Sunday, May 31, 2009

I never knew this was here

Cultural Tourism DC held a walking tour of Hillcrest. If I had a dollar for everytime I heard someone on the tour say "I never knew this was here"... I could move to Costa Rica... okay maybe not, but I could at least buy dinner and drinks. It was great to see people interested in my neighborhood. I learned a lot on the tour and I even got to meet some neighbors.

Here's some photos.

A house that I really liked. It has so much character.

Where else will you see a gate like this. I love the architecture in the neighborhood.

A door is not just a door when the door looks like this.

Photo of part of the group. I would say about 20-25 pepople attended the tour. Jim Byers was a great tour guide.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Where you can find me...

I'll be there tomorrow evening. For more information about the event go to
55 M Street, S.E. (at the corner with Half Street)
Washington, DC 20003
Metro stop: Green Line, Navy Yard, Ballpark exit
Free admission. Donations accepted.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Public Housing Needs an Overhaul

Last Thursday I attended the American Planning Association symposium on the last 100 years of the planning profession. Adolfo Carrion, the Director of the White House Office of Urban Affairs, attended and spoke on the President’s agenda related to urban issues. I had a chance to ask him my burning question…

“I live East of the River where there is not only a high percentage of the City’s poor and recipients of public assistance, but also high percentage of residents who have been receiving public assistance for multiple generations. What performance standards can we set for the Federal and local government to assist these residents with becoming self-sufficient?” First, I was impressed that Mr. Carrion, who just relocated to DC to serve in his position, knew what I meant when I said East of the River. Mr. Carrion stated that is something that is on their agenda to tackle.

I will be the first to admit that I am not an expert on social programs and funding. However, from my observation, the current system is not working and unsustainable economically and socially. I think there are two key issues at play…

One, the District Housing Authority may not have the right performance measures. They may not even have performance measures at all. I could not find any on their website, but I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt that they must have something in place. However, perhaps they are not measuring the right things. For example, let’s say their metric is number of families served. Is that really the right metric? I think the metrics should be based on number of families/people they assist in becoming self sufficient within a defined timeframe. They should have a goal to have a certain percentage become self sufficient each year.

Two, the current system creates a disincentive for residents to earn more money. Residents are required to pay up to 30% of their salary towards their household expenses. As your income goes up, so does the amount you are required to pay. Then if you income goes above the limit you are cut off. The cut off point is so low, that you would probably be considered working poor.

So what is the solution? I’m not entirely sure, but I do know that many urban issues are interwoven with other issues. Maybe if the education system was better there would be less poverty. Maybe if there were more working class jobs that were closer to the working class people (note: most jobs are on the west side of the DC metro region, which is why Prince George’s County has a high traffic congestion rate). I think that the solution has to start with a leader of the City that cares about these issues, because it is going to take a true interdepartmental effort.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Digital Divide or Lack of Outreach???

Photo credit: Circotasu
I've been to Yvette Alexander's website many times. Even as recent as February to get her email address, because I was having issues with cabbies (that's a post for another day). Today, I was actually planning to blog about the horrible building that has Ms. Alexander's name draped across it (which will be a post for another day). I was trying to see if I could find a photo of it online, when I happened to stumble upon Ms. Alexander's new site.

This is a huge improvement from her last website and I applaud Ms. Alexander's efforts to keep the community informed. Though I try to remain positive, it got me to wondering.... if someone who is internet savvy and tries to stay informed on what's going on in the community, such as myself, didn't even know she had a new website, what about the rest of Ward 7? I don't even recall getting a postcard from Ms. Alexander announcing the new website. Maybe the assumption is people will come looking for the information as opposed to bringing the information to the people.

There are 72,000 people in this Ward, but only 471 registered users on her site. Is it that people in Ward 7 don't have internet access or there is no outreach to us? Either way, it's a problem. If the former is the problem, then we have an entire population of residents that aren't connected to the rest of the city or the rest of the world for that matter. If the later is the problem, then Ms. Alexander may want to extend her outreach efforts to more than just campaigning. When she was running for office, I felt like I was getting mail from her every day.

I was looking around the website and was quickly met with frustration. I took me almost 20 minutes to figure out how to register to be a member of her site. I was intrigued by the fact that she has forums and a blog... only to be disappointed that there were no topics created in the forums and no information in the blog. There is a chatroom feature, but if no one knows about it, there can be no chats. ***sigh***

All-in-all this is 10 times better than her last site, but it still needs some work. Especially since the new infusion into the neighborhood are young professionals (such as myself) who have very little time to attend community meetings. We rely on technology and online communications to keep is informed and to provide feedback.

I sent Ms. Alexander some feedback on her site... while I'm sure she has more pressing issues, her website could be a vital source of information to the residents of Ward 7 if she wants to reach out to us.... Though I was distracted by today's find, rest assured I will blog about that horrible building with her name on it is in the pipeline.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Penn Branch Shopping Mall

Is this the real future of the Penn Branch Shopping Center located at the intersection of Pennsylvania Ave and Branch Ave??? I had a chance to meet with John Gogos, who is the real estate broker for this property. He said that the existing building will be getting a new face along with other improvements. There will be two new pads located in the existing parking lot. This looks much better than the eyesore that is there now.

Mr. Gogos and I talked for about 30 minutes. I'm a little disappointed that there is no space available that is big enough for a sit down restaurant like Fridays. However, there may be enough space for something like a Boston Market or Chicken Out. The one thing about this neighborhood is there are no sit down establishments, unless you count McDonalds. I'd take a Boston Market over another more traditional fast food chain.

Hopefully, Mr Gogos will be able to woo Dunkin Donuts or Panera Bread into one of the new pads. That would be great for the neighborhood. There is nowhere along Pennsylvania Ave from the Maryland border to the River to get a cup of coffee. NO STARBUCKS.... PLEASE.

I'm excited at the possibility that this project may move forward. The anticipated completion date is December 2010.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Walking Tours

Cultural Tourism DC is sponsoring Walking Tours throughout the City on May 30 and May 31st. For more information on all the Walking Tours visit Culutrial DC's Website. Hillcrest is a featured tour.

Saturday, May 30
2 - 4 pm
Meet and end outside Hillcrest Recreation Center, 3100 Denver Street, SE (Naylor Road Metro station to #36 bus to Camden Street)

Discover grand boulevards, stately homes, and sprawling parkland in one of Washingtonian Magazine’s “Great Places to Live.” Enjoy city views and the lovely gardens of Hiram and Blaun Eva Brewton. Randle Highlands and Dupont Park comprise what was planned as an upscale 19th-century development called East Washington Heights. Led by WPFW 89.3 FM Latin Flavor host and Ward 7 resident Jim Byers.