This study traces the similarities and differences between two geographically similar parts of the original District of Columbia from its beginnings, and describes in general the grim statistics that help degrade DC's image. It identifies similarities between the two areas, and their gradual growth up through World War II.
But it is the huge difference in economic growth patterns starting in the 1960s that distinguish Anacostia from Arlington--and from Prince George's County, for that matter. Arlington's remarkable advantages have derived from land use differences, the treatment of public and subsidized housing, and the planned developments along the metrorail corridors.
The study suggests that there are three basic alternatives and recommends that a bold new development plan be developed in time for DC's bicentennial. The core of such a plan will be the development of new uses for currently untaxed federal and DC lands, coupled with extensions to the Metrorail system, limited zoning changes, and a major effort to "reprocess" and enlist the help of the thousands of disadvantaged residents that have been ignored by past DC governments. Regional political solidarity will be an essential ingredient in accomplishing such major goals.
But to date, attempts at long-range planning East of the River have been woefully inadequate, and probably should not be based primarily on locally- developed "peoples' plans".
On the other hand, a lengthy--and very encouraging--article in the CITY PAPER in November of 1999 indicates that those living in Ward 8 (and 7) are beginning to adopt programs and projects to "gentrify their own properties.
NOTE concerning the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative: This new development effort (May, 2000) is being directed by DC's Office of planning and many other interested agencies. Though it includes both sides of the river, the emphasis is clearly on the banks of the river itself, and not on the "Anacostia County" that lies beyond. It is therefore treated by NARPAC as a separate long-range economic development project, though its impact will clearly be felt east of the river.
To NARPAC's very pleasant surprise, the mayor announced plans for the city to commit almost $1B in city funds to revitalizing five communities east of the river. Insufficient as this may be in the long run, it is an historic first step down a long road to bringing 'Anacostia County' into the District. Details are contained under our Long Range Planning chapter. (click above).
One of the basic requirements for this area's long-range economic development is the extension of metorail line coverage down towards (and across) the Wilson Bridge. A NARPAC photo essay thinks a nearly-abandoned railroad spur to the Blue Plains Treatment Plant could provide the needed right of way for an elevated line with a remarkable view of the city's waterfront.
Planning is progressing on the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, but it still falls somewhat short of the mark. NARPAC offers their own analysis of the need for better long-range planning to make sure that the AWI project does not limit future economic development EoA. Increased city interest in transportation planning for this project was made public in early 2002.
By late 2002, the initial steps were being taken by the Federal Government and DC to relinquish control of most of the 300-acre St. Elizabeth's hospital site, which has become less used and more dilapidated over the past 25 years. It presents a major opportunity for DC to improve its financial prospects, and to improve the outlook for those who live in this relatively forgotten part of town.
In late 1790, the newly formed Congress of the United States authorized the newly elected first president, George Washington, to pick the precise area for the nation's newly chosen capital city along the Potomac River, to be no larger than a ten-mile square. In January 1791, Washington appointed three commissioners to oversee the delineation of the site by two Maryland surveyors. He had already received significant advice from trusted associates. In 1789, Pierre L'Enfant had written to the President that:
"No nation had ever before the opportunity offered them of deliberately deciding on the spot where their Capital City should be fixed....the plan should be drawn on such a scale as to leave room for that aggrandizement and embellishment which the increase of the wealth of the nation will permit it to pursue at any period however remote." (ref: the Junior League's Illustrated History of the City of Washington, Knopf, 1977)
President Washington had also been advised by his Secretary of State "for defensive purposes to include the strips of land on the Maryland and Virginia sides of the (Potomac) river to complete the ten-mile-square area" (ref: "Early History of Anacostia" slide presentation compiled by Carolyn Margolis of the Anacostia Museum staff, via the National Park Service).
Washington's instructions to his surveyors were very specific:
"Beginning at Jone's Point, being the upper cape of Hunting Creek in Virginia, and at an angle in the outset of 45 degrees west of the north, and running in a direct line ten milers for the first line: Then beginning again at a right angle with the first, across the Potomac ten miles, for a second line; then from the termination of said first and second line, running two other lines of ten miles each, the one crossing the eastern branch aforesaid (i.e., the Anacostia), and the other the Potomac and meeting each other in a point."
Hence the major diagonals of the "Territory of Columbia" were oriented East-West, and North-South, with the tip of the Southern corner on the Virginia side of the Potomac River, at the southeast corner of Alexandria (near where the Wilson Bridge carries Rte 95 across). From that point, the Potomac stretches north and west, dividing Virginia and Maryland. A lesser river, now called the Anacostia, but known on early maps as the "Eastern Branch", splits off to the east from the Potomac four miles or so up from the southern tip, winding north and east into Maryland where it branches on either side of Bladensberg.
|The Geography: A 'Y' Laid Over a 'Diamond'
The two rivers form a crude "Y" laid over the "square diamond" of the Territory (now the District), and divide it into three distinct areas. Between the arms of the "Y" lie the original "City of Washington", as laid out by Pierre L'Enfant in 1791; the "national capital district"; the historic port of Georgetown dating back to the early 1700's; the entire business district; and the very prosperous Northwest and Northeast suburbs divided by (federally-owned) Rock Creek Park. The land (farmlands) in this area was already privately owned by some 19 prominent families, many of whom are still represented in DC, and some of whom had already built very substantial homes that still stand. Primary land access to the north was by the post road to Bladensberg and thence to Baltimore. East and West of the "Y" are two remarkably similarly shaped (very roughly triangular) land areas, one bounded by the Eastern corner of the square and the Anacostia River, the other the Western corner and the Potomac. The larger (15,000 acre), southwestern piece was ceded back to Virginia in 1846 to become Alexandria County, and eventually Arlington County and Alexandria City and has prospered.
The smaller (9000 acre) southeastern piece, originally part of Maryland, remained part of the District and has not prospered. This area "East of the Anacostia", as it is known, is a fascinating conundrum. Topographically, it is no less attractive a piece of land. Both share a commanding view of, and easy access to, "downtown" and the Federal Enclave. Both have new underground metrorail lines, though Anacostia's has lagged Arlington's by 20 years and is not yet complete.
