28 December 2010

Will Thomas push for local business and good urban design?

Harry Thomas, Jr. will lead the DC Council's Committee on Economic Development next year. In a press release, Thomas notes his plans to continue "building on what he has accomplished in this area for Ward 5." The trouble is, Thomas' development record in Ward 5 is spotty, at best.

Councilmember Thomas. Photo by mediaslave on Flickr.
Suburban-style, big box-anchored retail development is scattered throughout Ward 5, such as Rhode Island Place, Rhode Island Avenue Center, and Hechinger Mall.

With part of Thomas' new duties including oversight of the Department of Small and Local Business Development (DSLBD), one might expect him to focus on revitalizing the city's struggling commercial corridors. Instead, we have a Councilmember who has often championed more of the status quo.

In his November 15 testimony before the DC Zoning Commission on proposed car and bike parking regulations in the zoning code, Thomas said,

"I have recently spoken with representatives of several retailers who are interested in developing large, multi-tenant shopping centers in the District.... There are ... a number of locations in Ward 5 and other outlying Wards with blocks of land large enough to accommodate these developments, but without convenient access to Metrorail. Placing a cap on parking citywide, in a one-size-fits-all approach, would limit the desirability of these locations and have an adverse economic impact on the District."

We now know that Thomas was alluding to Dakota Crossing, with a planned 3,000 surface parking spaces, as well as the still developing plans for four Walmarts.
At the same time, Thomas knows very well what progressive urban infill looks like, and has helped usher it in during his tenure in Ward 5. Rhode Island Station, The Flats at Atlas District, and developments near Catholic University build on a multi- and mixed-use platform with retail space for small, local businesses.

While we continue to hear Thomas' lip service about the jobs and tax revenues that will be brought by new big boxes, our main streets continue to flounder. The Rhode Island Avenue Great Streets Initiative, for example, seems to have fallen off of DMPED's radar.

Can Thomas, who will have oversight of DMPED as Chair of the Committee on Economic Development, push for movement on a plan that could link the District's side of this important gateway with the revitalization that is happening just across the border in Mt. Rainier and Hyattsville?

While Brookland's 12th Street NE commercial strip received streetscape improvements, it still struggles to attract new businesses. North Capitol Main Street, Inc. continues to make strides in promoting local businesses, but will it find itself competing against a suffocating surge in big box, large-scale infill?

Will economic development East of the River under Thomas be focused on a blend of large- and small-scale development, or will bigger continue to be touted as better?

Thomas has proven an ability to work with developers and corporations on large projects. He knows the language of urban design and of Main Street commercial revitalization.

Unfortunately, a disconnect appears to exist between Thomas' advocacy for the bigger players and the smaller operators necessary to foster vital, dense cores in our neighborhoods. As he leads the Committee on Economic Development for the next four years, his actions will speak louder than words, particularly as we work our way out of the current recession.

Without a balance of both local and national retail outlets, small- and large-scale development, we will continue to see big box nodes favored to the detriment of our underutilized retail corridors, and we simply cannot afford that.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

06 December 2010

UPDATED: "There's a killer on your block"

Note: I have closed the comments for this post, because I'm concerned about the tone that has emerged there. To those who believe that we are casting a verdict in this case, please note that we simply wanted to show what we believed was a strange, and ultimately not productive, letter that we received. We fully believe in the presumption of innocence of anyone who has been accused of a crime. Mr. Kearney will have his day in court, and only then will innocence or guilt be determined. We have also made no judgments about the family, and will continue to remain unbiased observers of this story as it unfolds.

Original post continues below:

The deaths of Jamal Wilson and Joseph Alonzo Sharps, Jr., have been in the news quite a bit lately. The news hit close to home (literally) for us a few weeks ago when we heard the name of one of the accused in these crimes: Kwan Kearney. The Kearneys live down the street from us.

Things have been quiet on the block since the night that Kwan was arrested for these two homicides. News spread from neighbor to neighbor, and we've assumed that everyone nearby knows what has happened.

Apparently, though, someone wanted to make sure that we were fully aware of the situation. This arrived in the mail today:

It's an envelope with no return address (and no recipient name, just our address), containing a photocopied printout of this Washington Post article. As you can see, a note was added in large, bold print, alerting us that the accused lives on our block.

The note should have said "lived," because Kwan is currently in jail awaiting trial.

21 November 2010

Bike tour of wards 5 and 7

Last Friday, I took a bike tour of parts of wards 5 and 7, taking a few photos along the way with my new smartphone (thanks, Credo Mobile!)

Here's a map of the route, with the photos embedded. The trip started at Oates Street and Trinidad Avenue, and headed north to the Trinidad Recreation Center.

View November 12th Bike Tour in a larger map

I just thought it would be fun to share a trip through some of the local neighborhoods. Enjoy!

18 November 2010

What have we gained (and what have we lost)?

I'm too busy at work on a regular day to keep up with the news, so I generally don't write about the most up-to-date happenings in DC. The Walmart story, though, is far too big and consequential to not weigh in on in a timely fashion.

There are things that make Washington, DC unique: things that make us different from every other city in the country and give us a sense of pride. It seems like that specialness, that uniqueness is slipping away from us in some ways. Is it all important? In some ways it is, and it others, it really isn't, but I wanted to note how I feel about these things, while the feelings are fresh.

I wanted to focus on the things we didn't have.

We didn't have handguns. Sure, "when you make handgun ownership a crime, only criminals will own handguns," was a phrase we all heard a million times, but most of agreed with the ban. It's gone now, not just for DC, but for any other municipality in the United States, thanks to the Supreme Court.

