Penn Quarter, NoMA, Atlas District, and Capital Riverfront are just a few of the newly-branded DC neighborhoods that have come into currency over the past decade. What about neighborhoods east of the river? Over the past 3 years, District officials have started referring to Congress Heights, Anacostia, and St. Elizabeths as “CHASE.”
Today it’s called Congress Heights, but one day we could be calling it CHASE. All photos by the author.
The name is the result of a Community Planning Challenge Grant grant the federal government gave to DC’s Department of Housing and Community Development in 2010, which funds revitalization efforts in struggling neighborhoods.
According to Evelyn Kasongo, Ward 8 coordinator for the DC Office of Planning, the city selected Congress Heights, Anacostia and St. Elizabeths because of the ability to leverage other federal and local investments, and the potential to piggyback on the redevelopment of St. Elizabeths. Federal and local officials envision making the three areas combined a “Regional Innovation Cluster,” which the National Capital Planning Commission defines as a concentration of “interconnected businesses, suppliers, intermediaries and associated institutions in a particular field or set of related industries.”
DHCD created an “action agenda” for the 3 areas with 7 focus areas: housing, retail, redevelopment and historic preservation, arts and culture, small business development, transportation, and jobs and workforce development. The city convened two Ward 8 Community Summits in 2011 and 2012 to survey residents’ concerns and ideas related to the each focus area.
In addition to drawing new investment to the area, the agency also seeks to connect residents to existing organizations and resources. Last September, the agency held a CHASE Open House and Resource Fair at Savoy Elementary School where residents could learn about local organizations such as the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation and Congress Heights Main Street, which promotes local businesses, and city agencies such as the Department of Small and Local Business Development.
After more than a dozen planning documents over the past decade, this isn’t the first attempt to revitalize the CHASE area, though it’s the first to use a new name. But 2014 may finally be the year of action for CHASE. “People don’t want to see plans at this point, they want to see implementation,” says Kasongo.
Increased focus on retail in Congress Heights
Congress Heights may see some movement soon. Last month, Bethesda-based retail consulting firm Streetsense held two events there as part of the DC Vibrant Retail Streets initiative, the city’s effort to promote neighborhood shopping destinations. The first was Reimagine MLK, a mini-block party on the 3100 block of Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue where planners solicited community feedback.
Later, Streetsense organized a visioning session at the Petey Greene Community Center where residents looked over a map of more than 60 small businesses in the area and talked about their vision for the commercial district.
Participants offered a variety of comments, and it was hard to find common themes, wrote Heather Arnold, Streetsense research director, in an email. “They are concerned about crime (both inside and outside their businesses), about loitering, about parking regulations, about the changing character of the neighborhood (group homes) etc.”
Suggestions included streetscape improvements such as tree boxes to replace the used tires filled with concrete that often line the street. Residents also sought stricter enforcement of public drinking laws at Shepherd Park, a popular hangout spot for idle men and women at the southeast corner of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X avenues.
But not everyone feels the same way. “At the same time,” Arnold added, “you can easily find other retailers on the street who do not see any of these issues as a problem.”
But for all of the positive efforts taking place in the CHASE area, revitalization may still be a long way off. One indicator will be when the chain-link fence comes down at 3010 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue, an abandoned two-story apartment building. Outside, a sun-faded sign promises it will become “The Future Site of the AMS McDowell Business Center…Coming Spring 2010.”