DCentric » Economic Development http://dcentric.wamu.org Race, Class, The District. Wed, 16 May 2012 20:20:35 +0000 en hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.2.1 Copyright © WAMU Crowdsourcing Neighborhood Changes http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/crowdsourcing-neighborhood-changes/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/crowdsourcing-neighborhood-changes/#comments Thu, 19 Apr 2012 17:13:58 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15488 Continue reading ]]>

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

A sign on 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW asks "What would you build here?"

Businesses play an important role in the transformation of neighborhoods. A certain restaurant or store can attract newcomers, make a block seem “desirable” or become a gathering spot.

But as it stands now, the public generally doesn’t have a say on what specific businesses open up in their neighborhoods, says developer Ben Miller. Should that vacant storefront be a coffee shop or a pet store?

That’s why Ben Miller and his brother, Dan, started Popularise.com in late 2011. They were trying to figure out what to do with the building they purchased at 1351 H Street NE, and wanted public input. So they posted the project online and asked people to vote on ideas they had already explored or submit suggestions. About 1,000 people responded, and Ben Miller says they’ll announce the final project within a few weeks.

The site is in its early stages and currently features five buildings. People sign up by providing their names and zip codes and can then comment on project ideas or suggest new ones for the featured buildings. Building owners, developers and others then use the feedback as a factor in the eventual outcome, along with economics, construction issues and other things.

“A lot of people aren’t in the process of how neighborhoods get built. They don’t know how decisions get made,” Miller says. “A lot of it can be changed by including lots of people who normally don’t get involved.”

But is targeting an online audience the best way to increase involvement? A persistent digital divide in the District means there’s a good chunk of the population who is not connected, and they’re mostly low-income folks.

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

A large sign for Popularise.com asks passersby to weigh in on what should open at 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW.

Miller says that his website isn’t shutting people out from the conversation, but rather widens it. Real estate development is an “opaque” process, he says. (Ben Miller, 35, grew up in D.C. and his father is well-known developer Herb Miller, whose company had a hand in Gallery Place, Potomac Mills and Washington Harbour).

Often times, few people show up to community meetings and a “very vocal group dominate the discussion. I don’t think they represent the majority,” Miller says. “Most people are busy and don’t have time to wait for hours in church basements. I think this is a much broader and more inclusive process than what [exists] today.”

Still, it’s clear that the website thus far has appealed to a particular demographic. According to the site’s data, the typical user is between 25 and 34 years old, lives near H Street (which makes sense, given their first project’s location) and likes frequenting Little Miss Whiskey‘s and Rock and Roll Hotel. But Miller says the site is essentially a self-organizing tool, and anyone can become part of the process. Community groups in other parts of Northeast have already approached him for help on revitalizing commercial corridors. United House of Prayer, which has helped build affordable housing in the city, is using the site to help develop some of its vacant properties, Miller says.

Miller doesn’t view his website as gentrifying neighborhoods since most of the projects involve vacant or blighted buildings. He calls them “win-win” properties, places people want developed.

For instance, there are few sit-down restaurants east of the Anacostia River, something residents have complained about. Miller says opening nice restaurants there would be an example of growth in an underserved area, not gentrification.

“My experience is everyone wants good schools, good services and a beautiful neighborhood,” Miller says.

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Marion Barry: Breaking Down Race, Plexiglass And ‘Dirty Shops’ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/marion-barry-breaking-down-race-plexiglass-and-dirty-shops/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/04/marion-barry-breaking-down-race-plexiglass-and-dirty-shops/#comments Fri, 06 Apr 2012 17:52:44 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=15228 Continue reading ]]>

dbking / Flickr

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry

Councilman Marion Barry’s criticisms of Asian-owned stores in Ward 8 set off a whirlwind of criticism and debate Thursday. Here’s the rundown: Barry made some offhanded remarks after he won the contested Ward 8 council seat race, captured by NBC4 Washington: “We’ve got to do something about these Asians coming in, opening up businesses, those dirty shops. They ought to go, I’ll just say that right now, you know. But we need African-American businesspeople to be able to take their places, too.”

