15 December 2011

Updated Ward 5 redistricting map from the DC Office of Planning

This is the map that was just released from the Office of Planning.

When compared with the map that was shown as an example of how to create near-equal sized SMDs on Greater Greater Washington, there are only minor changes.

Those changes include:
  • Catholic University is in ANC 5A, not ANC 5C.
  • The population numbers for the Arboretum area and the western edge of Carver Langston show a shift of 19 individuals.
  • Two SMDs in Bloomingdale show a shift of 53 individuals. This is due to the splitting of the census block that is bounded by U Street NW, First Street NW, and Rhode Island Avenue NW. The houses on the eastern edge of Crispus Attucks Park, north of U Street, were included in that block. They have now been added to the rest of the block bounded by U, V, First, and North Capitol.
  • The Washington Gateway project, at the corner of Florida and New York Avenues, has been moved from the eastern Eckington SMD to the one that includes the Florida Avenue Market, Gallaudet University, and Ivy City.

This is the map that will be voted on by the D.C. Council on December 20th.

This is the map that was posted on Greater Greater Washington last month.

Much thanks go out to Councilmembers Harry Thomas, Jr., Michael A. Brown, Jack Evans, Phil Mendelson, and their staffs for working so diligently on the redistricting process in our ward. It's great to see that we're looking at SMDs that make more sense.

The full council will be voting on this map (and the ones for the other seven wards) next Tuesday, December 20th.

If you support these changes, I'd encourage you to send a note to the councilmembers letting them know you approve of this map. Their emails are available on the Council website here.

28 October 2011

The New York Avenue bicycle thief caught - and released

At the beginning of October, I caught a young boy in the act of stealing a bicycle wheel at the New York Avenue Metro station. Last night, I helped police finally catch him. But he wasn't arrested.

Jaime and I were taking a quick walking tour of NoMa with ANC 6C04 commissioner Tony Goodman when we saw the boy ride his bike past us. An extra bicycle wheel was hanging from the handlebars. I recognized him immediately, and called 911 to report what we saw. The police arrived a couple minutes later, took a report, and promised to check the area where we saw the boy going to see what they could find.

Ten minutes later, we were at the corner of 1st and M NE, in front of the CVS, when we saw the boy bike past us again. Jaime saw a police cruiser coming south on 1st Street, and I flagged them down. The police asked me to jump in, and we headed the wrong way down M Street toward North Capitol, where the boy was headed.

At the corner of M and North Capitol, we caught up to him. The officer driving the car chirped the siren, and pulled to the curb when the boy started biking faster. Both officers (from the 1st District) got out of the car and started questioning the boy about the wheel we had seen him carrying minutes earlier.

He denied knowing anything about it. The officers talked to him for a few minutes until a gentleman showed up. It turned out this was the boy's father. More questioning eventually led the boy to admit that the wheel was in his room in their house. His father sent him home to bring it back to the police.

It turns out the boy was 13. The police didn't arrest him, and I don't know what his father did or said after we drove away. I hope that he realizes what he's been doing is wrong, and I hope (at least) he really knows he's being watched now.

Remember, keep using a cable lock and a u-lock when you park at the New York Avenue Metro station. Don't leave a wheel unlocked where this boy, or anyone else for that matter, could walk away with it and take it home.

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington.

17 October 2011

Halloween tour of the McMillan Sand Filtration Site

Are you curious about what it's like behind the fence at the corner of North Capitol and Michigan Avenue? Have you ever wanted to step inside one of those vine-covered concrete silos, or see the catacombs below them?

Now's your chance! On October 29th at 11 a.m., you can go on a tour of the site. Learn the history, learn about the potential development planned for the site, and see something unique that you just can't do every day!

The information is on the attached flyer to the right. If you can't see it, or you have questions, please contact:

Gwen Southerland, gwensoutherland61@gmail.com


John Salatti, John.Salatti@gmail.com or (202) 986-2592

(I took the tour myself a couple years ago. It's fascinating and well worth the time!)

14 October 2011

Mayor Gray must refute mediocrity, or fall victim to it

Photo of Lon Walls from Twitter.
Members of Vincent Gray's administration have been both quoted and sourced on background as being unhappy with a city employee going above and beyond the call of duty on the job. The mayor must explicitly quash such thinking if he doesn't want to send a signal to all other city employees not to work very hard.

Lon Walls, the communications director for DC's the Fire & Emergency Medical Services (FEMS), gave Mark Segraves some revealing statements regarding the ongoing saga of Pete Piringer, who ran the DC Fire & EMS twitter feed (@dcfireems).

Walls told WTOP, "We had a discussion, I told Pete he was going out of his lanes in terms of other agencies." One of those "lanes" apparently included tweeting about fallen trees and crime scenes. It seems other agencies were miffed that @dcfireems was tweeting about things slightly outside their core competency, and that was "making [other agencies] look slow and unresponsive."

Washington Life Magazine listed Walls as one of the "Titans of PR" last year. He ran Walls Communications prior to becoming the head of communications at FEMS. (It appears that the regular website of his firm has been scaled back, with a more detailed site residing here.)

The site boasts of "transforming [communications] challenges into successful and measurable results." Is less communication with residents the kind of results the city is looking for? (Incidentally, Walls is on Twitter, but he doesn't appear to have mastered use of it as a communication forum.)

Put simply, Pete Piringer ran a fantastic service while working at FEMS. I'm one of the three people who worked on compiling the Struck in DC (@struckdc) twitter feed, and we relied on timely information from @dcfireems to keep people aware of how many pedestrians and cyclists had been victims of incidents involving vehicles in the city for over a year. Without the information that Piringer supplied, our service has withered on the vine.