There is no question that the parts of DC East of the Anacostia (Wards, 7, 8, and one quarter of Ward 6) are a drag on the rest of the city. Using either area or population as the basis, Anacostia has more than its share of tax exempt land, federally owned land, residential land, and vacant land, and therefore less than its share of commercial and industrial zoned land. It has more than its share of renter- occupied housing, vacant housing, and subsidized housing, as well as more than half of the city's public housing.
Compared to the DC overall average, Anacostia has significantly higher household size, and a higher shares of households in poverty, kids under 18, and public school enrollment (albeit far fewer high school graduates). Anacostia home values are way below the DC norm, as is the median income. And the value of business transacted East of the Anacostia is very small indeed. Unemployment is 50% higher, and a far fewer fraction of persons are in the available work force. Perhaps the simplest comparative measure of land "productivity" is the recent value of homes sold: in Arlington, it was $219,000. In Anacostia it was $86,000, and in the rest of DC without Anacostia, it was $154,000. This single measure indicates just how far from level the economic playing field is.
In short, the "productivity" of this part of the Washington metro area is very close to rock bottom--generating less than one-third of the "dollars per acre" of the rest of DC (from income, business, and real estate taxes), while consuming substantially higher welfare, police, and public education costs. As discussed in NARPAC's chapter on Economic Landscape, there are strong economic divisions within the city, and East of Anacostia is a net tax consumer, while the rest is a net-- though uneven--taxpayer.
Similarities of East and West
There are some interesting similarities between the Anacostia and Arlington areas. Both have a large share of federally owned land, both parks (Fort DuPont v Arlington Cemetery) and government facilities (DIA University, Bolling Air Force Base and the Naval Research Laboratory to the East, National Airport, the Pentagon, and Ft. Myer to the West). Both had airports along the banks of the Potomac. The military fields in Anacostia have gone (though the 1300 acres--more than two square miles--are still federally owned), while the 700-acre Reagan National Airport on the Virginia side has grown into a major domestic regional airport, and benefited both Alexandria and Arlington substantially.
Both sides had major port facilities in the 1700's--Alexandria and Georgetown were connected by a canal (!) over the Potomac River for heavy commerce, while both banks of the Anacostia were home to what was once the US's largest naval yard. Both sides, then, developed originally from farm land to the relatively simple homes of a largely blue-collar work force, many of whom were minorities.
From Farming to Residential
The first real estate venture East of the Anacostia began in 1854, when the Union Land Association purchased 100 acres of farmland to establish "Uniontown" as a whites-only residential area, which subsequently took on the name Anacostia. By the 1860's and 70's however, there was increased demand for land for both "born- free" blacks and recently freed slaves. The Freedman's Bureau was instrumental in obtaining sites for blacks to live--commuting daily by foot and wooden bridge to jobs in Georgetown and the City of Washington. More jobs became available locally as federal installations began to appear, including the United States Lunatic Asylum, later to become known as St. Elizabeth's. There was a time, then, that the region East of the Anacostia was actually more productive than its larger counterpart West of the Potomac.
But neither Anacostia nor Arlington became fully populated until the federal government began to grow large, first under Roosevelt's depression-generated expansion of civil agencies in the late 1930's, and then of military/industrial agencies to prosecute World War II--and the Korean War immediately thereafter. That 15-year expansion brought to DC a flood of middle class white-collar workers, both black and white skinned. The federal government had officially desegregated its workforce in the late 30s, but residential communities in and around Washington remain largely differentiated even today. Both Anacostia and Arlington filled out as largely white suburbs for government workers, many in tidy frame houses on separate lots, or in row houses, and apartment buildings built for them. Living conditions for blacks, many flooding up from the South (and settling on both sides of the Potomac), remained substandard, and they only fanned out into originally white housing as the Korean War wound down--and downtown DC went through a long-overdue slum removal program.
In the 1950's, there was not as much to differentiate Arlington and Anacostia: the different growth patterns have really occurred in the last forty years, as Virginia catered to white professionals, and Southeast and Southwest Washington became home to blacks, many of them newly middle class based on their job opportunities first in the federal government, and then in the rapidly expanding DC government (and school system) as well.
By the end of the 20th Century, Arlington County has become by most measures far more "productive" than Anacostia, and by many measures, than the District without Anacostia. For instance, household size is smaller, the share of residents in the workforce is higher, as is their median income; unemployment is far lower, as is the share of the population below the poverty level. There are far less kids to educate (in larger schools), and far lower crime rates and police per capita. Housing values are also substantially higher, as is home ownership.
Primarily, Arlington County (exclusive of the prosperous Alexandria City) has benefited from strong business/commercial/military development--in large measure because of the advent of the metrorail system, and in part because the federal government had spread beyond the city limits. Lyndon Johnson's attempts to "demilitarize Washington" during the Vietnam War led to the rapid growth of Crystal City, Va., built over the Metro Blue Line between the Pentagon and National Airport, and referred to as the Jefferson Davis Corridor. It became home to the US Navy which had finally moved from its "temporary" World War I (not II) wooden office buildings on the Mall. Crystal City became home to office space not only for some 7000 Navy workers, but for 12,000 (?) civilian Navy contractors, and then to hotels for business visitors, and then to restaurants, and shopping for them all. Crystal City, which did not exist 30 years ago, is now home to 8400 people in 5400 households, but provides daytime employment for 53,000 people.
Even Further East of the Anacostia
Another comparison is equally relevant. Anacostia's boundaries to the East are with Prince George's (PG) County, home to many of the middle class African Americans who have emigrated from the District and retain many family, friendly and religious connections--to say nothing of occasional voting rights, and school privileges. PG county is still far less populated, so per-acre statistics do not correlate. But per-household statistics again indicate that the suburbs have a strong edge in household income, though their advantage in school scores and crime rates is declining.
Superimposing Economic Developments
The commercially zoned area of Crystal City on each side of Jefferson Davis Highway would just about "fit" in the DC area around the Navy Yard on the Northern bank of the Anacostia River, on each side of M Street, SE. Similarly, the larger commercially zoned area of the Ballston Corridor flanking Arlington Boulevard, would just about "fit" along the traces of the Metro Green Line to Suitland, plus the Blue Line to Capitol Heights.
Hence, if by magic--or by very concerted federal, municipal and private sector efforts--Anacostia could be transformed (statistically and economically, at least) into another Arlington, the District would lose many of the stigmas that make it a national embarrassment and financially overburdened.
