Kojo examines the longstanding structural issues plaguing D.C.’s central jail, what’s being done to fix them, and what city leaders plan to do about the aging facility.
The District is in the midst of transformation: new mixed-use projects are popping up along dormant corridors; bike lanes and light rail are creating new transportation options; big-box store projects are promising new shopping options to many low-income neighborhoods. But these new developments also tend to stir up old animosities among neighborhood activists and interest groups. We talk with Harriet Tregoning, Director of the DC Office of Planning.
- Harriet Tregoning Director, D.C. Office of Planning
The Director of D.C.’s Office of Planning Harriet Tregoning discusses why the city needs more retail options. She cites loss of revenue because of “leakage” — District residents spending money outside city lines. Tregoning also discusses the imminent arrival of new big-box developments, including Wal-Mart, and the likely effects, positive and negative:
Harriet Tregoning discusses how design and architecture plans are reviewed in the District, and what zoning codes say about “pop up” and “tear down” structures. She also talks about whether “conservation districts” might be an alternative to “historic district” designation:
Harriet Tregoning discusses redevelopment plans for the Walter Reed Medical Center. While the federal government has not yet finalized the division of the site, the District could now be allocated the entire frontage along Georgia Avenue.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Imagine it's your job to plan the future of the District. It would be up to you to figure out how to make the best use of the city's 20 miles of riverfront and to move the million or so people coming in and out each day to work, building sufficient parking while still encouraging bike and mass transit use. When it comes to development, you would have to balance many competing interests in order to decide what's needed in a particular area.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIs it more shops and restaurants, affordable apartments, office buildings? And then, the delicate job of getting the city, the neighborhood residents, developers and investors to agree to make it all happen. No one said it was easy to run the District's planning office. We'll find out from the director what's in store for D.C., including Wal-Mart, the St. Elizabeth Campus development and Southwest Waterfront. Harriet Tregoning joins us in studio. She is the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. Harriet Tregoning, good to see you. Thank you for joining us.
MS. HARRIET TREGONINGGreat to see you. It's a pleasure to be here.
NNAMDIAnd you can start with your calls right now. 800-433-8850. If you have any questions for the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning, 800-433-8850. You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. The first information we're getting from the 2010 census shows what most of us already kinda guessed that the District's population is growing, and you see that as a vote of confidence. It's my understanding that D.C. is doing something right. What do you see as the main factors attracting new residents to the city?
TREGONINGWell, you're absolutely right, Kojo. I think it's a great vote of confidence, not just that our population is growing for the first decade since 1950 but also that it seems to be accelerating. We added slightly less than 30,000 new residents in the last decade, but 12,000 of those residents were just in the last two years. So that's very, very exciting. We haven't seen, you know, increases like that since World War II.
NNAMDIWho's moving in?
TREGONINGWell, we don't have all the data from this last census, so I can't give it to you precisely. But, you know, what we're seeing anecdotally is a lot of young people, a lot of recent college graduates, a fair number of empty nesters. I've actually talked once to Diane Rehm not very long ago, and she's one of those folks who's recently moved back into the District. So, you know, we think the quality of life amenities that are being offered here and in some ways a lot of the city's very progressive livability and sustainability policies, I think, are behind people's desire to look at the city.
NNAMDIDiane Rehm, that name sounds familiar. That's the name of somebody who just moved back into the city in which she grew up in, correct?
NNAMDIYes. She also hosts a talk show, I think, someplace.
NNAMDIThe census also shows that the demographics of the city are changing in terms of both income and shifts in the racial makeup, and we've heard a lot of discussion lately about how D.C. is no longer a chocolate city. How do you see that affecting how the city grows and changes over the next 10 years or so?
TREGONINGOh, I think we're in a period where there's gonna be a lot of change happening to the city. That's been true for the last decade, but it's also really accelerating. A lot of the change that we're experiencing now, I think, is the same that the rest of the country is experiencing. We're just kinda on the leading edge of it. So that includes, you know, overall becoming a more diverse nation, a more diverse region and city. I think there was a lot of reporting about that because Maryland and Virginia have both gotten their more detailed census breakouts. The District is still waiting to get ours, but it's true that the African-American population is declining, while the population of every other race in the District is actually increasing.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Harriet Tregoning -- she is the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning -- and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. No area in the city actually lost residents, but some areas are growing faster than others. Can you talk about what areas seem to be gaining population faster?
