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, October 10, 2016

Community Development Week in DC

The Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development has declared this week to be "Community Development Week" in DC.

The concept of the community development corporation grew out of work done by the Ford Foundation in the 1960s.  There are great CDCs and lousy ones.

Urban renewal, Adams-Morgan Heritage Trail Sign
The difference comes down to support and opportunities, but a big problem generally is that CDCs mostly focus on creating better housing for the impoverished--and while this is a worthy, necessary goal, in and of itself it doesn't improve broken micro-economies.

To fix local micro-economies a broader focus on microenterprise development, and neighborhood and commercial district revitalization is required.

Some CDCs, such as Bethel New Life CDC in Chicago or the Famikos Foundation in Cleveland, the portfolio investments of the Abyssinian Development Corporation in Harlem, those of the Community Preservation and Development Corporation in DC, or the various efforts involving Mihalio Temali in Minneapolis-St. Paul are particularly impressive.  (Temali is the author of an excellent textbook, Community Economic Development Handbook.)

That being said, CDCs have a tough environment to work within, a lot of barriers, etc., as this paper from the late 1990s by Professor Randy Stoecker (now at University of Wisconsin) illustrates "The Community Development Corporation Model of Urban Redevelopment: A Political Economy Critique and an Alternative."

When I read it the first time, it explained a lot.

My thinking is that there is a difference between the traditional big project real estate development approach and "community economic development."

I'd forgotten that I had been involved in trying to create such an approach in the Ivy City neighborhood (draft document), but it didn't proceed for various reasons--that's one of the examples of my line about community organizing and community development, that "you are only as strong as your weakest link."

I have a bunch of pieces on the topic as it relates to DC.

DHCD sign, Florida Avenue NWIn fact, you could argue I am "blowback" from CDCs because I finally became a "community activist" trying to figure out why after spending more than $100 million (including lease payments) via the H Street Community Development Corporation and related efforts (two senior housing developments, restructured housing, a strip shopping center, Hechinger Mall), the H Street NE commercial district remained "under-improved."

This piece from three years ago, "The community development approach and the revitalization of DC's H Street corridor: congruent or oppositional approaches?," was a response to a self-congratulatory op-ed ("The seeds of the H Street ‘miracle’") by the director of the DC branch of the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, about how today's success of the H Street neighborhood, written about in newspapers like London's Financial Times and the New York Times, and called by Forbes Magazine one of the hippest neighborhoods in the U.S., is because of the long time involvement of the H Street Community Development Corporation in post-riot (1968) efforts to fix the declining neighborhood.

Just as some CDCs are better than others, it is also the case that some LISC offices--the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, a kind of capacity building and technical assistance operation for CDCs created by the Ford Corporation--are better than others.  DC has failed in both categories.

Needless to say, I disagree/d, "vociferously."

But I have been writing about this for a long time, for example in 2005, I wrote a blog entry about how a few years after the Washington Post ran a detailed series of failures on the part of some of DC's community development corporations, the DC Building Industry Association gave some of these same organizations awards.  ("Falling up -- Accountability and DC Community Development Corporations").

Plus this "follow up" piece from 2011, also in response to a Post series, "(Some) Community Development Corporations still screwing up."

This piece originally from 2006, "The five periods of urban revitalization since WWII," is reasonably authoritative but due for an update because of
Commercial district revitalization is still tough ("Ground up commercial revitalization and the Skyland Town Center project") and I think it needs to shift to better focus on creating viable retail ("Why it's hard to holiday shop in DC's neighborhood retail districts" and "The long term shake out of local retailers and independent commercial districts").

406 H StreetAfter 30 or more years of being vacant, this building has been renovated and a third floor added.

The struggle in historic preservation now isn't promoting stabilization in the face of shrinking cities and lost population and businesses, but how to respond to opportunities for urban growth and the need for more housing to accommodate demand ("Historic preservation continued").

Meanwhile cities are still having time casting off the yoke of public funding of sports facilities ("An arena subsidy project I'd probably favor: Sacramento") and the urban renewal tradition of big projects ("Urban planning and the difference between "economic development" and "building a local economy"").

There is limited  movement to improving options for funding local government ("The real lesson from Flint, Michigan is about municipal finance").

And there is still resistance to adopting sustainable mobility strategies in the face of the primacy of the oil and automobile manufacturing industries (Quote of the day: "it isn't the place of the government to push people out of their cars and into alternative transportation").

