A frequent complaint DC residents have about new development is that things changed in their neighborhood without their input. A new initiative called the Lower Georgia Avenue Equitable Development Project aims to let community members guide how their area will develop.
On November 9, Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne Nadeau announced the public launch of the project in an open house forum at the Cardozo Education Campus. Dozens of Georgia Avenue-area community members gathered to discuss the initiative.
Nadeau’s office is working with the Justice & Sustainability Associates, a local alternative dispute resolution firm which specializes in coordinating multi-stakeholder decision making. Its facilitation process tells traditional voices (such as the DC Council) to take a step back and instead focus on community voices, according to Nadeau.
“This is difficult for me as a leader,” Nadeau said. “I am accountable to you all, and it’s incredibly important that I get to deliver things to you. In this project, I am letting go and our facilitators will deliver what you bring to us.”
Seven working groups and a steering committee will guide the process of figuring out what people in the area want, according to a chart at the event. The committee serves as an executive body of the “Community Partnership,” which is made up of the working groups. The project focuses on community and placemaking, housing, local retail and business, and more.
The community’s recommendations will inform future legislation, says Nadeau: “Once the work is complete, it will inform and help guide future legislation I introduce on housing affordability, small business support, human services, and more.”
How to keep people and businesses from being priced out?
The biggest change coming to the area is the Park Morton project, which is part of the New Communities Initiative. It includes plans to redevelop the Pleasant Plains and Parkview apartment complexes into mixed-use and mixed-income communities. So far, the project has completed 83 housing units in the area and still anticipates to develop 462 more.
For Marcus Hendrick, a member of the Park View United Neighborhood Coalition, a main concern during a time of redevelopment is preserving community.
“Even when you don’t have hard displacement, there’s a lot of economic pressure,” Hendrick said. “The prices for units go up over time, services that are available for folks can change, and we’re seeing working class families who are deciding that now is the time to move to [Prince George’s County] rather than stay with the increasing cost of living. The discussion is, what can we do to keep things affordable and accessible for our neighbors.”
Redevelopment is a constant presence throughout DC, and conversations about it are certainly happening. But that doesn’t mean various groups are talking to each other and coming up with proposals. Through a facilitator, Hendrick hopes neighborhood groups will be able to exchange ideas and work together to come up with a collaborative vision.
“You’ll have one neighborhood civic association having conversations, and another one just across the street having similar conversations, but they don’t always have an opportunity to connect,” Hendrick said. “I think it’s really valuable to have someone with experience to bring in different perspectives to get people talking so you can get a common sense of what that division is.”
Balancing various needs
Some small business-owners in the area want to figure out how to preserve the city’s culture, as well as how to meet the needs of current and future resients. For Pablo Sierra, the owner of Wall of Books, the learning process started the second he opened his store four years ago.
“As a not-a-native Washingtonian, you have to come up really quick to speed on what do people want, what is the culture, what’s the questions, what’s the right answers,” Sierra said. “That requires real sincere engagement in conversations. Being at the bookstore all day every day for the first year or so, having those conversations actually helped level-set the direction the store should go.”
The question for Sierra and other business owners is how to provide a service and also respect a cultural context. It’s a balance they and other community members hope to strike with new development as well.
“The way a bookstore works, is that it has to be hyper local,” Sierra said. “It has to serve the needs of the community that its in - that means both in inventory and operations [and] in the people behind the counter understanding what’s going on. As far as this project is concerned, understanding and clarifying what the challenges are, and where the gaps are and where my business can fill those gaps and not fill those gaps.”
While the project was announced during Nadeau’s inauguration ceremony in January, it was not launched publicly until now. Students and community members were able to indicate interest at the event, and the first meetings are slated to begin soon.
“Ward 1 is the most diverse Ward in the District, which gives us the opportunity to be the model for race equity. For too long in the District, there have been winners and losers when it comes to new development,” Nadeau said. “Instead of fighting over the same slice of pie, we will make it bigger so that everyone gets a piece.”