On Thursday, Barry’s Twitter account clarified his criticism, aiming it at carry-out joints that sell greasy food and put up plexiglass barriers between customers and employees. And many of such restaurants, he said, are owned by Asians. Barry faced criticism throughout Thursday, including denunciations from Councilman Tommy Wells (Ward 6), Council Chair Kwame Brown and Mayor Vincent Gray. Barry eventually apologized for offending the Asian American community. Barry said he intended to criticize some, not all, Asian-owned businesses, but he remained staunch in his view that Ward 8 deserves better food options and less plexiglass.

Part of Barry’s scourge centers on the feeling that predominately black Ward 8 is often disrespected, and that feeling is at the heart of many issues east of the Anacostia River. By bringing race into the mix, Barry touched upon a history of animosity. In many cities, some view Asian grocers and liquor store owners in predominately black communities as profiting off of customers while not treating them with respect.

In light of Barry’s comments, The Washington Post’s Mike DeBonis spoke with Gary Cha, owner of Yes! Organic and past president of Korean-American Grocers Association. Cha, who owns a Ward 8 grocery store, told DeBonis that Barry “shouldn’t have said Asians.” But, Cha added:

Any of those people running a dirty store that have an adverse impact on the community should go. And sometimes I am ashamed some of the Asian business owners don’t spend the time to keep the stores in a respectful manner.

… I do go around and say, look, if you clean your store, your business will probably go up by 65 percent, no-brainer. I’ve probably said that a thousand times to people, but it doesn’t work. … In that sense I am with [Barry], but just like saying things about African-Americans — not all African-Americans do certain things.

Ward 7 faces a similar problem with the lack of sit-down eateries and proliferation of plexiglass, which can make customers feel like they’re being suspected as criminals. Thai Orchid’s Kitchen was originally supposed to open in Ward 7 as a carryout joint, plexiglass and all (co-owner Ramaesh Bhagirat of Guyana has lived in Ward 7 for 20 years). But neighbors reached out to the owners, and D.C officials enforced zoning rules. The restaurant opened sans glass, with chairs.

But what happens when such pioneers get robbed? In the case of Thai Orchid’s Kitchen, neighbors rallied around the owners after an armed robbery, spawning regular, large dinners and convinced Bhagirat to stay put.

The psychology of the plexiglass (informally called “bulletproof glass”) is potent, and black proprietors can feel the need to use it, as well. The glass barrier is partially a relic of post-1968 riots D.C., and having plexiglass can make business owners and employees feel safer (despite studies showing that plexiglass is not that much of a crime deterrent). For some proprietors, the decision to balance personal safety with making a show of respect is a painful one to make. Take Olivia’s Cupcakes; when the shop opened in Ward 7, owner Cindy Bullock said, “It broke my heart to do that, but it’s a deterrent.”

As far as Barry’s complaint of unhealthy options and few sit-down eateries: some are trying to change that, too. Earlier this year, District officials led business owners and investors on tours of Ward 8, encouraging them to open up shop and increase culinary choices.

At the end of the day, there a number of factors that contribute to improving Ward 8′s food options. And getting nicer restaurants and stores will take more than telling proprietors to take down plexiglass, whether they’re Asian or not.

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DCentric’s D.C. Budget Highlights: What’s Cut, What’s Not http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/dcentrics-d-c-budget-highlights-whats-cut-whats-not/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/03/dcentrics-d-c-budget-highlights-whats-cut-whats-not/#comments Tue, 27 Mar 2012 16:42:37 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14946 Continue reading ]]>

scienceoftheinvisible.blogspot.com / Flickr

Mayor Vincent Gray unveiled his $9.4 billion proposed budget last week, which outlines millions of dollars in cuts to social services.

The city anticipates a $172 million shortfall next year, and Mayor Gray wants to fill the gap mostly through cuts — about $102 million worth of them — while raising the remaining $70 million. The D.C. Council will spend the next couple of months digesting, debating and changing the budget before finally voting on it.

Let’s take a look at a few highlights:

No new taxes
Last year’s budget battle included a debate over whether to create a new tax bracket for wealthier residents. The council eventually approved a new tax bracket for households making more than $350,000 a year. This time around, Mayor Gray isn’t suggesting further raising taxes on the wealthy to balance the budget. Instead, he’s looking to make money by extending the hours alcohol can be sold and expanding the traffic camera program.