We didn't have voting rights in Congress. Fought like hell for it the last few years, with ideas that seemed ingenious and workable (a seat for us, a seat for Utah), only to come out with nothing. With the results of the election two weeks ago, the chances of that changing any time soon are less than zero.

We didn't have Walmart. So what? Neither do most cities, if you think about it. But this mostly left-leaning city decided multiple times, when the retailing behemoth made overtures about crossing the line and setting up shop, that we didn't want them here. For reasons related to labor, mostly, Walmart stood on the outside looking in. Most of us agreed with this (well, maybe not this lobbyist), but it looks like they've wiggled their nose far enough under the tent this time.

This one divides people in strange ways. Some are excited about the possibility that they won't have to travel out to Landover Hills to get some goods cheaper. Some are enraged that a company with a reputation for not being fair to workers could get a foothold in the city. Some fear what will happen to small business in the city. My biggest fear is that Walmart will be able to steamroll any opposition, and I don't mean regarding their existence here. I mean opposition to locations, or site layout and design, or wage deals. Their PR machine helicoptered in and was ready to go at 100 miles per hour before anyone even knew what was happening. If that doesn't convince you that the fix is in, then nothing likely will.

What really makes DC unique, especially when compared to surrounding jurisdictions, is that we're a real, dense, urban city. Montgomery, Prince George's, Fairfax—even Arlington—they're not the same thing. A lot of us live here, or moved here, because of the uniqueness of that, vis-a-vis those surrounding counties. Many had a choice to live in suburbia or to live in the city. I chose the city. It looks like suburbia has decided they want to be here too.

At the end of the day, the one thing we didn't have, and really fought for, we still don't have.

12 November 2010

...my kingdom for a copy editor!

Capital Community News produces three monthly magazines, the Hill Rag, MidCityDC (formerly known as DC North), and East of the River. They're essentially community newspapers, focusing on a compact geographic area, covering everything from obituaries to restaurant openings to school plays. They do a decent job of reporting news, but could use a lot of work when it comes to copy editing.

I mentioned this at the end of September, and promised some more examples. After marking up every copy of the August, September, October, and November issues of the Hill Rag and MidCityDC, I came to the conclusion that there are just too many mistakes to share. It would take days to write about them all.

But, my need to curmudge knows no few bounds, so I figured I should share some of them with you!

First up is the name of MidCityDC. I'm not certain that's the proper style. It's "MIDCITY DC" on the website, "MidCity DC" in the masthead (PDF), and "Midcity DC" in the footer on each page. It would seem that the switch from DC North to a new name came with some confusion about what that name really is.

The second thing that vexes me is the geographic breakdown of the monthly columns in MidCityDC. There are regular columns each month dedicated to telling stories and reporting news about Bloomingdale, Logan Circle, Shaw, and 14th and U Streets. The problem is that each month, most of the Logan Circle column is about 14th and U, which the author has inexplicably coined "U/14." I have never heard a living soul in this city use that moniker, and I'm curious if he's attempting to start a trend, or merely finds it funny. I realize, of course, that drawing a sharp line between the Logan Circle and 14th and U neighborhoods is difficult (see TBD's reporting on the naming of the Arts District in that part of the city). Perhaps the author of the 14th and U column (U Street Girl's Catherine Finn) could cover the whole Logan Circle/14th and U area, solving this toponymic disaster.

One more MidCityDC note is worth a chuckle. Richard Layman pointed this one out to me a last week. The cover of the August edition of the magazine is pictured to the left. Take note of the highlighted word on the cover. That's an example of where a little airbrushing might be acceptable, don't you think?

Finally, there's the Hill Rag. The ratio of advertising to content is about 5 to 1 (I didn't check this precisely, but it sure feels that way), but the content is usually worth reading. News that may have slipped through the cracks from the monthly ward 6 ANC meetings gets a full recount in this paper. Unfortunately, it's riddled with so many typographical errors and run-on sentences that it makes me cringe. Submitted for your approval, here are nine problems I found on one page this month. This isn't a large or unusual number.

1) The gentleman's name is Ron Rob, not Rom, Amos. Double-checking the spelling of proper nouns is always a good idea.

2) Rogue number.

3) It appears that the author wrote "used to," then changed her mind to say "used for," and never deleted "to."

4) This paragraph should be indented, as it's part of the bullet point above.

5) An indefinite article ("a") should be put in front of "City Council" here.

6) Extra comma. The Hill Rag doesn't appear to have a standard for dealing with commas. Sometimes they use an Oxford comma, sometimes they do not. Unnecessary commas appear in places where they are not needed, creating awkward pauses that make for difficult reading.

7) AMI is not defined anywhere in this article. When using jargon and acronyms, it's a good idea to provide definitions for those who might be unfamiliar with the term.

8) Missing comma. That extra comma in number 6 could float down here and fix two problems.

9) Number 8 is actually part of a much bigger problem. This paragraph is one run-on sentence. It hurts to read it, and I dare someone to diagram it! Here it is, reprinted it its terrible glory:

Alex Nyhan, representing Forest City Washington, the Yards developer had presented an overview of the project at the September meeting, and returned to seek approval of the Zoning Commission, including a variance needed because the project is included in the Southeast Federal Center Zoning Overlay, and will be taller than the 90' height requirement that the Overlay specifies, and others to enable a curb cut for a loading dock, and balconies on the apartment building.

Don't get me wrong, the Capital Community News stable of community newspapers are a valuable resource. It's just difficult to read without developing a small headache if you're an editor.

11 November 2010

Fast food signs

This quick study shows two tall signs for fast food establishments. These are the kind of signs that you would usually see on an Interstate Highway, advertising an establishment to long-distance travelers approaching the exit.

