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.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

7-11, Zoning, and you can't take the hood out of the hood

(Image from nVerse.)

There is a fascinating comment thread in the Frozen Tropics entry "TBD: ANC/7-11 Negotiations Break Down" about the 7-11 store there, and how ANC6A has challenged the granting of a certificate of occupancy there, because they aver that the store should be classified as a fast food restaurant because of the nature of what they sell, and the impact on the community of the greater amount of litter (although people seem to be focused on chicken bones) that is generated as a result.

My friend-colleague ANC Commissioner Drew Ronneberg is getting excoriated (for the most part) in the thread by people who say you can't do much about the litter and why should the store be held responsible, and what could be done anyway.

Other people think that something should be done, but they aren't the majority of the commenters.

Drew is one of the stalwarts helping to make improvement of H Street NE a reality, by doing the hard "block by block" kind of work on the planning and zoning side that is necessary because typical property owners don't care much about H Street beyond the lot lines of their particular property. (This by the way is true of most commercial property owners, not just those on H Street.)

In the thread, when challenged about what to do, Drew wrote:

If 7-Eleven applies for zoning relief as a fast food establishment, they need to go through a public process. As part of this process, the community can propose conditions for incorporating into the BZA order to reduce the amount of trash on the surrounding neighborhood.

To quote from the Zoning Commission:

“In an attempt to strike a balance between the differing interests, the Commission believes that the BZA process would permit fast food restaurants but would offer the opportunity to consider, on a case-by-case basis, any adverse affects that may be caused by a fast-food restaurant.”

Ideas include

1) requiring 7-Eleven to install trash receptacles in their store
2) requiring 7-Eleven to supplement the funding of the H Street Connection's porter service to clean up trash on surrounding streets. The management of the Shopping Center already spends $200/month to help clean up trash on the 700 block of 10th St, but as the residents of that block can tell you, more frequent service is necessary.

I'm sure other ideas would come up in the public process. ...

An entry in The Hill is Home from the summer, "7-Eleven: Good Neighbor for H Street or Not?," describes the issues pretty well, that the 7-11 the writer is familiar with at 8th and Maryland Avenue NE has problems with loitering and panhandling, and 7-11 branded trash is visible for blocks around the store. Note however that many people in the FT comment thread make the point that the 7-11 store on H Street is particularly well run, although still subject to clientele-related problems.

I live about 3 blocks from a 7-11 myself, although the particular store is a more typical for 7-11 suburban type of location, at the junction of two major roads, and fronted by a parking lot. I do somewhat systematically pick up litter in my neighborhood when I walk from the Metro, and in the vicinity of Blair Road and Kansas Avenue when I bike through there.

Image from Slashfood of 7-11 display of hot fast food items.

There is no question that fast food restaurant-based litter makes up a preponderance of the litter tossed on the streets generally, and within a couple block radius of the 7-11 specifically and especially, 7-11 branded pizza and hot dog carriers and now the 7-11 branded beverage containers (which are a relatively new product) proliferate.

Part of the problem with some litter and litter generators (the stores that sell products that tend to be consumed in the public space more, and the materials are then disposed of in improper ways) is that as people see litter around, they feel "authorized" to litter themselves. (See the blog entry "Every Litter Bit Hurts" from 2005, which summarizes my litter learnings from being involved in H Street Main Street from 2002-2004.) It's a very basic illustration of the "broken windows" theory of order and disorder.

As far as a remedy for this goes, I'd be happy if every two days, people from the 7-11 store walked at least a one block radius of the store and picked up litter.

This way, they'd be "paying" for the consequences of their sales, which instead, like the chicken bones on H Street, or the soiled pizza and hot dog containers on the streets, yards, and sidewalks, are typically borne by others, if not financially, at least with some significant social costs.

It is interesting that the thread comments don't get very focused on practical action.

This is something that I find quite frustrating with regard to community action and involvement.

I don't understand why it's so hard to be good at it, and very easy to be bad at it.

But improving our neighborhoods and the city requires us to be able to work together effectively and efficiently, even if we don't always agree, or disagree quite violently (e.g., "The Plan").

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