TREGONINGWell, we have a number of areas in the city that, you know, that we've absolutely invested in, particularly along the Anacostia Waterfront. You remember Andy Altman , the planning director...
TREGONING...under Mayor Williams, and I think, you know, a good -- a frequent guest on your show. And that amazing effort that Mayor Williams undertook with the rest of the city to create this Anacostia Waterfront initiative, which did a couple of things that remained very important to the city. It returned land to the tax rolls that weren't part of our economic base, but it also created a lot of new amenities and a lot of new opportunities for growth and development in parts of the city where we really hadn't seen a lot of that. There was -- there's been some stories recently about kinda the taxes that we get. What are the buildings that bring the greatest tax revenues to the city? And not surprisingly, a lot of them are concentrated downtown, but a couple of the top ones are actually in this area along the waterfront. And we think there's potential for a lot more of that development to be happening. We kinda rebranded and expanded downtown to what we're calling Center City Washington. That includes NoMA. That includes the Capital Riverfront, that area around the ballpark. It includes Anacostia, and now, we've crossed the river to St. Elizabeth's. And I know that we'll probably have some more conversation about that.
NNAMDIWe certainly will, and NoMA, of course, for those of you who don't know what it means, the area north of Massachusetts Avenue, Northwest. You're working with a new mayor now. Do you and Mayor Vincent Gray see eye to eye as to the future of the city?
TREGONINGI think we see absolutely eye to eye. I feel very fortunate to actually -- while I worked for Mayor Fenty, Vincent Gray was my oversight and budget chair. So I probably had 20 or 25 hearings in front of then-chairman Gray over the course of my time here. And he got to hear question and, you know, basically get into a real dialogue about the future of the city and where, from my perspective, I thought we were going and how important it was to carefully manage change in neighborhoods, which I think is the primary, you know, purpose of planning. So I wish that that everyone had gotten the same chance I had to work so closely with now-Mayor Gray. I think that made a huge difference.
NNAMDIGreen and sustainable development practices are a big part of your vision for the city. How do you balance that with a growing population?
TREGONINGWell, it's interesting. I think that's one of the things that's really attracting more people to be in the District of Columbia. I think the idea that you could live car free or car light in Washington, that you could meet a lot of your daily needs on foot or by bicycle, that we have a lot of very progressive policies, not just with respect to green buildings, and we do have a lot of wonderful progress that we've made on green buildings, something like 129 LEED-certified buildings, more than 800 in the pipeline for LEED certification. You know, per capita, we blow doors off of any city in the country. But our policies on transportation really mean people have a lot of choices about how they get around. There was a story this morning about the bag tax...
TREGONING...and what great things that's done for the Anacostia River. The council's action...
NNAMDIAnd the fact that people don't seem to be objecting to it as much as some have predicted.
TREGONINGExactly. And that it really has had an effect in terms of pollution in the Anacostia, which we all very much care about. And that people have kinda incorporated into their daily routine, more or less. And that, you know, I think people enjoy being in a city that's progressive in that way and is willing to try something new in order to achieve an important name for the city, whether that's gay marriage or streetcars.
NNAMDIThat's why there are so many bags in the back my car, where there never used to be any before. Here is Diane in Washington D.C. Diane, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
DIANEHi. I just had a question about the RFK Stadium site and what the future plans are for that.
NNAMDIThe RFK Stadium site future plans for that. Why am I repeating everything? Here's Harriet Tregoning. She heard it.