First is the sign for a McDonalds at the corner of 9th and T Streets NE. It's in the middle of an area that's zoned industrial and commercial, with no residences for many blocks in every direction (map).

The second sign is for the Checkers just off of H Street in the northeast corner of Capitol Hill (map). This location is surrounded by residences, on the edge of the H Street commercial district.

I looked through the zoning regulations, expecting to find something that might hint that the Checkers sign would not be legal. It just seems so out of place in a residential neighborhood, especially one with the design rules of Capitol Hill. But the location is a few blocks north and east of the edge of the Capitol Hill Historic District, so the stricter rules that would probably preclude such signage don't apply here.

10 November 2010

The new 9th Street Bridge

Here are a few photographs of the new 9th Street NE bridge over New York Avenue and the Ivy City Rail Yard (you can see the old and new bridge side-by-side on the latest imagery at Google Maps). DDOT says the bridge should be fully opened by May 2011. The bridge it is replacing was built in 1941 and has outlived its usefulness.

This is the northern approach to the bridge. Traffic heading southbound onto Mount Olivet Road towards Trinidad and Ivy City veers to the left onto the old bridge. Traffic heading towards the Capital City Market and downtown veer to the right onto the new bridge.

This is right at the base of the new bridge. Only one lane is open for now, but you can see the wider sidewalks and the bricked median.

This is looking north from the bridge. Less sun glare in this direction. You can see the bricked median more clearly. The bridge is wider for both cars and pedestrians, and has a more gentle, constant slope than the old bridge.

09 November 2010

Sights along the Met Branch Trail

The Metropolitan Branch Trail has been open between Franklin Street NE and the New York Avenue Metro Station for a few months now. Richard Layman and I must have both been on the trail within a few minutes of each other on Sunday, because I saw the cat at the top of this blog post in about the same spot. Here are some photographs I took of oddities and interesting things.

There is a continuing problem with erosion just south of the New York Avenue bridge. The area to the left where this mud is coming from is a steep slope half covered with weedy growth. Without it, there would probably be even more mud.

There is now signage for every street connection from the trail into Eckington. Here's R Street and Randolph Place NE.

For whatever reason, an R2-D2 look-alike looks over the trail at Randolph Place NE.

The pocket park where 4th and S Streets NE meet the trail is an overlooked gem. Each bench is accompanied by a place to lock up your bike, and there are trees that will hopefully live long enough to provide shade and beauty to this light industrial spot. (Richard makes a very good point that there should be garbage cans here, as well as in other locations along the trail.)

Neat how the trail's 5th and T Street NE signs are reflected in the signs across the street.

The parking structure that's going up at the Rhode Island Avenue station looms over even the elevated tracks.

The entrance to W Street NE is not as nice as the others. It's basically just a hole cut in the fence.

No idea what this is. It's just north of the Edgewood entrance to the trail. It looks like it could be for composting or something similar, but those light layers are rocks, not organic material.

Finally, here's a shot of the Rhode Island Avenue Station parking garage. Part of me would like to see it very underutilized, since the station is very well served by buses, and it's becoming easier to walk to. I think this garage will attract suburban drivers who will come down Rhode Island Avenue from Maryland. It could serve as a way to get close to downtown without having to drive all the way into the congestion of the center of the city.

One step forward for urbanism, one step back?

A suburban-style building is about to go up in the shadow of smart-growth development at the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station.

While construction has begun on Rhode Island Station, an mixed-use infill development that is replacing the former parking lot at the Metro station, a smaller, adjacent development has not received much attention.

In the parking lot of Rhode Island Place, a large strip mall that was plopped down on top of what used to be a city impoundment lot (and a cemetery before that), TD Bank is about to begin construction on a new branch. This was first reported by a commenter on the Rhode Island Ave NE Insider blog in March, but was not widely circulated.

Judging this is a tough call. On one hand, this land is a completely unused piece of asphalt. Look at the map here—the location is in the part of the parking lot furthest from both the Giant and the Home Depot. I never see any cars parked there, even during busy hours at the stores. The land will be better utilized than before, but it will still be a car-centric drive-to and -through location.

It's somewhat ironic that, while we are encouraging transit-oriented development on the old WMATA parking lot next door, we're moving further away from that goal at Rhode Island Place.

08 November 2010

Someone's not a Washington Post fan

There's a working Washington Post box among the other newspaper boxes at this D8 bus stop on 9th Street NE, in front of the McDonalds. It looks like it gained two friends this weekend. You can see them lying ahead on the sidewalk in the photo to the right. A closer view is below. What did they do to deserve this cruel fate? 

04 November 2010

Say nice things about the Current Newspapers!

I frequently refer to articles in the Dupont Current, because they're the closest of the Currents to my home. This community newspaper, based in Northwest DC, publishes four editions (the aforementioned Dupont, as well as the Foggy Bottom, Georgetown, and Northwest Currents). They do amazing journalism, digging deep into stories and getting facts that are difficult for bloggers to take the time to find, and that papers like the Washington Post simply ignore.

Others cite the Current's reporting as well, but we all complain that the content isn't available in a format that's easy to link to. The paper is placed online in PDF format, sometimes weeks after initial publication, so it's hard to get their stories out to a wider audience that doesn't have access to the hard copy.

That said, it's important to stop and take a second to appreciate the amazing work they do. Erik Wemple wrote a great story about the Current in the Washington City Paper a couple years ago. I also wanted to share this note that was recently posted to the Shaw listserv by Joesph Martin, an ANC member in Ward 4:

At last night's ANC 4C meeting, someone raised the question of why ANC 4C's monthly newsletter is inserted in the Northwest Current as opposed to other small newspapers.

