(Correspondence edited for conciseness; Listed Most
Since NARPAC, Inc.'s inception, we have communicated with individuals in the Washington area who have the authority to make the District a better place. Each letter or fax has contained some suggestions consistent with the overall objectives of the organization.
The key ones for 2006 - 2005 are listed below, starting with the most recent. Correspondence is also available online for :
138. Posting to "TheMail" re MPD's latest plan to reorganize the police department (09/30/07
Another Frontal Lobotomy for an Oversized Scape Goat
The notion that our national capital city can lower the embarrassingly high crime statistics among its poor people (mostly kids) by reshuffling the organization of its local police department seems to me hopelessly simplistic. It ranks right up there with blaming teachers for the lousy test scores of poor kids, and bailing out a failing hospital as a panacea for DC's third world health statistics. Chief Ramsey was no technocrat and had few college degrees, but he came to understand that he could not resolve the counter-cultural problems of the poor with uniforms and cruisers on the street. He couldn't stop the crimes before they happened, and he couldn't solve most of the crimes after they happened when committed within the community of the disaffected.
How will Chief Lanier's reverted structure and whiter management lower the incidence of crime rather than just move it around? How will the changes raise the closure rate on serious crimes? Is anyone tracking (or publishing) the paltry share of DC's crimes that the MPD does solve? What did we gain by the summer overtime splurge? The Fenty administration appears to be instituting superficial, headline-grabbing actions that are irrelevant to the slow and steady effort required to change the culture of the disadvantaged. NARPAC wagers that 4,500 less unwanted, poorly-parented kids, and 4,500 more responsible, hands-on fathers would do more to reduce all the city's ills than reshuffling its 4,500 hapless MPD employees, its 8,000 struggling poor-health personnel, or its 11,000 frazzled school workers. It would surely beat grotesquely overpaying DC's agency heads and their senior deputies to joust with the wrong windmills.
Draft Obituary in the Making:
"National Capital Metro Area Dies of Protracted, Self-Induced Suicide by Traffic
"Arguably the world's most important capital metro area was declared dead today, suffocated by its own indifference to change for more than a decade. Head in sand, thumb in mouth, eyes fixed on its own backyard, the corpse was found petrified in traffic gridlock. Its various body parts appeared grotesquely dissociated, splayed in contradictory directions. Swarms of single-purpose activists were seen dancing about the remains, seemingly undisturbed by the economic disaster visited on future generations. Gradual strangulation was caused by a combination of well-known diseases for which cures are readily available. They can be lethal, however, if not rigorously applied by responsible public and private authorities.
"Forensics show the presence of ten untreated ailments: unwillingness to plan far enough ahead (intracranial myopia); paralysis caused by inability to harness change (chronic metamorphobia);inability to visualize, embrace new technologies (endemic retrotechnetricism); trying to turn the transportation clock centuries back (retropathic moronism); mistaking regional transportation needs for decorative local entertainment venues (morbid tangherliniphilia); dread of assimilation into a larger unified jurisdiction (extra-insular paranoia); ignorance of mobilization/emergency response needs (gross whatmeworriatrics); refusal to set regional infrastructure management outside political expediency (multiple polipanderemia); intent on creating national infrastructure on the cheap (bipolar econofatuity); and paying mediocre government managers way beyond their competence (bux-inflamed duhism)."
Hey, Wow, A Brand New Overcrowded Grade Level Intersection for Only $25 Million
How come none of themail's sharp-eyed activists have weighed in on DDoT's latest gift to our nation's capital? In less than eight weeks of bonus-winning effort, the South Capitol Street overpass above the until-now little-used West end of Potomac Avenue has been replaced by a grade level, stoplight-burdened intersection. The new baseball stadium is right smack on its northeast corner, and the Avenue will be a major part of the new high-density development all around the park. Within two years, it will surely be among DC's ten busiest intersections, and may well join the list of most dangerous as well. It could be killing pedestrians, cyclists, drivers and/or beer-soaked fans by next summer. Let's hope DDoT has the prescience to incorporate commemorative niches for plastic flowers and teddy bears into the basic design of the crossing.
This feat of transportation foresight is being billed by city officials for two outstanding features. The first is to make this nexus a better walker and biker "experience" by merging them with a huge traffic flow. Most of the 70,000+ daily commuter and commercial vehicles consider this "gateway" to downtown a throughway, not a destination. (It is a major 24/7 arterial for heavy trucks.) Second, echos the Mayor, this marks "the rebirth of the South Capitol Street Corridor as a grand urban boulevard". Too bad this urban boulevard doesn't reach all the way to the capitol any more, because of seemingly permanent security barriers at C Street! Will DDoT decide next to lower the CSX and Amtrak railroad bridges to boulevard grade level to improve the trucking experience? Wouldn't it make more sense to invest in vehicle-free promenades for people, and tunnels for through-traffic? Should city planners take a look at NARPAC's suggestions?
The New School Team: Good on Photo Ops, but Avoiding the First Order Terms?
Recent articles in the press and by the city's usual pundits and activists seem oblivious to the major first order terms in the ever-unfolding DCPS school fiasco. Whether the issue is the ability to shake up an unresponsive central office; hire good principals and teachers; order and distribute school books; or reduce the horrendous backlog of maintenance and repair, a common first-order problem is: how many school sites are needed? The current 141 are twice the US norm based on kids per school, including major urban school districts. Surely these problems would be more manageable if there were only 70 schools!
Another first-order term is: how many kids are attending these run-down schools? The current answer of 55,000 is probably a full 5000 too high this school year, excluding the many kids bussed to special ed schools. Is that a quibble? Not when it amounts to another 13-15 principals, book sets, and central air conditioning systems, and maybe 400-500 teachers!
A third first-order term is: just how bad is the school system output? Lousy 4th and 8th grade reading scores are surely worth fretting about, but what about the impact of the schools' "output" on the community? 1200-1500 more kids (latent parents, really) dropped out in 2007, while another 2500 "attended" 12th grade. The DCPS web site shows only 550 young women and 310 young men left high school this year "proficient" in reading, and about 100 fewer "proficient" in math. That leaves another 1700 marginally able to make their way. Even worse, almost 800 of them tested "below basic". DC law enforcement, health, social and unemployment services should all take note: here come 3000 more potential problem residents for our national capital city, to say nothing of more problem parents for its public school system!
The Broader Paradigm to Redress DC's Dismal Education Gap
Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I am Len Sullivan, and delighted to testify. NARPAC tries to speak for "Ward 10", Americans anywhere who want the world's best national capital. We see no greater global embarrassment than the 'education gap' among DC adults. It limits the capacity of DC's current households, the potential of today's kids, and the prospects for our future families.
I had hoped to expose you to NARPAC's "outside the box" reasoning last week, but had to leave early (my earlier testimony is attached). Given the momentum towards the Fenty school takeover plan, and the (unrealistic) Rhee plan to fix the whole problem inside the School Box with better teachers, our views may not be relevant. But let me restate them, and hope Mr. Reinoso can integrate some of them into his takeover plan. I will be blunt as usual, and try to key on several valuable comments I thought I heard from the dias during last week's marathon hearing.
Mr. Catania said to look at the systemic problems. Mr. Thomas wanted to speak for those disenfranchised by their own illiteracy. Mr. Barry said that a tailor-made DC solution is needed. Mr. Brown encouraged going outside the box, And Mr. Wells noted the need to bring all DC agencies to bear. Amen, says NARPAC. Probing from the far outside, we see interrelated problems within several layers of nested boxes, all of which are exchange contents inward and outward.
We look within the American Box, and find the national capital Metro Area Box. The ideals of the American Box seem somewhat diminished by the contents of Metro Area Box, and those troubles seep largely from the Core City Box, lurking in the shadows of the Federal Gov't Box. The evident failures among DC's human infrastructure taint the larger boxes. Extensive efforts from the DC Gov't Box try to make those disadvantaged souls comfortable, but DC's education gap stays large and self-perpetuating. And within the vastly oversized, crumbling Schools Box, we see one bureaucracy stymied by the external damage already done to its least-privileged young inputs, and another unable to keep half its output from dropping out and repeating the cycle of sorely inadequate parenthood.