Land Use Differences
Another incongruity between the two superficially similar jurisdictions is the amount of essentially "untaxable" land. For WoP, these include primarily National Airport, and Arlington National Cemetery. For EoA, there is an very large share of relatively undeveloped federal parks (Ft. DuPont and Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens), as well as more federal installations, from half of St. Elizabeth's, to various defense installations. The problem is not simply that these lands do not generate real estate, business or income taxes, but that they do not generate tourists, sports enthusiasts, or even many government workers. No review of Anacostia's future will be complete without a thorough analysis of changes in the status and productivity of these non-economic properties. So far in NARPAC's analysis, we have not determined how or why some of these reserved spaces came into being, although the McMillan Plan of the early 1900's is doubtless a key source, and the "emptiness" of the land East of the Anacostia must have made it relatively easy to purchase.
But we do know that Congress has the power to change the use of National Parks, working through the Interior Department's oversight committees, and that planning studies can be made by the Park Service. While the Park Service will fight to the death to keep from having the total parklands diminished, they are apparently agreeable to suitable land swaps. Hence, for instance, it might be possible to reduce the size of Ft DuPont by, say 25 acres, if DC could offer them an alternate site--perhaps at the southern tip of Ward 8. In short, there is no reason to assume that current park usage is immutable.
Furthermore, the Congressional control of other federal lands--particularly defense properties--is very direct. Hence the return of the Navy Department to the Navy Yard was a relatively simple order. Unfortunately, no similar instructions have been given to the Defense Department concerning the 1300 acres of the Naval Research Lab, Bolling Air Force Base, etc. There seems to be no evident reason for perpetuating these properties in military hands, but if there is, then their proprietors should be given clear instructions to make them attractive to tourists with museums, displays, etc.
As a specific suggestion, there would appear to be room for an extensive military training simulator display--a technological area in which military developments clearly led to the 20th Century miracles (or plagues?) of first, arcade games and then home computer games. Equally interesting, one could imagine the use of various military transportation modes to bring visitors across the Potomac by landing craft, air-cushion vehicles, hydrofoils, helicopters, or perhaps by otherwise useless nuclear submarines. With increasing difficulty of recruiting amongst the military services, the development of such a theme park might serve our nation well.
At the very least, the Congress should oblige all holders of federal properties within the District to propose means to enhance their economic value to their national capital city, and to offer proposals for how they, or others, could make those properties more productive.
Yet another contrast in governmental approaches is shown in the matter of the "blighted areas" that often spread out around decaying public housing projects. While Arlington has a substantial number of "affordable (Section 8) housing units" (over 5500, or 2. 6% of their total housing inventory), EoA counts some 30% (21,000 out of 69,000 total units). The difference is that over 6000 of the DC units have been clustered in 21 long festering federal housing projects, while Arlington's all are distributed among mixed housing projects, where the disadvantaged never exceed "critical mass". This has both real and cosmetic impact: the disadvantaged strive harder to reach the norm of their neighbors, and they are not clustered in highly visible and discouraging centers of despair. The Maryland suburbs are little different: Prince George's claims a total of some 400 public housing units, mostly for the aged, while Montgomery County with a population of almost one million has but 1500, plus another 1600 scattered "affordable dwellings".
EoA faces a very large, expensive, and time consuming program of "blight removal" that Arlington can largely avoid. In fact, the DC Housing Authority Receiver is in the process of totally rehabilitating some 10,400 public housing units--and intends now to end his program with a total of 15,000 such units. The cost is well over $250M. By all measures he is doing an outstanding job of fulfilling his court mandate--but it remains to be seen if the objective was equally outstanding. Will DC now become a magnet for even more people with almost total government dependence?
The Significance of Planning
The economic development of Arlington is really the story of the redevelopment of Rosslyn, a neighborhood just across the Potomac from the Lincoln Memorial, and its extension up Arlington Boulevard through Ballston--a jointly planned commercial business development project first envisioned in 1974. It was put together by the County planners and a consortium of the Washington area's major commercial real estate developers explicitly to exploit the development of the Metro Orange Line from Rosslyn out to the Beltway.
Metrorail planners confirm that there was a stark difference between Arlington's determination to grow prosperous through business, and Anacostia's determination to stay residential through fancier "bus stops". In fact, as a result, Arlington's Blue and Orange Lines, with their close-together stations, defined the two business development corridors. On the other hand, Anacostia's Blue and Green Lines follow traces far less likely to become commercial, and have fewer stations much further apart. In fact, almost 40% of the land within 2000 ft. of the Anacostia metro stations is untaxed, undevelopable, or not within DC's boundaries.
The Key Role of the Metrorail System
The all-volunteer Ballston Partnership was created in 1985 "to ensure the quality of urban design and living in the "new" Ballston, and to encourage a spirit of community". It grew to 200 members and 12 active volunteer committees. It laid out a master plan for a small new (210 acre) city complete with shopping malls, high rise office space, high rise apartments, and townhouses for young professionals. Within ten years it had provided 4 million sqft of new office space, 3000 new residential units including luxury apartments, substantial retail space, including a new mall, and 47 new restaurants. It is now about 80% complete.
At Courthouse Square, an intermediate stop between Rosslyn and Ballston, another commercial development arose to house the County government, courthouse, and jail, in leased space along with shops and commercial office space. Together, the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor probably provides employment -- or place of employment - - for 110,000 people, and has built more than 15,000 new residential units
It is of some interest to note that the 210,000 primarily white-collar jobs in Arlington are almost entirely (94%) housed in 28.5 million square feet of office space in the buildings of the Jefferson Davis and the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridors-- 60% of which has been built since 1980. Almost half of the total work force lives outside Arlington. Eight of Arlington's 11 metro stations have provided most of the economic growth. For planning purposes, by the year 2000, the metro will have generated almost 3000 residential units and 30,000 jobs within 2000 feet of each of those metro stations. Such revenue-producing stations must be the rule, and not the exception. By comparison, a very large share (40%?) of the metrorail stations inside DC--including all those built or planned East of the Anacostia--serve local areas that are revenue consumers rather than revenue generators.
