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Critical analysis of problems is the essential first step in finding their solutions.


photo by
John CleaveOver the past five years, a number of important studies have increased understanding of the District's problems, and those of other American cities and metropolitan areas. NARPAC, Inc. has done several analyses of its own to point up specific issues about DC and its metro area. Together, these form the basis for looking at alternative futures for the governance of the nation's capital.

o Several official studies have been conducted by well known organizations both inside and outside the government;

o Issues of governance deals with the general American governance pyramid including the key role played by state governments. DC's unique problems of being "stateless" "isolated" from its suburbs, and "disenfranchised" from Congressional representation are discussed;

o The relatively new emphasis on regionalism is treated in an expanding section. It is the preferred means (to NARPAC, Inc. and many experts) to maximize equitable socioeconomic growth across American metropolitan areas in the next century;

o Regional comparisons illustrate many differences between the District and its burgeoning--some would say free-riding--suburbs. These include significant differences in population trends, and in revenues and expenditures;

o New analyses have now been made using Census 2000 data for National Comparisons. There are disturbing anomalies between DC statistics and various national averages.

o Many different aspects to DC's Economic Landscape influence how the city has developed and how it will react to change. Topography; demographic and household trends; sources of wealth and employment; real estate and property ownership trends; people and land productivity; and the closely related areas of high welfare, high poverty, and abysmal school performance all factor into DC's future.

o There are wide differences across the city as to the "productivity" of its scarce land. Some areas produce more revenues than they consume in expenditures, but others take much more than they give. Economic Comparisons by Census Tract point up some of these extremes, and suggest areas most needing development.

o A series of encouraging long range plans have begun to emerge that suggest the nation's capital has a bright future--if it can get its act together. The outdated Comprehensive Plan and Transportation Vision Plan are analyzed and suggestions made for their improvement. There are now 39 'Strategic Neighborhood Action Plans' for community development, with an overarching Citywide Strategic Plan. There is a new National Capital Planning Commission report, suggesting improvements to the 'monumental core' over the next century, a DC-proposed National Capital Revitalization Corporation to be responsible for rebuilding much of the city's blighted areas; and a citizen's plan for economic resurgence which could, if fully implemented, make significant improvements in the city's long-term growth. More recent major planning efforts are summarized as they become available.

o The new version of the NCPC's Comprehensive Plan was completed in 2003, and is summarized in considerable detail, along with NARPAC's views of its shortcomings.

o DC published its long-range DC Vision in the summer of 2004, and it is intended to form the basis for the update of the city's long range plan. NARPAC finds it seriously wanting concerning its role as the national capital city and regional transportation center, with almost exclusive emphasis on social change and neighborhood redevelopment.

o An increasing number of very major long range projects are beginning to materialize that will truly change the character of Washington, DC. These include major redevelopment programs for South Capitol Street, the Southwest Waterfront, the old DC General Hospital site, the Navy Yard redevelopment effort large enough to return a small city (essentially Arlington County's Crystal City) to Southeast DC; the Anacostia River Waterfront, and many even larger programs in the suburbs.

o An in-depth look at planned redevelopment of Columbia Heights estimates whether the effort will be sufficient to reverse the negative "net productivity" in Cluster 2, and if not (as is likely), why not.

o In 1994, NARPAC developed a lengthy and detailed analysis of the 1500-odd acres of under-utilized military facilities within DC, and recommends that they be transferred to DC for high-density economic development. This is timed to the once or twice a decade Congressionally-dictated procedure for base re-alignment and closing (BRAC).

o There is increasing emphasis on a so-called financial "structural imbalance" which is being touted by the Brookings Institution and others as justification for a permanent federal hand-out (even while DC seeks greater political autonomy and representation). NARPAC firmly disagrees with this approach, and takes exception to much of the analysis purported to support it.

