units, more than two dozen of which were boarded up on the recent walk through. The neighborhood was selected as one of four New Communities during Mayor Anthony Williams' administration, making it the focus of a proposed public-private development partnership. But Barry Farm activists rejected the Fenty administration's effort to begin the redevelopment process.

Photo by author.
The first phase of the $550 million development plan is now underway. A total of 60 replacement units are planned to come online at Sheridan Station on Sheridan Road SE, and Matthews Memorial Terrace on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, within the next 6 months for Barry Farm residents.

Eventually each existing home will be replaced, with current residents of Barry Farm guaranteed the right to return, because "they have nowhere else to go," according to Bishop Matthew Hudson of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church. The redevelopment of Barry Farm is expected to deliver 1500 mixed-income units, according to Reyna Alorro, Project Manager for Barry Farm within the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

"Cities are continually interchangeable, because of the whole concept of cities changing," said Arie Vooburg. His native Rotterdam is similar to DC with its poor separated and "isolated on the southside" due to a waterway. "If you want to have a dynamic city, a city that can adapt to change, you must do it in a physical structure but also in its people."

Photo by author.
"One of the biggest challenges is the training of our people," Hudson said. This past Sunday he welcomed members of the Consortium to his church. He praised the group and told members of his congregation they "are here to work with you, not for you." Barry Farm residents embraced the planners at church, giving them hugs, and greeted the planners with pats on the back as they toured the neighborhood on foot Monday.

"How do you say? Ah, yes, merry-go-round," said Vooburg. "Each program on its own is good, but together they don't work." The Consortium seeks to maximize the triple bottom line in redeveloping Barry Farm. To do this, there must be a human capital program, a physical revitalization plan, and a redevelopment and finance strategy that can withstand fluctuations in the credit market and changes in administrations.

These problems have undermined the redevelopment of not just public housing in the United States but "social housing" communities across the world. For new urbanism to evolve and succeed, there must be a degree of certainty in planning that is repellent to political or market pressures.

Behind the United Kingdom and Japan, the Netherlands is the third largest investor in the United States and fourth largest investor in DC with $350 million in total investment, said Renée Jones-Bos, the Dutch Ambassador to the US. The city is not paying the Consortium; it has paid its own way, offering its services and expertise in an attempt to establish stronger connections with the city.


Breakfast Links: Narrowing, tunnelling, and bulldozing streets

Suburbs going multi-modal: Fresh off the heels of Virginia's cul-de-sac ban, VDOT plans to convert two lanes of Reston's Lawyers Road into two bike lanes, plus a center turn lane. The Reston Association has also recommended reducing the speed limit from 45 to 35 miles per hour. For context, as recently as 1967, Lawyers Road was a one-lane dirt path. (Restonian, Joshua D)

Georgetown Metropolitian's rendering of a possible Georgetown Metro station, adjacent to the PNC bank branch

Piercing Georgetown's street veil: The Georgetown Metropolitian has brainstormed various places where a hypothetical split Metro Blue Line might provide street access in Georgetown without tearing down an historic building, including in the PNC parking lot, adjacent to the Canal, or directly on Wisconsin Avenue. The quick study doesn't consider an all-elevator option akin to Forest Glen or Brooklyn's Clark Street station. (JTS)

Legal action expected: Once more, "Tysons Tunnel," a group opposing the under-construction elevated Metro Silver Line through Tysons, is threatening legal action. Backed by the Sierra Club and another unnamed "watchdog" group, Tysons Tunnel is planning to sue based on provisions of Virginia's Public-Private Transportation Act, as a way to have the plans reevaluated and redrawn with a tunnel. (WBJ, JTS)

Then, fleas. Now, Caterpillars. The WMATA-owned property at Florida Avenue and 8th Street NW which presently hosts a weekend flea market, is about to be under contract. Bannecker Ventures expects to close within 60 days on the land, begin construction in summer 2011, and offer move-ins in Fall 2011, for a 120-unit apartment building with 20,000 sf of ground-level retail. This is the same property for which WMATA solicited proposals last summer, unsuccessfully. (Geoff H)

Bulldozing cities: My cousin, in town for the weekend, asked if there would ever be a way to end the traffic on DC's radial freeways. I responded, "not likely, as such relief would require bulldozing the outer suburbs" (as the existing transportation demand will otherwise continue to be there forever, and any widening will induce more exurban road construction), but this act is taking place right now in a number of American cities, including Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Hopefully the governments will limit the destruction to the outer, less sustainable, neighborhoods while preserving the core areas. (Telegraph, Steve, MarkM)

And ... Virginia Rep. Cantor continues to propose eliminating pedestrian and bicycle enhancements (VBF, Jaime) ... The Prince of Petworth asks his readers to comment on whether public housing has failed in DC (Eric H) ... In a case study of "new" urbanism, the Oregonian studies how the architecture of modern buildings in Portland near streetcar routes mimics the city's historic streetcar-adjacent architecture.

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