While DC's "downtown
business area" is less than 900 acres altogether, the wealthier residential
areas are also revenue producers (as applies to most of Northwest DC, and
a good part of Northeast DC). It should also be noted that satellite business
areas are springing around DC's periphery in Maryland--both in Chevy Chase,
Bethesda, and Silver Spring where high rise apartment and office buildings
have proven economically sound (See DC Metro Utilization. Someday, most of the
of the District will be marked (as they now are on the Virginia side) with
a "wall" of higher buildings looking down on a flat and relatively
featureless inner city--as mid-Manhattan surrounds its Central Park. Sooner
or later, will some wag brand the entire inner core--our national capital
city--as the depressed "pothole" in the Greater Washington Metro
The 103-mile long Metrorail system is nearly complete, but there has been very little detailed planning for further extensions. With remarkable lack of foresight, the Congress for many years forbade the Metro Management from undertaking long-range planning, and hence there will be a considerable hiatus before major new lines can be built. Nevertheless, Metro is more than willing to follow the wishes of the jurisdictions involved, and undertake preliminary planning for expansion at the behest of relevant political leadership. For instance, if Prince George's County Executive Curry and Washington Mayor Williams decided to press for a new business corridor extending six miles along Pennsylvania Avenue from the Potomac Avenue Station, across the Anacostia River to Andrews Air Force Base, Metro would be more than willing to assess the costs (NARPAC guesses about $300M to DC, and $400M to Maryland over 10 years).
But the issue is what can be done about Anacostia. There is nothing insurmountably or immutably wrong with this area other than the fact that it has been "allowed" to collect a large share of the city's disadvantaged, where they have remained largely out of sight--even though Ward 8 was the home of Mayor Barry. Furthermore, there are stark differences between the northern part of Ward 7 and the southern part of Ward 8. And there are some very strong signs of neighborhood determination to rescue Anacostia itself. In addition, the 21st Century plan of the National Capital Planning Commission focuses on redevelopment of the Anacostia River, and the new Mayor has committed himself to assisting this depressed part of the city, as well as cleaning up the Anacostia River itself.
There seem to be three basic alternatives:
1. Let Maryland Do It--Like Virginia Did
The most revolutionary would be to cede the area East of the Anacostia back to Maryland, as an expansion of PG County, and let them redevelop a prime area within sight of the nation's capital, just as Virginia has. It is of some interest to note that the 8-mile extension of Pennsylvania Avenue beyond the Anacostia River out to the Beltway and the major installations at Maryland's Andrews Air Force Base is almost completely undeveloped--in stark contrast to the rapid economic development of the entire 25-mile length of the Dulles (International Airport) Access Road and Arlington Boulevard starting at the Potomac in Rosslyn.
2. Let East of Anacostia Fend for Itself
The least-effort solution would be to simply "let nature take care of itself" and see whether a depressed and blighted area can "cure itself", a very unlikely evolution, despite the best efforts of local Anacostia activists, and the completion of the currently planned metrorail lines. There seems to be little if any developmental planning expertise within the area.
3. Make a Bold New American-style Regional Plan
The most American solution would be to belly-up to the problem with a joint, regional, government/private sector effort to rebuild this valuable, and potentially productive area of the Washington metro area. It is time to replicate the vision and courage of the Arlington County government and adopt a major rezoning plan to encourage the full economic development of this valuable area. In fact, if DC authorities lack the experience, why not "contract out" the job to Arlington County or the Park Service? Any such analysis should surely include consideration of additional metrorail access, changes in public (both federal military and Park Service) lands use; relaxation of building height restrictions in certain zones, and elimination of hard-core blighted areas.
Any number of major new ventures could be undertaken. Eight seem particularly interesting to NARPAC, Inc. although we surely do not claim any corner on innovation.
O A 21st Century Use for Andrews Air Force Base
There is a strong need to provide a strong focal point to the East of Anacostia, to provide the same drawing card as Dulles International Airport Access Road to the West through Fairfax County, and the Route 270 developments in Montgomery County towards Gaithersberg. NARPAC suggests that the natural "target" would be the under-utilized Andrews Air Force Base in Prince George's County which could be designated as: a) the nation's first "spaceport" for military and commercial sub-orbital flight ("two hours to Tokyo"), b) a major global--if not galactic-- communications port for the handling of the burgeoning requirements of the information superhighway; and c) the home of the capital metro area's ballistic missile defense system. While others may conjure up more exciting alternatives, the purpose is to provide an economically productive magnet for the entire metro region East of the Anacostia.
O A Permanent International Exposition Grounds
Other cities around the world have had mixed results with the left-overs from World's Fairs and Olympic Games. Despite good intentions and optimism at the outset, many cities have been left with expensive white elephants when the main attractions are finished. However, an intentionally permanent set of pavilions, trade displays, etc. could be combined with various forms of residential buildings, office space, and even student quarters to form a truly international capital enclave. Imagine the opportunities for tourists to come and spend several days on our national capital mall, and then move on to visit an International Mall with permanent displays from, say, another fifty countries.
One could easily visualize using as much as half of the 450 acres in Ft. DuPont Park for such a mall (the entire downtown mall is only about 650 acres). There is some intriguing symmetry in having most of the foreign embassies along Massachusetts Ave, NW, and proposing to build their permanent exhibitions and business centers along Massachusetts Avenue, SE. A new bridge across the Anacostia would provide a marvelous coupling of the two focal points.
O The World's Premier Center for Genetic Medicine
The new age of Biotechnology will surely change the face of medicine throughout the world. What better place to set up a huge campus for research, teaching, experimenting and practicing the various forms of healing that will evolve from these exciting new discoveries. With the original purposes of the US Lunatic Asylum at St. Elizabeth's falling away (Mayor Williams expects to reduce the number of active hospital beds to some 400 by end FY2000), this entire 300 acre, part-federal, part-DC-owned property needs a totally new mission. Imagine, say, 50 research firms, five brand new hospitals, two or three different medical schools, and a major facility for presenting to the public the wonders of this new knowledge. Who would not bring their family to learn the very latest about genetics? Planning for such a new future for St. E's began in the fall of 2002
O New Regional Sports Stadiums
The notion of further "stuffing" downtown with a new baseball stadium appears to NARPAC to be an absurdity. Nevertheless, Anacostia has several sites which could absorb half a dozen stadiums for different sports. Why should the finals of various national sports contests be played in the nation's capital? baseball? football? soccer? tennis? golf? skating? and so forth. The dilapidated DC-owned park space on the south bank of the Anacostia River (either near Anacostia or near the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens site) would be ideal and could be served by two subway stations already in place and virtually unused. It is interesting to note that Montgomery County has recently decided to spend $19.8M to convert a portion of a 658-acre county park for 24 soccer fields and other sports facilities.