TREGONINGI appreciate you repeating it. But the RFK site is actually a site that is under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, so it's not a District property. There are properties that have conveyed over to the District or in the process of that conveyance, but RFK is not one of those. The use that it currently enjoys is a use that's allowed under the Park Service, and a future similar use, you would have reason to believe would also be allowed. But there aren't any active plans right now to redevelop the stadium site.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Diane. You said that D.C. was once competing with its suburban neighbors in terms of successfully attracting residents, talent and investment, but now, it's competing with, it seems, major cities all over the U.S. and around the world. Do you think it's hard for D.C. residents to see our city on par with Paris or New York?
TREGONINGI think it -- I think if you've lived here a long time, it is kind of hard to see it that way. I've been here since 1989, and I do still look in amazement, you know, at many, many parts of the city. And it's thrilling, but, you know, it's also hard to kind of see the change that you're living in. I think for people who've been away for any little bit of time and who've come back, you know, that it's pretty easy for them to see. But I think, you know, anyone would say that the District of Columbia can go toe to toe with the great cities of the world.
NNAMDIRetail development is one of your focuses for the city. What do you think retail does for a city?
TREGONINGWell, you know, one of the specific objectives, I think, of this administration that's so very important has to do with fiscal stability. You know, we're really at a disadvantage with so little of our land that's taxable. You know, something like 40 percent. Even other capitals, you know, state capitals have at least 60 percent of their land that they are able to generate tax revenue from. So, you know, all the other sources of revenue for us are very important, so retail is one of those areas where, you know, we leak a lot of retail sales to other jurisdictions. We simply have historically not had the shopping variety and the formats that have -- that are, you know, very much favor by our own residents, so they leave the District to shop in other locations.
TREGONINGSo what we're trying to do is to stop that from happening, in part, by bringing new types of retail into the District by bringing retail convenience to more and more neighborhoods. In the last five years, 10 new grocery stores have opened in the District of Columbia, and still, we have what some researchers would call food deserts in parts of the city, where there just isn't great access to fresh and healthy foods. So we think there's a great opportunity to improve the retail picture, and we're under retailed. We have something like under nine square feet per capita compared to something like 26 square feet per capita in the region, and something like 23 nationwide. So we're really under retailed.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Harriet Tregoning -- she is the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning -- and taking your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you think D.C. needs more of? What do you think the city needs less of? 800-433-8850. Or you can go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Speaking of retail, you knew Wal-Mart was going to come up. We got this e-mail from Guy in D.C. First, why aren't communities taken into account first in development? Shouldn't developers start by getting sign-on from the neighborhood and the ANC before submitting to the zoning and Office of Planning?
NNAMDIAlso why are we not limiting big-box stores like Wal-Mart to areas that want it east of the river, rather than forcing it on areas that don't want it, like Wards 4 and 5? Can you require big-box stores to meet standards for unionization, health care and require they don't sell guns? I think I've asked about -- well, Guy has asked about five or six questions in one. I'll ask one at a time. Getting a sign-on from the neighborhood and the ANC before submitting to the zoning and Office of Planning.
TREGONINGI think that's a really important thing to do, and I think any smart developer actually does that. And so it is true that while Wal-Mart has been in town, having a lot of meetings, talking to a lot of different groups, we've actually gotten no official submittals from them except for one. So of the four stores they're considering, they haven't sent anything in. Now, admittedly, one of the stores that they have come in to see us about, doesn't require our sign-on. That's a Buy Rite store in Ward 6 on New Jersey Avenue. But...
NNAMDISo they have already been meeting with groups around the city.
NNAMDIAlso, why are we not limiting big-box stores to areas that want it rather than forcing it on areas that don't want it like Ward 4 and 5?
TREGONINGWell, that's also a good question in terms of forcing it on places. I mean, basically, I wish I could say that we dictate exactly what and where things get located. We zone, and if it's a permissible use by the zoning, it really depends on whether there's a market for it. I mean, Wal-Mart -- you can only get this kind of information specifically from a retailer, but they say that in the last year, $42 million of -- in sales have been racked up by D.C. residents at their suburban locations. You know, when you go into a store, they sometimes ask you what your zip code is, and for those that have given zip codes, you know, $42 million in sales. So there -- it's not like there are -- that Washingtonians don't wanna shop there. They already shop there.