In September, the feed went silent. Concerned reporters and blogs initially thought Piringer had just gone on vacation, but officials later revealed that they'd stopped the feed.

Walls told DCist, "I'd rather be slow and right than fast and wrong," and, "Social media is for parties. We ain't givin' parties." Instead of a sneering, derisive taunt, Walls should be able to see, as a communications professional, the value of actually "communicating" with citizens.

In response to objections, the Mayor promised on September 22 that @dcfireems would not be "filtered" or "silenced." This temporarily assuaged frazzled nerves, but the goodwill was short-lived. The @dcfireems feed has not mentioned a single struck pedestrian or cyclist since August 29. While it would be wonderful if no such crashes have occurred since then, we already know that's sadly not the case.

Since September 22, @dcfireems has tweeted more about the fire chief's weight and pictures of the mayor with McGruff the Crime Dog than the information it was known for prior to September 1. That's a shame. A valuable service is gone.

Meanwhile, Piringer has been moved to work for the Office of the Secretary of the District of Columbia, where he will work on publicizing things like ceremonial documents.

Because Pete Piringer was busting his butt, he got busted down a notch (contrary to what Lon Walls would like to have us believe). Instead of other agencies stepping up their game to try to match his, we instead get the lowest common denominator. It's depressing to think that might be official policy from the executive branch.

Members of the Gray administration have essentially declared that those who perform above and beyond the call of duty will be punished for their hard work. If Mayor Gray himself does not see this for the "buck stops here" situation that this is, we can only assume he condones such thinking. If I were an ambitious employee looking to make my name as a civil servant, I certainly would look somewhere besides the District of Columbia to ply my trade.

Crossposted at Greater Greater Washington.

05 October 2011

The New York Avenue bicycle thief caught in the act

Last night, after stopping at the grocery store on my way home, I came face-to-face with the New York Avenue Metro station bicycle thief. I suppose the odds of it happening were somewhat high, since I spend so much time biking to and from the station, but I never would have expected our interaction to happen the way it did...

I alighted from a Glenmont-bound red line train just after 6:30 p.m., and left the station to walk to the Harris Teeter down the block. After getting a couple things at the store, I walked back to the station to get my bicycle. I stopped at the newspaper boxes near the station's M Street entrance, grabbed a paper, and began walking to the other entrance where my bicycle was parked.

When I was about 100 feet from the bike racks, I realized one of the bikes was moving like it was being jerked back and forth. The front of the bike was obscured by one of the station's concrete support pylons, so I couldn't see why this was happening. The person who was shaking the bike to see if it was locked up stepped into view, and started removing the rear wheel from the bike. It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but only a moment until I knew that I was witnessing a bicycle theft in action.

What surprised me was that the thief was a kid. He couldn't have been more than 10 years old.

I walked right up to him and asked him matter-of-factly, "What are you doing?" The kid replied that he needed a rear wheel for his other bike. He claimed this bike was his, and that the lock was broken, keeping him from taking the whole bike home. I called him out on his story, but he insisted the bike was his and that his dad had bought it for him at "the bike shop down the street."

"What street? What bike shop?" I demanded.

"Over there, by Safeway," he said. The only bike shop that came close to fitting that description is BicycleSPACE in Mt. Vernon Triangle. They don't sell the bike pictured above, though. I wanted him to tell me what brand his bike was, and he turned his head to look at the bike.

"No way!" I shouted, putting the paper in front of his face. "You can't look at the bike to answer that. You don't have a clue, and that isn't your bike."

At this point, we stared at each other for a second. It felt like five minutes. Part of me wanted to grab the wheel, yell at the kid, and tell him to get the hell out of there. But some rational part of me thought he'd give up the game and leave. That didn't happen.

He insisted again that this was his bike, and said, "I even have a lock like this," while pointing at the bike's lock. Of course, he should have said the lock was his lock, not like his lock. At this point, a good interrogation might have gotten him to trip up and really contradict himself, but he's a kid! We stared at each other again, and I asked, "You're absolutely sure you're telling me the truth?" He nodded and started to walk away with the rear wheel.

I knew that if I touched the kid, even in an attempt to detain him for the police, I'd probably end up being charged with assault. I did pull out my phone to call the police. He knew exactly what I was doing, and started to run. While I was on the phone with the operator, I hurriedly unlocked my own bike, intending to follow him and figure out where he lived.

I got the bike unlocked, ended the 911 call (with the operator telling me there wasn't much they could do), and took off in the direction the boy had run. When I reached M Street, I asked a woman there if she had seen a boy with a bicycle wheel running by. She directed me towards Harris Teeter. When I got there, I asked the same question to some people standing there, and they pointed towards North Capitol Street.

As I moved down the unit block of M Street NE, I saw him crossing North Capitol Street and turning down the alley behind the Sibley Plaza Apartments (the large apartment building on the southwest corner of M and North Capitol). By the time I got there, he was gone. Again, I asked people who were sitting and standing around if they had seen the kid. All responded with a negative.

I biked through the plaza and parking lot between the apartments and the Sursum Corda cooperative, looking for a sign of the boy. Finding nothing, I went back to the station and talked to the station manager, letting him know what I saw. He mentioned that he'd like to start parking his bicycle at the station, and would love to see whoever is stealing bikes get caught. He also said that it's likely that police would only arrest someone if they saw them in the act, or if someone could make a positive identification of the perpetrator.


So, in the end, I have no idea if this kid is responsible for every bike theft and vandalization at the New York Avenue station, but I know this one was his doing. I spent a couple minutes looking at his face, though. I know exactly what he looks like. The police have my phone number, and if they wanted to pick up a couple 10-year-olds from around the area and ask me to choose one, and if they were to investigate this crime and identify suspects, I'm sure I could give a positive identification.