O A major New Defense Complex
Although the current 50-year old Pentagon is receiving a major several-year renovation, it is still possible that a relocation would be worthwhile, if only to free up more space for the almost-filled Arlington National Cemetery. The Pentagon location could provide a very large, appealing location for a huge columbary which would satisfy the military needs for cremated remains for perhaps the next century. On the Anacostia side of the rivers, there are three large underutilized federal parcels of land: the former naval station, the Bolling Air Force Base (now primarily a low density residential area), and the Naval (hi-tech) Research Laboratory. Together, they form well over 1000 acres of prime land at the water's edge.
NARPAC proposes that some replacement Pentagon be located there, along with other defense-related activities. These could include a large "interactive museum" of military equipments and training devices (from which the commercial computers games and simulators evolved), and other suitable memorials. The Marine Corps has recently announced plans to build a 460,000 sqft. museum somewhere on or near their base in Quantico--perhaps it too, should be located within DC. Such a defense complex could by itself bring 30-40,000 well-paying jobs from overcrowded Virginia--a state that has shown virtually no interest in assisting DC level the regional financial playing field. At its southern tip, there would also be room for a new federal prison, now being discussed primarily to house DC's many inmates, many from the Anacostia area.
Development of this three mile long site could well justify constructing another new metrorail line paralleling the Anacostia and Potomac river banks, the Anacostia Freeway (Rte 295), and the general trace of Martin Luther King Avenue, SE. At its southern end, this new line might serve the major new Prince George's National Harbor development, planned just south of the Wilson bridge. It also could conceivably use the new replacement Wilson bridge to cross back to the current terminus of the yellow line at Huntington, just south of Alexandria. This could provide a major new line connecting Huntington, Anacostia, and Minnesota Avenue--East of the Anacostia. Such seemingly major new planning is fully consistent with a thriving national capital metro area.
The extent of the federal presence in DC should not be underestimated. According to a recent Post article, the Federal government owns 9000 acres and 1689 buildings -- and rents another nineteen million square feet of office space in DC for a total of $441million annually. It may not be feasible--or even desirable to try to reduce this federal presence. On the other hand, every effort should be made to assure that federal property is productive in generating revenues for DC.
O New Urban Corridors
Arlington's Jefferson-Davis, and Rosslyn-Ballston corridors appear to be the wave of the future for new office space and near-downtown living. Built around closely spaced metro stations, thousands of residential units and tens of thousands of good jobs can be brought into close proximity, while leaving undisturbed much of the surrounding area for lower density residences. The high-density zoned areas of Arlington are no more than about 750 acres and produce over 200,000 jobs and 25,000 apartments, many in buildings exceeding 20 stories. DC should clearly seriously consider waiving building height restrictions along these new corridors. At least two, if not three, such corridors can be visualized for DC East of the Anacostia: the first and most obvious one is a corridor along Pennsylvania Ave, SE, which could well develop all the way out to Andrews Air Force Base--a sort of Maryland equivalent of the Dulles Access Road growth. The road exists, the topography is right, but the subway does not exist. NARPAC sees a clear need to start planning for a new metro line East of the Anacostia and designed specifically for economic development.
The second most likely corridor would be along Martin Luther King Avenue and possibly related to the new Medical Campus mentioned above. Some parts of this route might be designed to attract small businesses and light industry. Benning Road presents another opportunity for this type of semi-industrial build-up. It should be noted that good vehicular access is more important to these areas than public transportation.
The third corridor, and the one perhaps to be more greatly resisted, would be to substantially increase the density of residences along East Capitol Street which already has a functioning metrorail system (with very low density utilization). One might look to upper Connecticut Avenue, NW to find similar types of upscale apartment houses with ready access (and view) of "downtown". A schematic of a possible East of Anacostia in 2020 is shown below.
O Academics Center
The mayor has already launched trial balloons to relocate both UDC and the very special Duke Ellington School for the Performing Arts to Anacostis. Anacostia residents are pointing to a site along the banks of the Anacostia River now occupied by the Capitol Park Service. It would make eminently good sense to cluster various institutions in the same location--and accessible to the Anacostia Metrorail station.
O Training Centers for Applicable Skills
The District of Columbia has more than its share of disadvantaged kids, disadvantaged parent(s), and disadvantaged grandparent(s). NARPAC has estimated that the DC School system since it achieved "home rule" has produced close to 100,000 functionally illiterate, nearly unemployable people. The High School drop-out rate is officially quoted at near 40%. The jails, prisons, and court system are filled with young blacks for whom a normal (legal) "job" is not a realistic option. If these kids, many now full grown--and consigned to the scrap heap of subsidized housing projects--had been automobiles, and the DC School System the manufacturer that made them, the federal government would have required a very major recall program and steep fines. If the kids dropping out the back door of these schools could be classified as "toxic waste", the federal government would launch a huge "superfund" program to clean up and recycle that "waste" and levy steep fines. But because they are only human beings, they are consigned to the community to house, support, police, and confine.
The District, and to a growing extent, neighboring Prince George's County, needs to adopt a major "systems approach" to rehabilitating these unfortunate people, and to snatch from the production line those still being turned out--and turned away. Such an effort could well require a very substantial "campus" to "remanufacture" (as the computer companies have dubbed it), the older, dysfunctional models. The intent would be to produce employable people, not rocket scientists or poets. One can imagine a substantial group of "dormitories" where kids would live while in school, and other "dormitories" for their parents who also need remedial education. There could be special sections for kids needing special education, but with the prospects of finding employment eventually.
There should be hands on workshops of all kinds to teach practical (well-paying) trades. NARPAC also feels strongly that there should be some sort of on-campus industrial parks. To our knowledge, there are no "industrial parks" within DC's limits whereby small firms can rent suitable working space with power, light, and loading docks to make or assemble certain speciality items, or provide specialty services. The development of such facilities--and keeping them from being eyesores to the rest of the area--requires significant innovation and planning.