NNAMDIAnd can you require big-box stores to meet standards for unionization, health care?
TREGONINGI think the mayor has been really clear on this that he has high expectations for a company like Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, if they wanna be welcomed into the District of Columbia, and that includes paying a living wage and benefits that includes career letter opportunities for people who do get employed there. It includes workforce development opportunities and local district hiring. So I think all of those things are very important, and that -- you know, Wal-Mart has said they want to be welcomed here, and that's what it's gonna take.
NNAMDIAnd finally from Guy in D.C., can you require that they don't sell guns? I can answer that. No. They cannot require that they don't sell guns because there's a handgun law that was passed, and that would allow the sale of handguns in the District of Columbia.
TREGONINGWell, again, they wanna be welcomed, and I think that that's another thing that's on the table with them. You know, they can choose to sell or not sell different things in different communities and, you know, I think this is a community that wouldn't welcome gun sales.
NNAMDIIndeed. There's a coalition that is opposing Wal-Mart. It's not actually trying to keep Wal-Mart out. That coalition wants an agreement that Wal-Mart will invest in the local community and treat workers well and presumably maybe not sell handguns. Do you support those demands?
TREGONINGI do, and I support them not just for Wal-Mart but for everybody who's gonna be here. I think those are absolutely very laudatory objectives that we should seek for any employer.
NNAMDIWal-Mart says it will consider smaller format stores that fit the neighborhoods. Is that unusual for Wal-Mart? Or is that something Wal-Mart has done in other places?
TREGONINGWell, it's a funny thing. It's not something that they had done 10 years ago or even five years ago. But more and more retailers are recognizing that urban markets have been long neglected, and that they -- and that stores that are really successful don't just import their suburban format and land it on some site in, you know, in an urban area. So they have spent the last 18 months or so developing some more urban prototypes, and even the stores that are being considered for the District look, you know, very different depending on where they are.
TREGONINGI know they are also considering very small stores, maybe a 30,000-square foot, mostly grocery store. And that's not a format that they have yet proposed for a location in the District but, you know, I think that's also potentially something we'll see in the future. Target is one of those big-box stores that reconfigured in order to be urban and this store has been very, very successful. So there's, I think, growing interest in other types of retail who've never been in urban locations to really give us a look.
NNAMDIWe'll be talking in the future about medium-box stores and small-box stores, I guess. We're talking with Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. We're going to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. If you would like to call, the number is 800-433-8850. How would you like to see the city develop in the future? You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or e-mail to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Harriet Tregoning. She is the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. And a lot of you would like to speak with Harriet Tregoning, so if you find the phone lines busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. Here is Liezl (sp?) in Washington, D.C. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LIEZLThank you for taking my call, Kojo. Harriet, I have a question about design standards and design excellence, especially in the transit oriented developments along the Red Line. I commute to Takoma, and I'm noticing that the new condo developments, like at Rhode Island Avenue, Fort Totten, they all look the same. And it just seems like the designs are rubberstamped by your departments, and we're not looking at innovative excellence in expanding our architectural footprint in this city. And I was wondering if you could respond.
TREGONINGThanks for your call. I think that's a great question about how we improve the architecture and the quality of design in the city.
NNAMDIIndeed. We have regular conversations here with architect Roger Lewis, and that constantly comes up.
TREGONINGWell, it -- but as it turns out that -- our office doesn't actually have design review authority over much of the development that happens in the city. If something comes in as a planned unit development, then we absolutely do. If it takes place in a historic district or it's a historic building itself, we absolutely do. But for almost everything else, we don't really have that authority. Now, we are in the process of rewriting and reviewing our more than 50-year-old zoning code. And so one of the things that we're looking at is whether or not design standards can be better built in to the actual zoning ordinances that would allow the character of the community to be preserved.
TREGONINGIt doesn't really as much address your issue how do we force or encourage kind of a more modern or avant-garde architecture, but in terms of allowing new development to be examined to make sure it, at least, is in keeping with the character of the community. That isn't to say that it looks like the existing community, but you know, it's sympathetic to and not a jarring addition to that community is one of the things that we're looking at.