We wonder: Would it be wise to split the School Box into two parts: two-thirds encouraging its kids to learn; and one-third dissuading its premature adults from, or preparing them for, reproducing themselves? Why does that School Box need outsiders to be its accountants, comparative analysts, and general inspectors? Why doesn't the City Gov't Box provide incentives to continued education instead of a lifetime on the dole? Why don't Core City Box residents and businesses get more involved in stimulating adult education? And why haven't the Fed Gov't and Metro Area Boxes been approached to share more of their very vast specialized educational resources?
Mr. Chairman, this new administration and its vastly overpaid managerial and strategic neophytes do not reassure me that they will approach this national embarrassment as a systemic multi-box problem. Beyond good intentions and zeal, they are being endorsed for capabilities not yet shown. If I could put my old feet in your new shoes, these puppies would be put on a short leash. I would set some near-term, binding deadlines for Mr. Reinoso (without consultants) to set out in-house means and quantitative goals to redress the chronic, systemic education gaps in our nation's capital.
Time permitting, here are ten items on which I would want quarterly progress reports:
o appointment of, and progress by an in-house, regionally-supported, Special Education Office
o appointment of, and progress by an in-house DCPS Inspector General
o appointment and findings of an in-house Office of Urban School Operations/Education Analysis
o realistic urban school performance goals based on transparent analytical foundations
o a new, far more realistic projection of both school enrollment and school facility needs
o hard incentives for kids and parents to reduce future, truancy, dropouts, teen pregnancies
o better tracking methods of past parental demographics, drop-out consequences
o prompt redesign of a functional, real-world, (independent?) High School Division
o develop a system of "compulsory community service" for student misbehavior
o potential for student "intern" participation in school administration, operations
Time for a New Paradigm in Redressing DC's Dismal Education Gap
Good morning, Mr. Chairman. I am Len Sullivan, and delighted to testify before you. NARPAC tries to speak for "Ward 10", Americans everywhere who want their national capital to be the world's best. Some think we gaze at DC from the Planet Zoom. But we see no greater embarrassment to our worldwide image than the education gap among half of DC's adults. It limits the capacity of our present households, the potential of our present kids, and the prospects for future DC families.
We fear this new management approach is Dead on Arrival. The confident young people chosen to implement it are leaping energetically onto the same old ship, dashing around the same old decks, rearranging yet again the same old deck chairs. We say: Bag this old ship, and all the tired musicians in its band. Jump ship and set forth with a more relevant new context. Even Ms. Rhee hedges her pet panacea by admitting teachers are the most important "single" factor "under school control". But there is no mention of the even more fundamental factors NOT currently under school control.
We don't agree it's all about kids; teachers, or secondary school NAEP scores; it's not just about spiffy buildings and clean toilets; first-order cures won't emerge from better bookkeeping, better management charts, big-name consultants, more parental kibitzing, or a Bloomberg Bullpen. These buzz words may be catchy, but collectively, they surely are not sufficient. Mr. Chairman, DC's new government needs to get outside the old box and adopt a more comprehensive, systemic context by which to redress DC's dismal education gap. On Planet Zoom, we say: Go for a real paradigm shift. You can't just "fix the schools", you've got to repair the adult social fabric of the city.
The pervasive life-long scourge of missed education, and its cumulative corrosive effect on America's urban fabric, is documented by our nation's capital city's jails, prisons, emergency rooms, hospitals, clinics, detox centers, foster homes, soup kitchens, unemployment lines, homeless shelters, old age homes, park benches and heating grates. Current functional illiteracy figures show DC has left behind more than 170,000 living adults. Most of these disadvantaged souls doubtless wasted years in DC's public school system before drifting away. DCPS graduation rates have never been lower. The "cycle of poverty" persists. DC spends well over twice as much every year on its past mistakes (welfare and subsidies, health, human services, and police), than on its future opportunities (education, economic development, transportation and urban infrastructure). 50/50 is the national average.
To fix this chronic education gap, this Council, the Mayor, the Deputy Mayor, the State Education Office, the Chancellor of Schools, and DC's entire inflated Cabinet must accept:
o DC has a unique role in establishing America's national/global image;
o DC has a unique role as the core city of one of the world's finest metro areas;
o DC's demographic balance will soon shift away from majority black for good;
o DCPS enrollment may soon drop below 50,000: leaving twice too many schools ;
o DC is obliged to its failed "output" for life, which lingers and spoils for 50-60 years;
o the self-perpetuating poverty cycle must be broken thru "post-school" education;
o DC high schools must offer "pre-birth education": basic parenting and husbanding!
o address the causes, demands, and effects of DC's oversized special ed population;
o use more surplus school assets for community needs rooted in educational deficits;
o sell off other valuable surplus school properties to defray modernization costs!
o avoid unrealistic goals by serious analysis of comparable urban family/student limits;
o develop professional internal DCPS accounting, audit, and IG functions ASAP;
o reach out to potential DC benefactors for an extensive adult education program;
o reach out to the top-quality educational resources throughout this metro area;
Congratulations to (another reader) for pointing out the folly of putting a traffic circle at South Capitol St. and Potomac Ave. That plan was in place well before the baseball stadium site was picked, and remains unchanged. Why make extensive plans to increase the safety of pedestrians, joggers, and bikers crossing the new bridge, only to kill them at the traffic circle? All pedestrian circulation around and into the stadium is also at grade level. But Mr. Howard has only identified the fetish on the nose of the DDoT camel. There are many more all over this peculiar Tangherlini-raised animal. All are intended to discourage modern forms of vehicular travel on DC's marginal surface streets and arteries, and to freeze, if not reduce, transportation modes above or below the ground plane. From its inception, DDoT's vision of smart growth has appeared to be no growth.
There is the go-it-alone fetish that leaves transportation infrastructure planning outside DC's comprehensive/economic planning process. There is the anti-commuter fetish to try to force the region's suburban families to live down in a city with 3rd world services. There is the great street fetish to turn major arteries (rather than secondary streets) into entertainment venues; the boulevard fetish to turn regional truck/commuter arteries into parks (rather than create separated promenades); the no-more Metro fetish, even though expansion would be primarily federally-funded; the trolley fetish to clog existing streets with outdated, track-limited, remotely-powered, emergency-averse local amusement rides; the protruding bus-stop fetish to assure no traffic moves faster than buses; the no city-owned off-street parking fetish which denies needed revenues; and the anti-technology fetish which ignores the revenue potential in automated user/abuser-fee collection. There is even a draw-bridge fetish willing to pay $200M to preserve the last 500 yards of deep-draft channel up the Anacostia River to nowhere. While DC's almost intractable public school problems occupy center stage, its easily reversible mobility problems languish.
Mayor Fenty has only been in office a week, his bullpen isn't broken in yet, and already the cynics and naysayers are challenging everything from his motives to his hat. Both Fenty and Gray ran on education as their top priority, and won strong support citywide. In our representative democracy, they were elected to do what they decide is best, not to protect individual whims, paranoias, fiefdoms, and backyards. In their glibly-dismissed inaugural addresses, both clearly enunciate their strategies for alleviating DC's endemic socio-economic problems. Gray says: "we must address the health and social influences that (impact on) the lives of kids before they get to school, often predisposing them to failure. Only integrated approaches to education, health and social services can effectively address these concerns." Fenty says: "Our pledge to be the next great world-class city is not based just on locking people up....thoughtful solutions, rooted in rebuilding the family and the fabric of the community, will be the cornerstone of DC's future...." (Amen!)
Our capital is threatened more by its dysfunctional social infrastructure than by terrorism or global warming. This decay is rooted in urban poverty and squalor, in turn rooted in inadequate family education. Solutions will require real change: "extraordinary measures" granting greater line authority; better integration of agencies with similar cross-cutting tasks; and separation of functionally dissimilar tasks. The US has often used "czars" to resolve critical problems. Other DC agencies can benefit from the same streamlined solutions (e.g., contracting). Fenty promises accountability for those given the authority to achieve their goals. How about equal accountability for those blocking his way with sneers, platitudes, negativism, and delaying tactics?
Major efforts to "take DC to the next level" will necessarily involve significant risks. These could include: lightweight "czars"; inappropriate targets based on excessive expectations in time and/or performance; and inadequate bases for assessing accountability. To NARPAC, the greatest risk would be to assume that DC schools, comprised mostly of family-disadvantaged kids can aspire to meet the (average) standards of schools with mostly family-advantaged kids any time soon. There is a world of difference between replacing missing plumbing fixtures, and substituting for missing functional parents. Take a look at our 2004 analysis of the huge variation in NAEP scores by school district and racial composition.