It should also be possible to find some maintenance/repair businesses to make possible actual paying jobs and learning experiences. There were industries at Lorton under contract to GSA to repair and reupholster office furniture. Bring some of these to this campus. And bring experts from the Small Business Administration to provide the requisite knowledge to run one's own business.
Incentives for the Residents to Change
Major changes will come hard to groups of neighborhood residents who have felt long-neglected, and would probably settle for just having the "old days" back again, with peaceful tree-lined streets, low crime rates and good schools and enough jobs to go around. There are no doubt people elsewhere in the US who would prefer not to have working oil wells on their property, or gold miners digging beneath their houses. But the development of the nation's capital metro area surely cannot be denied by re-activists clinging to some irretrievable vision of an outer-suburban past. But by the same token, they should benefit much the way farmers have in Montgomery and Fairfax Counties in selling out to urban sprawl.
NARPAC has a very incomplete vision of some sort of incentives/investment plan that would, in a completely humane way, implement a program of "shape up or ship out". There must be a reasonable way to offer households in the path of progress, certainly including the housing projects, to be given two choices: a) receive some sort of substantial "separation" or "early-out" payment--or bonus-- (possibly multi-year?) to relocate elsewhere in the metro region with relevant government support continuing; or b) becoming an investor in Anacostia's future through some sort of profit-sharing plan in which their properties are either sold (in the cases of rezoning) or upgraded as part of neighborhood redevelopment. Some sort of parallel with the Alaskan pipeline benefits can probably be drawn. The modalities may be incomplete but the purpose is not: current residents of Anacostia must clearly benefit one way or another for the inevitable dislocations caused by progress. The potential rewards are so great, that very reasonable incentives should be possible.
Gaining Political Power
Redevelopment of DC's East of the Anacostia is going to require significant political inputs, and more important, considerable political cooperation. The notion of three separate groups of activists, ANCs, etc. (representing each Ward) would be a formula for disaster. There either has to be a very strong "Anacostia Coalition" or "Anacostia Caucus" speaking with a single voice, or the region should seek to reinvent itself as a county. Furthermore, the economic development of Anacostia cannot proceed independent of its neighboring jurisdiction, Prince George's County in the State of Maryland. There needs to be a another coalition/caucus that speaks for the combined interests of the two neighbors at the state and county levels.
Bold thinking is required if Anacostia is to catch up with Arlington. Some sort of commission should be formed including the major DC government players, the major Council players, and the relevant regional players. And the clear objective should be to create and adopt a twenty year plan before the end of DC's bicentennial next year.
In the history of the District of Columbia, there has never been a major economic development or land use plan for the large and potentially lucrative area East of the Anacostia River. There was one relatively minor attempt to come up with a plan for the restoration of an historic district within "downtown Anacostia", but it has never progressed beyond preliminary sketches. Clearly, neither L'Enfant or Bannecker ever considered embracing this area within the master plan for the city, and even the 21st century visions of the National Capital Planning Commission reaches only to the northern banks of the river.
The Winter, 2000 "DC Agenda Update" presents an extensive article on "Understanding Neighborhood Revitalization Opportunities and Challenges East of the River", which is summarized here. The article asserts that "there are currently many opportunities for community improvement, momentum that is building from recent successful efforts, and a framework for progress being developed through the District Office of Planning's East of the River Redevelopment Initiative". It describes briefly several on-going programs such as the rebuilding of public housing; the redevelopment of the Navy Yard west of the river; the construction of the Congress Heights metrorail station on the Green Line; and the Smithsonian's plan to invest $5 million in renovating the dilapidated old Nichols Avenue School in Anacostia as the Anacostia Museum. It also notes Mayor William's particular and oft-stated interests in revitalization East of the River--including the river itself.
The DC Heritage Tourism Coalition is active in encouraging DC's 21 million annual tourists to visit this part of town and help the local economy. Such attractions as the Frederick Douglass House, the Anacostia Museum, and the Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens (the only national park devoted to aquatic plants) remain largely unvisited. Also worth exploiting could be the remnants of Union Town, created for workers at the Navy Yard in 1854; St. Elizabeth's Hospital which "pioneered cutting edge technology in treating mental illness"; Barry's Farm community for freed men right after the Civil War; the Deanwood neighborhood where many of the homes were built by black craftsmen; and other sites associated with major players in the underground railroad, the nation's first black YMCA, and Washington's first black Presbyterian minister.
Also underway is the mayor's East of the River Redevelopment Initiative, which is described by DC's Office of Planing a neither an Office of Housing and Community Development Plan nor a government plan--"it is a people plan". At the behest of the Skyland Area Revitalization Task Force, the Marshall Heights Community Development Corporation, and the East of the River Development Corporation, the DHCD has undertaken a four-phase study looking at "housing, economic development, infrastructure, cultural and recreational needs, as well as "the human needs of people and families living east of the Anacostia River".
The first phase of the study focused on the Skyland, Minnesota-Benning, Anacostia metro station, Poplar Point, and Anacostia Gateway areas. Identified needs include an upscale retail center in the Skyland shopping center, office space at the Minnesota-Benning metrorail station, educational uses at the Anacostia metrorail station, a major retail, cultural and educational anchor at Poplar Point, and a mix of new commercial and old history in the Anacostia Gateway.
The second phase of the study will look primarily at revival of retail activities along the Martin Luther King corridor"so families can shop within their neighborhoods instead of going to Maryland, or downtown". It will also address what to do about the numerous boarded up apartments that have been vacant for many years in Central Northeast.
Phase three is to look at "all other areas east of the Anacostia River" with emphasis on local housing, infrastructure, cultural and recreational needs of the residents. Phase four will then produce a "developers' prospectus, so that marketing can begin".
In addition, the Anacostia Economic Development Corporation is looking at sites for two new buildings, one offering 52,000 square feet, and another of 190,000 square feet. Another development would involve an additional 48,000 square feet, of retail and office space, including an 18,000 square foot medical clinic for the Public Benefits Corporation, operators of the DC's public hospitals.