NNAMDIWe got a tweet from someone who says, "Are conservation districts a viable option for neighborhoods as an alternative to historic districts?
TREGONINGWell, that's a question that's very much in a similar vein. One of the big motivations for a lot of communities in looking at historic district designation, especially recently has been the concern about teardowns and pop ups. I think tear downs are self-explanatory.
TREGONINGPop ups are when someone takes a two-story building and puts in a third story on top of it. Sometimes -- you know, a lot of our houses we're built kind of as an ensemble, a pair or three at a time or five at a time and, a lot of times, there are roof line and there are architecture and there are windows and everything else kind of form a composition. So when a pop up occurs on that composition, it can be a little bit jarring. So I think the idea of a conservation district as a way to potentially examine that issue and figure out how we have a better handle on pop ups and their design, I think, is a possibility as it changes to the zoning code that we're looking at.
NNAMDIWe're taking with Harriet Tregoning, the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. What would you like to see done with the city's 20 miles of waterfront along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers? Call us, 800-433-8850. Or go to our website. Join the conversation there. Here is Joyce in Washington, D.C. Joyce, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOYCEHi, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. I have a quick question for Harriet. In view of moving Washington towards becoming a world class city, I've had the fortunate experience of living in some European cities. And they have wonderful, wonderful food markets, which I think Washington, very sadly, lacks. Has there been any discussion on the part of the city to encourage that kind of a retail development? We have Eastern Market. But believe me. It doesn't even come close to the food markets in other cities, even here in the United States. You can look at Union Market in New York. You can look at the market in Seattle, and we just don't have anything like that here.
NNAMDII knew Seattle would come up there, but go ahead.
TREGONINGWell, those are certainly enviable markets to look at. We don't even have to go that far. We could just go a few minutes north to Baltimore and see...
TREGONING...a lot of existing markets that are still there. But in fact, you know, we're becoming more and more of a foodie city. And I think there's growing interest in that. We -- you can just look at the proliferation of farmers markets in our neighborhoods to see how much interest there is, and fresh, healthy, locally produced, often organic food, artisan bread, other things that you might find at the kind of market that you're talking about. I will say we do still have a great fish market in southwest Washington that's been there forever. We have the Florida Avenue Market that does wholesale and retail. And it's got, you know, a number of very beloved vendors. I hate to call anyone of them out like with (word?) so I won't do that. (laugh)
TREGONINGBut some really terrific places there and some interests in refurbishing some of those markets, you know, to provide more of what you're talking about. But I think -- and in fact, there are a number of proposals that are being kicked around that would bring more of that kind of food market to the district.
NNAMDIJoyce, thank you very much your call. Another question for our listeners, if you have moved to the District of Columbia over the course of the last five or 10 years, tell us why you moved. 800-433-8850, 800-433-8850. The Obama administration announced last week that it would like to delay construction of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, headquarters, on St. Elizabeth's east campus. A lot of development plans on the site were tied to the federal agency. How's that going to affect plans for that area?
TREGONINGWell, I hope that it won't have any effect -- any negative effect at all. It might end up having actually a slightly positive effect, because the delay that's contemplated is just a year at this point. So there's a lot of infrastructure that needs to be prepared in terms of transportation. It's 14,000 new employees. It's 2,000 daily visitors. And the vast bulk of it is proceeding on the west campus. So the delay was for a single site the FEMA building on the east campus. But there does continue to be a lot interests in the east campus of St. Elizabeth's and a lot -- and like I say, having a little bit more time to fully plan that east campus site and to put in the necessary infrastructure would be really helpful.
NNAMDIAn e-mail from Jim in Falls Church, "Please discuss the latest developments in planning for Walter Reed. I used to live in the neighborhood and have fond memories." Well, Jim, I still live in the neighborhood and would like to retain my fond memories.