NARPAC disagrees with (another reader's) characterizations of Metro's role, purpose, and shortcomings in the DC region. Metro is not a public service, nor is it charged with giving every resident and commuter whatever service at whatever price they want. Metro is vital to the region's infrastructure and a precursor to its future growth. DC's future as a great capital city is put at risk by indifference to Metro by: the federal gov't; the states and counties served; the DC Council; DC's economic planners; DDoT; and, so far, Fenty's transition team. A good case can be made for placing WMATA under federal receivership at least until its long-term growth plans and funding sources (including fare-setting) are codified for both operations and expansion.
WMATA is DC's most heavily (50%) subsidized public utility. It is an inadequately chartered, ineffectually managed corporation, unable to keep up with its aging physical assets, much less the region's projected growth. Among water, sewer, gas, power, and communications, Metrorail will be DC's first infrastructure element to become capacity-limited downtown, probably by 2015. Absent substantial in-town, off-street expansion, Metro cannot offset DC's overcrowded arterials that DDoT plans to downgrade to traffic-limited, trolley-clogged, local entertainment venues.
Metro need not be a barrier to commuting minimum-wage workers, nor a duct for pumping free-loading suburbanites into an overtaxed, under-subsidized city. DC needs more tax sources that generate substantially more revenue than they consume. Successful businesses pay high property and sales taxes, and employ many skilled workers that leave their dependents elsewhere. DC's financial future would be assured indefinitely with 100,000 more commuters, and 50,000 less resident tax-consumers at/below the poverty level, even if DC or their employers pay their fares.
Why do DDoT's "Transportation Vision"and DC's 20-year Comprehensive Plan show no growth in Metro? Where was Tangherlini when Metro's budget deficit arose, and the Friendship Heights bus station ceiling was lowered below bus height? Is the long-term vision of Metro's new $360K manager, John Catoe, any better than that of his predecessors or his Board? What did Emeka Moneme do to be DDoT's next highly-paid director besides tag after Tangherlini for six years? A first-rate city surely cannot be developed with third-rate transportation infrastructure planning.
The changes in DC's government and Congress's majority both present important opportunities for our nation's capital city to grow in local and global stature. Here are five New Year's resolutions for DC's movers and shakers, official and self-appointed. Promise to act as if:
(1) DC is our capital city, and the core of a key metro area. Recognize its unique responsibilities to present the best of what America can offer in urban living, not just to showcase quirks;
(2) DC is much more than the sum of its residential neighborhoods. Make major decisions regarding the city's long-range future with its full range of functions and features in mind;
(3) DC's physical infrastructure (including all transportation aspects) is inseparable from regional and federal objectives. Develop regional and federal perspective, cooperation, and support;
(4) DC's image is hurt by its bi-polar demographics. Reduce the ranks of the poor who squeeze out the middle class and small business in favor of the rich, and big, commuter-staffed, business;
(5) Droves of teachers, police, case workers, and ER doctors cannot offset missing, uneducated, or dysfunctional parents in raising successful kids. Fix DC's chickens, better chicks will follow.
From NARPAC's vantage point in "Ward 10", outer space to many themail readers, Williams and Cropp deserve top grades for repairing the pathetic image of our nation's capital to outsiders. The city's official decorum is no longer global laughing stock, or embarrassing Americans nationwide. Major economic developments, from the Anacostia Waterfront Project to the Hope VI housing renewal East of the River, are permanently changing the exterior face of our nation's capital. The temporary lurch towards fiscal irresponsibility has been fully, if not over-corrected. DC's future success as a world-class city now depends primarily on re-balancing its polar socio-economic demography. The "dumbbell effect" of too many poor needing to be offset by too many rich, leaves too little room for key "middle class" families and their ethics.
Not surprisingly, we give failing grades to city efforts to break the "cycle of poverty" among DC's most seriously disadvantaged. Under-educated, often missing, parents leave on the city's doorstep the next generation of essentially "lost", heavily counter-cultural, kids. Growing winning chicks from losing chickens is a herculean urban task. Trying to move UDC to EoA, changing the school board composition, and closing down a dysfunctional hospital, were all brave if insufficient steps. We also flunk the mayor for pretending DC's future can be dictated by 150-odd "neighborhoods" unrestricted by city-/region-wide compromises, or by the unique demands of a global capital.
In between, we give DC's leaders barely passing marks in local, regional, and federal government relations. By most statistical measures, every local agency, including the school system, has too many employees and too few modern facilities for the services it delivers. We also see insufficient top leadership influence on the city's long-range infrastructure planning. Area-wide, DC failed to inspire cooperation from the metro area's leaders or strengthen its weak regional organizations. At the federal level, executive and legislative, DC influence seems to have been minimal (perhaps inevitable under the circumstances!). Nevertheless, Williams and Cropp have set the stage for further capital city progress. We can only hope the Fenty/Gray team will build on this legacy.
Congratulations on your imminent ascent to Speaker of the House. We applaud your interest in enhancing the standing of the residents of our nation's capital. We support your interim step for Mrs. Norton, and moving forward the Davis bill. We would not support adding senators, or statehood. DC should remain the unique American core city of our national capital metro area.
My small, all-volunteer, non-profit organization has spent the past nine years pressing to make our capital city the world's best, primarily through our educational/analytical web site. Over that time, we have proposed several ways to improve DC's global image as well as its local self esteem. We suggest one additional step you could initiate in the immediate future to obviate the demeaning Congressional second-guessing of DC's local budget and local legislation.
We agree your Constitutional obligation to "oversee" the District is immutable. But this function is not well served by four separate, freshman-staffed, "dregs" subcommittees treating DC as just another federal budget item to be processed and tinkered with. In their place, please consider the establishment of a Joint Congressional Committee on the Nation's Capital with more senior House and Senate members. It should more usefully focus on: the city's long-term image; its dire infrastructure needs; and stimulating greater regional cooperation in solving metro area problems.
Let me know if you would like us to discuss this further with your staff.
Welcome to the nation's capital! Our small non-profit organization wishes you well in bringing a successful team and a first-class stadium to DC. Our purpose, on behalf of Americans everywhere, is solely to encourage DC officialdom to make Washington the world's greatest capital city.
We favored the stadium site finally selected by the city, but have openly criticized the current design, as well as the failure of DC's transportation department to assure ready and safe access to the stadium by any and all transportation means. The two issues are related. Let me offer four areas that you might want to take an early look at, starting with the least important:
1. The city's long-standing building height limits (we advocate relaxing them outside the historic downtown area) have produced a squat city without distinctive roof tops, and with virtually no skyline. We urge you to think about novel ways to make the top of the stadium noticeable from a distance, and/or use the roof tops as vantage points for viewing the rest of the city and the nearby river. Anything from flag poles and laser lights at night, to observation decks and rooftop restaurants would add life and distinction to an otherwise humdrum outline.
2. The twin parking towers north of the stadium are an obscene waste of space and volume. While parking is functionally and economically important to the site, why waste two of the best views of the federal city on rooftop parking lots? We suggest you to take a look at the 'newfangled' robotic parking systems that increase the volumetric efficiency of parking garages by a factor of three or four. Their application here would permit you to stow cars on lower floors with limited ceilings, and use the upper floors for handsome year-round revenue-producing purposes.
3. The city is presently planning the redevelopment of the South Capitol Street Corridor into some sort of ceremonial gateway boulevard with a new bridge. But this route is, and will remain, a major "service road" into DC with very heavy commuter traffic and heavy truck use 24/7, as well as a major emergency evacuation route. For dubious sociological reasons, DC planners intend to restore all South Capitol St. intersections to grade level, slowing traffic with stop lights. This will put all pedestrians (and baseball fans) at risk, particularly when games overlap DC's protracted evening rush hour. All parking access appears to cross sidewalks. We urge you to explore using a raised deck all around the stadium and providing pedestrian bridges not only across South Capitol St., but the other local streets involving parking entrances, bus stops, etc. We cannot imagine a major US city without grade-separated crossings for vehicular and 'personal transport systems' by 2050.