The broader question here, of course, is why are little kids stealing bike parts? What can be done to stop this behavior? I have my doubts that punitive action against their parents would alleviate the situation.

03 October 2011

To address bicycle crime, Metro PD should take it seriously

WMATA is trying to fight bicycle crime, the Examiner reported last week, and theft has declined somewhat this year. My experience with an a vandalized bike shows a few ways they can continue to improve.

On Thursday, September 22, on my way home from work and a community meeting, I stopped to pick up my bicycle at the New York Avenue Metro station. Nearby was another bicycle, with many of its parts missing, shown at right.

Crime needs to be reported, otherwise the police have no idea where they need to focus their attention. But when I called the Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD), the dispatcher told me that he couldn't take a report since I wasn't the bicycle owner.

I informed him that I had been able to do so before, and had called in multiple bicycles that had been similarly vandalized at that station. He promptly hung up on me.

The following Monday, while retrieving my bicycle after a day of work and community meetings, I ran into an MTPD officer at the station. He saw me approaching the bicycle racks and asked, "Is your bike still there?"

Sure, it was meant to be a joke to lighten the mood, but given the knowledge I have of what has been happening at the station and my most recent interaction with the MTPD dispatch, I didn't find it particularly funny. I told him, "Mine's fine, but I can't say the same for this guy," while pointing at the frame that remained locked up, sans wheels and gears, next to my bike.

The officer came over to look at it. He thought that the bike might have been stolen, locked up by a thief, and then vandalized by someone else. I told him about my attempt to call the crime in, and how the dispatcher rebuffed my plea for help. He mentioned that a sticker could be put on the bike (as in the photo below), then told me to have a good evening.

It's worth noting that the bicycle frame in the first photo was removed by Wednesday evening, but the one in the photo above has been there for weeks.

In the Examiner article, Metro Transit Police Chief Michael Taborn blames the victims of these crimes for allowing their bikes to be stolen and vandalized. "Many buy expensive bikes but buy inexpensive locks," he says, and while personal observation tells me that there certainly are bicycles that haven't been properly secured at the Metro station, there is also a lack of seriousness on the part of Taborn's force regarding crime.

If the attitude from the top of the MTPD is dismissive of bicycle-related crime, it's not surprising to see the rest of the force serving beneath him being apathetic about it as well. That's a real shame, and it's something that I hope will change. Blaming the victim and not accepting help from civilians when it's offered will keep MTPD from being as effective as it could be.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

31 August 2011

More New York Avenue Metro station bike thefts

Over the course of the last 5 days, I've seen 4 bicycles with parts stolen at both entrances to the New York Avenue/Florida Avenue/Gallaudet University Metro station. As always, we document this to encourage people to be vigilant when parking their bicycles here. The station remains a risky place to leave one's bicycle.

Here was the bike parking situation at the northern entrance to the station yesterday morning. Looks orderly, right?

Unfortunately, there were two bicycles that had stolen parts (wheels, derailleurs, etc.) because they were poorly secured. Construction of the newest phase of the Constitution Square buildings has made the area less visible from the street and station entrance. This makes it easier for would-be bicycle thieves to do their dirty work.

In the interest of education, here are all the bikes at the racks yesterday morning. Let's see which ones did a good job locking up and which ones did not.


The above bike has a u-lock through the frame and rear wheel, with a cable lock looping through the front wheel and around the inverted U bike rack.

The second bike only has a u-lock connecting the frame to the bike rack. The front wheel has been stolen, and the rear wheel is probably going to be taken next.

The third bike has a u-lock connecting the frame to the bike rack, and two cables securing the wheels. Not quite as secure as the first bike, but still quite good.

The fourth bike is an example of what will probably happen to the second one. Both wheels and the saddle have been stolen because the lock only secured the frame to the rack.

This bike only has the frame connected to the rack. The sticker on the bike says "This machine kills fascists," but it won't be able to do so if it continues to be locked up poorly like this.

This bike has both wheels secured with individual cable locks, and the frame locked to the rack. I'd probably run the rear cable through the u-lock, but this appears pretty secure.

This bike has a heavy chain lock securing the frame and rear wheel to the rack. The front wheel is vulnerable, though.

Finally, the last bike. 'Secured' with a u-lock on the frame only. Another candidate to come home at the end of the day to an unhappy surprise.


Over the course of the last year, I've noticed more cyclists doing a better job of locking up their rides. Clearly I'm not the only person who sees that there are problems with security at the New York Avenue station, but there is still much that could be done to make things better. When the construction is done, more pedestrian traffic could help discourage those who would vandalize bikes. The biggest help, though, would be for WMATA to implement a bike garage inside the turnstiles at this station.

11 July 2011

UPDATE: Now you see it, now you don't - Trinidad house demolished

UPDATE: We received an update from DCRA regarding the demolished house. It turns out that DCRA authorized the demolition on August 25, 2010, and was finally able to perform it over the last few days. It took the agency months to determine ownership (the owners listed below have died), and dealing with the bank took time. The razing cost $30,000, which will be repaid by the bank.

The contractor that performed the demolition will clean up the mess, weatherproof the formerly shared (now exterior) wall of 1183 Neal Street, repair the retaining wall along the alley, and will repair any damage to the public space.

The DCRA citation noted that the structure was "in a state of imminent collapse and poses an immediate danger to neighboring properties and the public." The citation also stated that razing of the property was to begin within 120 hours, though this clearly was not the case, ultimately, due to ownership questions.

(The original post continues below.)

The house at 1181 Neal Street NE disappeared over the weekend.

