Thursday, October 17, 2013

GGW post on the Mid City East draft recommendations

Here you go:

Plans seek to keep Mid City East affordable

The neighborhoods north of Union Station are one of the last affordable, walkable areas close to downtown DC. Can an area change for the better while keeping prices low? That's what DC's trying to figure out with the Mid City East Small Area Plan and Livability Study.

Typical rowhouses in Bloomingdale. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.
As U Street to the west and NoMa to the east have boomed, the Mid City East neighborhoods of LeDroit Park, Bloomingdale, Truxton Circle, Sursum Corda, and Eckington remain a relatively affordable option. However, as million-dollar houses pop up, neighbors want to secure the diversity and affordability that lend the neighborhoods their character.                                     
Since January, the DC Office of Planning (OP) and District Department of Transportation (DDOT) have been studying these neighborhoods and have released their draft recommendations for comment. The results here may provide lessons for what happens in similarly transitioning DC neighborhoods like Hill East or Anacostia, or Columbia Pike in Arlington.                                
The planning process kicked off in April. Through public meetings, informal office hours, and a collaboration website, neighbors have asked for a greater variety of housing and retail options, less concentration of social services, better use of vacant land and marginal land. They also want a re-think of the commuter arteries that divide the neighborhoods, Florida, Rhode Island, and New York avenues, and North Capitol Street.                 

Neighbors' vision as captured by an illustrator during the April 27 kickoff meeting.
Planners recommend reopening streets, preserving single-family homes   
OP and DDOT spent the summer developing their respective Small Area Plan and Livability Study around the neighbors' input and released their draft recommendations September 26. OP's Small Area Plan is also based on a detailed survey of the area's built, natural, and human resources and their physical and economic connections to the rest of the District.                        
Based on these inputs, OP recommends focusing on North Capitol Street to take advantage of its emerging mix of creative, retail, and restaurant businesses and still-vacant lots in key locations. Among the recommendations are increases in density along the street, requirements that planned-unit developments include space for retail, and a deck over a sunken portion of the roadway between T Street and Rhode Island Avenue.                                        

More broadly, OP would also like to open a handful of neighborhood streets to reconnect the street grid and solicit proposals to turn two vacant schools into an innovation campus.
To address neighbors' other concerns, OP recommends organizing local groups to promote preservation, walkability, and the upkeep of local parks. Through these changes, OP would promote affordable housing by giving developers incentives to build more affordable units while maintaining the current stock. But OP also recommends strengthening the zoning code "to preserve the availability of the current supply of single family housing stock" in Mid City East, which by constraining supply would seem to increase prices.

DDOT's analysis of crashes in the Mid City East area. The numbers in the yellow circles represent numbers of victims (injuries and deaths).
DDOT's Livability Study, the other component of the joint effort, further took into account neighborhood travel patterns and the state of the existing streets. DDOT's data show that crashes are no accident along the area's major arterials, with hundreds of people injured and several killed over a three-year period. DDOT proposes to improve safety by removing slip lanes and widening median refuges at major intersections and lowering speed on neighborhood-serving streets through wider sidewalks, curb extensions, and mini-roundabouts at intersections.

DDOT's proposal for stormwater management through pervious pavement in alleys (red) and tree box filters (green).
Both OP and DDOT are stressing sustainability after heavy rains overwhelmed sewers and flooded in recent years. Although a stormwater storage tunnel for the neighborhood is already in the works as part of the Clean Rivers Project, DDOT also proposes to install pervious pavement and other green infrastructure designed to keep water from entering the sewer system in the first place. As part of its most ambitious proposal, DDOT would install permeable paving in about half of Mid City East's alleys and divert stormwater to sidewalk tree boxes on about a dozen streets.

Will the vision be realized?
Are OP's and DDOT's recommendations bold enough to keep the Mid City East neighborhoods on an inclusive, sustainable path that makes the most of nearby development while preserving local character? There are few large projects; instead, OP and DDOT want to make the best use of the area's current assets and encourage neighbors to help themselves through better resident and business collaboration.                                     
The streetscape improvements and the North Capitol Street deck, though welcome, would not change the balance between commuters and residents along the major arterials. Intersection improvements would help bridge the gaps across Florida, New York and North Capitol, but without a clearer plan for pedestrian and bicycle circulation and connections to other neighborhoods, moving across the area will still be difficult.                      
What do you think about the draft recommendations? Will they help the area achieve an inclusive, sustainable future? Please leave your ideas in the comments or stop in at OP and DDOT's office hours today between 6-7:30 pm at Big Bear Café at 1700 1st Street NW.


What will drive "inclusiveness" as defined in this article is home ownership, both current and future. If a large share of these homes are owned by people of modest means, then that sets the stage for inclusivity - they will not be priced out by rising rents. The second part of this scenario, however, is up the homeowners themselves. As evidenced by changes in other other neighborhoods, many homeowner's families will cash out when elderly residents pass. Their children have established lives in other parts of the region and the sudden boon in their enheritance, driven by gentrification, will help their lives elswhwere. Other, younger residents may also choose to cash out and reinvest the windfall in another neighborhood where the can have leftover cash after purchasing a newer, more refurbished home. Most however, will likely remain, as this is where they grew up or have lived for years. The end result will be moderate turnover in homes that are owned by current residents, but a large turnover eventually in rental units - just as it has played out in many neighborhoods across the city, regardless of city policies.
by G-man on Oct 17, 2013 11:22 am • linkreport
The recommendations are filled with a lot of noncontroversial, marginally beneficial ideas. Gentle nudges I would call them, which taken as a whole can do a lot of good. I have three main critiques: 1. The best way to preserve affordability of housing is to increase supply - the proposal seems to dodge that issue, largely because that simple truth is politically controversial. Many existing residents want it both ways- keep supply low and suppress development, but also keep taxes and housing costs low as well. There should be a special expedited task force within the DC government that streamlines the process for developers and homeowners in this area to convert vacant lots and abandoned buildings into housing, and helps developers convert housing stock into condos. Clearly a lot of residents in mid city east disagree, so stuff like that gets left out.
2. There's no big ticket item to catalyze development. The feedback consensus was that decking over N. Capitol in multiple places and putting green space, pop up retail, etc could be that driver of change, but the planners buried it and left it to the neighborhood groups or the private sector to take the lead on. I think this is a mistake and represents a failure to think big. But I'm sympathetic to the planners here- these types of changes are controversial and Mid City East is split along familiar gentrification fault lines and the planners are trying to avoid taking sides.
3. The planners ignore the elephant in the room. Designing North Capitol as a commuter thruway was a disaster and the planners here shouldn't be shy about undoing that mistake. Modest measures aren't enough- again, the entire character of the neighborhood suffers because there is a menacing and ugly thruway running through the core that exists for the convenience of commuters at the expense of neighborhood residents. Decking over North Capitol in multiple places would be a way to turn this blight into an asset, but again, there's little appetite for anything controversial in this proposal.
by jcbhan on Oct 17, 2013 11:33 am • linkreport

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