The stark contrast between the ambitious expectations which NARPAC expresses in the preceding section for some future "Anacostia County" and those held by the current residents should be a matter of deep concern. The notion that a "people's plan" for the poorest, most negatively productive (i.e., consumes far more municipal resources than it produces in revenues) area of the city, should equal or outweigh the "highest and best uses" for city land seems terminally inappropriate (see People/Land Productivity. More troublesome, perhaps, is that this latest "people's plan" appears to be far less ambitious than the Control Board sponsored Economic Resurgence Plan, billed as a Citizens Plan for Prosperity in the 21st Century, which was far more positive about business development around metro stations, blighted properties removal, and homeownership.
For instance, the "people's plan" makes no mention of expanding any aspects of the transportation infrastructure, be they metrorail routes and stations, highways, or intermodal parking facilities. Nor is there any consideration of more "productive" uses of city and federal lands. (See NARPAC correspondence with PG County Executive Curry, and the Editors of the Washington Post.) Moreover, the oft-mentioned (and valid) need for local "upscale retail" establishments is expressed without regard for the crying need to increase the spending power of these communities. In fact, the fundamental "gentrification" of the area is perhaps the greatest perceived threat to the disadvantaged, who quite rightly fear displacement if wealthier home owners (rather than renters) are attracted to the area.
Unfortunately, there is no immediately available mechanism by which the poor can benefit from major upgrading of property values. However, an unfettered quest for a win-win solution might lead to some unique new approach. For instance, it might be possible for the city to stretch its powers of eminent domain--as part of a major blight removal program--to buy up at "fair" price private properties which have been allowed to become run-down (often by DC's many slum landlords). The city might then be able to turn around and "sell" shares in these properties to their current tenants at a very nominal value (perhaps as an incentive to shift from welfare to work). Those tenants would then have a valid stake in the economic development of those properties since as property owners they would benefit from their resale. While this particular NARPAC approach may be more whimsical than practical, more realistic variations could well be conceived by experts.
In any event, if the city's central planning authorities abide by the severely limited aspirations of the residents East of the Anacostia, the area will remain a serious drag on the city's overall resources, and leave the metro area's core at a serious disadvantage relative to its burgeoning suburbs. Mechanisms by which the disadvantaged can benefit from gentrification could well be key to finding an acceptable local and citywide plan.The Mayor Takes an Important First Step in Revitalizing Anacostia
And to NARPAC's acknowledged surprise, the mayor announced a major new initiative to pump almost $1 billion of DC investment funding into five communities East of the Anacostia: Minnesota and Benning Avenues; Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King Ave, SE; East Capitol Street; the Bellvue neighborhood; and the Congress Heights neighborhood. By concentrating on a few specific locations, the city hopes to "dramatically improve long-neglected neighborhoods and make them attractive places for new stores, businesses or residents". Three of these communities are near metro stations, and the other two are obvious sites for metro stations in the future--when the city gets around to considering Metro system growth.
While NARPAC's more impersonal, analytical approach would have preferred to see a clearer focus on a long-range master plan, the real-world situation in this bleakest part of the racially divided city probably requires a less dogmatic and more incremental beginning. To this end, firm mayoral commitment to a large investment of the city's own resources--and acceptance thereof by the skeptical residents of this troubled area--is a very significant milestone. NARPAC wholeheartedly supports this initiative as a welcome first step up a long road. A more detailed write-up is provided under Long Range Planning.
The conventional wisdom in and around DC is that 'gentrification' is the white man's favorite device for forcing the black man ever further into the shadows. Many of the city's church-based demagogues raise this spectre at the slightest indication that economic redevelopment might threaten the continued existence of some run-down property housing (half full of) disadvantaged tenants. Even the DC Council talks frequently of passing legislation to bar the upgrading of decrepid buildings--most recently in the battle against slum landlords in the Columbia Heights area in Ward 1. However, the most intransigent residents were believed to be East of the Anacostia in Wards 7 and 8. To explore whether the disadvantaged were in fact being forced out of the city's poorest wards, Stephanie Mencimer, an investigative reporter with the Washington City Paper undertook a major probe of changing real estate conditions in DC's least developed sector. Excerpts including many direct quotes from that article are reproduced below:
WHEN HELL FREEZES OVER
To read the full and much richer article, visit the City Paper Archives.
NARPAC, Inc. concludes that the simple truth of the matter is that, given half a chance and the current climate, residents East of the Anacostia are just as interested in improving their own living conditions as anyone else in DC. Those who continue to fan the flames of racist "gentrification" are not doing any favor for themselves, the city, or the people who need it most.
The sine qua non for economic development East of the Anacostia and on throughout the entire Southeast Quadrant of the national capital metro area is an accepted long-range transportation plan for highways, pathways, mass transit, intermodal parking, and even major modern trash transfer sites. NARPAC refers to these problems regularly in its editorials, its correspondence, its suggestions for long-range metrorail planning, its interest in downtown parking and even in its commentary on trash transfer sites a long overlooked, but vital, component in transportation planning.
One vital element in any mass transit plan for "Anacostia County" would be the development of a metrorail line paralleling the Anacostia River on its southern side, connecting to the existing stations at Anacostia and Minnesota Avenue, and running all the way to DC's southern tip, where it could cross into Alexandria across the new Wilson Bridge. NARPAC has elsewhere suggested that it might be dug under Martin Luther King Avenue as part of a major renovation effort for that symbolic street.
However, public discussions associated with the development of the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative, (AWI) brought to light the existence of a nearly-abandoned railroad right of way which runs all the way from Minnesota Avenue to a dead end at the Blue Plains Sewage Treatment Plant at DC's much maligned southern tip. Hiking/biking enthusiasts are suggesting that this right of way be converted into a hike/bike path as part of the AWI. This simple schematic shows all the railroad rights of way in DC (not including metrorail), showing the course of the CSX spur:
In its lower half, this spur runs across government lands including the Naval Air Station, Bolling Air Force Base, and the Naval Research Lab. All of these relics are operating at small fractions of their economic productivity potential, and could readily be declared surplus to future military requirements, or obliged to develop their full potential. This economic resurgence could well follow the successful model now being developed at the Navy Yard Redevelopment on the Anacostia River's northern bank, along with its recently privatized adjunct, the Southeast Economic Development Center. (NARPAC is holding a design competition to dream up ways to "gussy up" the decrepid railroad bridges all over DC focusing on those in the "Southwest Knee" of the mainline headed South, just below L'Enfant Plaza see schematic above).
