Wow! I wish I could vote for Julie Menin, candidate for Borough President of Manhattan
It turns out that the house 4 doors down from me was bought by someone I've known since 2002. We met working on various community land use organizing issues. Small world...
I still haven't written about who I'll be voting for in the At-large election, which is next Tuesday, April 23rd. (And I go back and forth anyway.) Most of the traditional political wisdom has unified around Patrick Mara, the Republican Party candidate. So we were talking yesterday and I asked her who she is going to vote for in the DC City Council at-large race.
She is more radical than I am, so she is going to vote for the Statehood-Green candidate, Perry Redd. But we both lamented that the choices aren't stupendous and that most of the city's elected officials aren't particularly impressive.
With regard to Patrick Mara, I don't believe all that much in the "odd man out" thesis that change is spearheaded by someone who thinks and acts differently from everybody else.
Hell, I know from personal experience how difficult it is, and I probably would be a lot better on urban issues--at least with positions--than someone like Patrick Mara.
But still, even sitting on boards I end up personifying the "odd man out" in terms of how I approach issues comprehensively and with different ways of thinking, I find it takes years and years if ever to get people to start "thinking differently" and changing their approach. It really sucks. No one listens and cogitates, or at least it takes a long long time.
(Although the experience of viewing from afar how Baltimore County is implementing its bicycle and pedestrian ordinance--with provisions mostly drawn from the Western Baltimore County Pedestrian and Bicycle Access Plan, for which I was the chief author and project manager--is very interesting. Damn if they aren't doing it, but, I think it helps that I was a "change agent" there for a brief time, could help shake things up, and then they could just move on.)
That's why I am impressed by the campaign by Julie Menin, a former Community Board chair in Manhattan--she's running for Borough President there. Borough Presidents don't have tons of authority, but they do have some money and staff. Her platform on land use issues is far better than that of any of the past few years worth of candidates for DC City Council or Mayor.
The five point plan recommends that:
1. The Borough President should develop a “General Plan” in partnership with Community Boards, advocacy groups, businesses, elected officials and stakeholders throughout the borough, which ensures classroom space, affordable housing, open space, health care needs and transportation infrastructure are addressed comprehensively.
2. Community Boards should execute “Community Plans” that detail the needs for resources in their own local neighborhoods – proactively planning for their neighborhood. Community Plans would serve to make each community’s priorities clear to both the public and developers, and would be updated every two years.
3. The Borough President should continue the reform of Community Boards that was initiated by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Indeed, the office should institutionalize urban planning support and provide training on land use issues for all Community Board members.
4. The City Environmental Review Process should be more user-friendly and transparent. All Environmental Assessment Statements should include brief plain-English summaries of their findings, explain the methodology behind studies that conclude that a project will have “no impact” on a community and make public hearings more accessible to all stakeholders.
5. The current Community Benefit Agreement (“CBA”) process is unpredictable and unenforceable, resulting in some community stakeholders negotiating with developers at the exclusion of others. CBAs should also be available for public review on the Borough President's website and elsewhere and be made more transparent.
-- press release, "Menin calls for 'Manhattan Master Plan'"
Lessons for DC
Blog commenter Christopher has made the point that NYC doesn't do "plans" they do zoning.
DC does have a Comprehensive Land Use Plan, although I've argued in the past that there are many many many gaps in the plan and the processes that support it ("Proposed DC Comprehensive Plan Amendments," Further thoughts on rethinking comprehensive plan theory in terms of city planning and public finance"), and there appears to be no movement towards addressing those gaps.
Lessons from Walmart's foray into Washington, DC"). DC needs serious capacity development infrastructure for ANCs (Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, comparable to NYC's Community Boards) and community groups ("DC's Advisory Neighborhood Commissions"). DC's Community Benefits process is pathetically flawed ("Community benefits agreements: revised (again)").
We need an initiative to address the gaps. ("Mind the gap.")
Incremental land use and transportation legislative initiatives in DC generally don't do much
From time to time, DC Council members do propose legislation, propose initiatives, and even pass laws that relate to land use and transportation planning matters.
For the most part, the initiatives are picayune and lack comprehensiveness.
The biggest things passed were adding to resident parking privileges (so-called "performance parking" pilot projects). Mayor Gray raised--not lowered--speed limits on certain neighborhood serving arterials. Councilwoman Bowser pushed notice requirements to ANCs for demolition permits, without providing any added remedies that would assist ANCs in doing anything about demolitions.
Former Chairman Kwame Brown proposed a toll for the 14th Street bridge. Former Councilman Harry Thomas Jr. wanted to provide tax incentives for gas stations. Former Councilman Michael Brown wanted there to be extended free parking for funerals. The Council prevented the imposition of parking fees for people with handicapped parking privileges. Etc.
I wish it were possible to see land use and transportation planning initiatives in DC comparable to those proposed by Manhattan Borough President candidate Julie Menin.
Also see "Repositioning cities (at least on the coasts) for greater political prominence, and a city-first agenda," which discusses city-focused platforms by local parties in Vancouver and Montreal.