1181 and 1183 Neal Street were small, twin rowhouses built in 1915. Only one remains, after the owners (Allen and Cloie Gibson, according to DCRA records) had 1181 demolished over the weekend. DCRA was surprised to hear that the house disappeared that fast, noting, "Well, that's one way for them to deal w/fines for grass/trash. No raze permits issued for that property. Will send inspectors."

The image on the left is from Google Street View, taken recently, and the image to the right is from DCRA in 2004.

There were more than $1500 worth of outstanding liens and/or fines owed to the city on the property, which it appears the owners hope will disappear along with the house. This is a classic case of demolition by neglect, in addition to demolition by heavy equipment.

DCRA confirmed that they have only about 25 inspectors to do building permit inspections, housing inspections, and to search for illegal work. In addition, it takes a LONG time to get fines issued and upheld on appeal. Those fines go into the general fund, and aren't necessarily used to hire more inspectors.

When the inspectors get to the property, I hope they can cite the owners for damaging the road and the alley as well. The picture below shows damage to the road surface from the heavy equipment used to tear the house down when it was parked on the other side of the street.

Here are a few more pictures of what's left of the property:

What will happen with this property now? One would believe that the owners should be punished for illegally tearing down a home that should have been maintained and put back into productive use, but I fear that they will profit in the end by building something new, quickly and cheaply, to take advantage of the rapidly heating up housing market in Trinidad.

30 June 2011

Rhode Island Reds is closing - want to buy it?

Photo by Chris Suspect on Flickr.

I spoke with Chris Brophy, the owner of Rhode Island Reds, an aweome cafe/restaurant/grocery in Hyattsville, and asked him to address this blog comment at the Rhode Island Avenue NE Insider, which said he's closing up shop today.

Unfortunately, he confirmed that it is true. There will be a "wake" tonight.

This is terrible news, as we've really enjoyed stopping in for a meal when biking along the Anacostia Tributary Trails. It's location on Route 1 at the southern edge of Hyattsville made it easy to access from DC, by both car and bicycle. The food is good and the atmosphere is relaxed.

Perhaps Rhode Island Reds won't stay closed for long, though. Chris also confirmed that everything is for sale at the starting price of $15,000. He said "this is probably the cheapest way into the food business in PG County if you know anybody."

Does anyone want to buy a restaurant operation in Hyattsville for cheap? I have to believe that there will be a lot more traffic in the area very soon, with even more restaurants, a grocery store, and homes opening up at Arts District Hyattsville in the coming months. The rent is cheap!

DC turns blind eye to developer's potential sign infractions

Since Douglas Development acquired the Uline Arena, the company has added three large signs to the side of the building, strategically placed to catch the eyeballs of those on passing Metro, MARC, and Amtrak trains.

A look at DC's signage rules suggests these advertisements may not be legal. But they also may be profitable, and Douglas Development owes the city quite a bit in property taxes.

Is the city ignoring the offense for its own gain?

In 2009, years of effort to remove three billboards at the corner of New Jersey Avenue and P Street NW came to an end when the billboards were cut down with a welding torch. The event marked the conclusion of a long campaign by the residents of Shaw to remove what they saw as blight from a neighborhood street corner.

One of the lasting results of that fight was that it made DC residents aware of the list of "special signs" permitted by the District. The "Special Signs Inventory," maintained by DCRA, lists 32 authorized large-scale advertisements that aren't technically billboards, according to DC regulations, located on the sides of buildings.

The Uline Arena signs are not on that list. There has been a Douglas Development sign on the side of the building for as long as I can remember, surely to entice interested parties to inquire about available space in the building. Last year, when Carmine's opened in the Penn Quarter neighborhood, a large advertisement for the Italian restaurant appeared on the side of the arena, as well. A sign advertising FroZenYo turned up within the last couple weeks.

That's 3 large "special signs" located on the building. Is this legal? I contacted Douglas Development to ask them about the regulatory process required to place these signs, but did not receive a call back. If they reply, I'll be sure to post an update.

The signs aren't on the city's official list, so they certainly appear to flout the rules. However, as Michael Neibauer noted two weeks ago, Douglas Development carries a sizable property tax debt to the city. Perhaps DC doesn't mind looking the other way if this helps bring Douglas Development income that can be used to settle the tab.

Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.

20 June 2011

Here's why we can't have nice things, DC

Keeping a large city like DC clean is the responsibility of everyone who lives here, visits here, and works here. Unfortunately, there will always be misanthropes among us who just don't care if they toss a bag of fast food detritus out their car window. Sometimes you see the result of this carelessness, and you think, "Boy, if only I could have caught that jerk in the act!" Well, I did, and here's what happened...

I was standing on the sidewalk in the shade of a tree on the 1700 block of Pennsylvania Avenue NW, having just finished talking to my brother on the phone, when a couple walking their dog approached from the east. It's a sight you see a million times a day in the city, and it hardly registered at first. I did notice that the woman walking the dog was moving towards one of the trees, and I thought, "That's a well-manicured tree box, would be a shame if the dog messes it up." Bright pink flowers shared the space with a young oak tree.

The dog defecated in the tree box. Again, something you see every day. The strange part was that the couple continued their conversation and began to walk away without doing anything about the mess the dog had left behind. Incensed that anyone could do anything so careless, I spoke up and said to the woman, "We're you planning to do anything about that?"

The couple stopped, glanced at me incredulously, then at each other. I spoke again, saying, "That's your responsibility. You can't just leave that mess there."

The woman nervously laughed and said, "Oh, I forgot to bring any bags with me. Do you have one?"