4. Finally, we suggest you probe just how fans will get to the stadium by public transportation. The nearest Metrorail station is a good three blocks away with only one useful entrance, and no planned protection of fans from street traffic. There don't appear to be any reserved unloading areas for public, charter, or tour buses. Less obvious, we estimate that over 80% of the fans that come by subway will have to pass through, or change trains at, one of the three most crowded, vulnerable, downtown Metro stations. This is because there are presently no ways to by-pass downtown to get to the Navy Yard station from the north or west, where the richer fans live, or from the east, where many of the less well-off fans live. Only the fewer low income fans from the south/southeast have a straight shot. These railway limitations can be alleviated 'relatively cheaply', but to date, there is no strong advocate for so doing. We know you are under the gun to build the stadium first, but to coin a phrase, "they won't come if they can't get readily there."
We offer these suggestions only to improve the chances of getting a national capital stadium that all Americans can be proud of. If we can be of any service, please do not hesitate to call. There is no charge, and we have no direct financial interests in your Nationals or the future of the District.
My Dear Mr. Secretary:
Our all-volunteer, non-profit organization was formed eight years ago with the single purpose of improving the real and perceived condition of our national capital city. You are now in a position to help us in this effort. NARPAC actively encouraged SecDef and the BRAC Commission to reduce DoD's presence in our city, and you now control the future of the Walter Reed Medical Center.
The conditions that plague the District, and reflect unfavorably on our American way of life both at home and abroad, flow mainly from large pockets of poverty in the central and Southeastern parts of the city. There is not enough revenue-producing residential land in the northern part of DC, or commercial land downtown, to resolve the socio-economic problems of so many disadvantaged.
We are convinced that the best solutions to this dilemma are to a) increase revenue production from the successful parts of town (incl. around the WRAMC), and b) stimulate development in the poorer sections (such as at/near the USN/USAF airbase facilities across the Anacostia River). Hence, we would far prefer that GSA's secure office facilities, and State's low-density chancery center, settle in places that do not yet per se attract revenue-production. While you cannot push those uses across the river, you can prevent them from making DC's job harder by under-utilizing the WRAMC site.
The military services have a long and proud record of bringing social equality to our country, predominantly by offering opportunity for growth to their uniformed personnel. In this instance, you can help the District solve its own nationally-embarrassing inequities. Please transfer this memorable site to our national capital city for development to help heal its own high-visibility deficiencies.
Thank you for considering this recommendation, and good luck in your awesome responsibilities,
The Beginning of Three-dimensional Land-Use Planning for DC
We see this Air Rights Development Act as the start of something much bigger. Two aspects are particularly seminal. DC must creatively increase the revenue-producing potential of its limited space. Joint public/private use of such scarce space is one step in that direction. Achieving needed density increases by raising the city's productive volume is another. That means planning for "3-D land-use".
Exploiting "air rights" over, and as we say,"dirt rights" under, current space uses, can greatly help smart urban growth. Developing 3-D use of DC's current public facilities is a good place to start, but would be a lousy place to end. In particular, Madame Chair, this approach could be useful in creating the new health clinics needed east of the Anacostia. And there are other first-order opportunities:
First, the Federal Government is awash in poorly used 2-D properties. In the case of parks and other open spaces, there is no reason not to exploit the underground volume for parking, storage, and a variety of other windowless functions. In some cases, those parks and open spaces might even be elevated to provide key facilities beneath them but still above ground level (as in the case of the Whitehurst Freeway, spaces on both banks of the Anacostia, around the Soldiers' Home, etc.)
Second, there are still hundreds of acres of enormously wasteful surface parking lots. Not only should they be put above or below ground, they should be made robotic, thereby increasing their volumetric efficiency by a factor of 3 or four. European and Asian cities are already way ahead of the US in this regard. And new electronic tagging systems can offer pain-free selective toll-taking.
Third, there are hundreds of acres of air rights over DC's major parkways and interstates. Over the I395/SE Freeway junction, the I295/Anacostia Freeway, and around the Kennedy Center, deck-overs can support memorial and statuary parks, new commercial, residential, and institutional development. In other areas like Canal Road and NY Ave, deck-overs can provide additional through-traffic lanes.
Fourth, non-vehicular mobility systems are obvious candidates to leave the surface plane. There are many places where underground, or elevated, metrorail segments are needed to expand our already-choking world-class transit system. Modern personal mobility choices such bikes, scooters, segways, moving sidewalks, and skywalks can also go above and below ground, changing urban character.
Madame Chair, please treat this bill as a modest first step towards embracing the third dimension in DC's future planning. Help us stimulate incentives for greater creativity in this key area, and make sure it is included in the new Comprehensive Plan.
Applying an Ounce of Prevention
NARPAC cannot support the development of a grandiose new NCMC hospital unless a very convincing case is made through a properly prepared Certificate of Need. But even if such a case emerges, and the Council decides to proceed, we do not think any part of the funding should come from DC's share of the Tobacco Settlement.
In our lifetime, there has been no more convincing example of the full national cost of belatedly curing a preventable medical ailment than the still-unfolding consequences of smoking tobacco. In fact, the Council is still passing legislation to enhance prevention of needless exposure.
Why ever, then, would the Council choose to apply the proceeds from this unprecedented settlement to establishing another elaborate, for-profit, privately owned Monument to Cure (i.e., NCMC)? Why not leverage this ill-gotten windfall into preventing more unnecessary deaths among DC residents? Deaths from debilitating ailments routinely avoided elsewhere in the US?
Apply these funds to the provision of more and better local DC health clinics, Madame Chair. Avoid the national embarrassment of ignoring the age-old advice about Prevention and Cure.
Your informative OpEds on the socioeconomics of fatherless black
families is, we hope, only the beginning of a larger set. The bigger egos in my organization have
concluded that at last someone of national note is finally reading our stuff. We incorporated eight
years ago to uncover the causes of and offer solutions to the embarrassingly bad national and
international image projected by the facts and figures of our national capital city. (We reference
relevant parts of our analytical/educational web site below.)
We have ended up essentially where you have started out, albeit with some significant variations
on the theme. Virtually all of DC's lousy statistics on health, crime, education, are the
manifestations of poverty. One major area you have not yet touched upon is the extraordinary
financial impact on "inner cities" of trying to accommodate (but not mitigate) that poverty. Our
educational web site explains our conclusion that over70% of all DC's operating costs are in
some way related to poverty (100% of health/human services and housing budgets; 80% of
school budget; and 70% of police/EMS budget for starters). Poverty is killing America's cities
and our national image at the same time. (browse Education,
Poverty and Ignorance)
But poverty is not in itself an "independent variable". It is the result of something else. After
massaging the data many different ways, we conclude that poverty among kids is primarily
related to the poverty of their parent(s), and their poverty results directly from their lack of
education. We have written editorials and articles asserting that "schools don't produce dumb
kids, dumb parents do". We could not, of course, avoiding peeking to see if race, per se, was a
root cause. In fact, race is involved, but through other cultural statistics which mirror the
educational scores of the kids. (browse
Demographics of Parents)
For instance, the family patterns of parents of Asian kids (at the top of the score card, well above
whites) differ from blacks (always somewhat below Hispanics) in several significant ways: total
parental education is much higher; single parenting is almost unknown (it is already over 30% for
whites, and rising) and the mother's age at first birth is almost ten years older than for blacks.
Asian kids' scores track their parents' combined income, which tracks their combined education
score. And so do stay-in (obverse of drop-out) rates. Parental lifestyles, not skin color, dictate
their kids' educational success. Parental education is the way out of poverty for their kids.
Finally, your series should address means to rectify the problems in parental education. We are
convinced that kids will always be left behind until no parent is left behind. Heartless or not, we
compared inadequately educated kids to faultily manufactured household products and vehicles.
US consumer advocates decades ago inspired product recall laws, even though those products
last for no more than 10-20 years, are of limited risk to the public, and cannot reproduce
themselves. Why ever is it still legal to leave defective adults in their communities for 40-60
years at public expense, where they are capable of spawning generations of equally defective
offspring? We believe that local governments and communities together should be held liable for
"recalling" incompletely educated drop-outs (suddenly turned propagators) in a concerted effort
to fix their basic educational deficiencies in the hopes of breaking the cycle of poverty in their
kids. (browse Recalling Dropout Students)
We also believe that every available mechanism should be used to prevent pregnancies among
ill-prepared young women lacking the education to assure their progeny an independent life. You
should also consider a piece on this administration's mishandling of releasing "Plan B" as an
over-the-counter week-after contraceptive.
Hope you'll find something of value in our work.