Maybe the biggest problem is that even in the best circumstances, revitalization is a multi-decade process ("360 Apartment building + Giant Supermarket vs. a BP gas station, which would you choose?").  People aren't patient.  And it's hard to be patient in the face of neglect.
*  From "Economic restructuring success and failure: Detroit compared to Bilbao, Liverpool, and Pittsburgh":

The six components of a successful broad ranging revitalization program.  In writing about the various [revitalization] efforts [in European cities especially], I drew the conclusion that successful revitalization programs, especially in those cities that were working to overturn serious disadvantages, were comprised of these elements:
  • A commitment to the development and production of a broad, comprehensive, visionary, and detailed revitalization plan/s (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool);
  • the creation of innovative and successful implementation organizations, with representatives from the public sector and private firms, to carry out the program.  Typically, the organizations have some distance from the local government so that the plan and program aren't subject to the vicissitudes of changing political administrations, parties and representatives (Bilbao, Hamburg, Liverpool, Helsinki);
  • strong accountability mechanisms that ensure that the critical distance provided by semi-independent implementation organizations isn't taken advantage of in terms of deleterious actions (for example Dublin's Temple Bar Cultural Trust was amazingly successful but over time became somewhat disconnected from local government and spent money somewhat injudiciously, even though they generated their own revenues--this came to a head during the economic downturn and the organization was widely criticized; in response the City Council decided to fold the TBCT and incorporate it into the city government structure, which may have negative ramifications for continued program effectiveness as its revenues get siphoned off and political priorities of elected officials shift elsewhere);
  • funding to realize the plan, usually a combination of local, regional, state, and national sources, and in Europe, "structural adjustment" and other programmatic funding from the European Regional Development Fund and related programs is also available (Hamburg, as a city-state, has extra-normal access to funds beyond what may normally be available to the average city);
  • integrated branding and marketing programs to support the realization of the plan (Hamburg, Vienna, Liverpool, Bilbao, Dublin);

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At 8:57 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I went to a meeting with the Mayor last week; in response to a question on retail/chains she made the point that maybe we need to think about affordable retail (my words, not hers) in terms of bringing more diversity.

As you have said before, ownership is the key there.

I could see the city taking on some sort of portfolio role but that (in DC) would quickly devolve into keeping some favored tenants on. Not neccearrily ones that would be an attraction.

(For instance, that vacuums store in Cleveland park is a regional gem. I don't see that getting a sweetheart deal)

(Or the constant stream of nail saloons, which I really do think is a way to recycle drug money)

As you have said, the CDC are very much opposed to that, and their model is based on flawed premises (There is plenty of money in the "Community" we just need access to banks and capital). You've got to grow.

At 9:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

also link to paper is bad:

new link:

At 3:28 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

thanks. will fix. That was a link I forgot to check.

2. the thing about favored tenants is as you point out, very tricky.

That's the problem with Eastern Market. The 1997 law grandfathered in everyone active in the market at that date. It makes it almost impossible to change anything. The people are basically given life tenancy and they aren't very motivated because they have no real competition for space.

(It doesn't help that it's managed by DC. DC as a retail property manager based on Reeves and Eastern Market doesn't lend credence to the idea of creating a SEMAEST like initiative in DC run by DC Govt. But then I advocated for EM to be taken over managerially by a new EM nonprofit, but the vendors fought it through Council and then CM Bowser supported the vendor initiative.)

It would be worthwhile to talk to the SEMAEST people in Paris and see how they deal with that "competitiveness and responsiveness" issue.

One way is to have renewable leases that include evaluations.

WRT Eastern Market

1. I haven't gotten anywhere, but for at least 1-2 years I've said we should create an alliance with a group of peer markets (Pike Place, West Side Market, Reading Terminal, Cross Street Market in Baltimore, Findlay Market in Cincinnati, a market in NYC, etc.) and track various elements: hours; leases; rent/s.f.; various operating elements to set a base of comparison.

It would help us deal with the entitlement issues of the interior market (unwillingness to fund marketing, to do marketing, preferred on site parking, use of vital upstairs floor space for walk in refrigerators, etc. rather than putting them in the basement, etc.).

2. Relatedly, for probably 3 years I've suggested that EM join the Nat. Association of Produce Market Managers, which is a trade assn. for public markets...

3. I would like to get funding to commission "mystery shoppers", independent evaluations, which is typical in the hospitality industry.

Last summer (year ago), went there with friends visiting from out of town, and the next door neighbor girl. The friends got ripped off buying sausage, and the ice cream people wouldn't even give the girls samples.

... and I'm on the "Community Advisory Committee."

If we had independent anonymous evaluations, we'd be better armed to deal with quality issues.

4. We (EM and DMPED in creating a contract with the developer of the Hine siste) totally and unequivocally f*ed up with the Hine project in that the outer building where the temporary market was should have been licensed in association with EM as "East Hall" and developed as a food hall and extension of the market to fill some of the holes in the retail food offer present in EM now.

That didn't happen, and the building isn't being constructed to accommodate that kind of use very well.

What I would have done is moved at least one of the current South Hall vendors over there and developed market and food service operations there comparable to Red Apron and Rappahannock Oysters in Union Market.

It would likely have forced an hours change too as "East Hall would not close at 7pm."

5. grr, hours. Etc. Lots of issues.

At 3:42 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the topic generally, the city is pumping a lot of money into "affordable housing" now. DK that it will be that successful.

Also CNHED and Urban Institute are launching a database this week that tracks properties that are affordable and the likelihood of their status changing.