I couldn't believe where this was going. We were standing in front of a cafe, and I recommended that they go inside and see if they could get a carry-out bag to remove the dog waste. That recommendation was met with blank stares. I continued to press the point, but they really didn't want to hear any more of it. The gentleman had nothing to say, and the woman gave a forced smirk and they proceeded to walk away.

At this point, I was angry and not sure what I could do. Scream out, "Hey, those people didn't pick up their dog's shit!"? That would have drawn the attention of perhaps nine other people within earshot, and probably nothing else. I did still have my phone in my hand, so I thought, "I'm going to take a picture of these fools."

I followed behind them and grabbed this shot as a test to make sure the camera was working:

We got to the corner of 18th and Pennsylvania, and I stepped around them and pointed the phone straight at them and snapped the shot at the top of this post. They pretended to ignore me, then kissed and walked in separate directions—he continued west on Pennsylvania Avenue, she went north up 18th Street.

I don't know where they live, or even if they are DC residents. The badge hanging from the gentleman's belt leads me to believe he works somewhere nearby, but I didn't see it clearly and my photograph isn't sharp enough to ascertain that information. The woman had an accent that I couldn't nail down. Was it French? Eastern European? Clearly, I'm no linguist, but I could tell that English wasn't her first language, and I also am certain that there was no misunderstanding due to language that would lead them to leave the dog poop in the tree box.

So, what do I want from this? I'd like to see these people positively identified and publicly shamed. Some unfortunate worker from the Golden Triangle BID has probably already cleaned up the mess left by these anti-social jerks, but it would be nice to make sure they know that what they did was noticed, and that the people of this city don't approve of people who think it's okay to crap on DC and try to get away with it.

14 June 2011

Do we really need to describe neighborhoods negatively?

Photo by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.
On Sunday, the Washington Post ran an article about Industry Gallery, a design gallery here in DC. The Post mentioned that the gallery is located in Trinidad, which was a positive point in my mind, because many write-ups of the galleries along Florida Avenue NE at the southern edge of the neighborhood fail to mention the neighborhood, and instead take the somewhat lazy route and say they're located "near H Street."

Interestingly, the author chose to include a descriptor for Trinidad, calling it "the hardscrabble neighborhood in Northeast Washington" (emphasis mine). "Hardscrabble" is defined by Google thusly:

  1. Returning little in exchange for great effort
  2. Characterized by poverty and hardship

Monday, Matt Ashburn (owner of the Capital City Diner and a Trinidad resident) found an advertisement for a new restaurant coming to the H Street NE corridor. An excerpt:

We want to give the idea of a nice restaurant, but we are in a dive neighborhood.

What do they mean by "dive neighborhood?"

Why call Trinidad a place characterized by poverty and hardship?

The history of H Street NE, and why it includes so much disinvestment is important and shouldn't be glossed over. The long shadow of segregation and the 1968 DC riots are extremely important reasons why H Street is what it is today. It's not just a "dive."

Trinidad, by my personal experience, wouldn't qualify as "hardscrabble." It's a traditionally middle-class neighborhood that is being viewed in a new light given its proximity to the activity centers of DC, and is struggling to come to terms with what that will mean as the population of the neighborhood rapidly changes because of economic and social pressures.

We've been deeply involved with the Ivy City and Trinidad Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative, a process that is diligently working through a process to attempt to increase homeownership access while maintaining affordability in the neighborhood. We believe there will be a significant return from this "great effort," and the experience has shown that there is much more than "poverty and hardship" in our neighborhood.

Glib descriptions of these neighborhood are lazy. It's disappointing to see them applied to Trinidad and the H Street corridor.

08 June 2011

Did NBC 4 fairly represent Trinidad?

Editoral note: The following is a guest post from Robert Mann-Thompson, a friend and fellow Trinidad resident.

On June 1, 2011 Washington, DC's Channel 4 (WRC-TV, NBC) aired a report titled "Trinidad: Real Estate Hot Spot?" The report was a "positive" story on Trinidad real estate and gentrification. Unfortunately, I believe the coverage was inaccurate based on its racial depiction of both new- and long-time Trinidad residents.

I am concerned that the young people and "young professionals" in the story are all white, while the African-American people were older. To an outsider, it could appear as if the changing faces of Trinidad are only educated, professional, young white people.

Since television images are powerful, the absence of any non-white "professionals" (an admittedly undefined term) is disturbing. There are many professional people here in Trinidad that are both young and young at heart who hail from a variety ethnic heritages.

It is concerning that the black people were uniformly older compared to the relative youth of the white people. Was this juxtaposition there to present an idea that "Black" represents the past while "White" is the future? I sure hope not, and I hope this was just sloppy journalism, but that's how the story aired, and I felt a response is necessary to ensure this doesn't pass without being noted.

I feel that Channel 4 is usually a fair news outlet, but this time they presented a story that could do damage. We don't need stories like this widening the racial and class divide in the neighborhood. Living here is not about race/ethnic heritage, professional/blue collar, young/young at heart, straight/LGBTIQ, or any other attributes that can be applied in a divisive way.

I would encourage you to contact WRC-TV to express any comments or concerns regarding this story.

WRC-TV NBC Washington
4001 Nebraska Ave. NW
Washington 20016

Telephone: (202) 885-4YOU
Telefax: (202) 885-4104
Email: nbc4dc@nbc.com

26 May 2011

Buy your house in Trinidad before it's too late!

Real estate prices are on the rise in desirable neighborhoods. Happy days are here again, right? If the house at the right is an indicator of what's to come, we might be looking at a rapid rise in prices here in Trinidad.

