Great cities and great metro areas are far more than the sum of their neighborhoods.
WHAT'S NEW links take you directly to relevant subsections of long documents--if you have a slow internet connection, you may experience a slight delay as the age loads if the targeted section is located near the bottom of a page. We appreciate your patience!
WHAT'S NEW: AUGUST, 2008
A new book of "digital watercolors" by Narpac member John Cleave has been added to the Washington Artists section of the web site. The book will be available from major booksellers and via Amazon.com in October. Here's a sneak preview of ISTANBUL: City of Two Continents.
WHAT'S NEW: JANUARY, 2008
NARPAC has made the difficult decision to scale back at least temporarily its analytical
efforts in support of transforming the District of Columbia as it now exists into a truly
outstanding national capital city of which all Americans can be proud. It became clear during the
latter years of the prior Williams/Cropp administration that the city government had the moxie
needed to substantially increase DC's economic development. The new office buildings, condos,
and housing developments now abuilding downtown and all around the city will continue to
improve the visual images of our capital city. But these improvements have done little if anything
to eliminate the deep-seated urban blight that generates nationally-embarrassing, almost Third
World, statistics on health, crime, poverty, and illiteracy that perpetuate the wasted lives of a
stubborn underclass. To make matters worse, the rising costs of supporting the large number
of ingrained disadvantaged kids, adults, and seniors, has made it impossible to address the
growing needs for physical infrastructure renewal.
o This is the subject of NARPAC's latest editorial view, (below)
which is entitled A DISCOURAGING PROGNOSIS FOR
OUR NATIONAL CAPITAL CITY: The Curse of Low Expectations . Based on the
eight years of effort by the Williams/Cropp administration, and the undistinguished beginnings of
the new Fenty/Gray administration, NARPAC reluctantly concludes that local leadership is not
capable of transfiguring the District of Columbia into a world-class "inner city"without major
regional cooperation stimulated by the Federal Government. Unless next year's new
Administration and new Congress agree to provide guidelines, legislation, and funding, there is
no hope for a truly exemplary national capital metro area and/or even a first-class core city to
evolve solely from local initiatives.
search engine makes it relatively easy for you--and NARPAC's editors--to find your
way around this increasingly complex site;
o All the relevant headlines from the Washington Post concerning DC from 1997 through 2007, but not beyond, are tabulated in reverse chronological order under seven different headings. They provide a fascinating record of ten years of successful economic development, and unsuccessful human advancement.
city management ;
o NARPAC's past monthly editorials files have been indexed and summarized for:
NARPAC, Inc. EDITORIAL
The Curse of Low Expectations
Public reviews of the Fenty/Gray Administration's first year in office have been oddly upbeat and supportive, which is very disappointing to NARPAC. A new team may deserve some time to find its footing, but its longer range objectives and its modus operandi for achieving them should be evident by now, and reflected in their second-year plans and beyond. We cannot discern any balanced set of long-range goals for our national capital city, any meaningful set of programs to achieve them, or any semblance of a management style or team by which to accomplish them.
NARPAC has spent ten years defining and analyzing the basic problems that statistically brand our nation's capital as somewhere between a below-average American urban mess and a barely competitive Third World urban disaster. Despite some truly exciting areas of mixed economic development, the city's underlying ills persist. Local issues are overshadowed by the distractions of the glittering Federal Presence and its globally-oriented 'camp followers'. Local city officials operate without benefit of the broader perspective (or resources) of a state government. And the core city is outshone by the burgeoning success and self-confidence of its exemplary suburbs.
The District, the 'inner city' of our national capital metro area, still simmers with poor health; high crime rates; rampant poverty and homelessness, failed public education and gross functional illiteracy; incomplete families; low-skilled workers and high unemployment; a largely-missing middle-class and declining public ethics; clogged arteries, streets and mass transit; over-aged water and sewer systems; and obsolete development constraints. Municipal politics are tainted by: racially-based resentment; an electorate overly dependent on public largesse; local priorities focused on sustaining DC as the region's poorhouse, not the nation's showcase; and dismissal of Congress's Constitutional authorities over DC as degrading relics of a bygone plantation era.