Answer: Other papers have not bothered covering ANC 4C's meetings on a monthly basis.
We asked the Northwest Current to be distributed to all ten, single-member districts. The Current agreed. We asked the Current to consider including the monthly, ANC 4C newsletter in its first, monthly, weekly edition. The Northwest Current agreed.

No other small newspaper offered itself as a vehicle for getting our monthly newsletter to all ten, single member district.


When I first got on ANC 4C, I routinely emailed ANC 4C agendae to The Afro, Washington Informer, the Hill Rag, etc.... I am not even sure if I notified the Current Newspapers in those early days. I probably did not, to be honest. I was not as familiar with the Current as I was with the Intowner, and I knew the Intowner did not cover Petworth.

There was a time when the Hill Rag covered ANC 4C. I seem to recall the City Paper covering ANC 4C from time to time. Once The New York Times ran an article that quoted me, Gable Klein (current DDOT Director, then at Zip Car) and Dan Tangherlini, then DDOT Director under Mayor Anthony Williams.

National Public Radio's "All Things Considered" included a piece on ANC 4C in a weekend-edition, post Katrina report about whether or not DC would be ready for a major emergency.

If the national press can find their way to covering ANC 4C, what's stopping any local media outlet or blogger?

Two thumbs up to the Northwest Current for taking the trouble to cover us every month for the last few years.

Note to any blogger, media outlet or DC newspaper: What's stopping you from coverage ANC meetings? Take your pick. We're all over the District of Columbia. If you agree with those who think ANC stands for All Neighborhood Cranks and can't be bothered, I might even agree with you - for a moment.

The Current is an amazing community asset. If you live in one of the areas they cover, count your blessings!

03 November 2010

How NOT to be a neighborhood blogger

Back on September 14th, Jaime and I participated in the Social Media Club – DC's Social Media Breakfast. One of the things discussed was an advantage we bloggers have over other media sources—we can easily and quickly correct errors, in part because we don't have a bureaucratic structure with editors and the like. If we find something is wrong, whether on our own or through someone else pointing it out, we can deal with it swiftly. I went so far as to say that I felt that this was one of the most important things a hyper-local blogger can do. Accuracy is our stock in trade.

Ancillary to accuracy is an ability to work together with the community of other local bloggers. At the end of September, a new local blog, The Georgetown Dish, sent an email to a list of names that appeared to be cribbed from earlier emails sent out to the TBD Community Network. These are the blogs that work in concert with TBD.com to cover local news. Unfortunately, these people did not request to be placed on this mailing list.

Many complained to TBD and The Georgetown Dish regarding this conduct, and TBD quickly apologized by way of an email, letting Community Network members know that their names were not intentionally given to The Georgetown Dish. Beth Solomon, the publisher of The Georgetown Dish, sent only a weak non-apology, stating:

I did hear from our tech people that there was a mix up of lists -- I am really sorry and we will send out a note to the group shortly. Apologies again for the trouble and have a great day

If Ms. Solomon and her team ever sent out a "note" regarding this, we never received a copy. It would be interesting to see what she meant by a "mix up of lists" as well, as we should never have been on any unsolicited email list in the first place.

The Georgetown Dish hurt itself in the eyes of many in the local blogging community by taking advantage of our openness, not showing any humility when they were caught cheating the system, and then failing to follow-up in the end. All it would have taken was an emailed statement like, "You're right—we screwed up and shouldn't have done that. Our sincerest apologies and we promise we won't do it again." Instead, we got radio silence.

That's not what I'd expect from an honorable, respectable, or trustworthy news outlet, and it's not an auspicious way to make one's entry to the local blogging community.

(I realize it may seem curious why this is being brought up after a month. I intended to wait a week, see if anything was forthcoming, and then write about this. Things got very busy and the blog fell very low on the priority scale. That's why this and the previous post are bringing up things from a month ago.)

02 November 2010

Let the sunshine in (yes, everyone else uses that title as well)

Photo by Guillaume Cattiaux on Flickr.
In late September, the Washington City Paper reported on the Open Government is Good Government Act of 2010. The bill, introduced by Councilmember Muriel Bowser, intends to make the deliberative process in city government less opaque at many levels, from the council down to the Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) throughout the city.

Unfortunately, many neighborhood commissioners are up in arms because they believe that their ability to deliberate will be held hostage by the need to conform to the requirements of such a bill. The last time a similar act was written up, according to the September 29th Dupont Current, the bill gave a wholesale exemption to ANCs. That bill never passed out of committee to the whole council.

The Dupont Current article also quotes Gottlieb Simon, whose title is executive director of the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. Mr. Simon is apparently going to bat for the commissions that are opposed to the bill. The Current's editorial page argues that opposition to the bill is wrong, and I agree. The sensible reaction to difficulties that may come about because of the passage of such a bill is to create room for exceptions in case the requirements put a straitjacket on neighborhood commissions. Granting them a blanket exemption from the beginning does not sound like the way to encourage openness from the commissions.

Speaking of openness, the ANC website could use an overhaul and some more sunshine as well. It has not been moved to the new dc.gov template, and you can't even find out who is in charge of the operation without prior knowledge of the current situation. Mr. Simon's name and title appear nowhere on the webpage (unless you count the fact that you can see his address when you hover your mouse over the link that says "The office...may also be contacted by email").

Yesterday, Lydia DePillis wrote the an article about the possibility of ANC reform. It's something that Richard Layman has preached for ages. His experience included serving on one of the citizen-led committees of a Capitol Hill ANC when he lived in the neighborhood, and it's something that many in the city believe is a model other ANCs should follow.