I went to an open house for this listing a couple months ago. While it's a nice house, there are more than a few things I thought kept it from being a "great" house. The ceiling height in the finished basement was quite low (I'm 5'9", and I had to duck to get around in many places), two of the three bedrooms are carpeted, the floor plan is a little unorthodox, and what should be a spacious backyard is instead a giant concrete parking pad. In an area that has plenty of on-street parking, it's a shame that this space isn't a nice backyard/garden.

Based on recent neighborhood comps, I didn't think the house was worth the listed price of $379,900, but I was shocked to see yesterday that it sold for higher than list price: $381,000. Most neighborhood home sales in the last couple years have been under $300,000. If houses in Trinidad are approaching $400,000 again, it won't be long until the stories of neighborhood "gentrification" will start being written in the papers and other blogs. Others have mentioned that the southern part of the neighborhood will start to see real estate prices rise as H Street continues to redevelop and the streetcar comes online. Is this the beginning of that wave, or just an anomaly?

24 May 2011

"You can't take pictures of federal buildings"

I took these pictures yesterday evening on the way home. I had just read Philip Kennicott's architectural review of the United States Institute of Peace building on Constitution Avenue, where he mentioned that architect Moshe Safdie designed the ATF headquarters at Florida and New York Avenues as well. (Note to Mr. Kennicott and the Washington Post - the building is in Northeast, not Northwest.)

I figured that Mr. Safdie probably didn't intend the space in front of his building to be used as a parking lot for cars from Maryland, with patchy grass and dirt welcoming one to this edifice, and wanted to document the sad state of affairs.

And then something interesting happened right after I finished taking the photograph below. I was standing on the sidewalk in front of the McDonald's on 1st Street NE when the driver of a car exiting the parking lot waved me over. He was a security guard, and said in a stern voice, "You know that taking pictures of federal buildings is illegal."

I've never thought I needed to carry "The Photographer's Right" (PDF) with me before, but perhaps I should. I've read stories in DCist and the Washington Post regarding photography around federal buildings, but I didn't know the details and had to wing it with this gentleman.

I told him, "I'm sorry, you're wrong. I'm standing in public space and these are public buildings. I have the right to take whatever photos I want." Then I told him it's been well documented in the papers lately.

Surprisingly, he got a concerned look on his face, said, "Oh, I'm sorry," and drove away. I felt kind of excited with the result, but I wonder about how security guards are being trained. Clearly, many are still not being told the facts regarding the rights of photographers in public space.

04 April 2011

An open letter to Robert Vinson Brannum

Photo from Brannum for School Board.

Dear Robert Vinson Brannum:

You were robbed.

The City Paper named fellow Ward 5 gadfly Kathy Henderson "DC's Best Message Board Rabble Rouser."

That was your award all the way. You know it, I know it, Kathy probably knows it too. Let me tell everyone else why.

You write something called the "Ward 5 Examiner" for the examiner.com website, the online companion to the Washington Examiner newspaper. I would assume that means that this online column (the kids these days would call that a "blog," which we'll see later is somewhat important) would "examine" matters in Ward 5, but it's increasingly been a vehicle for you to rage against the machine, as it were. What machine is that? How about whomever is disagreeing with you, which seems to regularly be the Washington Post, or whatever other media bogeyman gives you the vapors.

Let's examine one of your most recent dispatches, shall we?


To Gray to Brown to Thomas to Lanier to Whiting
That's an interesting title. It makes me wonder where that chain starts (i.e., what goes "To Gray"?)
“Be not discouraged. There is a future for you. . . . The resistance encountered now predicates hope. . . .Only as we rise . . . do we encounter opposition.” “Don’t be despondent…measure yourselves from the depths from which you have come…”

Frederick Douglas
Mr. Douglass spelled his name D-O-U-G-L-A-S-S. Not a huge deal, but that might be important later on. Let's keep that in mind.
Recent news articles targeting D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray, Chairman Kwame Brown, Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr., Chief of Police Cathy Lanier, and Ms. Cherita Whiting are clearly designed to send a message to District residents about political power and control.
That they are in power and in control?
Moving past the effort to inform the public, The Washington Post and several reporters have that evangelical feeling they know what is best for the people of the District of Columbia, particularly African Americans.
Who are these "several reporters" you refer to? It would be helpful to cite them and their work so we know what you're talking about here. I get the feeling, though, that you're about to get evangelical on us. Am I right?
Led by The Washington Post, reporters, along with their favorite "bloggers" are attempting to frame District's current political leadership as inept and incompetent. In a show of institutional arrogance, The Washington Post apparently feels it is best situated to explain and to define African Americans in the District of Columbia. The clear effort here by The Washington Post is to dilute, if not ignore the historical contributions of District African Americans and to sever its bridge to the future of Washington.
Are we talking about the bridge that African Americans are crossing to the future of Washington, or the bridge that the newspaper is crossing? Not clear where you're going here. If you mean to note that both are declining in clout, duly noted.