Opportunistic city officials perpetuate the myth that the tide of higher-skilled suburbanites who commute to DC's ever-expanding downtown office space are free-loading on city taxpayers, or robbing lower-skilled residents of their "rightful' employment. In fact, property and sales taxes paid by commuters' upscale employers far outweigh the routine city services they consume. City luminaries decry the 'vibrancy' lost by the declining ranks of public-school-aged kids, although older, empty-nest adults bring significantly higher "net revenues" and badly-needed middle-class values as well. Still others seem driven by keeping DC's demographics majority-Black, even though DC's more upwardly mobile Blacks often choose to escape their blighted neighborhoods and spawn in suburbia as soon as they become taxpayers. City leaders "diss" the Congress as alien interlopers, not facilitators, and treat suburbia as an overpowering, unfriendly competitor rather than the essential supporting "setting" in which to display our national capital "jewel".
DC struggles to keep fiscal independence despite a per-taxpayer poverty tax burden ten times that of the overall metro area. Revenue surpluses from three wards barely compensate for the poverty- induced shortfalls of the other five. Neither DC's municipal resources, nor the oversized, overpaid bureaucracy that administers them, can be stretched to focus on DC's growing long- term infrastructure needs, human, physical, or regional. There is very little regional cooperation, no visible regional outreach by DC leaders, and no apparent efforts to elicit constructive Federal incentives to insure that Washington evolves the premiere US metro area. The many influential initiatives of retiring Congressman Tom Davis (R, Va) to help DC stature will be sorely missed..
To wit, there are no coherent plans to expand the region's public transportation networks or to de-congest downtown bottlenecks, as both city and suburban economic development continues. Small-time DC "transportation" officials toy with "streetscapes" and local, low-density, on- street, "trolleys" (useless to commuters), while the suburbs press for high-density, off-street extensions of the area's world-class, but over-stressed, subway system toward lower-density destinations. Next year's incoming Federal Government will be faced with starting to overcome years of stark neglect of our national infrastructure. We see no DC plans (or competence) to spearhead a drive for vastly increased transportation funding for our capital metro area.
The new city administration is trying to resolve its nationally-embarrassing health, crime, and poverty problems without regional cooperation. It hopes to increase its inventory of affordable housing for often-incomplete households that cannot pay their own way. It is preoccupied with re-constituting its oversized public school system for underprivileged kids, but without upgrading their under-achieving, often missing, parents. Instead of creating an undeniably unique urban core of a fully-integrated national capital metro area, DC seems determined to replicate the lifestyle of American suburbs despite its starkly different socio-economic mix. To NARPAC this is pure folly. DC should not aspire to becoming a separate state-level political entity. Should its residents have some vote in Congress and better control of its own budget? Of course. Should its amateurish, confrontational, myopic local leaders seek more state-level autonomy? No way.
NARPAC reluctantly concludes that local leadership is not capable of transfiguring the District of Columbia into a world-class "inner city"without major regional cooperation stimulated by the Federal Government. Unless next year's new Administration and new Congress agree to provide guidelines, legislation, and funding, there is no hope for a truly exemplary national capital metro area and/or even a first-class core city to evolve solely from local initiatives.
| MONTHLY HIGHLIGHTS FROM PRIOR YEARS
o A "major" project of the Pew Family Trust, carried out by Brookings Institution, explores whether the "American Dream" of making more money than one's parents is alive and well. NARPAC questions that narrow definition of the American Dream, and questions even more seriously whether this study uses appropriate methodologies to reach clear and credible conclusions. Surely the media has ended up misinterpreting the results, as explained in NARPAC's analysis of the Economic Mobility Project";
o NARPAC listened to an informal talk by the new head of facilities modernization for
the DC Public School System, and provides a critical
summary of this high official's lack of awareness of both the problems at hand, and
the proper demeanor for public servants addressing crucial capital city issues. It helps elevate our
concerns that this new Fenty Administration, regardless of its good intentions, may accomplish
little as a result of losing the public trust.
o There was no web site update in November, 2007
o the first section of this new report provides a listing of the "articles of faith" that have grown up around NARPAC's understanding of this serious American urban problem;
o we then go on to answer ten of our own questions dealing with DC's education problem, ranging from why kids' test scores are so low, to why a new Deputy Mayor's Office for Education could be useful in approaching the root problems. We also ask whether the Mayor's pick for "school chancellor" is likely to be successful (no), and whether the effort is off in the right direction (no);
o we then provide our own requisite specific recommendations for near-term actions, and conclude by offering a listing of most of the various chapters and editorials on this web site that have dealt with different aspects of these problems since before 2000. The apparent absence of any organized effort by DCPS to comparatively analyze its own problems is, in itself, one of the basic issues that needs addressing.
