Clouds and silver linings

I was going to post this for Tuesday, and remembered, hey I’m not posting on Tuesdays anymore…
Hi folks from the Truxton Circle Dispatch! These are not the meeting minutes or full notes, come back Wednesday for those.
Well I got out of the Special BACA meeting tonight, I may post my notes on Wednesday. Maybe. Dunno.
Anyway the big draw was the 4th presentation by Joe Mamo (bald black guy in black shirt w/ olive jacket standing in fuzzy picture) who wants to construct a condo building at the corner of North Cap and Florida and needs a zoning variance and community approval. Attendees had lots of questions and concerns and the statements brought me back to the whole “every silver lining has a cloud” post. We say we want development, but quake in fear about the extra traffic and the greater un-affordability of the neighborhood, that development brings.
According to Mamo and his development posse (fuzzy white guy and other fuzzy black man) 85% of the proposed condo will be market rate and 15% of would be affordable (80% of the Area Median Income). This started some chatter about the adult children of area residents not being able to afford to move back into the neighborhood. The lawyer (white fuzzy) said he had kids too and they have the same issues, but that is the way the market is. Jim our gracious leader later came back to that saying that the flippant ‘that’s the way the market is’ is not the kind of answer that citizens deserve. Yet, for me the answer is that’s the way of the DC housing market. One would do better to convince a neighbor to sell to your family members for a below market price than a for profit developer.
You know if Mamo said he was going to make it 100% affordable housing at 80% AMI, people would be up in arms. Don’t believe me, talk up the Slater Langston School as senior housing ’cause that got a cool reception.
No pleasing us BACA people. If it is affordable we’re afraid of it being overrun by Section 8’ers. If it is luxury, then it makes the whole neighborhood unaffordable. If it is affordable old people housing, then it doesn’t attract hip cool business and we become a senior dumping ground. Oh yeah, and we really want a Harris Teeter and a Starbucks, but we don’t want the incomes and the density needed to attract those businesses. Because the incomes will make the neighborhood unaffordable for the long time residents and their offspring and the density will take away the precious parking. PRECIOUS (channeling Golum).
Once again, and I’m typing this with feeling, figure out what you want and acknowledge the negative that comes with it. Don’t pretend that you can become just like that other neighborhood X without the headaches that come with it. To get the cool stores and businesses means we need density with money. Density means big tall buildings. Density means more traffic. More traffic means it’s harder to jaywalk. Density with money will attract that damned Starbucks everyone keeps coveting, but it raises the cost of living in the area. Starbucks coffee ain’t cheap and they aren’t going to give you a pre-gentrification discount.
Believing that you can bring in development that improves the neighborhood, cleans up crime, brings in high scale shops, “nice” restaurants, and the cache of some of the tonier neighborhoods without endangering your street parking, the density and scale of buildings, or the abilty for your kids and friends to buy in is an urban fairy tale.
It’s late and obviously I’m grouchy and in a foul mood. I should stop typing now.


9 thoughts on “Clouds and silver linings”

  1. I’ve been carless for three weeks. It’s like having my fingernails pulled out with bamboo skeweres.

    Not that I _need_ to drive the car.

    Just that I need to know it’s there for me to not use.

    I’m in the weird position of living in the broke ass building in the nice neighborhood, and we get the same complaints.

    My building, 80% immigrant, is massively opposed to say a service center for new immigrants.

    Cause while we are they eyesore Cameron Station wants to be rid of, Section 8 are the one’s we want to be rid of. No easy middle ground.

  2. Getting the right balance is the challenge.

    But a point you made is an undercurrent of it all in many of the gentrifying areas – ‘the adult kids not being able to afford to move back.’ This is really the result of the District’s failures 20-30 years ago. If the educational system had not collapsed, then this generation of adult kids would be the ones building the condos, not being priced out of them. And one can argue that the problems of back then were the result of the racist segregation policies that preceded them. But we now all face the lingering effects of the past.

    There are no easy solutions, the best we can do is strive for a balance. The investors may not get the highest returns they dreamed of, and the current residents may have to accept a development they would not prefer. But in the end, hopefully we are moving forward.