And could you name these bloggers you're speaking about? If you're going to use a public platform to accuse someone of misanthropy, you might as well call them out by name!
The Washington Post, several other reporters, and bloggers who cover District politics need to come to the realization people other than they can write with a flair and have it sting with wit.
I take it you believe that you're one of these other people, right? Bring on the wit, Mr. Brannum!
The particular challenge they have is to be accurate, fair, and consistent. How can reporters write Mayor Gray “sucks” and hope to retain credibility or expect to maintain respectability in the eyes of the public?
Good question. Again, please cite. This is the Internet. You can link to things.
Some reporters and bloggers new to the District of Columbia may be separated by birth and education; possibly unseasoned by life experiences; or uninformed of the rich legacy of the District.
In other words, if you're young or not a "Native Washingtonian," you don't have the right to comment on such things. In your humble opinion, of course, correct?
However, The Washington Post newspaper company should know better and have a greater respect for the positive legacy of the District's culture, community servants, and appreciation for the lessons learned from its troubled past.
I have a feeling that there was a modifier missing in here. Reading between the lines, I think you wanted to insert "African American" between 'District's' and 'culture,' correct? That was your thesis earlier—that the Washington Post wasn't respectful of African Americans. I just want to make sure that you're staying on-topic.
In marking the recent passing of Mr. David Broder, The Washington Post wrote Broder was,"... among the top four best and most influential journalists, ... "the most unpredictable, reliable and intellectually honest columnist working today," ... "while the journalistic pack is pestering a flack, Broder is out with the people; no one gets a better sense of the pulse of American opinion." Mr. Broder's high standard of reporting, respect, and professional dedication seems wanting in the current internet age.
Remember above where I mentioned that you misspelled Frederick Douglass' last name? That would be an example of where you could apply a "high standard of reporting" or "professional dedication." You really didn't, though. Food for thought while you denigrate what you perceive as flaws in the accuracy of others.
And I'm curious why you're knocking Internet-based reporting. That's the medium you operate in, right, which your Examiner blog and your Twitter feed? Is your work above that critique?
Budget reductions undertaken by management at The Washington Post have had a greater negative impact on retaining an experienced pool of editors and journalists. Staffing cuts seem also to have diminished its institutional memory on how the District has progressed as a government and a city with civic pride and diversity.
I'll mostly agree with you on this one. It's a critique that applies to all media entities these days, I'd argue. From national television networks down to community newspapers, the loss of experienced reporters is a shame, but there are many young reporters stepping up and doing great work on their own. A lack of institutional memory can also mean the media is looking at stories with fresh, unbiased eyes. 
The Washington Post proposes the idea older African Americans are incapable if clear comprehension, independent judgment, and are unable to progressive thinking to improve the quality of life in the District.
See, this is where you fall off the rails, Mr. Brannum. You talk about "clear comprehension" in a sentence that has typographical and grammatical errors. I think I get the gist of what you're trying to say here, but if you had proofread it, it might have made a little more sense to me and the readers you're trying to communicate with. The fact of that matter, though, is that the Washington Post never makes this assertion. Your fevered imagination just made it up.
In its coverage of District politics, and culture, The Washington Post has become too detached from the people of the District of Columbia to see truth.
Whose culture, Mr. Brannum, and which people? I'll gladly fault the Post for not covering DC politics in-depth enough for my taste, but I'm not sure that you or I are entitled to our own definitions of "the truth."
The disturbing and prevailing view of The Washington Post and its journalist consorts is “the old gang” Washingtonians are no longer relevant to the life, culture, and vibrancy of Washington.
I guess it would be disturbing if you're a member of "the old gang." If you're a fresh face, or someone who doesn't enjoy connections to the "old boys club," then I think you would feel differently. Either way, there is no one group that can claim to be THE culture of Washington. This is a large city with a diverse population. Washington, DC, has given us both go-go and hardcore punk—it's a multi-faceted culture here.
In their perspective, generations of Washingtonians, especially African Americans, who sacrificed and fought to bring to the District limited self-government, voting rights, worked to bring people and communities together, and did not abdicate the city during hard times should not be heard, seen, or respected.
If you can find me a Washington Post story that actually says that, or even alludes to that, it'll be the first time that I actually will have read it in the local press. I've never seen anyone even remotely say, "African American voices should be ignored." Find it for me, and I'll give $100 to the charity of your choice. I promise.
The Washington Post and reporters; for their readers and the public, demand professional standards, excellence in work, and a higher ladder of ethics for public officials. And they should. However, the public demands The Washington Post and reporters write to a higher professional standard, exercise a greater commitment to excellence, and have an equal high ladder of ethics.
I don't know a single reporter who writes about local issues that doesn't aspire to get the story right. It sounds to me like you're just angry that the people you support aren't getting a free pass when the news about and around them gets less-than-rosy.
(And what's this ethics "ladder"? Never heard that phrase.)

The people of the District of Columbia deserve better from the media and The Washington Post. So too do Mayor Gray, Chairman Brown, Councilman Thomas, Chief Lanier, and Ms. Whiting.
One last thing—when has the press coverage of Chief Lanier been anything but fawning? The press loves her. The people of DC love her. Outside of the head of the police union, I've never seen anything overtly negative written about her, so I'm not sure why you lump her in with the group of folks who have been in the news lately for ethical missteps.

In the end, Mr. Brannum, your complaint boils down to one thing—the Washington Post isn't fawning over your preferred set of elected officials. You have a blog where you can promote a differing opinion. Yet you rail against people who dare to hold an opinion that differs from yours, often on blogs, just like how you communicate with the world. It's bizzarely circular logic, and it's ultimately hypocritical.

You were robbed.

01 April 2011

Strange logic in the Current's endorsement

I've sung the praises of the Current Newspapers before. But last week's endorsement in the at-large council race was baffling, to say the least.

The editorial discussed five candidates for the office (Vincent Orange, Patrick Mara, Joshua Lopez, Sekou Biddle, and Bryan Weaver), and for the most part discussed the positives that they felt each brought to the table. Using a process-of-elimination-style rubric, they came to the decision that Bryan Weaver was the best candidate of the bunch...

...and then proceeded to endorse Sekou Biddle.

What would make them endorse a candidate they don't think is the best for the job?

The "logic" was that Bryan Weaver, though having the best grasp on the issues and being "the most knowledgeable challenger [they] have interviewed over the past 16 years," is not well known outside of his home neighborhood of Adams Morgan. Because of a higher profile, they endorsed Biddle. Not because of any belief that he'd actually be a better council member.

