Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Report on exhibiting at the City Living Expo, 2003

This is from the email archives of the H Street Main Street organization, 10/27/2003. I mentioned that Expo recently, which was a center city promotion event sponsored by the Williams Administration. This is the "after-action" report, with the removal of the first paragraph thanking most of the volunteers. It's probably worth doing an event like this for the city every couple years. This ended up being a "one and done" event, but the city ought not to rest on its laurels. It must constantly tout (and extend) its advantages and benefits vis-a-vis other locations in the region.
Alan and Amira were especially great--they brought their "new" baby Amina, who probably was the best advertisement for the neighborhood that there could be. They came back again on Sunday and pitched in for 3 more hours each, in addition to the 2 on Saturday. THANK YOU EVERYONE. One of the reasons our booth was always so full was because our volunteers were so great.

Kevin pulled together some great display materials--a powerpoint presentation featuring highlights of the neighborhood and some "ads" that we will be using in our "Talk About H Street" campaign. The ads highlight the assets of the neighborhood. He also created a handout with more information and our website contact information. We supplemented the display with pages from the Strategic Development Plan, the DC Marketing Center piece, the July "Talk About H Street" ad, the pieces on cluster 25 and 23 from the Office of Planning, and some stuff from WMATA about buses and the subway.

We looked at our participation as "Talking about H Street" as well as "Talking about the greater H Street neighborhood." We said that there are four reasons to consider our neighborhood -- diversity, historic housing stock, close-in location, and great transportation assets. Along with a revitalizing commercial district and good opportunities to buy.

Our Main Street program matters to them, because a vibrant neighborhood needs a great commercial district with great amenities. Many of their questions were about living in the neighborhood. Many people had questions about the plans for H Street's commercial revitalization.

I am not sure what I expected. Some people were curious suburbanites without much commitment to the city. Many had lived in the city. Others were looking for affordable options. Many people, younger and older, were interested in condominiums -- low maintenance. Others wanted more rental options.

We distributed 1,000 or more of the general info sheet. More than 100 (and less than 200) asked for additional information about various topics. Some people want to volunteer.

Living. People wanted to know about available housing. (edited)

Because "good buys" are rare finds in the western part of the neighborhood we were encouraging people to consider the eastern part of the neighborhood. That's why we ended up adding information on the Trinidad area (Cluster 23 brochure) to our booth. [note that originally I used to say that the H Street neighborhood had five competitive advantages. The fifth was relatively inexpensive and well-located housing.]

THE QUESTIONS PEOPLE ASKED REALLY MADE ME CHANGE MY THINKING ABOUT TWO THINGS. I always write that "diversity of housing types" is important and necessary to the neighborhood, especially in terms of reducing displacement, but I didn't really know what that meant until we started getting questions on Saturday...

First, people kept asking about condominiums. I explained that this is coming but we are working on some zoning changes to make this happen. We need to work with the property owners on the 200 and 300 blocks of H Street to make sure this happens. It should also shape the development of the BP site. The land that we have available is too precious to waste. And as everyone knows we need more residents to strengthen the neighborhood ane more customers for the commercial district.

Second, it means that over the long term we (HSMS) really need to work on some of these broader housing issues as they relate to revitalization of the greater neighborhood and the strengthening of the H Street retail trade area.

We need to develop a position statement on housing issues in the broader neighborhood. We need to monitor developments that are in our trade area, developments that we might not ordinarily monitor, because they are in Wards 5 or 7. This should be linked to the encouragement of transit-oriented development associated with the proposed light rail developments along H Street/Benning Road and Florida Avenue.

(We probably need to develop a position statement about light rail as well. Personally I think it should be encouraged, and on an accelerated timetable. The paper on the website called "Bring Back the Streetcars" indicates that a 4-6 year timetable is not out of the question.

It makes sense to coordinate this with the streetscape improvement program. Fixed-rail transit investments generate great economic returns. It will vastly benefit the H Street commercial district. It should be no surprise that the H Street commercial district began declining once streetcars were removed from the corridor...)

It means that we need to weigh in on projects such as the Clark Realty development on Bladensburg on the old Sears site. Maybe they need more density. It means we need to advocate for housing above Hechinger Mall (like Kevin and I have been saying for years.) It means we need to look at the northern parking lots of RFK (problematic because they are owned by the federal government? which are wasted. Condominiums could be developed here, along with maintaining quality public space so that the Open Air Farmers Market would not be displaced. Etc.

We also need to work on inclusionary zoning and related incentives to ensure that affordable housing is required, as well as to ensure quality design. (WRT design, don't think it doesn't matter. The Pritzker condominums at 400 Mass Ave. NW are much more attractive than the condos at 5th and Massachusetts by Paradigm, and that is because the latter development used office building style window glass instead of the residential style windows of the former.

Similarly, the new apartment building on the 1000 block of New Jersey Avenue NW is pretty utilitarian. Incentives should have been provided to get them to include balconies and other design features that would have softwened the facade and made the building look more inviting.)

(Note that the newest housing in the greater neighborhood -- 800 block of 10th St., Wylie Court, and the development across from Hechinger Mall -- is all pretty utilitarian and cheap looking and really denigrates the overall aesthetic of the neighborhood's architectural style and sense of place.)

we need to make up a sheet about the residential living opportunities in the neighborhood, comparable to the sheets that the DC Marketing Center has developed for the H Street commercial district (as well as others throughout the city). Similarly, we need to add a "residential house photo tour" to the website.

When we exhibit next year I think we need to have 3 people in the booth at all times. Saturday was the busiest day. At times there were 15-20 or more people in the booth. We also need to take a map of the entire city, because many people need that in order to put the neighborhood in context. We should either wear tee-shirts or have nametags that identify us (oops). We should also sell our tee shirts and tote bags (this will be in the workplan for next year).

Adams-Morgan had a raffle and got a lot of names entered. But I don't think that is a good idea because you get mostly names of people who want a prize, not people that really care about your neighborhood.

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