The DC Healthcare Alliance provides insurance for the approximately 20,000 low-income D.C. residents not covered by Medicaid. Mayor Gray proposes cutting $23 million from the program, transforming it from offering comprehensive coverage to just primary, preventative care.

Mandel Ngan / AFP/Getty Images

Mayor Vincent Gray.

The money to build and renovate affordable housing units comes from the Housing Production Trust Fund. It’s also where tenants turn to for low-cost loans to purchase their buildings when landlords put them up for sale. Tenant purchase is often cited as a way to prevent displacement of low-income renters in the face of gentrification. Mayor Gray proposes taking $19.9 million from the trust fund and using it for low-income rent subsidies instead, which is in really high demand.

Economic development and jobs
Mayor Gray proposes boosting economic development funding, including $58 million of infrastructure investments at St. Elizabeths in Ward 8, future home the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. The redevelopment is expected to reinvigorate the economically depressed area by bringing in thousands of jobs.

The District has also had problems training residents for jobs; Mayor Gray proposes a $1.6 million pilot program intended to better connect residents with jobs.

The wish list
The budget does include a “revised revenue priority list,” essentially a wish list of items that will be funded if more money is brought in than projected. And most of those programs benefit the city’s neediest residents, including $7 million for homeless services, $14.7 million to pay for Temporary Aid for Needy Families (formerly known as welfare) job programs and restoring the cuts made to healthcare and housing.

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Do Social Service Agencies Prevent Economic Development? http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/do-social-service-agencies-prevent-economic-development/ http://dcentric.wamu.org/2012/02/do-social-service-agencies-prevent-economic-development/#comments Wed, 29 Feb 2012 15:59:09 +0000 Elahe Izadi http://dcentric.wamu.org/?p=14294 Continue reading ]]>

Elly Blue / DCentric

Some vocal Ward 8 residents say they don’t want to see more social service agencies opening in their community. One of their main concerns: that such facilities, in particular group homes and shelters, hinder redevelopment in a community that needs it.

But do the presence of such services, in of themselves, prevent economic development from happening?

It’s complicated, says Lois Takahashi, a University of California, Los Angeles professor who focuses on community opposition to human service facilities. She hasn’t seen evidence that concentrating social services, such as shelters and clinics, hinders economic development in neighborhoods.

“It seems to be more the other direction. [Bringing in social service agencies] improves building stock, brings staff in that’s spending money in local communities,” Takahashi says.

Lack of economic development usually has more to do “with the politics of redevelopment and development,” Takahashi notes.

But concentrating social services in a community could play some role in preventing economic development, Takahashi says, depending on a number of factors. There are market forces and government regulations, such as zoning, that could make it easier and cheaper for shelters, rather than grocery stores, to open in certain communities. Location of services can play a role in preventing economic development, too. For instance, many opposed Calvary Women’s Services’ plans to open along Good Hope Road SE, not just because it was another social service agency, but because the transition housing for women would be in the heart of downtown Anacostia’s business district.

Another point of contention is the question of who is being served by the social agencies. If they’re primarily helping people who don’t live in the community, then there are issues of equity, that one community burdens the load for everyone — the “dumping ground” argument. But if the agencies are mostly helping people who live in the area, then it’s a matter of “recognizing our neighbors need help,” Takahashi said.

Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry told DCentric he doesn’t think his community has become a dumping ground for social service agencies.

“I welcome these agencies because they’re serving the people in the community, and the people in the community don’t have to go way across town to get these services,” Barry said. “What’s missing is for the city to require in the contract that these agencies hire D.C. residents, or Ward 8 residents.”

Unemployment is at nearly 25 percent in Ward 8, and the median household income is $31,188. Barry said the focus should be on decreasing the unemployment rate and increasing the incomes of existing Ward 8 residents “so that people can take care of themselves. But as long as you have that not happening, you need [the agencies].”

But opponents of bringing in more services argue that they prevent the economic development needed to bring those desperately needed jobs.

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