Stacks of witness testimony at the March 20, 2018 hearing on the DC Comprehensive Plan, one of the biggest highlights from last year's advocacy. More than 275 witnesses signed up to testify at the 13-hour-long hearing. Image by the author.

By the numbers, GGWash had its most prolific year of advocacy to date. Our advocacy blog posts had over 1.4 million views, and over 5,000 urbanists signed petitions and/or emailed officials about local issues at least once this year. Whether it was testifying at 13-hour long council hearings on land use, or pressing officials for safer streets, urbanists around the region showed up often and in force this year.

Here are some the highlights from a packed advocacy calendar in 2018.

Most viral 2018 campaign: Don’t gate off the National Zoo

This summer news leaked about a proposal to add hundreds of feet of new fencing to the National Zoo, including closing numerous entrances and putting up gates at those remaining. Contributor Matt Dickens sprang into action and cried foul; this kind of “security theatre” was uncalled for and would close off an accessible, walkable public space. Over 2000 urbanists and neighbors agreed and signed our petition to the Smithsonian Institute, which David Alpert and Dickens delivered at upcoming board meetings. The Smithsonian backpedaled, and has opened up a more productive conversation with neighboring ANCs since then.

What else went viral this year? Metro and dockless bikes. GGWash contributors have written thoroughly about many aspects of DC adventures in dockless biking and scootering (to date, over 170,000 page views and counting). We also partnered with the Washington Area Bicycling Association (WABA) and Sierra club to push for 20,000 shared bikes and scooters in DC, which received a lot of media coverage. The District Department of Transportation did recently predict that we’ll cross over that 20k mark by the end of 2019. Let’s just say we’re not quite ready to celebrate.

Finally, when the GGWash editorial board penned a scathing letter to the WMATA board about their concerning public statements this year, over 450 readers quickly signed on in agreement.

Illustration of the potential security checkpoints at the Zoo’s Connecticut Avenue Entrance. Image by Smithsonian proposal from NCPC website.

Neighbors who fought hardest against new neighbors: Reston, VA

Intrepid contributor Canaan Merchant has almost singlehandedly held down coverage of a major controversy for a few years now: allowing three more people per acre to live in particular areas in Reston.

What seems like a pretty small, incremental change in density has ignited a firestorm of resistance. In 2017, Merchant and I went to a community meeting about the topic and had to sit in the school’s gym with a projector because more than 900 folks turned out, mostly to protest the pending destruction of Reston because of this zoning change (which essentially boils down to allowing apartments on top of existing commercial centers near the Silver Line).

Cumulatively in 2018, GGWash articles about this issue had over 80,000 page views so far. The density increase seems now to be inching forward, but this is one to watch into 2019 as the new Fairfax County Board of supervisors races shape up. Cathy Hudgins, representative for Reston’s district, has not confirmed whether or not she will run again and already a new candidate has spoken up who is campaigning on the fact that “Reston has been subject to aggressive major development projects” and that he will help “stop big development.”

This sign went up this year in Reston. Seriously.

There are a few other contenders in this category. In Takoma, a long, long battle involving a food coop’s parking privileges finally came to a close and a new mixed use development there is finally moving forward. We also had over 51,000 page views on posts about pits of death in Montgomery County (oh, we mean rain gardens, sorry).

Notable viral posts in this category also include this attempt to backdoor downzone swaths of DC through an nifty new zoning change, and a spot-downzoning proposal by neighbors in Adams Morgan at what is now a tree-lined parking lot.

2018’s slam dunks (and one alley-oop)

Some campaigns take a long time to come to fruition (ahem, DC Comp Plan). Others were relatively quick and successful this year.

Perhaps the best example for 2018 was the successful approval of the redevelopment for the former Red Cross headquarters in Arlington. This spring, neighbors started pushing back hard against this proposal, which would turn an abandoned building and parking lot into 116 units of affordable housing. Urbanists got involved quickly, and after some blog posts and a petition (which now-Development-Director, then-contributor Jane Green delivered for us in her testimony to the Arlington County Board), GGWash joined with other affordable housing advocates to help win this project’s approval.

