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 29, 2013

What is an inclusive city?

Some people have said my characterization of the C100 position on "smart growth" is incorrect.

1.  For me, inclusive means two things: racial/ethnic and economic diversity.

Racial and ethnic diversity is an interesting characteristic.  Actually, as DC's black population falls, the city becomes more diverse.  But because a lot of people define "diverse" as black majority, there is a lot of unease about the changes.  My joke about this is that DC is becoming a white chocolate city, instead of a dark chocolate city.

But it's very complicated.

Did you see the article in the Post about WMATA retired employees having annual meetings--in North Carolina!  That's because former area residents have re-migrated back to the South.

But there are still many neighborhoods that are majority black or majority white.  It is true that as white population increases in some Census tracts, income goes up, which increases economic diversity theoretically, but the real issue is high income neighborhoods versus low income neighborhoods and increasing the economic attainment of lower income households.

2.  And you can get a lot more radical than "economic diversity," when defining inclusivity.  For example, what about what David Harvey and others call "The Right to the City"?

The question of what kind of city we want cannot be divorced from that of what kind of social ties, relationship to nature, lifestyles, technologies and aesthetic values we desire. The right to the city is far more than the individual liberty to access urban resources: it is a right to change ourselves by changing the city. It is, moreover, a common rather than an individual right since this transformation inevitably depends upon the exercise of a collective power to reshape the processes of urbanization. The freedom to make and remake our cities and ourselves is, I want to argue, one of the most precious yet most neglected of our human rights. 

3.  People pointed out to me that C100 used the word "inclusive" as a reference to the initial document on the Comprehensive Plan Update process.  

Of course I knew the reference.  I participated in the Comp. Plan process like a lot of other people.  I have the document still, and I've read it. 

Ironically, probably on this blog are some of the only easily accessible links to that paper and the Comprehensive Plan Vision Papers.  DC's Office of Planning dropped these links a few years ago.
(Unfortunately, the video of then Mayor Anthony Williams announcing and discussing the vision is no longer available online.)

From the document:

Washington DC—our nation’s capital and home to almost 600,000 people—has reached a pivotal moment in its evolution as a city. A booming economy, a hot housing market, and improved  government services are transforming the landscape before our very eyes. After more than two centuries of development, Washington is reaching the stature of other great world capitals—places like London, Paris, and Tokyo.

A closer look at our landscape, however, reveals a legacy we have yet to overcome. We remain a divided city. We are geographically divided by race, educational attainment, income, and employment. Physical barriers, such as rail lines and freeways, only compound our social and economic divides.

This document, A VISION FOR GROWING AN INCLUSIVE CITY, seeks to move our city beyond these divides. The Vision is intended to guide an update of our city’s Comprehensive Plan, the legally mandated document that regulates how and where we grow.

... Growing inclusively means that individuals and families are not confined to particular economic and geographic boundaries but are able to make important choices—choices about where they live, how and where they earn a living, how they get around the city, and where their children go to school. Growing inclusively also means that every resident can make these choices—regardless of whether they have lived here for generations or moved here last week, and regardless of their race, income, or age.

4.  I don't understand how smart growth doesn't equal inclusivity, and specifically the changes in the Zoning Rewrite, at least some of them*, by enabling the city and neighborhoods to be more diverse in terms of building stock and use, makes the city and neighborhoods more resilient and enables them to become more diverse economically.

(* My concern about the rewrites is that they don't go far enough on many of the dimensions, plus the overarching framework is poorly developed.)

If the city is urban it has the resilience to be able to be inclusive, even in the face of a market economy that values DC property more highly than comparable properties in most of the other jurisdictions in the region.

- If you de-emphasize automobility and improve transit, you improve people's ability to get around;
- If you de-emphasize automobility and improve transit, you reduce the amount of income that people devote to transportation (even though WMATA charges a lot more for weekly and monthly passes than do systems such as in San Francisco and New York City);
- in fact, I have been significantly influenced by the original Transit City planning process in Toronto because its foundational principle is social and economic equity: "That no one should be disadvantaged by not owning a car";
- de-emphasizing automobility increases resident interaction at the block and neighborhood level (e.g., Appleyard, Living Streets);
- if you have a greater diversity of housing types, including ADUs, within neighborhoods, you have the means to increase economic and racial diversity at the block and neighborhood scale;
- if you promote sustainable transportation modes you increase people throughput, neighborhood vitality and quality of life;
- regions and cities with robust transit infrastructure have higher incomes than regions that don't (Newman and Kenworthy, "The 10 Myths of Automobile Dependence" )
- etc.