o We conclude yet again that DC sorely needs a totally independent and fully objective Program Analysis Office to assess whether DC's current bean consumption is effectively related to the underlying issues which keep our nation's capital from becoming a world class city.
o February's new analysis of the significance of "Family Potential" has been modestly updated to show that the much-touted No Child Left Behind legislation does not include any consideration of the impact of kids' home environment on their performance in school;
o NARPAC's lengthy analysis of the the future of the Whitehurst Freeway has been updated to include recent (written) testimony to the incoming chairman of the DC Council's Committee on Public Works and the Environment lamenting the absence of a credible long-range DC plan for transportation growth.
. February, 2007
o Based on a new comparison of urban schools prepared by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), NARPAC has collected the equivalent demographic data from the Census Bureau's American Community Survey for 2005, and developed a new "family potential" indicator based on the key parameters associated with kids' home environment. The background of this study, the intentions of the city's new government, and relevant past NARPAC studies are rehearsed in this new chapter's introduction and summary. That is followed by some comparisons of the physical characteristics of these school systems which show DCPS to be way out of line with other (better performing) districts;
o The new study goes on to show the relevance of various racial parameters that largely define preferred ethnic lifestyles which influence the kids' environment outside of school; and ends up developing a "family potential" indicator that shows a very close quantitative correlation with the test scores being reported. It strongly suggests that DC kids' are performing roughly on track with the conditions they bring with them to the classroom.
o The first describes the background
and current status, including the recent Council hearing, and the existence of another
privately-generated critique which largely supports NARPAC's own analyses;
o DDoT is continuing with its plans to rebuild South Capitol Street and its bridge across the Anacostia. They remain unchanged despite the decision to build DC's new baseball stadium right alongside this busy service artery. NARPAC provided its very negative comments to DDoT earlier this year
o DDoT also held a public comment forum on its plans to tear down the Whitehurst Freeway, despite the fact that virtually all the properties abutting it are now developed, now including the new Swiss Embassy and its complementary officce building. NARPAC also provided its very negative comments on this misguided project to DDoT earlier this year
o In response to recent reactions to a summer 'spike' in DC homicides, NARPAC has updated DC's crime statistics thru 2005, indicating that crime levels are now just about "normal" for large American cities. What isn't normal is the extraordinary number of law enforcement employees compared to those other cities. What do they do?
o NARPAC will also testify briefly before the DC Zoning Commission concerning proposed upgrades to the zoning of George Washington University's downtown campus. This controversy has been raging for more than two years now, and NARPAC will deplore DC's reluctance to get on with essential urban development, particularly around its key Metrorail stations. Our pitch is "up the zoning, fix our city!".
o In a much lighter vein, NARPAC suggests several possible ways to make the newly planned wastewater treatment facilities at Blue Plains into a truly original southern "gateway" into DC. Compared to the twenty-seven (27!) vehicular gateways planned by DC's DDoT all around the city's periphery, this nautical approach up the Potomac starts with an array of eight 100-foot tall "digester" vats filled with you-know-what. How would you turn them into a warm welcome to our capital city?
o second, public transit planners are adding "rapid" buses on Georgia Ave which, by leap-frogging slower existing ones, may save nine minutes on a 58 minute trip. But there is little quantitative analysis of the efficacy of the current 54-stop route, and little concern for how these "express" buses will interact with the thousands of other rush-hour vehicles that share the constrained rights of way;
o third, a master plan is underway to redevelop the "old convention center' site across Mt. Vernon Square from the new convention center. It is based on a litany of the usual, but dubious, design activist-inspired constraints. And it ignores the needs to solve the growing traffic problems around the Square itself, and to generate truly fresh landmarks for the city's next 100 years;
. June, 2006
o The plan focuses more on protecting the past than guiding its future. It also virtually ignores the global, national, and regional roles of our capital city. Our testimony includes a list of some 30 'Guiding Principles' where NARPAC differs significantly from the draft;
o We also provide the rationale for methodically expanding DC's major roadways and world-class Metrorail system throughout the 20 year period. rather than freezing both at current capacity as recommended by the CompPlan.
