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.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Talking a lot (well, a little) and not saying much: H Street edition

The New York Times has an article about changes on the H Street NE commercial district, as well as the drop in the percentage of black population in DC, "Washington, D.C., Loses Black Majority."

This has been covered in this blog ad infinitum so I won't belabor it too much.

This point from the article is not correct:

On H Street, Pamela Johnson, an African-American who owns a small storefront building, said her property tax bill had more than tripled in the three and a half years since the city began building a streetcar system that she said she never wanted. She said that she could not afford to pay and that she was one of several dozen owners in danger of losing their properties in a tax sale.

“This process was imposed on us, and now it’s driving us out of here,” said Ms. Johnson, sitting in a Jamaican restaurant on H Street, which now has new sidewalks, stylized street lamps and shiny streetcar tracks. “We see this as the city’s way of gentrifying these corridors.”

The streetscape reconstruction on H Street was planned independent of the streetcar creation. The two programs were united in one process in large part at the behest of former Chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6A Joe Fengler, who realized that (1) requiring two sets of construction would be tumultuous, and (2) putting in the tracks would increase the likelihood of a streetcar coming.

The planning and advocacy processes for both the Streetscape project and the Streetcars were public and open and had plenty of meetings in the H Street corridor. Both processes started in 2003.

Interesting too that business people/property owners wouldn't want transit investments that would increase the likelihood of success of their business and increase property values. E.g., people in the Leimert Park commercial district in Los Angeles are asking for a light rail station, not repudiating it. See "Leimert Park deserves a light-rail station: The MTA is bringing light rail to the Crenshaw corridor, but not to Leimert Park, the vibrant neighborhood a longtime resident and transportation activist calls 'our Little Africa'" from the Los Angeles Times.

That doesn't mean that business proprietors and/or property owners weren't hurt by property tax increases simultaneous with the streetscape reconstruction, which led to revenue declines while costs increased. The article says:

Charles Allen, a spokesman for Tommy Wells, the District of Columbia Council member who represents the area, said the district had gone out of its way to help Ms. Johnson and other property owners, including by lowering their property tax rates and persuading the city’s Office of Tax and Revenue to take them off the tax sale list. In addition, the Council just signed off on $723,000 in relief for small businesses hurt by the changes in the city.

While I had nothing to do with it, that was a response that I suggested here and elsewhere.

But I do think that I have been too cavalier about how changes in the city have impacted how people think about what is and isn't "theirs." It happens that I started reading Practicing Community: Class, Culture and Power in an Urban Neighborhood, about the "East End" in Cincinnati, which is about how working class neighborhoods are vulnerable to development and change and planning processes "controlled by powerful outsiders." (Plus I am still slogging my way through Reviving America's Forgotten Neighborhoods: An Investigation of Inner City Revitalization Efforts.)

It's not something I don't know about, but I am not always sympathetic, empathetic, and/or "conscientized" as a result of burnout/compassion fatigue/etc. Especially when you get fed up with the same old line and ways of dealing with things.

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