REVISED DUE TO ERROR | The consequences of not working "within the (planning) system"
In the commentt thread to this article, an anonymous commenter and Tom Bridge, President of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association and quoted below, correct my interpretation of his statement and position, which I will concede in reading too fast, was somewhat incorrect.
Unfortunately, due to "ripping and reading" I do sometimes make mistakes. Fortunately, I catch most of them. E.g., today I almost wrote an incorrect entry about CVS's acquisition of Navarro Pharmacies in South Florida, but reading the Miami Herald in addition to the initial article, I caught myself.
Because of my mentor, in the early part of the last decade I got involved in some issues in Brookland, working with people she was working with, and for most of 2007, serving as the program manager of the Brookland Main Street (which ceased operating later in 2008).
I thought Brookland was interesting because it appeared to me to be one of the few places in DC where there was "racial mixing," where whites and African-Americans interacted, ate at the same restaurants, and worked together in community organizations and projects.
Where that might be the case, working there, I came to understand that there is a lot of behavior there that is not conducive to "progress," however you define the word.
The neighborhood narrative is that they are successful in opposing any change, because residents were key to successful opposition to freeways and later to an ill-advised proposal to build townhouses on the Brookland Metro Station grounds.
But I think they learned the wrong lesson, that opposition is the best course, always, and not that they needed to be discerning.
Plus those successes "taught them" to be not just strident, but jerks.
One example was the Brookland Streetscape Study, which was an opportunity to get the city to commit to undergrounding the power lines on 12th Street even in the face of opposition by the local utility Pepco.
Instead of focusing on achieving that, which would have been difficult but was achievable, they spent their time being obstreperous and lambasting the city agency staff and consultants on just about everything.
The result was that undergrounding wasn't part of the final plan, and then some residents sued the city about it, after most of the street was reconstructed. Of course, the lawsuit failed.
Since the road likely won't get reconstructed for another 50+ years, it'll be a long time before change here becomes possible.
Although citizen agitation has been successful in retaining the block of WMATA land between Newton and Otis as open space, which was not the recommendation in the Brookland Small Area Plan, even though myself and others recommended it (past blog entry, "Rare example of community activism getting a positive change from the government: Brookland Green"). Although this is one instance when the community was 100% right.
Yesterday I was riding up 12th Street NE and noticed a 7-11 is being built in place of an old gas station.
Catholic University bookstore to move to Monroe Street Market project").
The Small Area Plan recommended systematic zoning changes for the 12th Street commercial district, to help it retain its relevance in the face of more intense development by the Metro Station--three projects are in process and more, along the railroad tracks will come.
But the "involved" residents fought that recommendation, stating that they'd rather deal with proposed changes as they come up.
In my testimony on the plan, I said that piecemeal zoning improvements for 12th Street doomed it to irrelevance.
While it's great to be proved right, it's sad to see the negative results from when people's flawed efforts get results in ways that damage rather than improve their communities.
Or I was an advocate for creating a historic district in Brookland, although that got all "fouled up," for reasons I won't go into.
I laughed again, chagrined, when one of the opponents of creating a historic district wanted me to make a presentation on what the community could do in the face of the proposal to demolish the Colonel Brooks Restaurant and adjacent housing in favor of a larger multiunit apartment building. I declined to participate.
You live in the bed you make. Historic preservation designation is the best tool for neighborhoods wanting more tools to manage--not prevent--change.
I was not surprised to read more recently about how some of the "better" development proposals for the Brookland Metro Station appear to be opposed.
For example, a Brookland civic leader,
Tom Bridge, president of the Brookland Neighborhood Civic Association, said all of the proposals looked good, artistically. But he was particularly impressed with the A&R/Urban Atlantic bid for condos in a four-story building, as opposed to apartments in five or six stories, as the others offered. He also suggested that a supermarket on congested Michigan Avenue would be a tough sell to the community.Why wouldn't people want a supermarket in the heart of their community, one they could walk to?
They do, at least most people do.
My only answer is that this person
In the comment thread Mr. Bridge states his preference for the four-story condo project is because of likely difficulties in making deliveries to the supermarket via Michigan Avenue via a constrained and problematically placed loading dock. I think those issues can be addressed in a way that minimizes problems. It's a lot less constrained that the Giant Supermarket on Park Road, which is still problematic. And deliveries via Michigan Avenue ensure that the impact on neighborhood (as opposed to through) traffic will be minimal.
Development will happen. That's the nature of property ownership and strong markets.
Putting your head in the sand only makes it impossible for you to better shape what occurs so that more of your needs and interests are served.
In the case of Brookland, its primary center of commercial activity will shift to Monroe Street and the Brookland Metro. That works on many levels, and gives the neighborhood a new and more coherent center, but at the expense of property owners and businesses on the existing 12th Street commercial district.
Some of my learnings from Brookland:
1. You are only as strong as your weakest link--deficient leaders and board members do not a successful organization make.
2. You can't be a community development corporation and not engage the community in your agenda setting and operations.
3. It doesn't matter how good your ideas are if the community is disengaged or actively oppositional.
4. Neighborhoods in DC aren't just "flawed up" because of disinvestment, part of the problem comes from legacy leadership and whether or not leaders are committed to excellence, best practice, and a willingness to work with others.