We have ended up essentially where you have started out, albeit with some significant variations on the theme. Virtually all of DC's lousy statistics on health, crime, education, are the manifestations of poverty. One major area you have not yet touched upon is the extraordinary financial impact on "inner cities" of trying to accommodate (but not mitigate) that poverty. Our educational web site explains our conclusion that over70% of all DC's operating costs are in some way related to poverty (100% of health/human services and housing budgets; 80% of school budget; and 70% of police/EMS budget for starters). Poverty is killing America's cities and our national image at the same time. (browse Education, Poverty and Ignorance)
But poverty is not in itself an "independent variable". It is the result of something else. After massaging the data many different ways, we conclude that poverty among kids is primarily related to the poverty of their parent(s), and their poverty results directly from their lack of education. We have written editorials and articles asserting that "schools don't produce dumb kids, dumb parents do". We could not, of course, avoiding peeking to see if race, per se, was a root cause. In fact, race is involved, but through other cultural statistics which mirror the educational scores of the kids. (browse Demographics of Parents)
For instance, the family patterns of parents of Asian kids (at the top of the score card, well above whites) differ from blacks (always somewhat below Hispanics) in several significant ways: total parental education is much higher; single parenting is almost unknown (it is already over 30% for whites, and rising) and the mother's age at first birth is almost ten years older than for blacks. Asian kids' scores track their parents' combined income, which tracks their combined education score. And so do stay-in (obverse of drop-out) rates. Parental lifestyles, not skin color, dictate their kids' educational success. Parental education is the way out of poverty for their kids.
Finally, your series should address means to rectify the problems in parental education. We are convinced that kids will always be left behind until no parent is left behind. Heartless or not, we compared inadequately educated kids to faultily manufactured household products and vehicles. US consumer advocates decades ago inspired product recall laws, even though those products last for no more than 10-20 years, are of limited risk to the public, and cannot reproduce themselves. Why ever is it still legal to leave defective adults in their communities for 40-60 years at public expense, where they are capable of spawning generations of equally defective offspring? We believe that local governments and communities together should be held liable for "recalling" incompletely educated drop-outs (suddenly turned propagators) in a concerted effort to fix their basic educational deficiencies in the hopes of breaking the cycle of poverty in their kids. (browse Recalling Dropout Students)
We also believe that every available mechanism should be used to prevent pregnancies among ill-prepared young women lacking the education to assure their progeny an independent life. You should also consider a piece on this administration's mishandling of releasing "Plan B" as an over-the-counter week-after contraceptive.
Hope you'll find something of value in our work.
My organization congratulates you on your intervention
in the District's affairs concerning its vastly oversized public school
infrastructure. We may be unique among local advocacy groups because we
believe on the one hand that Congressional oversight is necessary,
but on the other that an annual Congressional hand-out to subsidize the
presence of the federal government is not.
NARPAC would prefer the oversight committees not interfere in
DC's day-to-day affairs and local laws (viz. gun control). But we
would encourage greater focus on DC's unique role as our national capital
city: does DC project an appropriate American image? Does it have
the plans, means, and motivation to be the preeminent core city of our
nation's capital metro area?
To these ends, we urge you to look beyond how well DC spends
its own tax revenues, to how well the federal government is facilitating
DC's future growth: is DC an integral part of its metro area? Is
it economically self-sufficient? Is its essential infrastructure being
modernized? In fact, DC has neither the plans, the means, the regional
cooperation, nor the federal support to assure its national constitutional
role. DC is below par as a US inner city based on norms for health, crime,
education, housing, public transportation, and public infrastructure.
It lacks the revenue potential, political vision, discipline, and popular
support to be America's finest city without help from Congress.
In NARPAC's ideal world, our capital city and its regional connectivity
would be overseen by a Joint Committee of Congress. It would include
senior members of key urban-related committees such as housing, health,
education, transportation, and public works, all focused on helping
to make DC uniquely outstanding. In the real world, this function
seems to fall primarily on your shoulders.
We suggest you hold high-level hearings on DC's Outlook as Our
National Capital City. We would gladly help you scope some
of DC's "first order" needs and the proper federal role in meeting
NARPAC would prefer the oversight committees not interfere in DC's day-to-day affairs and local laws (viz. gun control). But we would encourage greater focus on DC's unique role as our national capital city: does DC project an appropriate American image? Does it have the plans, means, and motivation to be the preeminent core city of our nation's capital metro area?
To these ends, we urge you to look beyond how well DC spends its own tax revenues, to how well the federal government is facilitating DC's future growth: is DC an integral part of its metro area? Is it economically self-sufficient? Is its essential infrastructure being modernized? In fact, DC has neither the plans, the means, the regional cooperation, nor the federal support to assure its national constitutional role. DC is below par as a US inner city based on norms for health, crime, education, housing, public transportation, and public infrastructure. It lacks the revenue potential, political vision, discipline, and popular support to be America's finest city without help from Congress.
In NARPAC's ideal world, our capital city and its regional connectivity would be overseen by a Joint Committee of Congress. It would include senior members of key urban-related committees such as housing, health, education, transportation, and public works, all focused on helping to make DC uniquely outstanding. In the real world, this function seems to fall primarily on your shoulders.
We suggest you hold high-level hearings on DC's Outlook as Our National Capital City. We would gladly help you scope some of DC's "first order" needs and the proper federal role in meeting them.
NARPAC was fascinated by the recent article in the
and delighted to see that it is possible for exceptional people to do good
and do well at the same time. In retirement, we have spent the past eight
years trying to improve both the image, and the facts, of life in our national
capital city. Our primary product is a big, (and increasingly unwieldy)
educational web site to which we add each month new analyses of the various
problems that plague this not atypical American inner city. We offer possible
solutions, and twit the local (and federal) government for not thinking
While our web site darts monthly from transportation to crime to housing,
health and schools, there is only one first order term in the urban equation,
and we keep returning to it. DC's image and future outlook are crippled
not by the presence of poverty, but by the self- perpetuating
cycle of poverty that reproduces like mold in dank places. The result
is a city with too many poor, a shriveled middle class, and a few very
rich, federally-focused residents and businesses that keep shelling out
the revenues needed to permanently sustain, but not mitigate, the
And here is where we invite your attention. The conventional wisdom,
and current national focus, is on enhancing in-school educational opportunities
for kids so that "no child is left behind". NARPAC submits that
kids will always be left behind as long as their under-educated parent(s) are
left behind to infect their families and neighborhoods for life.
Virtually everything we produce in the US is subject to mandatory recall
if it threatens consumer safety except our staggering numbers
of high school drop-outs, many of whom spawn the next drop-out generation.
Where is the major program to recall these teen parent(s), with their
babies or in their jail cells, and educate them in the rudiments of living
civilly, parenting properly, and earning a living wage? Why not start
in our capital city?
How much would it cost to "re-process" these failed products, and how
much would local governments pay to break their cycle of poverty? How
much of the needed resources can be drawn from available community assets?
Could you stimulate such an effort? We urge you to give this some thought
and would welcome the chance to discuss it with you further.
While our web site darts monthly from transportation to crime to housing, health and schools, there is only one first order term in the urban equation, and we keep returning to it. DC's image and future outlook are crippled not by the presence of poverty, but by the self- perpetuating cycle of poverty that reproduces like mold in dank places. The result is a city with too many poor, a shriveled middle class, and a few very rich, federally-focused residents and businesses that keep shelling out the revenues needed to permanently sustain, but not mitigate, the core problem.
And here is where we invite your attention. The conventional wisdom, and current national focus, is on enhancing in-school educational opportunities for kids so that "no child is left behind". NARPAC submits that kids will always be left behind as long as their under-educated parent(s) are left behind to infect their families and neighborhoods for life. Virtually everything we produce in the US is subject to mandatory recall if it threatens consumer safety except our staggering numbers of high school drop-outs, many of whom spawn the next drop-out generation. Where is the major program to recall these teen parent(s), with their babies or in their jail cells, and educate them in the rudiments of living civilly, parenting properly, and earning a living wage? Why not start in our capital city?
How much would it cost to "re-process" these failed products, and how much would local governments pay to break their cycle of poverty? How much of the needed resources can be drawn from available community assets? Could you stimulate such an effort? We urge you to give this some thought and would welcome the chance to discuss it with you further.
Ref our May 2nd letter (see below), we are pleased
that DoD included DC's Walter Reed and the Potomac Annex on their hit list,
and that the Old Soldier's Home will shed its surplus land.