o We explore the changing urban demographics and lifestyles that are leaving many of the more common units out of step with the times, and ;
o Offer some analysis and visualization of the changes in typical "row house blocks" that could produce significant increases in residential population, and larger increases in numbers of (smaller) households. Along the way, we discover a fascinating example already in being: Bryan Square near Lincoln Park which involves the redevelopment of a long-surplus DCPS school. It creates a 21st Century row house block that meets (possibly excessive?) neighborhood, and Comprehensive Plan, insistence on "preserving the character" of the locale;
o NARPAC submitted seven ideas to DC Appleseed for solving some of DC's major problems . They range from poverty reduction and transportation improvements, to a new "International Mall" for DC and a new emerging "industry" that could be spawned at Walter Reed and the Armed Forces Retirement Home.
o NARPAC expands its prior analysis of both the necessity for, and difficulties of, 'downsizing' the DCPS school inventory. It goes back over means to project future (declining) DCPS enrollment, and the consequences of waiting so long to act. It concludes that half of DC's present school inventory will be 'surplus' within a few years. It uses the suggestions in Janey's MEP (above) to visualize the steps required to accomplish the changes. It concludes that DCPS will be lucky to pull it off, and that extraordinary measures may well be needed. That becomes the subject of NARPAC's April editorial
o To begin with, there are several idealistic words and phrases which essentially defy conversion into quantitative goals, such as "diversity", "inclusiveness", "balance", "vibrance", "mixed-income", "mixed-race" and so forth
o There are numerical discrepancies and/or estimates that cannot be readily confirmed by the latest available statistical information from the Census Bureau;
o And the 20-year plan, as now drafted, would not only perpetuate current poverty levels, but increase them, by maintaining the current affordable housing inventorys and adding 19,000 more
o No related plans are laid for alleviating poverty by placing greater emphasis on providing adult education and better jobs, as opposed to "dumbing down" the present job market to fit missing skills;
o There is also no analysis of the need to change housing characteristics to fit changing demographics, or toestimate the number of additional private vehicles likely to be brought into the city with 55,000 new households;
o and finally, there is no estimate of the budgetary impact of 55,000 new households (and 138,000 new jobs!). NARPAC tries to provide a "what if" model that estimates changes in revenues and expenditures based on various different hypothetical changes in good old median household income.
o NARPAC takes a preliminary look at redeveloping the Walter Reed Hospital site to maximize its tax "productivity" for DC, and concludes it could generate at least $270M in annual revenues, but that this would probably require relaxing DC's outmoded building height limitations, at least at gthe fringes of the city more than 3 miles outside the city limits of the original L'Enfant Plan;
o Four major considerations contribute to the issues: the adjunct GWU hospital, recently 'spun off', has contributed to both the current tensions, and the future opportunities that frighten the neighborhood; the area's only Metro station is within the campus boundaries; there are six other significant universities scattered around the city; and the current zoning restrictions within and around the campus seem starkly incompatible;
o NARPAC develops a simplified technique for estimating city tax revenues that might be gleaned (or foregone) from any property in the area, based on its assessed residential or commercial property value;
o GWU has evolved two plans: one would result in expanding the campus upward (higher density) within its boundaries rather than sprawling further outward; the second would commercially develop its prime, now empty, property on Washington Circle ("Square 54"), on which it would pay taxes, and from which it would generate revenues for its other development needs;
o NARPAC then outlines the demographic characteristics of the disaffected neighbors, indicating that they are a mixed bag, only a portion of whom have a real stake in this confrontation;
o NARPAC then goes on to raise eleven questions which need to be resolved along the way to reaching a sensible resolution of this basic issue of non-profit institutions smack in the middle of an expanding "downtown DC";
o and concludes by parsing a neighborhood-produced "Economics Primer which pretends to explain the basic drive of all universities to expand endlessly until stopped by higher governmental authorities (or neighborhood activists). It is a classic pseudo-intellectual diatribe that has no place in any realistic consideration of the current issues.
