More on commerz in the 'hood
D.C. Residents Call for Fewer Bars on H Street" from the Washington Informer, with quotes from African-American residents about the gentrification of the commercial district.
-- Commerz in the 'hood, part two
"They have too many bars and too many restaurants," said Lewis who has lived in the area for more years than she cared to remember. "They need to have more retail stores." ...
Lewis' friend, who didn't want to be identified, shared Lewis' frustration. She was bothered by the lack of grocery stores in the area and also saw evidence she was being pushed out of the corridor.
"They have come and taken H Street over as their place," [Dineen Method] said. "It should be a place for anybody -- not just for them." She said she lived in the area when nobody else wanted to be here and made the best of a bad situation.
She also blamed city planners for not making Black people an integral part of the rebuilding of the H Street Northeast corridor. "They built it up around them," she said. "They are putting up condominiums, but they are not putting up low-income housing for people in the area. That leaves more people homeless and jobless."
... Meanwhile, if Darnell Thomas has his way, he would choose youth friendly activities to put on the corridor and fewer watering holes. The youth need places to go, too, said Thomas who is a Muslim.
"They took the library. Why would you take a library down? So now the youth have no place to go," he said, referencing the closing of the R.L. Christian Library kiosk in 2008. "Every neighborhood should at least have a library," he sighed.
He didn't understand the closing of the Children's Museum at 3rd and H streets. It was converted to luxury condominiums, one of which is occupied by former Mayor Anthony Williams, who targeted H Street as one of the areas slated for revitalization.
When there was a hearing on the Main Street program, convened by then Councilman Kwame Brown, at the Atlas in 2007, the same argument was made about the need for more retail stores.
My response at the time was that commercial districts revitalize in phases. My "Richard's Rules for Restaurant-Based Revitalization" piece focuses on how restaurants/taverns are necessary to get people to resample commercial districts. And are needed so that people can "refresh" themselves (by eating, using the restroom, etc.) and stay longer in the district, rather than just accomplishing one or two errands and leaving.
This is a phase that lasts upwards of 10 years, before you can seed substantive retail. Plus, DC has a different dynamic going on with rents, and the rents are too high to allow for a significant amount of independent retail to develop, because the revenue potential of the space isn't high enough to support the asking price for retail rents. Whereas because of the small spaces, otherwise you'd think that these spaces would be great for retail...
- "Cleveland Park Retail, my off-hand assessment is that the rents are too high"
- "Commercial retail rents #2"
- this article by columnist Neal Peirce discusses how the period of Main Street revitalization is a 15-20 year process,
Although as certain blocks are redeveloped in a more large scale fashion, like 600, 800, 900, + parts of the 300 and 1200 blocks, especially after the introduction of the streetcar, chain retailers are likely to come to the corridor. The fact that Giant Supermarkets is building a store on the 300 block communicates to other retailers that the submarket is worthy of consideration.
The other challenge is that the economics of retail are much different than the economics of restaurants/nightlife establishments. People consume food every day. They don't buy apparel, furniture, books, etc. every day, or even as frequently as every month.
And actually, that is how H Street functioned in its glory days, as one of the city's three primary shopping districts (after Downtown, and arguably ahead of 14th Street). H Street didn't have the downtown department stores, but it did have a Sears, and the "5 and 10 stores"--national chains and local versions, a local department store (Mortons) and apparel shops and all the rest.
E.g. with regard to retail, look at 8th St. SE (Barracks Row). They have about 8-10 actual retail stores (2 bike shops, a gift shop or two, a couple housewares/kitchen stores, knitting, a couple cell phone stores including Radio Shack). But to show how districts develop in stages, the Main Street program there is about 13-14 years old, and now an apparel store is coming in. But most of the businesses in that area and along 7th St. by Eastern Market are restaurants/nightlife places. And the income demographics of the residential area there are much better than they are for H St.
I now have a term for this, entertainment/commercial districts rather than just "commercial districts."
Other points in the story are misleading. By relying on quotes and not digging deeper, the story takes on a bad tinge. E.g., the Children's Museum wasn't kicked out. They had no interest in staying. They saw the corridor as dingy and unable to improve. They wanted to leave and they did. But the H Street plan didn't even consider that the Children's Museum would leave and didn't recommend changes in its location.
One could argue the new market rate construction is about providing a wider variety of housing at different price points. The reality is that people with income support retail. Whereas the building of low income housing may have stabilized urban neighborhoods (that's arguable), low income residents in and of themselves lack the income to support the development of a wide array of retail.
That's why the H Street Urban Renewal Plan, which was mostly successful*:
- bridge over the railyard
- Hechinger Mall
- 2 senior housing complexes
- Wiley Court condominiums
- Pentacle Apartments
- two office buildings on the 600 block
-3 sets of new rowhouses on the 700 block of 8th and 10th Streets, and the 800 block of 10th St. (on the 700 block of 3rd St. an old distribution complex was converted to gated condominiums as well)
- H street connection strip shopping center
- plus the DC government coming through and leasing the office buildings
didn't improve the corridor overall, because those initiatives didn't add enough income to the local micro-economy to spur revitalization of the retail corridor. Plus, Hechinger Mall, by drawing off the post office, Safeway, and CVS, diverted retail customers from H Street to the Mall, and forced them to drive to get there, and away from walking to shop.
* these projects added up to over $100 million when they were constructed, not in current values, which is higher, which is why I always LOL when people argue that the H Street neighborhood was ignored all those years by the city government.
The fact that the H Street Urban Renewal Plan" "worked" and yet the corridor still languished is what propelled me into urban planning as a profession. I've spent all this time trying to figure why investing $100+ million in the H Street commercial district didn't "fix" it.
The lesson was that in a city/neighborhood with historic architecture/great building stock, a pedestrian centric urban design, history, authenticity and identity, and great transit access (proximity to Union Station--subway, train, highways, high frequency bus service), an urban renewal strategy focused on building housing for poor people and wiping away the past was a losing strategy.
My other lesson came from the New York Avenue infill subway station. The development of that station meant that H Street was no longer a barrier for people with the ability to choose where they wanted to live. Because of the new subway station, people were now willng to buy and live north of H St.
E.g., seeing white people live on Orleans Place still boggles my mind, as in the late 1980s/early 1990s that was a key center for crack distribution in the city and dozens of people were murdered in that general area. Now, the demographics of the people walking on the streets north of H Street or K Street are truly shocking, given the past.
Anyway, seeing how the investment in the right kind of public transit (at New York Ave. station) propelled neighborhood revitalization faster than almost any other investment is what pushed me along towards transportation planning.