TREGONINGWell, I wish I could be a lot more specific about Walter Reed. But the federal government has not yet told us exactly how they want to dispose of the sites, so we were well along in the planning process that kind of divided the site. I would say roughly east and west. But now, it looks like we might divide it more north and south, where we would get all of the Georgia Avenue frontage potentially. So we're still talking to the army about how that's gonna happen. GSA is apparently no longer interested in any part of the site, so it's really the state department, the army and us, talking about this
NNAMDIGeneral Services Administration being GSA. So all of those discussions that my neighbors and I went to were in vain?
TREGONINGNo. Because we're gonna still get most of the site that we did, the planning around, but it does change the picture a bit, you know, if we're able to get the entire Georgia Avenue frontage. And we might put roads in different places. We -- and then we might even look at some other, perhaps more ambitious uses, if we have a large site where would that could potentially be a major employment center and the ability to accommodate the transportation that would be coming to and from.
NNAMDIHere is Sam in Washington, D.C. Sam, your turn.
SAMHi, Kojo. I am -- was comment -- I wanna comment on one of the points that your guest made about, for instance, Target changing their layouts somewhat to fit an urban environment. And from what I can tell -- I live in Columbia Heights, it looks just like a suburb store in, you know -- I don't necessarily agree with that. And -- but I wanna hear what she meant by that specifically other than just the logistics of sitting a suburban store in an urban environment.
SAMAnd the other thing I wanted to ask was, as far as the -- how does the city plan to balance out any kind of new zoning requirements for development on top of, you know -- like, the city is notorious for having permitting issues for any kind of development, even residential for the small guy -- not necessarily the big guys, but to the small guys. How do you guys plan to balance out -- you know, put something new on top of a somewhat flawed system in the city as it is currently? And how will you encourage small business in terms of developments rather than bringing in a lot of these, you know, bigger opportunities to the city? Thanks very much.
NNAMDIIn reference to your -- the first part of your question, Sam, are you complaining about the way just the Target looks or the entire development, in your view, looks suburban?
SAMIt's not a complaint at all. It's just that, you know, because...
NNAMDIIt's an observation, okay. But are you making that observation about the Target store or the entire development?
SAMWell, the Target store specifically, because that what's you mentioned.
SAMBut that is a concern about -- like, I'd really like to preserve the character of the city. And I think one of the ways that we do that is to encourage small businesses rather than bringing in a lot of the box stores. And how does -- how is that figured in to the plans for the city?
TREGONINGSam, you raised some really great points. So let me try to take them kind of one by one. You asked the question that I ask when a retailer comes to the city. I ask them, what is different? You know, show me how this isn't just your suburban prototype that you've dropped, you know, on a city block. And in Target's case, you know, there are many things that are different. In a suburban Target, it's surrounded by a sea of parking. I have not ever been to one where that wasn't the case. It's on two levels, which they do in some suburban locations, but very, very few of them. And that's not their typical format.
TREGONINGTheir product mix might be a little different. They've gotten into grocery here, which they don't do in every single store. They do it in a lot of stores, but, you know, that is something that -- because of the frequency with which our urban shoppers go to the store, we don't, you know, typically drive up in our SUV and load up for a month, as they -- as people might in a suburban location. People might go there several times a week. I think there are some self-help groups trying to get people to not go quite so much as they go. But, you know, so their -- even how they retail is a little bit a different.
TREGONINGParking is different. And this is a lesson we've learned along with them. The developer and the retailer were very adamant about how much parking they needed. Even on top of this Metro station, we allowed parking that was a third less than the zoning required at the time. And it was still vastly too much parking.
TREGONINGAnd so we changed our zoning code to -- you know, so as to not make that mistake again and to also let other sites, other buildings now build without having to provide their own parking, but contract with some other building to use that parking. So that's one of the things. I mean, it's built right up to the street. It's multilevel. It's, you know -- it's retail, you know, on along three sides of that entire building. But that's a great question. And that is exactly the kind of thing we ask when retailers come to town.
TREGONINGIn terms of the zoning versus the permitting, we don't do the permitting, so I'm not gonna get into that. But I will say the whole idea of simplifying and making it really easy to understand things like zoning is the primary objective of our rewrite, you know? I love our colleagues in the law profession, you know? But at this point, you -- it's very, very hard to understand the zoning code and to make any change in the code, any change in your project without, you know, having, you know, a law firm behind you to help make that work. And it doesn't seem like that should be the case and particularly for small projects and residential and small businesses. So that's one of the main objectives of our reform.