o In 2003, the GAO put out a major report intended to confirm the growing pressure on the Congress to recompense DC for its financial shortfalls. NARPAC finds this GAO Report on DC's "Structural Imbalance" to be so analytically flawed as to call into question its supposed objectivity.

o In 2003, Mayor Williams pronounced his determination to solve DC's revenue problems by bringing into the city 100,000 New Residents, essentially without qualification. It appears to be based more on sociology than economics, and NARPAC goes to considerable length to demonstrate that taxable commercial businesses are almost certainly more revenue-productive unless the new residential influx is made up of high-income, childless, condo-dwelling households.

o But the area of DC that has received the least long-range planning is also the part that generates most of DC's unfavorable statistics. In an extended analysis, NARPAC, Inc. has looked at the contrast in recent socioeconomic development between East of the Anacostia and West of the Potomac. It is primarily a contrast in planning land use, and exploiting the new Metrorail system. But what Arlington County did in the 1970's, "Anacostia County" (Wards 7 and 8) could do in the beginning of the 2000's.

o One of the most important sites for economic development East of the Anacostia is the 300-acre St. Elizabeth's hospital complex which is increasingly underutilized, and in some places falling into disrepair. By late 2002, moves were afoot to make the site available at least in part for redevelopment. NARPAC believes that proper planning for this key historic area can have a major financial impact on this depressed part of the city and therefore on the whole city.

o NARPAC, Inc. has looked at a broad range of alternative futures for DC, although greater cooperation with neighboring jurisdictions appears to offer the most practical approach.

o A photoessay and continuing analysis of the world-class DC metrorail system and its impact on the metropolitan and suburban communities it serves;

o A separate analysis of various alternatives for DC bus and light rail adjuncts to the current Metro system comes down on the side of bus rapid transit (BRT);

o An analysis of the background studies and newly emerging (2003) 10-Yr Metro Capital Improvement Program shows the problems of both maintaining and expanding the capacity of the current system, already congested in some places;

o NARPAC is continuously frustrated by the lack of interest at WMATA, or in the DC Office of Planning and Department of Transportation, in expanding metrorail to a) reach more of the city needing development, and b) eliminating some of the choke points that prematurely saturate its capacity, and decrease its use as an evacuation tool. We have therefore generated our own Vision of Metrorail Growth within the city limits, and estimated its 25-year costs and $20 billion in 2004 dollars.

o For the first time, NARPAC has also plumbed the WMATA budget and its three branches of Metrobus, Metrorail, and MetroAccess (for the disabled). This Analysis of the FY2004 WMATA Budget shows the main cost-drivers (different, of course, between bus and rail), and discusses the peculiarities of the current subsidy system for offsetting the shortfall in revenues; the opportunities for additional parking (at high rates); and the deplorable state of future capital investment in either maintaining or expanding the system. It draws on the prior chapter (above) to estimate a realistic level of capital investment funding at $1.5 billion annually for the foreseeable future.

o NARPAC takes a detailed engineering look at high density public parking facilities to conserve valuable space, increase city revenues, and provide incentives to use energy-efficient vehicles.

o One of DC's under-analyzed but growing problems has to do with all aspects of DC's Increasing Traffic Problems. In this varied analysis, NARPAC looks at the role of vehicles, trucks, parking, traffic controls, and new technologies and might be done to avoid having the city's public arteries congeal.

o NARPAC turns its attention to the legislative side of DC's government and points out the DC Council's Dilemma: Oversight or Foresight and analyzes the six major long-term issues where better Council policy decisions are needed, and shows that valuable quantitative data is available to help inform the decision process.

o Late in 2000, NARPAC put together a chart briefing describing the various aspects of DC's Economic Challenges; Current Land Uses; Current Population Trends; DC's Economic Trends by Ward; DC's Prime Wasted Space; and a tabulation of Major Impediments to DC's Growth. Four years later, the presentation remains remarkably apt, and the quantitative changes have been very small indeed.

This page was updated on Feb 5, 2005

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