o In late 2005, the Director of DC's DDoT gave a talk which quite clearly outlines their current mindset , which NARPAC finds starkly inadequate for the nation's capital city:
o A new DC Transit Alternatives "Analysis" is out for final comment, which essentially dictates that Metrorail will be allowed to atrophy while additional bus and trolley service is added to DC's already crowded streets;
o A separate "Great Streets Initiative" has also been decreed in late 2005. It will take revenues raised from advertising in renovated bus stop shelters to upgrade the "streetscapes" at various yet-to-be-determined segments of major arteries. The stated objective is to encourage local economic development in relatively disadvantaged areas. NARPAC doubts such an effort will be successful, and may well have deleterious effects on essential traffic;
o Finally, NARPAC's formal comments for the public record . are reproduced here to record the extent of our disagreement with both the content of, and the methodology for pursuing, these quite possibly counterproductive uses of limited transportation funds.
o the final results of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closings Commission are reported. NARPAC did not get all we were hoping for, but did much better than nothing (with the closing of Walter Reed Hospital) and the removal of naval functions from the "Potomac Annex". We hope DC leadership will play a more positive and progressive role in the "post-Iraq BRAC Round" expected in a few years, as well as in deciding what to do with Walter Reed;
o The rapidly rising costs of living for DC regional households are explored, based on a valuable report commissioned by WOW; (i.e., Wider Opportunities for Women) and notes that the heart of the challenge involves the higher education levels required to get new area jobs;
o Although the model essentially predicts "severe stop-and-go congestion throughout the area, not just isolated areas", the COG's "(Budget) Constrained Long-Range Transportation Plan" glosses over regional gridlock and focuses on "achievements" and "challenges" and uncertainties about "how people will react to these (gridlock) conditions".
o Meanwhile, a separate COG/TPB report entitled "Time to Act" asserts that "a looming gridlock crisis seriously threatens the region's mobility, safety, and economic viability" unless infrastructure funds are doubled for the next five years! Which COG report do you read?
NARPAC trusts its readers will not be offended by its offhand review of many of the topics previously treated in detail on this web site.
o the resulting draft plans divide the heavily trafficked five mile stretch into six different zones for which differing upgrades are recommended, all of which are heavy on beautification, and light on capacity expansion;
o NARPAC proposes some alternative modifications which focus more on the functional requirements for what amounts to the avenue's prima facie role as the city's major "service entrance". We see nothing to be gained by trying to convert it into another "front entrance";
o NARPAC notes the failure to project relevant future transportation technologies, and demonstrates how the emerging EZ-Pass devices could turn New York Avenue into a fully-automated 'toll road' that could easily pay for its own development and maintenance.
o Finally, NARPAC picks a few promises from the Mayor's 2005 State of the District Address and doubts that crime and poverty will be so much reduced as just shuffled around.
o Perhaps concerned citizens, local, regional, and nationwide should generate a major class action suit against the DC government and its
Congressional "overseers", to require suitable federal statutes to be enacted. NARPAC
offers an imaginary draft, along with some supporting data;
o Two of DC's most fundamental long-term problems involve the evolution of better land use of its limited acres and working with federal and regional authorities to expand its overall transportation capacity so that it can share in the economic development of the national capital city metro area.
o And in order to remain competitive with its metro area partners, it must find solutions to its endemic poverty as well as its marked education deficit, both of which put it at serious disadvantage with its suburban neighbors, and tarnish its image as America's national capital city.
o The Mayor provided a press release summarizing the highlights of his administration over the past year (2004). And NARPAC has summarized it to compare the nitty-gritty of the real world, and the "major issues" that we prefer.
o Ward 6's Community Coordinator, Tawanna Shuford summarized the composition and functions of the DC Council for the 2005-2006 period , and NARPAC presents an abbreviated form of that.
o The need to pin down the real villains of congestion and their growth rates is discussed with emphasis on the role of commercial vehicles, as well as the need to focus more on pedestrian traffic. NARPAC notes that these commissions have focused on the trees but ignored the forest , and ignored whether current traffic-related costs exceed traffic- related revenues. Our own pleasantly surprising estimates are developed based on DC's FY05 operating budget.
o NARPAC believes that evolving technology can help in traffic management and revenue production more than the commission indicates, and that radio frequency identification devices (RFIDs) may play an important role and profitable role in traffic management. The analysis concludes with NARPAC's reality concerns about the failures to put these partial solutions into the context of the larger and more discouraging picture of DC's longer range economy-limiting transportation projections.
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This page was updated on August 15, 2008