But DoD's largest under-utilized bases in DC remain unscathed, despite
Service assessments that they have little military value, perhaps for
fuzzy reasons such as "presidential support ". Added to the city's huge,
old, near-empty St. E's mental hospital, and near-full sewage treatment
plant, these high-value, but untaxed, lands preempt 75% of DC's most
severely disadvantaged Ward.
Assuming The Commission will find other military bases whose closure
might incur real economic or security risks, please revisit DoD's 1000-odd
prime acres along the banks of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. As big
as DC's entire "downtown" area, and roughly twice the area of the National
Mall, including the White House, these properties include the Naval Air
Facility, Bolling AFB, and the Naval Research Lab (HQ?). Without full
proof, we assert that nothing goes on at these sites that could not
be done equally well eight short miles away at Maryland's huge Andrews
AFB, which has much higher continuing military (and presidential support)
value. For details, please see our prior submission, the attached graphic,
or our web site.
We respectfully encourage The Commission to consider several subordinate
options: if valid hush-hush reasons dictate keeping some fraction of
these properties, then please: a) carve off that piece and release
the rest; b) stretch out the release in time increments if that reduces
DoD and local angst; but c) leave the released portion unencumbered for
transfer (via GSA?) to the city.
You have a rare opportunity to materially improve further both the
future prosperity and the world image of our nation's capital city. We
trust that, in your wisdom, you will find it prudent to do so. We are
of course available to respond to your questions.
But DoD's largest under-utilized bases in DC remain unscathed, despite Service assessments that they have little military value, perhaps for fuzzy reasons such as "presidential support ". Added to the city's huge, old, near-empty St. E's mental hospital, and near-full sewage treatment plant, these high-value, but untaxed, lands preempt 75% of DC's most severely disadvantaged Ward.
Assuming The Commission will find other military bases whose closure might incur real economic or security risks, please revisit DoD's 1000-odd prime acres along the banks of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers. As big as DC's entire "downtown" area, and roughly twice the area of the National Mall, including the White House, these properties include the Naval Air Facility, Bolling AFB, and the Naval Research Lab (HQ?). Without full proof, we assert that nothing goes on at these sites that could not be done equally well eight short miles away at Maryland's huge Andrews AFB, which has much higher continuing military (and presidential support) value. For details, please see our prior submission, the attached graphic, or our web site.
We respectfully encourage The Commission to consider several subordinate options: if valid hush-hush reasons dictate keeping some fraction of these properties, then please: a) carve off that piece and release the rest; b) stretch out the release in time increments if that reduces DoD and local angst; but c) leave the released portion unencumbered for transfer (via GSA?) to the city.
You have a rare opportunity to materially improve further both the future prosperity and the world image of our nation's capital city. We trust that, in your wisdom, you will find it prudent to do so. We are of course available to respond to your questions.
My non-profit organization has been working for some years to improve the image of our nation's capital city in the eyes of all Americans as well as others worldwide who look to the US for hope and inspiration. DC's socioeconomic ills flow from the fact that it is rich in poor people, and poor in available land that could enrich their lives and improve the city's below-average urban stature.
The District sorely needs hundreds more acres of unencumbered properties suitable for high-density development. Your commission could easily make them available, since alternate (and safer) military installations abound well within the national capital metro area.
Rather than repeat our rationale, I am attaching the letter we sent to Secretary Rumsfeld last fall as well as a hard copy of our web site analysis for those who may wish more detail. All of you are welcome to visit our web site at www.narpac.org/REXBRAC.HTM. We don't know DoD reactions to our inputs, but doubt their enthusiasm for ceding space so close to the seat of world power.
We look forward to an opportunity to plead our case for closing District military facilities before the Commission, if and when that becomes appropriate.
Attachment: Letter to SecDef Donald Rumsfeld, 9/21/04
NARPAC welcomes the debate on DC's evolving demographics and its relationship with the evolving Comprehensive Plan. We have been trying to illuminate these planning problems for years and think the ongoing online discussion is overlooking some basic metrics.
Population count, imperfect as it may be, is not the proper metric for determining DC's growth or prosperity. The unit of measure dictating urban land use is the household, made up of adult(s), elderly dependents and/or kids. Those who wail about a departing "middle class" (undefined) ignore available statistics that DC households have declined far less. The most steadily declining cohort since the '70s is the number of kids (mostly black), resulting in the vastly oversized DCPS infrastructure. DC's recent population drop includes a 6-year reduction of 12,000 in unwed teen births. Housing demands also differ when two working adults replace one welfare adult and three kids. More costly units are needed to house twice the taxpayers and half the population.
Household count, however, does not assure urban prosperity. It does not differentiate those generating more revenues than city costs, from those generating more costs than revenues. We estimate DC has only 3 net tax-paying households for every tax-consuming one, while the suburbs average 12 to 15. Urban prosperity requires some balance between the two. DC tax returns seem to have dropped even less than households. Car ownership and household income have risen. The acceptable shortfall in resident taxpayers depends on how much of DC's net revenues comes from business. DC gets far more net revenues per acre from businesses (and the commuters that make them profitable) than from residents. We think DC's "social engineering" is working too well: DC encourages net tax-consumers to stay through its welfare and housing policies; discourages net tax-payers from living in the city; and lets neighborhoods block higher density developments that raise revenues. The Comp Plan ignores such issues.
Even more basic, DC's boundaries are no longer relevant to a successful core city inside a world-class metro area. The metro area, not the city, is now the proper basic socioeconomic unit of measure (a fact the Comp and DDoT planners avoid). Americans don't stay rooted in the same home from birth to death. We adjust home, work, and vehicle choices with our lifestyle needs. The overly parochial nature of many DC residents and elected officials contains the seeds of their own dilapidation. The mayor's disinterest in regional unity is his biggest weakness.
Finally, one major key to the successful socioeconomic integration of our national capital metro area is its overall transportation networks. As long as DC's insular planners think transportation is just about "connecting urban neighborhoods" rather than "facilitating metro area mobility", they will keep contributing to the decline and fall of our nation's most important inner city.
NARPAC Comments on 4/7 Public Meeting on Whitehurst Freeway (WF) Deconstruction
We have been trying as positively as possible for some eight years through our non-profit organization to stimulate broader and more comprehensive planning for the future of our nation's capital city. Since we believe such planning must be built on a framework of long-range transportation planning, I found the subject meeting unbelievably discouraging. I would still like very much to contribute some positive thoughts, but I must first unload the sources of my discontent. To be brief, I will be blunt and risk offending yet again. My overall impressions are:
Impressions of the (Typical) DDoT Meeting:
DC's DDoT does not appear competent to be in the bit-time transportation planning business. It has repeatedly shown its inability, or fatal disinterest, in looking at either the bigger picture or the longer time frame in which long-overdue unified metro area transportation planning must be conducted. It is totally unrealistic to divorce neighborhood planning from citywide planning, or citywide planning from regional planning, transportation from land-use planning, or land-use planning from economic development. It seems highly inappropriate to be pushing secondary systems like bikes, trolleys, and gaily painted circulator buses, but not roadways, freeways, parking facilities, and major in-city Metro expansions. And it seems unwise at best to have three weaker city planning organizations competing ineffectually with other high-profile planning organizations such as NCPC,. NPS, AoC, WMATA, DoT, etc.
The briefers do not seem to understand the full role of the WF in DC's already-near-crippling transportation inadequacies. They don't seem to understand the larger context of and necessity for major regional arteries into the core city. They clearly don't know what the origin of this study is or the scope of what it should consider. And they apparently don't understand what the primary and secondary alternatives should be. They seem fixated on looking at routing alternatives that would roughly maintain current traffic capacity for some undetermined time into the future. They have apparently had no guidance whatsoever on what the city's growth patterns should be (if there are any), and what transportation infrastructure will be required to achieve it. Their understanding of the economics of the city seems to be based on hearsay, old wives tales, and city propaganda. And finally, they do not appear well-informed in directly related developments such as the K-Street upgrade, or the Kennedy Center urban deck. This is simply not a job for traffic counters and stoplight adjusters. WF is part of a hopelessly out-of-date key artery that connects perhaps 60% of the (scarce) revenue-producing parts of the city with the (limited) high-revenue-providing parts of the suburbs.