In second place: Rhode Island Avenue’s pop-up bus lanes. In February ANC Commissioner and contributor Eddie Garnett wrote about this crazy idea: why not set up some temporary bus lanes on Rhode Island Avenue during the summer Red Line shutdown? Just months later, paint was on the ground (though enforcement of the bus lane was, admittedly, not great). Hopefully this kind of quick action to support faster, more reliable buses becomes a regular feature in 2019 (eyes on you 14th Street NW).

Finally, in the final months of 2018 GGWash rallied behind our friends at the People for Fairness Coalition (PFFC), who had for years been pushing a bill to get more public restrooms in downtown DC (currently, there are only two 24/7 restrooms open to the public). Nearly 1000 people signed onto our petition to push the DC Council to finally act on this bill, which it passed unanimously in December. Huge credit is due to the PFFC for the immense amount of grassroots organizing, researching, drafting and lobbying they did for this bill. We were honored to dish out the final assist.

RFK today. Image by Eric Kidwell used with permission.

Best campaigns that stuck it to Dan Snyder

To be clear, GGWash has no official position on Dan Snyder. However, our community is certainly engaged about the region not getting a bad deal in regards to wasteful land use and/or subsidies when it comes to a future stadium for the Washington football team.

Early in 2018, our community sent hundreds of emails to regional officials in support of a trio of bills that would forbid all three regions from engaging in a race to the bottom to subsidize a new stadium. Unfortunately those bills fell by the wayside, but we jumped into action again recently when it became clear that there were some behind the scenes talks about the future of DC’s RFK site. Over 500 folks wrote emails asking for better transparency so we can listen to neighbors and make sure we get the best use out of that site, and not just what Snyder wants. (What do you think? #HailNo?)

Most epic endurance test: DC Comp Plan

Of course, any list of highlights from 2018 must include March’s epic 13-hour long hearing on DCs Comprehensive Plan. 50 urbanists stayed up very very late (3am!) to testify in favor of more homes, more affordable homes, and protections against displacement in DC’s 1000+ page land use document, which will guide the city’s growth for the next few decades. This hearing was the culmination of years of coalition building and advocacy GGWash has spearheaded, working with a wide variety of for and non-profit allies.

Unfortunately, we’re closing out 2018 with no update on the Comp Plan. It looks like the DC Council will vote on the Framework Element in early 2019, and the the Office of Planning will roll out the rest of the Comp Plan for another round of public engagement and another DC Council vote. Hope you slept well folks, here comes round two in 2019!

Runner up in this category is definitely the Prince George’s County Zoning rewrite, which finally passed this fall. The new zoning code has a lot of really great things about it, also some problems, and a few dinosaurs survived the years of advocacy and editing that surrounded this update. We’ll know about how these changes will fully impact the housing market in Prince George’s County as the Comprehensive Housing Strategy progresses in the coming year.

Residents with yellow stickers and white pins pack the hearing room. Image by David Alpert.

Our community did A LOT this year when it comes to pushing for a more equitable, walkable, affordable region. Thank you for your continued support and advocacy, we literally cannot keep doing this without you. We surely missed some good moments in this list—what was your favorite advocacy moment in 2018? What are you looking forward to in 2019?

There's a lot to look forward to in 2019. Help us continue to advocate for an equitable, walkable, affordable region, by joining the GGWash Neighborhood, our membership program. Your contribution keeps our blog going, helps us fund our advocacy work, and also connect you to our larger community of readers. Join today!

David Whitehead was the Housing Program Organizer at Greater Greater Washington from 2016 to 2019.  A former high school math teacher and a community organizer, David worked to broaden and deepen Greater Greater Washington’s efforts to make the region more livable and inclusive through education, advocacy, and organizing. He lives in Eckington.