NARPAC suggests that this obsolescent CSX spur (which CSX might well be willing to sell off "to proper authorities") could have a far more dramatic future. It could serve as the right of way for an elevated metro rail line with an essentially unobstructed view of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers and all the urban activities along it. It would also ease the problem of eliminating the grade-level crossings at several major radial highways leading out of DC. Existing elevated sections of DC metro system have brought few complaints, and the ground level area beneath it could still be used for hikers and bikers. The photos below provide some indication of the present condition of the right of way in some of its more desolate stretches roughly two miles from the US Capitol.
(Left above) A long straight stretch of track runs between the 11th Street bridge and Suitland Parkway with the Anacostia Freeway just beyond the trees to the right across the river from the Navy Yard. Nothing suggests that it is well within the inner city of DC. (right above). This gentle curve ends amidst the heavy traffic of Pennsylvania Avenue as it descends from the Sousa Bridge. An elevated metro structure would provide the simplest means to bridge the intersection.
The ambitious Anacostia Waterfront Intiative program is beginning to take shape. It plans to redevelop and beautify the Anacostia River from the Maryland Border, with Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens on one side and the National Arboretum on the other, down to Poplar Point on the East Side, and around Ft. McNair and up the Washington Channel on the West side. It is a multi-billion dollar, 20-year undertaking that can radically change the face of Washington and hopefully ease the leap across the river to the relatively undeveloped Anacostia side.
State of Current Planning:
NARPAC is following this development closely because of its great potential, and continues to press the developers to do more. The second round of planning consultations with the public is getting underway at the end of 2001, and has both pluses and minuses:
On the Plus Side, the "small-picture focus" is slowly sharpening:
While no rational analyst would demand that the entire future of the entire metro area needs to be firmly in place before a major undertaking such a this, it would seem wise to be able to articulate a series of premises on which the AWI should be based. At the risk of repetition, here are some of the considerations which NARPAC believes are appropriate:
a) Washington, DC should be the world's premiere national capital city, hosting the symbols of everything we stand for, and supported by the world's greatest modern metro area. It is surely more than some quaint amalgam of tiny self-centered neighborhoods.In the absence of an approved overarching economic growth plan, NARPAC believes the AWI planners should adopt some fuzzy predictions of the most obvious elements, and then assure that "nothing in the AWI plan would be inconsistent with, or inhibit, the realization of those fuzzy predictions". Some are listed in the following sections
The Key to DC's Long-Range Economic Future
In the bluntest possible terms, DC has more than its share of poor people, who on average cost the city almost $25,000 per capita and are easily excited to racial fervor by local demagogues; less than its share of "middle income" people who produce somewhat more in revenues than they consume in city services (about $5,000), and engage in an abnormal amount of pet project activism; and a small number of unusually rich people who contribute as much as $20,000 per capita, but who are in general drawn to DC by the gravitational pull of the federal government, not the city. Attempts to dig out of this imbalance by adding middle income people is virtually impossible, based on the limited available space (and appeal) for single-family residents.
For an inner city, DC also has too many residents living in single family houses which end up, on average, generating little net revenue for the District, and too few living in high density apartment houses and condos, which are capable of generating $2-4 million per acre if the residents are middle to high income. Many of the truly poor are located in public housing units which may generate losses of $3 million per acre.
DC prides itself on being a residential city, and has been relatively averse to commercial business. It tends to see businesses as non-productive because many of their workers live in the suburbs. In fact, commercial enterprises on average generate substantially more annual revenue than they consume (~$45 per $1000 in assessed valuation), while residential areas (with the current population mix) consume more than they contribute (~$30/$1000). High-density commercial uses even with extant building height limits--can generate $4-6 million per acre.
The two simplest ways to fix DC's fiscal fragility are to: a) substantially reduce the number of poor in DC, by somehow generating more subsidized housing in the suburbs where the jobs are (an option apparently too hot for DC and its suburbs to handle politically, despite changing attitudes towards "gentrification"); or b) take over some currently non-productive public land and devote it to high density commercial (or upscale "mixed") use.
DC's financial problems would be eliminated if the area East of the Anacostia were developed so that the revenues from high density mixed land use could offset the costs of services to the poor in that area. In short, get EoA to pay its own way. There are less than 3000 taxable acres EoA (and less than one percent of the city's jobs), and its 120,000 residents are a net burden of about $2 billion on the city's total $5.2 billion budget.
However, there are almost 5000 untaxed acres of federal, city, and non-profit property EoA which generate little for the city, directly or indirectly. Converting 10% of those currently under- utilized non-taxed public lands to commercial/mixed high-density use could easily generate the needed $2 billion to break even.
The long-range economic goal for the city should be to redevelop the area East of the Anacostia to pay its own way, without intentionally displacing the poor. Fuzzy Predictions Are Better than None: The current planning for the AWI area pays precious little attention to the regional transportation requirements that may well evolve in the future, if in fact the area EoA is ever going to pay its own way, as recommended above. For the lack of any more formal available documentation, NARPAC offers the following strawman list of major predictions for Southeast Quadrant of the DC Metro Area with the suggestion that:
The AWI Plan should not conflict with or inhibit the following possible developments:
Southern Maryland:Transportation Implications of Fuzzy Predictions
With apologies for the less-than-professional graphics, the map below indicates the major potential economic and transportation developments in the Southeast Quadrant inside the Beltway:
Early in 2002, a new DC Transit Development Study was undertaken which could eventually have an important impact on transportation evolution East of the Anacostia. It is part of a larger issue being debated about the possible addition of Light Rail Transit (LRT) to the current mix of Metrobuses and heavy Metrorail. Though NARPAC is skeptical of this "MetroLite" addition, it may still find applications where relatively untraveled surface routes can be found and preserved.
Of more immediate interest, perhaps, DC's new Department of Transportation is being spun off from the Department of Public Works into a separate cabinet agency. It was announced in the Washington Post in March, 2002 that a deputy director of the new DoT will be assigned specifically to the major transportation aspects of the new Anacostia Waterfront Initiative. NARPAC considers this to be very good news.
This page was updated on Oct 5, 2002.
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