The current question which this contracted-out study seems to be addressing is: "Hey, there, how do you think Georgetown could get along in the near-term without the elevated WF, so the park would look better?" This is hardly worth a half-million dollar federally-funded study. The real question is: "How can we make sure that this major northwest portal to the nation's capital grows to meet the future needs for a stronger and prouder world national capital city, as the central element of the nation's greatest metro area?" This would be worth millions.
NARPAC's Well-known Biases
Let me be equally blunt about NARPAC's own interests and motives. We are an all-volunteer, mostly-retired-executive organization interested almost solely in DC's national and international image. That involves developing far better than average figures of merit for every facet of the urban image, from teen-aged pregnancies to traffic delay times. We are the self-appointed representatives of "Ward 10": Americans everywhere outside DC embarrassed by their capital city. We are not interested in the city simply as a cluster of unfocused independent little neighborhoods, trying to imitate either the suburbs, independent fiefdoms, or small-town USA. We believe it is an honor to host the nation's capital, not an onerous burden requiring federal hand-outs. We know there is sufficient space the city to become firmly economically independent if it stops pandering to net-revenue-consuming special interests. We believe DC should stress developments which favor its unique role as the center of a thriving, cooperating metro area, and not pretend to be victimized and traumatized into inactivity by being the center of world power.
We firmly believe the city must continue to grow, and hence live and work more densely. We think it should grow at least as fast as the suburbs in "gross state product", but not necessarily at all in resident population or family households, and certainly not in families with lots of minor school-aged kids We believe the city's growth should be firmly founded in a future-looking transportation infrastructure that depends on private, commercial, and public transportation systems that are an integral part of the region's development. We are not interested in reshaping the public's transportation habits by inconveniencing it, but by offering the best alternatives. We are not interested in denigrating commuters who are key to the city's lifeblood, lifestyle, and net revenues. Every jurisdiction in the metro area (except DC) would rather have more commuters to pay their bills rather than residents to raise them..
We recognize cars as a fundamental element of the American family lifestyle, and trucks as an integral part of commercial enterprise. We strongly favor regional public transportation elements extending into, across, and around the city, sufficiently redundant to discourage exploitation by special interests of any kind, including terrorists. We believe that proper, largely automated management, control, and accommodation of vehicles will be one hallmark of future American cities as well as a major source of net-revenues for them.
We are also convinced that as urban centers become more dense, their planners will have to start accepting the fact that urban growth is a three-dimensional exercise in volume use, not just a two-dimensional problem in flat land use. Surely transportation systems and closely related activities can and should become three dimensional. Current DC planners' fixation on regressing to the grand 19th century boulevards of Europe is both foolish and counterproductive. What we now need are grand esplanades and promenades that separate the strollers, tourists, and bikers from commuters, SUVs, 40-ton trucks, joy-riding teenagers, and all species of delivery vehicles.
We strongly supported the Kennedy Center urban deck, and have held a design competition for an urban deck over the paved desert at the I-295/South Freeway junction just southwest of the Capitol. We are currently trying to interest both NCPC and the DDoT in a three-layer South Capitol street with a statuary esplanade on top (with maybe a couple of lanes for tour buses and foreign dignitaries (rarely) arriving from Andrews AFB; the all-important commuter/commercial flow one deck down; and public transit and parking two/three decks down. The "Northwest Passage", of which WF is a key element, deserves equivalent consideration in at least one alternative that is consistent with, and entertains the possibility of, major urban growth.
NARPAC's Preliminary Vision for the WF Area:
We believe you must consider one alternative that favors significant additional growth in DC's better-paying business/commercial ventures, and increased upscale, empty-nester, condo- dwelling residents, mostly in DC's prosperous Northwest quadrant. They are key to paying DC's unending bills for its abnormal concentration of net-revenue-consuming near- and below-poverty level residents in the East and South sections destined to develop and 'gentrify' more slowly.
In this scenario, a 30-40% increase in both resident and commuter traffic could flow back and forth across the northwest quadrant of DC and the metro area within 25 years. We are not aware of any scenario from the Mayor's Office, the Office of Planning, the DDoT, the NCPC, the COG, the WMATA, or even, say, the Committee of 100 or the Federal City Council, that is this specific or in any way related to the city's realistic economic needs, rather than its sociological fantasies. That does not mean ours should be ignored.
In NARPAC's vision, your designated WF planning area should include a modern 3- or 4-level transportation complex with the freeway and terraced park on top, a major "skylighted" intermodal transfer station for a new Metro line, circulator buses, and trolleys one level down, and local access and extensive parking two (and possibly three) levels down. Instead of tearing down WF, this concept builds up the river side of it in a series of terraces. After all, the land rises steeply on the north side of Canal Road and WF anyway.
This scenario includes major transportation upgrades starting from DC's northwest corner (out to the beltway). 1) Roadways and bridges: start from the Clara Barton and GW Parkways, add a parkway bridge somewhere above Chain Bridge connecting GW Parkway to Canal Road, add a second deck to the Canal Road (the lower one for local traffic connecting to M St., etc.; the upper one for thru-traffic down onto the WF, K St., I66 [east of,] and RC&P Parkway [west of Kennedy Center]). Eliminate local access and stop lights along this upper deck artery, eliminate 26th St intersection, add access to Water St., lower K St. and local attractions from local streets. 2) Public transportation: provide a new Metrorail river crossing from Rosslyn to G'town WF station, and hence up to Adams Morgan and around to Union Station (as part of a new "inner- loop metro"). Use new WF transportation complex as the NW terminus for circulator buses, dowentown/waterfront trolleys (if any), tourmobiles, tour buses, water taxis, etc.
This is, of course, a notional concept, but which could easily be made more realistic (maybe NARPAC will do this in the next month or so). The basic point is to think big, think future, think total transportation growth, and think substantial economic growth. It tries to think like a dynamic capital city, and not some second-tier American river city or 19th Century relic.
For whatever they're worth, here are NARPAC's comments on your Third Century Mall vision effort:
Basically, the ideas of having a single defined area for the National Mall, and a single manager for it, are indisputable. And the single manager will almost certainly be the National Park Service. From there on, I find myself departing from many of the things you seem to favor: 1. I don't believe "the Mall" should keep expanding with time, particularly just to connect with other city venues as suggested in your pitch. It's neither practical nor useful.
2. I don't believe you should accentuate the idea that if a monument isn't on the mall, it isn't really a successful monument. This seems counter to trying to increase the spread of tourism around the city. Assuring convenient transportation and greater attraction to those dispersed sites would seem more appropriate.
3. It seems patently silly to raise such strenuous objections to the inclusion of certain anti-vehicle barriers in this day, age, and city. Obviously they must be attractive, but there is surely no immutable diktat that all public spaces should be in the same uninterrupted 2-D horizontal plane. I am certainly not offended by introducing terracing, or other 3-D innovations (see below). Certainly such variety is practiced in other civilized places.
4. I may be overreacting, but this notion of our National Mall as 'the People's Public Space" seems dangerously overdrawn. Most cities have paved public squares for public demonstrations, not their major/monumental parks in which a greater degree of decorum and respect are deserved. The occasional major event should still be held on the Mall, but surely it should not be the playground for every strange off-beat group bent on drawing attention to itself, nor should it appear to attract its own desecration. I was stunned by the thought of having hundreds of loose tables and chairs around without any means to keep them clean, neat, off the grass, and un- stolen!
5. I was disappointed to hear so little linkage to the city's other development efforts such as the Southwest Waterfront, Georgetown Park (?), and the large-scale Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. Some useful innovations such as bridges over the Washington Channel, and pedestrian walks over Maine Avenue, are probably better worked out by organizations other than the National Mall Society, particularly when they must focus more on the city's economic development needs.
6. I was also disappointed to hear nothing of the needs to accommodate the inescapably expanding demands for all forms of transportation from legs, bikes, and now segways, up through tour buses, heavy trucks and public transit systems. As the fixed-area urban population grows, both resident and transient, planners need to devote greater attention to using the third dimension. Some mobility components should surely go below grade level or underground (cross streets, parking lots, public transit, tour bus parks, etc.) and others will have to go above the ground plane (pedestrians, bikers, tour mobiles(?) and parks.