There are many ways we could go about reforming the ANC level of government here in DC, including adjusting the size of individual commissions, encouraging more citizen involvement, or even radical reworking of the duties of the ANCs. But it all starts with openness. Without transparency in the decision-making process, corresponding changes will not have the necessary transformative impact to make them really worthwhile.

If we really want to make ANCs better, we need to pass the Open Government is Good Government Act of 2010, and make sure that the deliberations and actions of the city's ANCs are included.

01 November 2010

Google Maps flubs our city's name

When filling out forms online, you often enter address information. In most instances, the choice for state includes the postal abbreviations for the states, and the District of Columbia is included in alphabetical order after Delaware and before Florida.

Unfortunately, the "state" we live in is sometimes listed as "Washington, D.C.," so one finds DC in alphabetical order after Washington and before West Virginia. When coupled with the name in the city field (Washington), this leads to an address in "Washington, Washington D.C.," which looks, sounds, and is ridiculous.

It appears that sometime in the last few weeks, Google Maps has fallen into a similar trap. Typing "Washington" into the search field when first in Google Maps, one sees the result below:

As you can see, they're labeling our city as "Washington D.C., DC." It's pretty silly.

Here's another example.

And finally, any address that you select (like the White House in this example) has "Washington D.C., DC" appended to the street address. Google needs to fix this, so the city name is only rendered as "Washington," and the state abbreviation is "DC." The current redundancy doesn't make sense.

30 September 2010

Local newspaper needs better editing

It's been a busy month, and it's been tough to find time to get anything posted, but I thought I'd start things back up with something very nit-picky, very curmudgeonly, and take a look at copy editing in a local newspaper.

Luckily, the papers published by Capital Community News are a veritable treasure trove of errors. A series of rotating contributors must certainly make it difficult for the editors. Without an established writing style to grow used to, it can be difficult to know what kind of errors to expect from one's authors.

The first in this series comes from the August 2010 [PDF] issue of the Hill Rag, which covers the greater Capitol Hill part of the city. The author appears to have difficulty with homophones, and I've highlighted three of them in the article below.

"Axel" is used to refer to an automobile part, "base" to discuss low-frequency music notes, and "alter" for a place to make a worshipful offering. It goes without saying that these words don't mean what the author thought they do.

We'll have more in the coming days.

13 September 2010

Don't forget local history

Nob Hill. Photo from Metro Weekly, May 22, 2003.
A couple weeks ago, New Columbia Heights and Prince of Petworth ran stories about the 6th anniversary of The Wonderland Ballroom, a bar located at the corner of 11th and Kenyon Streets NW.

Both blogs told a story about the period before Wonderland opened, with Andrew of New Columbia Heights saying, "When it opened, the Wonderland Ballroom was maybe the only place to get a beer in the area: I have friends who lived here before then, and the closest spot for them was Chief Ike's Mambo Room on Columbia Road in Adams Morgan, kind of a hike," and Dan of Prince of Petworth saying, "I hate to be that old guy who says “I remember when” but I remember when Wonderland was not open."

In both instances, they're leaving out some important history. A quick read of both Dan and Andrew's accounts could lead one to a false belief that no bars existed in that part of Columbia Heights before Wonderland opened. That is not the case.

This story raises the question of how in-depth a neighborhood blog should go to report a story. These outlets are not peer-reviewed journals, or even a traditional broadsheet newspaper with full editorial and research teams, so expecting a fully-researched story is unrealistic.

What makes blogs a unique form of writing, though, is the crowdsourcing aspect, where those reading can add to a story, and the author can update as more information is brought to the attention of all.

This is the model that Jaime and I believe should be standard for all neighborhood blogs, and is a reason why we were excited to join the TBD Community Network, because we saw the potential for many voices to come together and tell as thorough of a story as possible when reporting the news or items of interest.

A quick Internet search (or a glance at the Cultural Tourism DC sign on the street in front of the bar) finds that another bar existed at this location for nearly 50 years before The Wonderland Ballroom opened, and that bar was called Nob Hill.

Nob Hill was unique in that it was a black-owned gay bar, and until the time of it's closing in the spring of 2004, it could claim the title of the "oldest gay bar in Washington." Stories about Nob Hill exist in the archives of local publications like the City Paper and Metro Weekly. These stories note that the clientele was not exclusively gay, and the bar was open to all neighbors, though ownership did cater to black gay men.

The Metro Weekly article, published in May 2003, tells the story of a bar that is doing well financially, but a follow-up story less than a year later in February 2004 notes that the bar closed, apparently due to a fall-off in business. The story also seems to hint that ABRA helped to close the bar because of charges of code violations, which may or may not have come from neighbors moving into the neighborhood during rapid demographic change in the last decade.

Even though the bar is closed, it still holds an important place in the history of DC, especially in the gay community. The National Trust for Historic Preservation notes that a strong case exists for the site to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

(DC's official tourist website, washington.org, could stand to update things, though, as it states Nob Hill is still open.)

Only six months passed between the closing of DC's oldest gay bar and the opening of what would become its popular replacement. DC is full of rich history beyond the standard textbook stuff that happens on the Mall or Capitol Hill, and Nob Hill is one of those stories that we need to be reminded of, else we forget our past.

Additional links:

10 September 2010

For Ward 5 Council: Kenyan McDuffie

Harry Thomas Jr. has been an unremarkable and disappointing member of the DC Council, getting little done and having few noteworthy positions. In Ward 5, he has favored big-box and strip mall development over neighborhood commercial corridors.

