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.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Barry Farms as a potential DC location for the FBI

So most of the area jurisdictions want to get the FBI, which is looking to move from its headquarters site to a larger site where they can consolidate more units than can be accommodated at the current headquarters site.

-- GSA Request for Information Solicitation with regard to the relocation of the FBI headquarters

Many places in the DC metropolitan area would like to recruit the FBI to their locale.

-- Greenbelt ("Metro proposes land deal to move FBI to Prince George's County
" from the Washington Post)
-- Suitland ("Put the FBI in Suitland, not Greenbelt (and not Poplar Point)" from Greater Greater Washington)
-- Fairfax ("Fairfax official says Metro is playing favorites in fight for FBI headquarters" from the Post)
-- and the stupid "let's trade the Washington Redskins football team with Prince George's County for the FBI ("Evans wants to swap the FBI for the Redskins" from the Post).

I myself am on record saying let the agency go to the suburbs since they want such a large parcel (the original article on the real estate tender suggests that they want a site greater than 50 acres, which is very large).  See "Hyperbole on the redevelopment of the FBI building site on Pennsylvania Avenue NW."

But I guess I am being forced to reconsider this rather doctrinaire position because of the clear benefits from agglomeration economies by the agency remaining in DC.

The urbanization economies of the existing investment in transit infrastructure in Downtown DC

First, letting federal agencies move out of the core of the city reduces the effectiveness and utility of the subway system, not to mention the utility and primacy of DC.

As frequent commenter Charlie points out, the reason that the WMATA subway system has such good numbers for weekday use is because of the federal agency workers (plus they get transit benefits).

Second, even if agencies move out from the core to another subway station accessible place, the core of the city is still a better location for agencies mostly, because all five lines serve the core, while outlying stations tend to be less well connected.

The more agencies are dispersed, combined with the addition of Silver Line service to Fairfax and Loudoun Counties, will deconcentrate the utility of the transit system and create even more competition with DC for commercial leasing, including federal agencies.

Industrial and localization economies present among federal agencies and installations located in the core of DC

And as others either on that thread or elsewhere have pointed out, there are benefits to the FBI to being located close to the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security, courts, and other organizations with which it frequently interacts.  (Being close to similar organizations is a feature of  localization economies and the impacts from clustering are called industrial economies.)

The farther the agency is located outside the core, the greater the reduction in benefits the agency receives from proximity and clustering.

Barry Farms in Southeast DC would be a great option for DC to offer to the FBI
Map of Anacostia-Barry Farms area

I have been part of a e-discussion where someone who must remain nameless suggests that rather than rebuild the Barry Farms housing project as a housing project (this is subject of a current RFP, also see the article from the Washington Business Journal, "D.C. seeks development team for $400M Barry Farm overhaul "), why not rebuild the area over for the FBI?

The map above, with the "A" pushpin marker shows Barry Farms, which is located just south of the Anacostia Metro Station.  It is located just north of the St. Elizabeths West Campus, which has been chosen to be the long term headquarters for the Department of Homeland Security, and is northwest of the St. Elizabeths East Campus, which DC government still controls, and is looking to redevelop.

This has some advantages and preserves most of the urbanization, localization, and industrialization economies of a DC-based location.

1.  It's still in DC and pretty close to downtown by the Green Line Metro.   It's a nine minute subway ride from Galley Place to Anacostia.

2.  It would be immediately next to the proposed Department of Homeland Security campus on the west campus of the St. Elizabeths complex.

3.  Because Congress has delayed funding the development of the DHS campus, locating the FBI next door could move that overall project along, by providing more reasons for Congress to move the project forward.  See "DHS holds fast to St. Elizabeths HQ plan" from Federal News Radio.

4.  It would help promote "economic development" objectives that already exist for this part of DC (which has other military facilities and the Naval Research Lab)

5.  Which are mostly focused on the St. Elizabeths East Campus, which the DC Government is actively working to redevelop.

6.  And it will leverage other investments in transportation infrastructure, including a coming streetcar line.

Perhaps one or two infill subway stations should be added to accommodate these developments

However, I would suggest, although it would be wildly expensive, of building at least one infill subway station on the Green Line, between the Anacostia Station and the Congress Heights Station, to better serve these campuses, because the Anacostia Station is significantly downhill from the St. E West Campus, and the Congress Heights Station is at the extreme east of the East Campus.

Maybe even two stations.  One could be built at the south end of Barry Farms on the north edge of the St. E West Campus, and another could be on the west side of the St. E East Campus.

Other costs/advantages/disadvantages

Affordable housing losses and gains

1.  The current plan is to rebuild about 1800 housing units at Barry Farm.  To instead build an office complex for a federal agency comes at some cost to the number of housing units in the city.  The city would have to commit to building the equivalent amount of housing elsewhere in the city.

