Rita Abou Samra visiting her hometown of Beirut. Image by the author.

Rita Abou Samra has been a contributor since February 2018, bringing her professional experience as an urban planner to a range of topics.

She loves how GGWash provides “easy access to all urban-related issues happening in the region, sometimes with references to important ones happening all over the world.” As a contributor and a member of our Community Engagement Committee, she helps make GGWash “simplified, straight to the point, and holistic.”

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Rita has global experience with urbanism, and now she’s applying her skills in Washington, DC. She answered some questions about what she’s learned.

Growing up in walkable Beirut

Walk Score in Achrafieh, Beirut is 89. [Editor’s note - Walk Score measures how walkable a neighborhood is to daily necessities. 100 means very walkable, 0 means completely car-dependent.] That number represents that I could walk less than five minutes with any destination in mind, whether to run errands for basic needs or access other amenities.

My home neighborhood is dense and mixed-use and I could access it all by foot. It’s funny that most people own cars and don’t walk, even the ones who can’t afford them. Once you head out of the city, you have to drive. Pair that with the fact that public transportation is highly unreliable and not invested in, and you have one option: buy a car.

I recently returned to Beirut for a visit and I see a lot of things are changing. I even saw some bikeshare stations here this time, to my surprise. They are privately-funded like most urbanistic initiatives here (such as the coastal BRT study), but are launched in collaboration with the Beirut municipality.

“Now, owning [a car] feels like a nightmare”

I lived in Madrid, Spain back when I was doing my master’s degree. It was actually the first place that I lived where I did not own a car. Before that, not having access to my car felt like a nightmare. Now, owning one feels like a nightmare.

I, of course, learned a lot about urbanism through my degree in Urban Planning, but on a personal level, I learned that humans only need what they get used to and what gets sold to us over and over again. We have been used to driving for a few generations. Before that, we still survived and even thrived.

On the move to find a “sense of place”

I’m currently in the process of moving to Southwest from Foggy Bottom in Northwest DC. Although it isn't yet as walkable as Foggy Bottom, I can see a bright future. I can still walk very little to run errands and the Metro is right there, one stop away from L’Enfant with access to all lines except Red (which I can easily get to through Chinatown when needed). Personally, I love that I’m a walk away from the water.

I also like that Southwest has a variety of people, including lots of both longtime and new residents. I hope it can stay that way. There is an incredible sense of place that reminds me of where I grew up. I already feel like I am part of a neighborhood, which is something Foggy Bottom was lacking.

Working for dedicated Metro funding

I volunteered with the Coalition for Smarter Growth to campaign for dedicated funding for Metro! It was a great experience because I felt like I made a change, even if minuscule compared to people with more power over things, which hopefully one day I will be able to do. What was also amazing is all the different people I met through this that made me get more “in touch” with different cultures in DC and other places. Since I was in Union Station, the “on-the-ground” experience was something I cherished.

Planners who know know GGWash

When I first got to DC, my knowledge of the city was very limited. I was an urban planner with no local skill. GGWash was my teacher and my community that made me understand where I am now, relate it to my previous knowledge in other cities I have lived or been, and feel like I was at home! My husband, who is also a planner, mentioned it to me back then as one of the publications that he regularly read, and that is how it all started.

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Jane Fiegen Green is the Development Director at Greater Greater Washington. With a PhD in history and a background in association management for a scholarly society of historians, she works to bring sustainable revenue streams to support GGWash’s news and advocacy. She lives in the Pentagon City neighborhood of Arlington with her husband and son.