Kenyan McDuffie. Photo by mediaslave on Flickr.
For those neighborhood corridors, his leadership was primarily reactive in nature. In Brookland, for example, residents pushed for burying power lines during a major streetscape renovation, but despite verbal support, Mr. Thomas was ineffective at actually winning the change for the neighborhood. That project remains in flux two years later.

Mr. Thomas has continued many big box development initiatives begun under former Councilmember Vincent Orange without pushing for immediate improvements neighborhoods need. The Rhode Island Avenue NE Great Streets Initiative looks nice on paper, but some short-term facade improvement funds would be a huge boost right now for the corridor, and Thomas has not fought for that.

A new Aldi is under construction across from an existing, open Safeway in Carver Langston, but Thomas has done little to bring retail investment to Edgewood where another Safeway closed earlier this year. And rumor has it we may get a Wal-Mart where Jim Abdo once envisioned a mixed-use gateway on New York Avenue.

As chair of the Libraries, Parks, and Recreation Committee, Mr. Thomas seems to favor recreation over libraries, perhaps because of his athletic bent. He's directed money to Ward 5 recreation centers, but very little in the way of needed capital improvements have been made to the ward's two libraries.

Kenyan McDuffie represents a promising alternative to Mr. Thomas's lack of leadership.

Mr. McDuffie has a strong background, with degrees from Howard University and the University of Maryland School of Law and work history with Eleanor Holmes Norton, as an assistant state attorney in Prince George's County, a judicial clerk in Maryland's 7th Circuit, and a trial attorney for the Civil Rights Division at the DOJ. His background in policy and legislature will bring, according to the Washington City Paper's endorsement, a "wonkier style" to the job, but we believe it will also bring some much needed focus.

Regarding commercial development, Mr. McDuffie understands that continuing to focus on large-scale projects sets a potentially negative precedent for the ward. He told us, "The same $1.5 million allocated to the large, suburban-style development in Ft. Lincoln could go a long way toward revitalizing an existing small business corridor or attracting smaller-scale development to corridors like Bladensburg Road and North Capitol Street."

Related in many ways to commercial development, the improvement of food systems and access is critical to Mr. McDuffie, who supports efforts to bring healthy food to children. Councilmember Thomas was a leader of the charge against the soda tax, but didn't help provide any alternate revenue source for healthier school food.

Crime, particularly juvenile crime, continues to be an important topic throughout the city. Mr. McDuffie's experience as an attorney is evident in his thoughtfulness in addressing the many factors juveniles face before becoming delinquent.

Overall, Mr. McDuffie is able to identify current barriers to progress, including the real and artificial boundaries that divide neighboring communities. He believes in holistic methods to move beyond the status quo the ward has become accustomed to, and we believe he is the right choice for Ward 5 voters on Tuesday.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

26 August 2010

PSA: Bike parking at NY Ave. Station is not safe—avoid if possible

Three bikes: two vandalized, one attempted.
Examine the photograph at the right. Is it an art installation, or is it vandalized private property? If you guessed the latter, you're right.

These are the bike racks near the northern entrance to the New York Avenue/Florida Avenue/Gallaudet University metro station. I've written before about bicycle parking at this station, and I've noted that bicycles get stolen (or at least have parts stolen off them) with alarming frequency here.

On my way home from work Tuesday, I found that someone had attempted to steal my bicycle. I had a rear wheel stolen here in the spring, and since then I've taken the time to make sure that my front and rear wheels are locked, in addition to the bicycle frame. This time, they got far enough to remove the rear axle before realizing they weren't going to be able to get anything of value. The axle was left on the ground, and the the wheel had been pulled from the frame, but the U-lock prevented its removal.

Previously, I had asked the station manager how to get abandoned bicycle frames removed. I also asked whether there was any regular patrol of this area, which is somewhat hidden from sight. To say that he was unhelpful would be too kind and diplomatic. My experience with metro station managers leads me to believe that many of them serve little more purpose than filling the empty space inside a reflective vest.

Earlier this month, when parts were stolen from the bike on the left, I reported it to the Metro Transit Police. Nothing happened. This time, I called again and complained about the lack of action, noted a clear pattern, and asked that something be done. I finally saw some action on Wednesday morning.

First two images: removal notice from MTPD. The third is from DDOT.

The Metro Transit Police placed the orange notice on the latest vandalized bike. It is now considered abandoned property and will be removed by the end of next week. The other bike has a removal notice from DDOT. I'm not sure why there are two different agencies responding to the same situation, but I'll be happy to see these bikes removed. Leaving them there is a prime example of broken windows theory. Thieves can see that the area is not cared for, which does nothing to discourage criminal behavior.

Metro vehicles serve as a virtual wall,
shielding criminals from the eyes of the public.
The fact remains that this is currently a dangerous place to park a bicycle. To the best of my knowledge, there are no regular patrols here. The bike racks are out of the sight of most foot traffic—you can't really see them from the cafe and coffee shop around the corner. The biggest problem is that Metro employees still park their cars on the sidewalk, creating a wall that hides criminal activity.

Until Metro gets on the ball and actually enforces common-sense rules, like requiring its employees to park cars in real parking spaces, this isn't a smart place to park a bicycle. If you are going to park here, ABSOLUTELY make sure you use both a cable lock and a U-lock AT THE MINIMUM to secure your bike. Lock up your seat and remove any accessories. There is a professional bike thief at work here, and he knows that he can act with impunity (the thefts I've seen have all happened sometime between noon and 6 pm—broad daylight).