  3. Nora-
    Hopefully you will be riding in a car and parking it in your ghetto parking garage, soon. Yes, your big 1960s era monster of concrete is an eyesore for those in YuppieLand (aka Cameron Station) and if it were proposed to be built again the people of CS would be opposed to it because it does not fit within the scale or the look of the rest of the neighborhood.
    But hey you ARE getting a Harris Teeter, the same store several people in this area here keep desiring. You and Mo from somewhere Africa can shop side by side with Buffy and Chad from CS for over priced prepared foods.

  4. One of the things that bugged me a bit was that the example adult child mention is buying in the District, just not in NW but over in SE. Slowly over time I’m becoming a little bit more willing to believe that not all of SE is bad. There are some pleasant, hidden neighborhoods, where things are quiet. There are also some really good vistas on that side of the river too.
    Last week I hinted that keeping affordable housing tied to a specific geographic location is too hard and impossible in a free market. The adult child in this case can afford in DC but not in Truxton or Eckington but rather SE.
    Also in a free market there are also attractive alternatives that have allowed for black flight out of the city. I keep thinking of area relatives, in PG and Lorton, who would rather not even think of living in the city. There is a sizable Black middle class in the DC metro area, just not in DC. I wonder how many of those DC born who are middle class chose DC over PG.
    Also, just thought of it, you’re relatively young and middle class, how close do you REALLY want to live near your mother? or mother-in-law? Close but not too close. If anyone can point me to studies on how close adult children live to their parents or rate that people move back to the old neighborhood, that would be useful.
    At the meeting there was a useful back and forth regarding hiring of people from the neighborhood for the contruction. A CSOSA representative brought forth hiring parolees, whom CSOSA would insure were drug free and trained. Mamo seemed accepting of hiring parolees via one of his contractors, provided that they were trained and could hit the ground running. The fuzzy lawyer, stressed the need for pre-trained hirees because if they don’t know what they are doing someone could get killed. And that’s why you just can pull guys off the street to do contruction, as they could be a danger to themselves and others on the worksite.
    Yeah one can argue the race thing, but one won’t because it is too easily and often used a catch all for all ill that befalls us.

  5. There’s been a lot of theorizing on the need to get people away from sprawling suburbs and back into cities… but the catch is that city life is expensive. And if you add the high-level social services (e.g., schools, libraries, symphony halls, snow removal) a la MoCo, it’s very expensive.

  6. In neighborhoods that aren’t experiencing gentrification, how often do the adult children of residents move back into the ‘hood? Particualrly if they can afford to move elsewhere?

  7. City life has it’s negatives besides price and there are some arguements I don’t even bother with for some. Although one close-in suburban friend admires my proximity to several things he treasures the quiet of his own ‘burb and the joy of his own 4 walls. For some people it is all about the schools, others the “need” for a yard, proximity to something in MD or VA, the desire for representation in Congress, various things that make the city not worth it.

  8. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a more clear-eyed analysis of the positives and negatives of gentrification. I speak as someone who grew up in New York and couldn’t begin to afford to return there. The only thing I’d add is that the dangers of not balancing gentrification or neighborhood upgrading or whatever you want to call it with some form of market protection for longtime residents can be seen in my hometown. Manhattan used to have lots of middle-class families. There are a few left now, but I don’t think they’ll be staying.

  9. I have a theory that there is a generational rotation between city and suburbs. Back in the 1960’s all the white kids were sick of living in the city, the cramped quarter etc (some might say because the black people came, but I think that’s only part of it) so the dream was to move to the suburbs. Fast forward to our generation and at least for myself and my wife, we have no desire (at least at this point) to live in the suburbs like we did when were kids. We want to be close in we don’t want to mow a lawn etc. etc. As mentioned the only reason we would move to the suburbs would be if the schools don’t improve and we can’t afford private school. The main reason the children of these kids don’t live in this neighborhood is because they WANT to live in PG. PG is where its at for the black middle class, they have seen the city thing now they want the suburban lifestyle. Nothing wrong just different.

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