2. The LAT has a piece on a tenant action in Highland Park where residents of the Marmion Royal apartments are fighting an repositioning and improvement of the property which happens to be by a transit station.

I do think that somehow you should be able to build in a "first right of refusal" like the TOPA for local governments to be able to buy such properties to maintain affordability.

... but like the issue of favored tenants (remember how when the US Government owned GM for a brief time Congress Members intervened with the govt./GM in terms of "rightsizing the number of car dealerships"), it's tricky balancing maintaining affordability and leveraging investment in transit, generating higher ROI on property, etc.

Frankly I'd say a low dense apartment building so close to transit should be torn down and rebuilt bigger/denser.

Especially because there is no historic character issue.

Anyway it's one tenth of a mile from the Highland Park station and 2.5 stories.,-118.1919739,3a,75y,158.74h,90t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sR-_Pwcg0NXGUTHCnjRfcAA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656!4m2!3m1!1s0x0:0xdf3eee96c54b0ed7!6m1!1e1

At 8:07 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Hey do you have any thoughts on the Grimke school redevelopment in terms of public benefits?

After reading the paper, I can see it tracks a lot of your thinking. Dated -- from 96? Could you a fresher.

IN strong market cities we've had a complete breakdown of building "affordable" i.e. not expensive housing. The income limited version is not a good substitute.

Biggest factor probably the banks as getting financing for condo or co-op is not easy. The rental rates will go with the market.

(and it is getting worse)

In fact that is where I'd use the $100M in HTF money in DC -- build micro units for sale and exempt them from transfer taxes as well to encourage turn-over.

At 9:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

good idea about microunits. And about the financing for co-ops and condos.

I have a piece from a few years ago about building "mixed tenure" within tall buildings.

But obviously that applies to neighborhoods.

But it's such a struggle because you don't have solid nonprofits that are part of the mix, comparable to how social housing is constructed in places like Vienna or Helsinki.

I am behind in writing a book review on a new book by Jonathan Rose. he's for profit, but does a lot of work in this arena.

He does interesting important projects, but it's not like he's building the equivalent of Co-op City.

At 10:55 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Haven't really thought of the Grimke School issue. I have the old CBA writings with a framework for thinking about public benefits.

The "problem" with the site is that it is small. I'd see benefits if certain development rights were transferable (TDR). But because of the very hard ceiling on height in DC, it's very difficult to use TDR/height-density bonuses to generate much in the way of significant add'l value to the point where you can generate lots of monetizable wealth increase.

what did you have in mind? I haven't kept up with what "is supposed to" happen there post-review by the then new Mayor.

2. as far as doing big social housing projects, I'm toying with the idea of trying to bring together some innovative firms to put a bid together for AFRH, when it comes out on the market.

... like how with HafenCity or in Helsinki, they carve out sites within the greater development for exclusively social housing use.

Tampa is supposed to be doing something like that but I haven't kept up with where they are.

(meantime I'm trying to figure out how to write about WMATA's latest stuff. Things have gotten to such a point that I am practically paralyzed in being able to write.)

At 11:01 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

... wrt Stoecker's paper... what happened is that in 2002 I went to the Nat. Trust conference in Cleveland and I was shocked to learn about all this great work by CDCs, considering that DC's were/are so "bad." What happened there is that the philanthropic community (Lewis etc.) said "hey, there are way too many CDCs, you have overlapping areas of interest and high fixed costs relative to your production. We'll provide funding, but only if you merge down to a reasonable number of groups, and commit to metrics and measurable outcomes and high quality work."

Cleveland also has other processes in place (urban design review, business revitalization district overlay, strong historic preservation group, etc., even "Steven Litt's writings") that help to push out better outcomes.

when I went, what really stuck with me was the work by the Ohio City cdc, Famikos Foundation, and the Cleveland Restoration Society (active curer of profoundly nuisance properties).

That's when I started looking out for this stuff, found the Stoecker paper, etc.

... and there are good LISCs too, such as in Chicago, in Connecticut, I think in the Bay area, etc.

Just not in DC. And we don't have the systems in place to ensure better outcomes. It's very frustrating.

At 5:57 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

re your point about supergentrification. I guess you probably already saw this:

Data can be downloaded.

It says that over 50% of houses in SF are at least $1M. In DC it is under 5%. That will change over the next few years pretty significantly.

At 6:02 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Economist article very interesting. Too bad that Studio 54 couldn't have used similar arguments...

At 6:55 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

it occurs to me that the Berlin story touches on an issue in Chicago, where some halls argue that they are being disproportionately taxed because of how arts are "narrowly defined."

At 8:27 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Grimke:

The Council approved the disposition, but PUD has not been given.

Short term issue: Developer is balking on lease terms b/c of fears that AA Civil War museum may not be able to sustain long erm lease. How to handle public space issue.

Lots of arguments of fitting into Duke plan.

Bigger picture is using Duke plan as a crux for long term thinking in the area.

Interesting talk yesterday with the guy developing the LINE hotel in am.


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