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.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Nimby Wars Revisited and the development process for DC's McMillan site

McMillan Reservoir groundsFlickr photo by Intangible Arts. 

 The former McMillan Sand Filtration Plant site is on North Capitol Street, across from the Washington Hospital Center and the McMillan Reservoir, one of the elements of the city's water system, and is about 1.5 miles from the Brookland Metrorail Station.

After the water system changed the way it filtered water, the site became surplus and ended up with the National Park Service.

In 1987, DC bought the property, paying money for it, rather than getting it for free if the city would have been willing to turn it into a park.

The site has mouldered ever since, although for not quite the last 10 years the site has been "in play," and going through a development process. I've stayed out of the fight.

As for being a park, it's not particularly well situated. DC has plenty of poorly sited parks already, although most are run by NPS.

 But the site is cool, and certainly, innovative parks like the Landscape Park Duisburg Nord (right) in Germany demonstrate it's possible to create really cool destination parks out of industrial architecture ("A showcase of urban renewal," New York Times)..

The plan for development calls for some medical office buildings, apartment buildings, and rowhouses (the area is dominated by the rowhouse type both south and east of the site), complemented by a park with a recreation center, designed and paid for by the development group ("How Much History Should Be Preserved At D.C.'s McMillan Site?," WAMU/NPR).

Note that I think that while the development project "should" pay for the project, I believe it should be designed and operated by the DC Department of Parks and Recreation.  I also pointed out in 2008 ("McMillan Reservoir development issues") that development of the site should be accompanied by improvements in the local transit infrastructure, specifically the creation of a streetcar line from Woodley Park to Brookland (and preferably beyond, see "Will streetcars really return to the Capital City?").

Cover, Nimby Wars: The Politics of Land UseNimby Wars book.  I wrote about the book Nimby Wars a few years ago (" When the enemy of my enemy is my friend").  Written by principals of and published by the Saint Consulting firm, a company that works to engender support or opposition to development projects (frequently they are retained by supermarket companies fighting the entry of Walmart into their markets), I was shocked that they actually published a book outlining how such firms go about doing their work.

Nimby Wars in DC and the McMillan project.  In a Nimby Wars type twist, Vision McMillan Partners retained a Baltimore-area firm, Fontaine and Company, to drum up support for their project in the face of ongoing community opposition, led by the Friends of McMillan Park group.

It came out in a City Council hearing that the City's economic development department (Office of the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development and Planning) paid for this as a legitimate "pre-development cost" advanced to the project as it works its way through the approval and permitting process.

The Hill Rag has a nice piece, "Spin Doctors," on the various ins and outs of the deal, including the concern and skepticism expressed by Council Chairman Mendelson and others.

The "Create McMillan Park" sign campaign was created by Vision McMillan Partners in response to the "Save McMillan Park" signs designed and distributed by Friends of McMillan Park.  Image from the Bloomingdale Neighborhood blog.

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At 8:06 PM, Blogger Douglas Andrew Willinger said...

The underground vaults are cool and are worth saving!

At 8:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yes by all means include some of the old filtration structures bu tplease not another empty worthless park that no one takes care of. We have a huge redundancy of this kind of resource in DC - basically most of pour so-called parks are really fall0ow pieces of land that could be better used for hosuing or commerce. I saw some of the plans for McMillan and the architecture was FUGLY modernistic trashy crap that will age quickly and looks like crap new- Let's do something more interesting , creative, and less trendy please.

At 2:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"...Storm Cunningham, head of Revitaliz, argued that the world needs to move past sustainable development, which is '200 years too late,' and towards “restorative development.” --The Dirt, "Growing the Restoration Economy" 11/10/2010 by Jared Green

"...restorative development should not be confused with sustainable development... which has yet to be properly defined or measured..."

"Sustainable development is simply a greener form of new development; it can't repair the accumulated corrosion and contamination..."

"Sustainability is a great concept, but the world needs restoration first."

--The Futurist, July-August 2003, "Restorative Development: Economic Growth without Destruction" by Storm Cunningham

McMillan could be the Nirvana of restorative development but, judging by the cast of characters, it will become another victim of FUBAR.

At 8:29 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

NIMBY is a low-thought word.

At 11:17 AM, Blogger AER said...

I appreciate your maintaining an expert's neutrality on this issue, but it may have been useful for readers to know that the Create McMillan Park effort was mounted by a Baltimore-based PR firm, Fontaine Co., paid to "provide political cover to elected officials" (that phrase is quoted from the correspondence between Fontaine and the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development) and shift the conversation to create the appearance of community support. Furthermore, Fontaine billed the development group, VMP, whose pre-development costs are fully shouldered by the D.C. taxpayer for Fontaine's services. DMPED paid that bill--until a FOIA request apparently triggered an alarm that perhaps this would look awkward if it came to the public's attention, upon which point VMP credited back the reimbursement.


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