2.  Although it could be funded in part by receiving and capitalizing the redevelopment opportunity from the Pennsylvania Avenue fronting land of the current FBI headquarters.

3.  The city could use the land to fund the rebuild at Barry Farms and to create a permanent "endowment" for the provision and support of  affordable housing in the city.

4.  Including funding focused housing improvement programs in Wards 7 and 8, along the lines of what I suggested in "Deeper thinking/programming on weak residential housing markets is required: DC example, Anacostia," which would have many advantages.

5.  It could also focus attention on expanding more quickly the WC Smith Company's Sheridan Station development near the Anacostia Station.  This would be a definite benefit.

However, the FBI wants a big somewhat secluded campus location

1.  Since the 1950s, the development of large suburban office campuses has been a leading real estate development trend.

It's still big, such as in Silicon Valley (e.g., the proposals for new headquarters for Apple and Nvidia, "Nvidia's new headquarters to rival Apple's spaceship campus" from TechSpot).

Louise Mozingo's Pastoral Capitalism: A History of Suburban Corporate Landscapes is the definitive discussion of this phenomenon.  Article.

2.  However, Arlington's "capture" of the National Science Foundation to Wilson Boulevard, seeding a kind of urban-connected research park, as opposed to a suburban, unconnected, campus started a trend where science and engineering and technology firms see the advantages to being located in urban locations, in part as a way to attract and retain young highly educated and skilled workers.

I wrote about this counter-trend here, "The state of Arlington County Virginia's commercial real estate market: 2012 and the future."

You see it in other places, such as San Francisco, where the city-based "Silicon Valley" continues to expand (but not fast enough, I'll write about that later maybe), with the relocation of some suburban based office complexes to Chicago ("In search for talent, companies relocating to downtown Chicago: Though suburbs might provide cheaper bases of operations, moves tied to recruitment of employees who want to live, work in the city" from the Chicago Tribune), and even in Detroit, where Compuware and other corporations have moved to the city from the suburbs--it really says something when the otherwise declining Detroit can out-recruit suburbs in terms of being a superior business location, because of greater urban vitality.

3.  This could go either way however, because law enforcement and intelligence agencies prefer seclusion for security reasons more than they prefer connectedness.

DC needs to develop a team and formalize and produce a response to the GSA RFI if it wants to remain in the game

One of the problems with the current RFPs for St. E's East Campus is that they expect great ideas to fall out of the sky.  Instead, the city needs to be more purposeful.  Working to achieve multiple goals and objectives by better coordinating and leveraging the opportunities present in this area by adding the FBI to the mix would significantly accelerate the other projects, and maintain the importance of DC as a location for federal agencies, and the primacy of the core of the subway system.

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At 9:12 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I still maintain the NSF effects in Arlington are extremly minimal. Found an article I should have saved for you on what cities can really do to attract entrepreneurs.

(other links)

(and yes, BI is crack)

In terms of this particular idea, it has a lot to suggest it. Also you've got to factor transport down to Quantico -- which Fairfax would have much easier -- but this isn't half bad.

(reminds me of the story that in Moscow in the 1980s they had a seperate lexus lane just for officials. The horror, the horror.) 395 HOT?

At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

A Barry Farm infill Metro station makes no sense at all. The Anacostia station is RIGHT THERE. If you built a Barry Farm station, the platforms would touch! That station and Anacostia would be closer together than Metro Center and Gallery Place.

I'm fine with the FBI leaving under the terms they've given to GSA. I would like to see DC make a case for keeping the FBI, but doing so in some sort of alternative proposal that meets some of the goals of their security requirements without the absurd acreage they are asking for (to house a mere 2 million sf of offices).

We can't beat the suburbs at their own game, nor should we try. If the deck is stacked against DC, so be it. However, if we offer a counter proposal, we can at least articulate our values as a city.

And no, I don't think the ATF HQ is a particularly good example of what we should be proposing. Though, it could be worse.

At 9:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Brilliant posting Richard- you are saying things that no on else is daring to point out here- and GGW is really droppin gthe ball on this tpoic by selling out DC- which MUST retain it's primacy as the nation's capital in function as well as in name-otherwise we run the risk of becoming just another theme park- and National Harbor can beat us at that game.
Plus- you bring up the concept of the city developing a team to stem the loss of job centers and to halt the suburban predatory cherry picking of jobs- and you also point ou the AWFUL yuppie-boomer tendency to locate tech companies in suburban parks dependent on cars. All of this needs exposure and this is where GGW is super weak and deficient. Great work !! I sure hope you stay here in DC a long time- we need people like you.

At 9:44 AM, Blogger IMGoph said...

Anonymous: I'm the author of the GGW article, and I have to take issue with your assertion of my writing. The entire point of the article was asserting that, if the FBI were to move to Prince George's County, Suitland would be a better choice than Greenbelt. I didn't make any assertion vis-a-vis the city/suburb issue. That would be a different article, which is part of what Richard addressed here.