22 August 2010

Update about street trees

Back on August 10th, we posted an article about street trees, which included opinions about what we feel needs to be done to ensure that taxpayer money is being spent effectively when planting and maintaining these trees. The article was cross-posted on Greater Greater Washington as well.

On Thursday, DDOT replied. Karyn LeBlanc wrote that the "US Environmental Protection Agency’s MS4 Permit requires the District government to plant at least 4,150 trees every year." (MS4 stands for "Municipal Separate Storm Sewer Systems.")

The big news was that the Urban Forestry Administration will be rebranded "d.Trees" in the near future.

It's always reassuring to see a government agency paying attention to the concerns of the taxpayers. Hopefully this rebranding will lead to even more focus on outreach with the residents of the city.

11 August 2010

One Washington Post error fixed, an even worse one discovered

This morning, I pointed out how the Washington Post missed out on some basic DC geography. They fixed the misnamed "Oak Street," properly replacing it with "Oates Street." (Not everyone agreed with my assertion regarding the quadrants and Ward 5, but there's both opinion and fact in addressing that.)

But this evening, I found something even worse. The Islamic month of Ramadan is upon us, and the Washington Post has an article discussing the calculation of when the month actually beings begins (in short, it depends on the mosque, the branch of the religion, or raw politics). The article is accompanied by the graphic above.

Arabic is written from right to left, unlike English, which flows from left to right. If you can read Arabic, you'll immediately recognize that the word 'Ramadan' in that graphic is backwards! It would be as if i typed it as 'nadamaR' in English.

It should look like this:


Again, edit these things before you publish them, Washington Post! This is basic journalism!

UPDATE: Within a half-hour of the publication of this post, the Washington Post pulled the graphic offline. We'll update again if/when they post a replacement graphic.

UPDATE II: The graphic is actually still there. There are two links from the article to get to it. One is bad, one still works.

Washington Post writers need to spend more time with maps

Map from Google Maps
(This post has been updated. See below the jump.)

There is no Oak Street in Trinidad. There is an Oates Street. A simple glance at a map of the neighborhood proves that in less than a minute. Why can't our city's largest newspaper invest that time and effort when writing stories about DC?

Over the last couple days, I've complained to many friends and acquaintances that there has been very little coverage of the Ward 5 race in DC's influential newspapers and TV stations. All the oxygen has been sucked out of the room, so to speak, by the mayoral race, and to a much lesser extent, the council chairman's race.

Even the smaller newspapers have dedicated little to this important political scramble. Capital Community News used to publish a paper called DC North which covered news across Ward 5. In March of this year, they rebranded the paper MidCity DC, pulling back coverage of Ward 5 to the Bloomingdale neighborhood, no longer covering the rest of the ward.

The Washington Post published a story about the Ward 5 race on their website last night, and it's in the print version of today's Metro section. But they didn't take the time to do some basic geographic fact-checking. Ann E. Marimow wrote the story, with contributions from Nikita Stewart, but the two apparently didn't run the story by a fact-checking staff member to make sure they got the details right.

The story paints a picture of the incumbent, Harry Thomas Jr., by mentioning parts of the ward where he grew up. One of those places was his grandmother's house in Trinidad, which they claim was on "Oak Street." Click on the Trinidad map above—there is no Oak Street, there is an Oates Street. Sure, it's a little detail, but little details are the things we expect professional journalists to get right. Otherwise, us crazy bloggers might as well be your only source of news, with our supposed lack of fact-checking, lack of editors, and Cheeto-stained fingers.

It's not the first time the paper has expressed a lack of geographic knowledge about DC. Last month, I wrote about the Post's tendency to make broad generalizations regarding the city's quadrants. A lack of understanding regarding Northeast and Northwest, and how Ward 5 relates to the two, is on display in today's story as well.

Here's the article's first sentence:
Ask residents of the District's Northeast neighborhoods about city government, and many are quick to say that they feel neglected, that Ward 5 has too often been a dumping ground for stinky trash transfer stations and unseemly X-rated clubs.
This makes it appear that Ward 5 and the Northeast quadrant of the city are co-extant. Northeast is much bigger than Ward 5 (it includes parts of wards 4, 6, and 7 as well) and Ward 5 isn't just in Northeast (Ward 5's Bloomingdale and Truxton Circle neighborhoods are both in Northwest).

These are simple things that could have been caught if run by someone familiar with the geography of the city. Find that person on your staff and make sure they get to weigh in on these things, Washington Post writers, because your natural advantage over us bloggers (a bigger audience and better news gathering infrastructure) doesn't mean much if you can't get your facts right.

10 August 2010

Street tree care—How can it improve?

The appropriateness of the nickname "City of Trees" is at risk here in Washington, DC, but there is hope that change to the way our city's trees are cared for will make this nickname relevant again, and soon.

In the August 4th edition of the Dupont Current (I wish I could link directly to the story, but the Current has a strong dislike of Internet publishing), there is a story about the DC "Tree Fund." The fund is partially filled by fees levied as part of the Urban Forest Preservation Act of 2002, and is legally required to be kept separate from the city's general fund. The Current says that the 2011 budget, proposed by the mayor and approved by the council, removes money from the fund and places it in the city's general fund. I'm no expert regarding the execution of DC law, but this appears to be in direct opposition to the spirit, if not the letter, of the Urban Forest Preservation Act.

In the article, Councilmember Mary Cheh (D-Ward 3) states she wasn't aware that the money was being diverted from the Tree Fund into the general fund when she voted for the budget. [Personal aside: I think this is a dereliction of duty—if your job is to legislate, and if you're voting in favor of legislation that you're not familiar with, you have no right to complain about what was in it later. If there isn't enough time to read and understand everything in the legislation, don't cast a vote.]