The Current distributes their papers in every neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park, as well as most areas west of Georgia Avenue east of Rock Creek Park. From Logan Circle, north to Shepherd Park, west to the Palisades, and back down to Georgetown and Foggy Bottom, the paper reaches many neighborhoods and many potential voters.

The Current's website claims a weekly delivery of 52,874 papers, and also claims that "over 95 percent of the adults who receive the Current on their doorsteps read it, one of the highest levels our circulation auditors have found in the entire country." If that's true, then upwards of 50,000 people read the editorial written last week. That would mean 50,000 people are now at least somewhat familiar with Bryan Weaver, and that's more than enough voters to win an the upcoming special election.

Of course, not everyone who read their endorsement will agree with it, and not all will even vote. But what is an endorsement if not a persuasive article? One can persuade without the object of the action being intimately familiar with the subject matter. In fact, a good persuasive argument would lay out facts for the uninitiated in such a way that they would feel both educated and convinced that the right conclusion has been reached by the one doing the persuading.

Either the Current's editorial board didn't really believe that Bryan Weaver is the best person for the job, or there is some other reason for making their choice. Claiming that he's not well enough known really isn't a sufficient excuse for declining to endorse. Part of the paper's job is to make the candidates known to the public.

Sekou Biddle's campaign has had a full-column advertisement opposite the paper's editorial for many weeks. As of the March 10th campaign finance filling, the Current had earned over $4,000 in advertising from the Biddle campaign. I'm not accusing the paper of a quid pro quo, but it's interesting that the they would sing the praises of one candidate, then turn and endorse the candidate whose campaign has spent more money than all others in their paper.

21 March 2011

The Ivy City-Trinidad Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative

Last Wednesday, I attended a meeting of the Housing Focus Group of the Ivy City-Trinidad Neighborhood Stabilization Initiative. This program is being run by the city's Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). It's part of the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development's Neighborhood Stabilization Stimulus Program. HUD has allocated money to the city to aid in the creation of affordable housing opportunities in the city. The plan can be viewed here.

The city is spending this money in Ivy City and Trinidad in Ward 5, Deanwood in Ward 7, and Anacostia in Ward 8. Housing opportunities in Ivy City were discussed at the Wednesday meeting.

Fifty-eight houses are being constructed in Ivy City by Habitat for Humanity, Manna DC, and Mi Casa. These houses will be heavily subsidized and are being marketed to neighborhood families who are currently renting, offering people an opportunity to remain close to where they've already put down roots.

At the meeting, we discussed barriers to home ownership for an hour or so before getting into details of the program. When the price of the houses was announced (between $90,000 and $150,000), there were disappointed faces. An underemployed carpenter said it would still be tough to raise a family and pay a mortgage at the upper end of that scale. He currently averages 25 hours of work a week and delivers the Washington Post as a second job to make ends meet for his family.

The mood shifted as the meeting facilitators discussed the subsidies available to bring the prices down. Up to $70,000 worth of HPAP funding could be available for homebuyers. That's a 40-year interest free loan with the first payments deferred for 5 years. As the potential for real financial aid was made clear, most of the renters at the meeting sounded very enthusiastic about the likelihood of home ownership.

The one problem I had was the program's advertising. The photograph at the top of this post shows an enormous banner selling the program to automobile traffic on New York Avenue NE. Meeting attendees were all from the northern part of Trinidad, and don't regularly travel that stretch of highway. Therefore, few knew about the home construction getting underway.

I recommended either moving the sign or adding additional signage in areas where more people from the neighborhood would see them. Perhaps a sign at the corner of Mount Olivet Road and West Virginia Avenue, or at Montello Avenue and Florida Avenue, would actually catch the eyes of someone who would benefit from this potentially transformative program. I'm looking forward to see how this works out, as it looks like it has the possibility to vastly improve the lives of many people in the neighborhood who just need a little help to ensure a stable future.

18 March 2011

Sign Blight - Help us shame these lawbreakers

Rule 24-108 in the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations gives guidance on the placement of signs, posters, and placards in the city's public space. Subsection 2 reads, "The placing of any advertisement on any tree in public space is prohibited." That means the signs below are not legal. Period.

In addition, these signs are nailed to the trees. The first sign (apologies for the quality) is nailed to a willow oak near the corner of Neal Street and Montello Avenue NE, and the second and third signs are nailed to a sycamore tree at West Virginia Avenue and Penn Street NE. Putting holes in our mature, beautiful street trees causes them harm; creating wounds such as this give insects and fungi access to the heart of the trees.

These signs are placed in low-income neighborhoods by people who try to use the lure of cash to get people who might be down on their luck to sell their homes for pennies on the dollar. Beside the fact that these signs are illegal, ugly, and harmful, they're also exploitative.

I'm proposing that we call them and register our displeasure and disgust. The number on these signs is 703-910-5173. Call them and tell them to take the signs down because they're damaging trees. Call them and tell them to take the signs down because they're illegal. And call them and tell them to take the signs down because we don't need their kind trying to drive the working poor from their homes in order for a short-term infusion of cash, while they get rich off of this exploitation.

Please take a minute of your day, it's not much, but if enough people do, maybe we can make our voices heard.


If you want to take it one further, call 202-455-6129. That's not the number on the signs below, but it is the direct line to the company that put the signs up. I've documented many signs here around Trinidad. Some I was able to remove myself because they were only 6 or 7 feet off the ground. Some of these signs are 13 to 15 feet off the ground, though - out of reach without a ladder. Give them the same hell you'd give to the jerks who nailed the signs to the trees.