Richard: I have to play editor with you here. It's Barry Farm, not Barry Farms. :)

I don't think you could ever pull this off at this location, simply because the politics of replacing the land that was home to the first Freedmen in D.C. with the FBI is something that no politician would touch with a ten-foot pole.

At 10:09 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

just goes to show that GGW is a blog run by and operated by those who are either NOT from DC or have no real allegiance to this city and they have no understanding of the awful drain the suburbs have engaged in WRT to agencies being forced out or cherry picked from the city. Sad but true- Richard is the ONLY one pointing all of this out..

At 10:17 AM, Blogger IMGoph said...

It's a shame to see that anonymous commenters are now throwing out ad hominem attacks in the comments here.

At 10:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

He's not that anonymous, anyone whos been around knows who it is.

I happen to think that moving some federal agencies out of the city would be a benefit. It is now impossible to have any kind of urban vitality near most federal facilities anyway. Best to use the property for private and non-profit sector jobs that are more likely to attract younger people more amenable to living (and staying) in the city proper to begin with.

At 10:56 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

@alexB, usually when you see an agency being that silly, it because they don't want to move.

At 12:09 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

IMGoph, I agree with your characterization of your post, I'm just making a different argument.

2. Because I don't have access to my account 'cause of jury duty, I need to update this entry wrt Poplar Point and a city proposal to use that for the FBI.

It would be a really bad idea.

Because the basic reason that I was against keeping the FBI still pertains, it's cut off from the rest of the world.

Note that this is alex b.'s point about the ATF. And note to Alex, I made all those points back around 2000, when I was involved in H St. and related issues. Similarly the same infused my learning about Federal buildings and Security requirements. For the most part, these requirements, while legitimate, foster anti-urbanity.

3. Poplar Point if developed in part, should be used to connect the city across the river, rather than to put a military-like installation in a very prominent location.

I'll write more about this later.

4. Alex B. -- if you put a station on the far side of Barry Farm/lee side of St. E West, it won't touch. More importantly you can go to work by going to that station and walking downhill, and continue downhill when leaving for home by walking to Anacostia station. (Like the cognoscenti do wrt the Nat. Zoo--go to it via Cleveland Park and go home via Woodley Park, so all the walk segments are downhill.)

5. Charlie thanks as always for the cites and the add'l insight (e.g. Quantico) and actually as you know, the agglomeration economies argument and the transit system.

6. IMGoph, of course you are absolutely right about Barry Farm politically and this concept. However, the ec. return, which can all be directed to the support of public and affordable housing, would make the trade worth it.

7. Especically because wrt point 2 here, there are agglomeration benefits for locating the FBI at Barry Farm which aren't present in the same way wrt the Poplar Point location.

At 12:36 PM, Anonymous Alex B. said...


If you want to make the case for an infill station to serve St Es, that's one thing. It would be very expensive and very difficult to do, given the track geometry between Anacostia and Congress Heights.

But specifically to serve Barry Farm? That makes no sense whatsoever. You can stand at the Barry Farm rec center and hit the Anacostia station entrance with a frisbee!

WMATA platforms are 600' feet long. You simply are going going to place stations less than 600' feet apart, because the train would still be in the old station as it is entering the new one.

I'm not saying the idea of an infill station is a bad concept, I'm saying what you are proposing is geometrically impossible.

If you want to improve the access to Barry Farm, you put some sort of pedestrian crossing of Suitland Parkway between MLK and Firth Sterling. That would also have the benefit of being way cheaper than an infill station.

At 12:46 PM, Anonymous Richard Layman said...

Alex B. -- mea culpa. You're right about a second station, at least west of MLK Ave. I could see one about 3/4 of a mile away just on the east side of MLK Ave.

More later.

At 2:04 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

another advantage of Anacostia- there is an underutilized airport in place there- and the FBI would likely have reason to put it to good use. Bolling AFB is basically on mothballs at this point.

At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

itis almost as though no one here in DC wants the FBI to remain- and yet this is some 10,000 jobs plus tourist attractions- we are literally bleeding jobs and agencies out of DC and no one seems to care or is even aware of it or watching it happen. This is why the new folks should walk a little more carefully in this arguement- as those of us who have been here forever have seen multitudes of organizations, agencies, and comapnies flow OUT of DC. It is high time this nonsense was halted. Caving into the suburbs is NOT an option here.

At 2:11 PM, Blogger IMGoph said...

Anonymous: Can you site how the "multitudes" of orgs, agencies, companies, etc., that have flown out of DC have hurt the city. Please include concrete numbers stating how the city's economy, today, is in much worse shape than it was at whatever arbitrary point of your choosing.

If you cannot do this, you are simply spitting into the wind. I would recommend getting a towel.

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