Photo by author.

Photo by author.

Here’s something you don’t see every day; a dozen urban planners from the Netherlands walking through Barry Farm, a large public housing complex in DC’s Ward 8. Through a collaboration of the Dutch Embassy and the city, Barry Farm and Northwest One (the area around First and K Sts. NW) are receiving the attention of leading new urbanists.

An amalgamation of six companies that combine the skills of architects, planners, and social scientists, members of the “GoDutch Consortium” were in DC to run workshops and meet with residents to develop a model of lasting sustainability. Urban renewal in the Netherlands is “not just about bricks but about the social” and is “three dimensional,” according to members of the Consortium.

Diminished municipal budgets on both sides of the Atlantic have created a hard-edged reality where policy makers realize that to repeat the failed social policies of the past fifty years would be not only socially disastrous but financially ruinous.

The “national government’s policy of building housing for poor people stacked all together, sociologically and culturally” has not worked, according to Ward 8 Councilmember Marion Barry, who was subdued as he addressed the group.

Originally settled by emancipated former slaves, Barry Farm is a hilly 25 acres that holds 432 public housing units, more than two dozen of which were boarded up on the recent walk through. The neighborhood was selected as one of four New Communities during Mayor Anthony Williams’ administration, making it the focus of a proposed public-private development partnership. But Barry Farm activists rejected the Fenty administration’s effort to begin the redevelopment process.


Photo by author.

The first phase of the $550 million development plan is now underway. A total of 60 replacement units are planned to come online at Sheridan Station on Sheridan Road SE, and Matthews Memorial Terrace on Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE, within the next 6 months for Barry Farm residents.

Eventually each existing home will be replaced, with current residents of Barry Farm guaranteed the right to return, because “they have nowhere else to go,” according to Bishop Matthew Hudson of Matthews Memorial Baptist Church. The redevelopment of Barry Farm is expected to deliver 1500 mixed-income units, according to Reyna Alorro, Project Manager for Barry Farm within the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development.

"Cities are continually interchangeable, because of the whole concept of cities changing,” said Arie Vooburg. His native Rotterdam is similar to DC with its poor separated and “isolated on the southside” due to a waterway. “If you want to have a dynamic city, a city that can adapt to change, you must do it in a physical structure but also in its people.”


Photo by author.

“One of the biggest challenges is the training of our people,” Hudson said. This past Sunday he welcomed members of the Consortium to his church. He praised the group and told members of his congregation they “are here to work with you, not for you.” Barry Farm residents embraced the planners at church, giving them hugs, and greeted the planners with pats on the back as they toured the neighborhood on foot Monday.

"How do you say? Ah, yes, merry-go-round,” said Vooburg. “Each program on its own is good, but together they don’t work.” The Consortium seeks to maximize the triple bottom line in redeveloping Barry Farm. To do this, there must be a human capital program, a physical revitalization plan, and a redevelopment and finance strategy that can withstand fluctuations in the credit market and changes in administrations.

These problems have undermined the redevelopment of not just public housing in the United States but “social housing” communities across the world. For new urbanism to evolve and succeed, there must be a degree of certainty in planning that is repellent to political or market pressures.

Behind the United Kingdom and Japan, the Netherlands is the third largest investor in the United States and fourth largest investor in DC with $350 million in total investment,  said Renée Jones-Bos, the Dutch Ambassador to the US. The city is not paying the Consortium; it has paid its own way, offering its services and expertise in an attempt to establish stronger connections with the city.