NNAMDISam, thank you very much for your call. You mentioned small businesses. Here, we got a comment on our website that says, "It was mentioned that D.C. is under retail. To really have strong local community, you need local stores. For instance, for every $100 you spend at a local store, $45 of that stays in the community while stopping at a -- shopping at a chain, only 12 to $13 stay in the community. Keep it local and don't give away the farm in order to have a vibrant retail area and community."
TREGONINGI think that's a really, really great point. And that, for many, many cities, that's -- what you're describing is the holy grail, you know? What people want is that mix. You know, they want national credit tenants. And let's be really honest, our citizens leave the city to shop at those stores. You know, they vote with their feet and with their dollars. So to say that if only we had lots, lots more local retail, they would never do that, that just isn't the case. But we love our local retail. You know, that's what makes us unique. That's what makes neighborhoods exciting. And we wanna not just have it, we wanna nurture it. We wanna put at every place it can possibly be.
TREGONINGAnd we also wanna recognize that -- let's look at Columbia Heights. Because it's the only Target in the city, the area that it draws from is much larger than simply in neighborhood store. So the retailers that are there, the local retailers benefit, you know, the restaurants and the other things because people come and then they shop at these other places. They grab lunch. You know, they do other things when they're here at the -- you know, maybe they come to see Target or Best Buy, but they shop the other local retail. And as much as possible, we wanna have that mix so that we can meet the needs of all of our residents.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. If you have already called, stay on the line. We'll try to get to your call. If the lines are filled, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. We're taking your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you have any questions for Harriet Tregoning? What do you think D.C. needs more of? What do you think the city needs less of? Harriet Tregoning, your office is promoting a trend known nationally as temporary urbanism. What is that? Can you tell us about it?
TREGONINGI can, and it actually gets a little bit to Sam's point about permitting and how do we do things differently, and maybe an earlier caller who talked about innovative architecture. We're kind of a serious city, kind of a, you know, we would never dare call ourselves hip, right? We're the federal city. We're, you know -- that's our Clark Kent image of, you know, of Washington. But we do have all these superhero things that are going on in the city. And one of them is a great art scene, both performing arts and graphic arts and just all kinds of really great cultural things that are going on. More than 90 performing arts organizations in the city.
TREGONINGIt's also the city's condition, any city, to have vacancies. You know, think about the old convention center site during the boomingest time our city has ever had, you know, years and years going through the entitlement process, et cetera. So temporary uses of these changing places, whether it's a store front that's temporarily vacant, whether it's a lot that's temporarily vacant, whether it's something as vast as the old convention center site, which at various times was home to, you know, to circuses, to filming of the latest "Transformer" movie. It was the trapeze school. It was world team tennis. A lot of different things going on at that site.
TREGONINGSo our temporary urbanism initiative is about taking mostly storefronts or vacant buildings in different neighborhoods of the city and kind of getting us used to putting a lively but temporary, almost event-oriented use in those buildings because, you know, we're just -- that's not something that we do. Our permitting process is kind of geared for the ultimate final use, and its length and its complexity sometimes, you know, is commensurate with that. But if you're doing something like Artomatic...
TREGONING...you know, or you're doing other -- some other kind of an event that's not gonna be very long that -- making it easier to do those kinds of things and creating an event in emerging neighborhoods, I think, is a really wonderful way to introduce people to different parts of the city, introduce people to new artists, new vendors, new burgeoning local businesses. And we just wanna support a lot more of that.
NNAMDIWe had a conversation about startup businesses and businesses that have been around for a little while a couple of days ago. And one of our guests was on Mayor Gray's transition team. And he said he asked them after the transition was over, what's going on with the building? And they said, the building is empty. And he was like, what? Let's put something in that building quickly. Because he's noticed that in the Washington -- that in the District of Columbia, some buildings stay vacant for a long time when they are fully usable.