The government agency tasked with planting and maintaining street trees in DC is the Urban Forestry Administration (UFA), which is part of the District Department of Transportation (DDOT). I recently had the opportunity to speak with John P. Thomas, the Urban Forestry Administration's Chief Forester, about some details of the city's street tree planting and maintenance program.

DDOT's yearly street tree budget is $7.5 million. As John Kelly noted on Sunday, the city is not responsible for watering trees once they are planted (contractors plant most of the street trees in the city). Mr. Thomas told me that watering will be a line item in the planting contract this coming year. It will most likely mean that the city will not be able to plant as many trees as they have in years past, but I see that as a net-positive for the DC.

A few years ago, the city planted trees in the median of North Capitol Street, from Michigan Avenue to Hawaii Avenue, while the street was undergoing a complete reconstruction. The trees all died within the year, due to a lack of water. Casey Trees recommends that a newly-planted street tree receive twenty-five gallons of water per week for the first three years while establishing a healthy root system. [In the interest of full disclosure, I am a Casey Trees Citizen Forester.]

Over the last year, the city reconstructed Brentwood Road NE from Rhode Island Avenue south to T Street. That reconstruction included the planting of approximately 64 new trees in the treeboxes lining the street. The photographs at the top of this article and to the right show the condition of the trees on this stretch of road now—namely, they've nearly all died. On a recent weekend, I counted only four trees, or 6% of the total from this project, that remain alive. Weeds choke the treeboxes that line the street (save two in front of the Lowest Price Gas Station, where the trees are still dead), all of them neglected. That's unacceptable.

A new section of the Metropolitan Branch Trail recently opened between the New York Avenue Metro Station and Franklin Street NE. Trees were planted along the trail at many points, including the pocket park pictured at 4th and S Streets NE. Many of the trees are already dead due to the extremely dry spell we had in June and early July.

All of that is unfortunate, and easily could have been prevented, had the property owners and neighbors along the Met Branch Trail and Brentwood Road taken the time to water the nearby trees, or if the city had planned to water the trees in the North Capitol Street median, as the road there is practically a freeway where watering would be difficult. But there is hope ahead!

The city is actively working on a streetscape plan for the entire length of Sherman Avenue NW, between New Hampshire and Florida Avenues. One of the elements of this reconstruction will be a planted median. After seeing what happened on roads like North Capitol Street, it's reasonable to see why residents might be skeptical that trees could survive without a dedicated source of water to keep them alive. Thankfully, Sherman Avenue resident Craig Sallinger was able to get a guarantee from a DDOT employee that an irrigation system will be included in the construction of the road, so it will be easy to get water to those trees while they're trying to establish roots. Hopefully this will be a consideration DDOT makes in all of their future streetscape programs.

Spending money on in-ground watering systems and paying more individuals (be they UFA contractors or students employed during the summer) will inevitably take money away from actual tree planting. I think that's a good thing.

I'm not saying I want less trees—I want more! But I want them to be mature and healthy, not first-year seedlings, struggling to stay alive.

DDOT's current planting process doesn't work, through no fault of their own. Mr. Thomas noted that 95% of what they plant comes from citizen requests for trees in front of their house. A program called "Canopy Keepers" exists to encourage citizens to water the young trees on their street. Some of my friends here in Trinidad are participating in this program. Walking around the city, though, you can easily see that many citizens are not holding up their end of the bargain. The UFA staff does an admirable job with limited resources, but I believe it would be better to help young trees mature instead of wasting those resources replacing trees year after year.

You can only count on the kindness of strangers to a certain point. Eventually, money talks, and it can also water trees.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

05 August 2010

Is the owner coming back for this bicycle?

Take a look at this bike. It's missing its handlebars, seat, front wheel, brake and shifting cables, front- and rear-brakes, and chain, while the back wheel has been stomped into a useless mess. It sure doesn't appear to be wanted by anyone at this point.

This is at the New York Avenue Metro station, where the bike racks are not up to code anyway, and they often fill up. Parking is at a premium here, but this mangled used-to-be-a-bike has been here for a couple weeks now.

Wednesday evening, I spoke with a station manager, asking if he knew what to do to get the bike removed. First, he told me that he, as a station manager, has nothing to do with the bike racks (they are on WMATA property—whose job is it to "manage" them?). He said I should find a member of the Metro Transit Police Department to speak with. As I walked away, he claimed that, no matter what, if the frame is locked to the rack, WMATA will consider the bike "in use," and they won't be able to touch it.

That's clearly ridiculous. The lock should be cut and the frame should be donated to a group like Phoenix Bikes or someone else who can turn this into something useful again.

I put a call in to the MTPD as I left the station, and was told that an officer would stop by to assess the situation. As of Thursday morning, nothing has happened. We'll see how long this takes to be removed.

04 August 2010

More DC license plate obscuring?

Is blotting out parts of DC license plates a growing trend?

Last week, Mike Grass of the Washington City Paper wrote about a BMW on Capitol Hill which had a frame with a provocative anti-DC message that covered up part of its DC license plate.

Mike cited city code which states that license plates "shall be maintained free from foreign materials and in clearly legible condition." He followed with an update from the city which clarified that frames that cover part of the plate are indeed illegal.

I saw this car in the Suitland Metro parking garage, and it has black electrical tape placed over the DC flag on the plate (as well as over a "thin blue line" emblem and a shield styled after the Maryland state flag).

What could someone have against these three symbols? Looks like it was an old police cruiser that has been sold to a civilian.

What we do know is this is not legal. Better watch it when on the road.