Also see the articles "Stranded by Sprawl," "A Mobility Prophet," and "The Complex Story of Race and Upward Mobility" from the New York Times, about the Equality of Opportunity Project, for more discussion about the economic inequality that results from sprawl and decentralization within metropolitan areas.

So I don't see how either the zoning rewrite or smart growth more generally is anti-"inclusivity".  The rewrite and smart growth as a paradigm supports, interprets, and reifies inclusivity.

5.  I do see opposing the various provisions as being more focused on keeping things the way they are which are not economically diverse at all, especially in the face of a significantly changing position of the District and the city's housing market in the context of the metropolitan landscape and economy.

African-American population is dropping not just as a percentage but in real terms. Etc.  This is partly a function of displacement, and also a function of a different kind of outmigration, such as back to the South as referenced above, but also to nearby Maryland.

At the same time, the city's economic inequality is increasing. The city's demographics see a decrease in lower income population. .  But it's not because this population is doing better--"a rising tide lifts all boats"--it's because they are being displaced out of the city.

Even when the "Growing an inclusive city" campaign was developed, the "velocity" of change and in-migration was nothing like it is today. What is a more inclusive alternative to strengthening and enhancing urbanism?

 6.  How do we build an inclusive city for the 21st century in the market context in which we are now and likely to be for the foreseeable future? 

In a market economy, in a strong market especially, to be low income is to be disadvantaged.

Increasing the focus on sustainable transportation, increasing the focus on the addition of multiunit housing, increasing the focus on legalizing accessory dwelling units, increasing the revenue generating capacity of the city, etc., allows us (if we have the will, which we do not, at least so far) to address poverty amelioration in systematic ways.

7.  Note that while I write like a hardass I don't like being in this position, taking this position, having this interpretation.  (cf. some of the lyrics in the song embedded below, which seem pretty apt)

Advocacy groups like Committee of 100 on the Federal City have been essential to maintaining quality of life in the city and stabilizing neighborhoods during the many decades when housing and other trends did not favor center cities, and Washington in particular.

But that was then.  It's 2013 and we have to plan for today and for tomorrow.

But the point is to be self-critical and consider the full ramifications of our positions.  

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At 8:47 PM, Blogger IMGoph said...

nailed it at the end - the point is that we need to be self-critical. that critique necessitates asking the question about whether the need to keep a type of "status quo" in parts of town is a type of perpetuation of a system with a racist past.

people don't like being reminded of racism. they also don't like being reminded when they've benefited, even tangentially, from working in and living in a racist system.

At 10:02 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

as one of the lyrics says "we both can't be wrong, I must be right..."

At 6:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Richard, you nailed it on the inclusive part as well. The proposal for ADUs (which has been watered down tremendously) basically boiled down to two elements. The first: more people = more cars = harder for me to park. The second: who are these renters going to be, and won't it increase the crime rate?

Ironically, on my neighborhood listserv, there are constant calls for housing for the people who work on the commercial strip. ADUs would have been the perfect solution, yet because OPs proposals have been scaled back, this solution won't be available to the handful of people who would have been able to take advantage of them.

I certainly hope the Zoning Commissioners see the Committee of 100 for what it has evolved to today. It is a very far cry from what it was in the 1960's.

At 9:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for these thoughtful posts, and the point about self-criticism. It was amusing/depressing to read the self-serving self-descriptions of commenter Sue H. and her compatriots in the previous post.

I live in Chevy Chase and the debates about this on our listserve have been an endless loop of that.

At 9:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the committee of 100 need to go away- they are dinosaurs and looking in reverse. They are not good for DC at all. The ADU issue also affects alleys- and residentail alleys in particualr- of which the comittee for 100 and other "historic" groups have not been supportive. We need to regrow our residnetial alley areas and create more ADUs. This zoning rewrite should NOT BE THE FINAL SAY !!!!!!

At 11:05 AM, Anonymous rg said...


You hit the nail on the head in both your first post and in this post. That's why you got backlash!

At 11:15 AM, Anonymous rg said...

I should add, I think you touched a nerve. And the C of 100 types must really be nervous. Everywhere you look, they are losing. Overhead wires for streetcars already up east of the river and poised to be installed in the next month or two on H Street. Capital Bikeshare successful and adding new stations. Bike lanes and bicycle tracks going forward, even in Ward 3. New development everywhere. (I recently took a ride up the Met Branch Trail and it occurred to me that the C of 100 must be appalled. New development next to Metro everywhere you look. The loss of so many weedy vacant lots and so much surface parking must be breaking their hearts.)

At 12:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I realize the irony of this white person (me) arguing about urbanism as inclusiveness when people often argue the opposite, because in high demand settings, people with higher SES win.

