H Street NE Commercial District Revitalization | H Street Festival
H Street Festival crowd shot, September 20th, 2014, looking east from 4th Street NE.
With others of course, I was one of the lead organizers of the H Street Main Street commercial district revitalization program in 2002.
The effort developed out of an initial organizing initiative around 2000, which focused on stopping the construction of a 50,000 s.f. BP gas station on the 300 block, at the so-called "gateway" to the corridor.
Revulsion at the proposal brought together predominately white residents living south of H Street together with predominately African-American residents living north of H Street together with the H Street Merchants and Professionals Association/
Over time, not only was the BP venture scuttled (at that time with support of the DC Government under Mayor Williams--a similar type of support was not provided by the Fenty Adminstration in comparable situations later), residents started working with the Merchants group in order to foster nire systematic improvements to the commercial district. See "360 Apartment building + Giant Supermarket vs. a BP gas station, which would you choose?"
Simultaneously, the then Councilmember, Sharon Ambrose, secured funding and a commitment from DC City Council for a new revitalization plan for the corridor. The previous plan, mostly realized, was developed after the 1968, which devastated the corridor, and was very much big project/urban renewal oriented.
Despite the realization of most of the projects from the H Street Urban Renewal Plan (three sets of rowhouses built in place of frame houses or light industrial property, two senior apartment buildings, a strip shopping center, a shopping mall, a bridge over the railyard, a garden apartment complex and a garden condominium project) the corridor continued to languish.
Of course this was helped by the corridor's location proximate to Union Station and a short trip to Downtown and the US Capitol.
My line about our efforts is that we didn't have consensus about what we wanted to see, but we did have consensus that things needed to change.
In any case, and certainly evidenced by yesterday's H Street Festival, none of us could have imagined the actual changes that have come about in the last 14 years.
Definitely not people putting H Street tattoos on their backs or H Street being a nightlife destination.
As far as yesterday's street festival was concerned, the fact that maybe as many as 100,000 people attended was also unimaginable if not shocking. I couldn't really believe it what I was seeing, thinking back to when I first moved to that area in 1987.
In terms of what the festival offered, I probably wanted more participation by nonprofits and government agencies--although the DC Streetcar had three streetcars open for people to check out, and a few agencies, like the Urban Forestry Administration, had booths.
I was impressed with how the bar-restaurants used their sidewalk access to leverage the presence of festival. And a few of the retail and service businesses like Daily Rider bike shop and the TEFCU Credit Union had booths as well.
Changes in street festival logistics. There's no question after attending the Adams-Morgan Festival last weekend and H Street Festival yesterday, that the city special events protocols have changed somewhat to ensure emergency access, simplify crowd control and minimize crowding.
At AMF, they ended the use of large stages at Columbia Road and U Street that had for the most part blocked the entire street.
The H Street Festival did something similar. Stages were not placed perpindicular to H Street in a way that would have blocked the street.
Stages were offset and placed partly on the side streets. Mostly smaller stages were used instead of the larger trailershad been typical in past festivals..
In both cases the center of the street was not obstructed with booths--booths were pushed to the sides--providing for a wide walking zone and making impossible the kind of unsafe crowding that was experienced at the east end of last year's H Street Festival .