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, May 10, 2013

Another example of why DC needs a formal capital improvements planning and budgeting process

Because City Councilmembers mess with such priorities when they vote on the annual budget.  From the Post article "For DC Council, politics and governance collide":

Meanwhile, council member Muriel Bowser (D-Ward 4) appeared to challenge Gray and Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6) when she transferred money from two projects near the Anacostia River on Wells’s home turf and diverted a large chunk of it to her political base in Ward 4.

As chairman of the Economic Development Committee, Bowser withheld $8 million for the relocation of D.C. Water storage facilities on industrial land near the Yards. The move would make way for new apartments and a movie theater, but Bowser said it wasn’t clear where the D.C. Water facilities should be located.

Instead, Bowser directed the money to the modernization of Coolidge High School in Northwest, as well as to other projects in Ward 4, including the redevelopment of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center campus.

Bowser also transferred $3.5 million slated to help plan redevelopment at Poplar Point, an area both Gray and Wells are eyeing for future growth, including perhaps as a future home of the FBI. Bowser directed those funds to Walter Reed. ...

Ribeiro criticized Bowser’s budget decisions, noting the federal government still hasn’t turned over the Walter Reed property to the city. “She is hampering development in other parts of the city to make it look like she is furthering development in her ward,” Ribeiro said. ...

Council member Mary M. Cheh (D-Ward 3), chairman of the committee, moved her plan to increase fares for the Circulator bus to expand it to Glover Park, U Street, Shaw and Southwest. But Wells, who is considering a run and is trying to burnish his credentials with black voters, questioned why the planned expansion did not include any areas east of the Anacostia River.

“I don’t think we can pass something that leaves out the most bus-reliant transit folks in the city,” said Wells, who teamed with council member David A. Grosso (I-At Large) for an amendment to study adding new routes in wards 5, 7 and 8.

This relates to the recent blog entries "More potentially bad ideas: trading two city buildings for land at Buzzard Point, to build a soccer stadium (and a public safety campus)" and ""I can't stand it" vs. "You drive me crazy": transit expansion without transit planning in DC."

Without formal planning processes that are less subject to whim and political jockeying, money and time and opportunity are wasted.   For all the money DC has (the annual budget tops $10 billion), so much is wasted because of the failure to build robust planning and budgeting processes and systems.

Sadly, this isn't anything new.  I remember a lot of controversy in 2006, after DC signed a 20-year $150 million "bus shelter" contract with Clear Channel.

The Executive Branch wanted to use the money for transportation improvements, primarily funding for the "Great Streets" streetscape improvements program (for example, this funded the streetscape improvement program on H Street NE), whereas the City Council ended up re-directing significant proportions of the funds to other projects.

Even the thing with Coolidge High School funding modernization needs greater planning and scrutiny.  Ward 4 has two high schools, located within 3 miles of each other, each has minimal enrollment, less than 600 students, while each school has capacity for upwards of 1,500 students.  Would it be better to have one thriving school, with a full range of programs, or two middling schools?

(Note that I live just a few blocks from Coolidge, but the issue of how to use school resources and pay for facilities is a city-wide issue.  For example, rebuilding brand new high schools such as Dunbar, when the system currently has massive over-capacity, makes little sense.)

Or another strategy would be to absorb excess capacity of the two schools in creative ways.

For example, Wilson High School is over capacity and the former Western High School, now the Ellington School of the Arts, could be converted back to a in-boundary high school, and Ellington could be moved to either Coolidge or Roosevelt--either school is within a few blocks of a Metro station whereas the current Ellington location is miles from a Metro station.

Such movements would better utilize current capacity and expand school quality and improvement initiatives (by working to extend public school quality outward from its Ward 3 base).  But we don't really have a public plan for school facilities either.  Oh sure, there is a plan, but clearly it is severely deficient.  Also see this 2011 blog entry, "An indication that there is little respect for planning: schools edition."

Without a more formal, open, public, and transparent capital improvements planning and budget, bad decision-making is not only enabled, but prioritized.

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