But for people in C100, which is more than 90% white in all likelihood, arguing that smart growth is anti-"inclusiveness", well, as I say it reaches 70% on my hypocrisy-bullshit meter, and it's hard for me to stay quiet.

At 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The worst hypocrites of them all are the super bleeding heart white people who all try to perpetuate the myth that DC has been black majority for 200 years. This kind of crap is a disservice to everyone. These people- and th eold people on CH who hate density, tranist, bicycles and young people all need to move out of DC and move to Herndon or Centerville.

At 1:32 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

Sure, it is hypocritical. But it worked.

And the blame the messaging is always fun, but usually at the core it is a weak product.

And that weak product is the structural weaknesses in DC that would actually allow that transcet vision (similar to the R-B corridor?) to work. Simply put I don't know if you can trust DC to do "smart growth" rather than just "growth."

14th st is a good example.

Also, you're right the c100 is white and old, and part of their fear is they are losing in the market race and can't access finance. Hard to get a mortage with only a 401(k). I don't see much discussion of that, and it ties into my idea that gentrifciation=capital access.

So yes, you're rich in terms of assets but unable to get a mortgage. bizzare but true. One reason why old people keep cars for so long...

At 2:23 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... too bad "I can't" reprint my assessment (from an email chain) of the city govt.'s capacity to do "smart growth" vs. growth.

That's not what the thread was theoretically about, but at the foundation, it is.

Marketing, campaigning, engagement, branding, creation of "product-solution service systems" is not within the various agencies capabilities and capacity.

It's sad really. Although I guess the logo and the DC water logo (logos aren't brands), are a creative step forward, they aren't an element of a fully conceptualized and executed product-service system.

At 3:14 PM, Anonymous xmal said...

Hi Richard,

One question on something Sue H. said yesterday---that smart growth has not delivered on the inclusiveness promise. (Similar thought here: Is that what is allowing Ward 3/C100 types to align with poorer folks/populists to block these changes?

Has DC not been doing Smart Growth correctly, or is there just so much pent up demand that we just need more of it? Can you point to a counterexample in another city, where smart growht/development has been done in an inclusive manner?

Thank you and look forward to more discussion on this issue as it seems to be what the whole enterprise hinges on!

At 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

the committee of 100 issued a report to the mayor on streetcars- they basically do not want streetcars in the Capitol Hill hisotric distrcit despite the FACT that much of CH was built or developed around the city's oldest streetcar route and other routes. These people need to go. They represent bad 1950's era thinking that centers around the car.

At 6:04 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

xmal -- actually this point has been made for at least the last 10 years, and the derivative, that New Urbanism isn't diverse.

I give the same response each time.

By definition, new construction is almost always more expensive than pre-existing building stock.

Plus, for the most part, new developments are not created to be mixed income.

So at the outset, such projects are not likely to serve a variety of incomes/SES/price points.

Although new urbanist principles have been used for HOPEVI public housing reconstruction projects in DC and Louisville that I know about, and presumably other places.

Economic diversity happens over long periods of time. (The classic "ecological succession" theory of Burgess/U Chicago.) Again, unless it is stoked.

E.g., you can argue that the WC Smith developments that are mixed income in Wards 7 and 8 are both smart growth and new urbanist and they have ec. diversity, but not racial/ethnic diversity.

These are very tricky issues.

Plus at the specific case level, an individual developer is not going to change segregation and/or poverty overnight.

Another argument, not exactly relevant to the case, is that infill development, by better utilizing existing infrastructure, and denser development, by generally requiring less infrastructure, is cost-effective and more revenue positive for localities.

That promotes municipal ec. sustainability, which is smart growth, but makes no contribution to racial diversity.

These are tough questions. Especially in the DC market where for a variety of reasons, a goodly portion of the African-American middle class doesn't want to stay in the city. Not for ec. reasons, but because they think that the typical housing stock in the city isn't what they want. (E.g., few modern McMansions here.)

Actually, without in-migration of the young, Latinos, and whites, the city's population would continue to drop.

At 6:06 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Anon. -- I had an argument with CH people who argued that streetcars shouldn't run on 8th St. SE!!!!! As you know, streetcars served that route for a century, plus the "Blue Castle", the old streetcar barn, still exists.

Today, that route is one of the busiest in the city, and it serves low income-transit dependent populations too, whom I think are deserving of better transit service.

At 6:46 PM, Anonymous xmal said...

Thank you!

At 8:34 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

yep- there needs to be a campaign to educate people on CH who seem to be so vehemently non-streetcar. I know of no other neighborhood where the opposition is so strong as on CH. It makes no sense whatsoever.


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