7. I was particularly surprised to hear nothing about the greater use of "urban decks" which can very effectively provide "layers" of mobility. In addition to the relatively small one now planned for the east side of the Kennedy Center, there are truly grand opportunities to: a) deck over the freeway maze at the junctions of 395 and the Southeast/west Freeways with a monumental esplanade (south of the Botanical Gardens); and b) to rebuild the South Capitol Street "Gateway" with a grand urban promenade atop the high-density vehicular traffic essential to the city's economic strength. Such a deck approach has relevance to the proposed Whitehurst Freeway changes too.
8. Lastly, I am always frustrated when the city's various visionaries and planners ignore the obvious needs to expand the city's Metrorail system. In fact, one of the least well served parts of the city by public transportation is the National Mall. Your effort, and the C-100 in general, should become more involved in how to enhance Metro's capacity, redundancy, and de- constriction. This world-class system is prematurely strangling itself in the full view of the city's supposed advocates and future planners.
Planning in the District of Columbia, America's Capital
Good afternoon, Madame Chairman. Thank you for these few minutes to express our concerns about the state of District planning in both DC's executive and legislative branches. I am Len Sullivan, president of a small, all-volunteer, non-profit group with the 2-minute name of the National Association to Restore Pride in America's Capital, Inc. We are a self-appointed "Ward 10" trying to speak for all Americans outside DC who expect its global image to be second to none. To be brief, I must be blunt. I will risk offending to make our well-intended advice heard:
We share Councilmember Ambrose's concern that the current (nothing less than marvellous) happenings in DC could well run ahead of the city's planning efforts. But NARPAC is more concerned that neither the (harried) planning office nor you, their (harried) overseers, fully grasp the unique scope and significance of running the one city that must be seen as the world's most important capital as well as the hub of the world's premier metro area. We would like you to:
* Avoid implying that the Federal Government is some unwanted interloper. Don't forget they got here first, and it is in their best interests to assure a world-class capital city infrastructure with an exemplary and independently successful American urban populace;
* Avoid pretending that the surrounding suburbs are unwanted free-loading enemy invaders. They are the natural source for both wealth- and poverty-sharing, and the only available means to avoid DC remaining the region's poor house. Commuters are a prime source of net revenues.
* Avoid ignoring the fact that an expanding, common, regional transportation system is the only first-order term in assuring future regional and core city economic growth. Don't try to solve the city's mobility problems on the cheap with bike trails, cutsie trolleys, and standing-only subways.
* Recognize that ever-improving land-use and land-sharing are key to the city's future prosperity. Don't pander to special interests with no economic accountability or regional perspective. Neighborhoods may be both necessary and heartwarming, but they aren't sufficient to pay their way.
* Include the city's decrepit public school infrastructure as a substantial stumbling block to improving the city's economy. Don't evade the need to break the city's rampant cycle of poverty if you want to attract and afford more 'normal' middle-class residents.
* Realize that your instincts, heartstrings, and democratic tendencies are not a substitute for hard- headed, quantitative and comparative analysis. Don't confuse budget accounting with the separate demands of program evaluation. Face it, DC remains a below-average American city.
Time permitting, here are twelve (loaded) rhetorical questions which express our concern for the city's lack of bold planning for its own future as the world's most important capital city:
(where "you" includes the executive, legislative, and Congressional branches):
o Why weren't you involved in the OMB offer to transfer underused federal properties to DC?
o Why aren't you involved in the forthcoming BRAC 05 round of military base closings?
o Why do you support an insular future city vision that ignores its relationship to its metro area?
o Why are you trying to solve critical transportation growth needs on the cheap?
o Why aren't you supporting substantial Metrorail expansion within the city?
o Why can't you accept the net value of commuters and the commercial sector they populate?
o Why are you still pushing a flawed GAO report to justify federal handouts?
o Why aren't you pressing harder for higher-density development around metro stations?
o Why are you so slow in focusing on major redevelopments East of the Anacostia?
o Why haven't you addressed the waste in a crumbling school system almost twice too large?
o Why are you spending so much to make poverty comfortable and so little to cure it?
o Why don't you have a credible quantitative analytical capability to address the city's problems?
I have attached three pages of more orderly thoughts drawn from the February update of our burgeoning educational web site. It deals with the whole issue of "oversight vs foresight" in the planning process. It is available by clicking here
(For anyone interested in hearing this testimony or the dialogue (?) that followed, it can now be heard, or seen, by clicking here for the DC Council web site. NARPAC's testimony begins at minute 24 of Segment 1 of Part 2 of the Committee of the Whole Session for 3/20/05. Far more interesting is the Council Chair's highly articulate ten-minute extemporaneous response to "Ward 10's" challenges [starting at minute 6 of Segment 2] which can leave no question about her remarkable and detailed understanding of the "official version" of the city's plight.)
Hogwash from High Places
Some of DC's best recent news is the favorable FY04 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report (CAFR), as audited by KPMG, LLP. It shows a budget surplus for the 8th year in a row, despite continued overstaffing and overpaying of underperforming DC government agencies. Some of DC's worst news is the continued whining by DC's supposedly apolitical CFO that these heroics are achieved despite a towering 'structural deficit' certified by the GAO. His online summary of this new CAFR contains inappropriate assertions, implying the CAFR endorses the vaunted 2003 GAO report despite serious analytical and arithmetic errors. In fact, as last year, GAO's claims are not treated or audited in the CAFR: they are 'boiler plate' in its internal letter of transmittal.
Here are some of these fatuous assertions: a) DC should be spending $400M more for a higher-paid police/FEMS force twice its current size (due primarily to a murder rate that no longer applies); b) DC gets no revenues from the influx of commuters (in fact, their employers pay more in property taxes than 90% of DC's taxpayers); c) DC should tax federal properties like the White House and Capitol Buildings (it doesn't tax its own government buildings); d) DC spends more to service federal properties than it gains from the gross Federal-related presence (impossible!); e) DC should tax 7400 acres maintained by the National Park Service (and freely used by DC residents); f) DC's tax burden is disproportionately high nationally (a sloppy $500M GAO arithmetic error); g) DC's tax burden is markedly higher than its neighbors' (not supported by the CFO's own "DC Tax Facts"); h) DC has a huge backlog of unmet school modernization needs (highly inflated by using outdated rising enrollment forecasts which are actually declining by 2 to 4 "schools-worth" per year); i) the GAO-divined gap of $400M to $1,200M includes capital investment needs (it was based on unmet operating costs); and j) this imbalance is unique to DC (The GAO methodology shows imbalances in 20-odd other states, some much worse off).
The DC Council's inability or unwillingness to challenge such superficially-appealing hogwash fed to them by DC's CFO is bad news too. Concerned legislators and citizens should look again at NARPAC's analysis of these phony assertions at this site and urge the Council to develop its own independent anti-spin analytical capabilities. Even the hallowed Washington Post editorial staff has turned 'Ratheresque' by parroting unsubstantiated pap. Indeed DC does have serious unmet capital investment needs and does deserve federal help, but mainly in the public transportation area (where there are no surplus properties to sell!).
Macho Abroad, Chicken at Home
I am appalled by the utter disregard of DC's many police uthorities for DC's dangerous traffic problems. Like Tractor Man in the Pool last year, or Suicide Man on Wilson Bridge a few years ago, taking several hours to defuse Red Van Wacko on the Avenue on Tuesday makes DC authorities look like cowardly idiots. Give me a water cannon, several fire trucks, a few laden dump trunks (for shields) and a stun grenade for surprise, that situation could have been ended in 30 minutes. There comes a point where some limited risk to a few is better than massive inconvenience to so many. Such unwillingness to take decisive action in one's own capital, while razing someone else's country on phony intelligence is a major embarrassment to the US.
But perhaps most serious, it demonstrates how easy it would be to set the stage for a real terrorist action. Having a suspicious, "worst case" mind, I was about 50% sure that Red Van Wacko was just preparing the scene for Real Savvy Terrorist, perhaps with only a fake dirty bomb. The evacuation potential of the city at rush hour must have been cut by 80%, and the vulnerability of those commuters increased several fold. If you add the possibility that Red Van Wacko's cousin simultaneously becomes White Powder Dropper on Metro Center Red and Blue Line platforms, the nation's capital city could experience life-threatening gridlock, panic, and humiliation.
This whole approach reminds me of a Congress that refused to legislate the securing of airliner cockpits after a (very early) terrorist success, and then goes to war when a Determined Someone takes advantage (years later) of our self-imposed vulnerability. How can we be so macho abroad, and so chicken at home? This gets a perfect score on my hand-held Stupidity Meter.
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