TREGONINGExactly. And I would be remiss if didn't specifically mention two grants we've recently given because these temporiums are open. One in the Shaw neighborhood and one in Mt. Pleasant, actually on Mt. Pleasant Street. So I think they're both gonna be open for the rest of the month and maybe end of March. And you should definitely check them out. They're exciting spaces.
NNAMDI3068 Mt. Pleasant Street Northwest, that's the location of that. And one vacant library on H Street has become a temporary retail space also along with an empty storefront, as we said, in Mt. Pleasant. Here is Ellen in Washington, D.C. Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLENYes. I wanted Ms. Tregoning to talk about the universities and how they affect us in residential neighborhoods. I happen to live in one, and the university seems to be expanding and it's gonna have a major impact on our community. What do we have as right as citizens to keep them a little bit more confined or what's your position on universities in residential neighborhoods?
TREGONINGWell, we have a lot of different universities who are in the planning process, and we're expecting to see a bunch of plans this spring, in fact. I guess in a global way, what I would say is that, you know, the -- in an ideal world, the neighborhoods and the universities have a mutually beneficial relationship. They provide culture -- the universities provide culture and activity potentially at its safety, you know, and other amenities that neighbors can access. You now, in some situations, you know, the neighborhoods end up being at least inconvenienced. At worst, I think more severe things happen. And the student population and whether or not students are housed on campus or off-campus often becomes a flashpoint for those discussions.
TREGONINGAnother issue is traffic. You know, and I think that in a good plan, the university and the neighbors are able to come to an understanding themselves about how to address those issues and come out in a good situation. That isn't always the case. And then the, you know, Office of Planning and the Zoning Commission ends up having to make a decision one way or the other.
NNAMDIEllen, thank you for very much your call. Speaking of traffic, we got a comment posted on our website. "What is the current status of the McMillan Project? This 25-acre irreplaceable historic treasure has been presented to developers as a hugely profitable opportunity. Despite neighborhood concerns, particularly regarding traffic and environmental impact, current development proposals include over 2 million square feet of commercial development and approximately 1,200 housing units, all this in a neighborhood that has little or no access to public green space or recreation areas. What's the status of that?"
TREGONINGWell, the McMillan site has been in various stages of planning for a while now. And a master planner has been hired to do master development plan for the site. And I think the issues that the caller raised are really good and important issues. And any development that happens at the site has to do a number of things. It has to significantly preserve portions of the site and the historic artifacts that are there on the site, including kind of interpreting how we used to -- you know, what kind of an immense water system used to be housed at McMillan and how it served the rest of the city. The traffic issues have to be addressed, and transportation choices really need to be provided. That's also something that the city has to contribute to in terms of where we would put something, let's say, like a new a streetcar line.
TREGONINGIn terms of the amount of development that happens there, it is proximate to, you know, one of the major employment centers of the city, and that's a big health care center. So half the hospital beds in the city are at this immediately adjacent location. And the -- you know, whether we want to or not, as a city, as a nation, we're getting older. And health care and our use of health care is expected to grow. This is an industry that's expected to grow. So that growth is gonna happen in this area, either at the site or at some other site.
TREGONINGI think our real challenge is to get more of the people who work in the District to become residents in the District. And we would look for any development at this site to aggressively incorporate some of those strategies to help make that happen. As you probably know, Kojo, we have a lot of jobs in the city, and we're adding more all the time. But we don't benefit as fully as we might when only one out of three of the jobs that are created in the city end up being held by a District resident. And we wanna change that.
NNAMDIHere's Lino (sp?) in Southeast Washington. Lino, your turn.
LINOYes. Hi. One of my concerns and interests are the number of -- well, we don't have them right now, but I'd like to see trolley cars, streetcar lines. Now we have one going down H Street, which I think is good. First of all, I'd like to know, when is that line gonna be active? And secondly, because of all this pollution that we have and all this traffic -- speaking of traffic -- coming into the city and going out of the city, can we get more trolley lines and streetcar lines and so forth like that, alternative modes of transportation? Like, for example, San Francisco has trolley lines. They have electric buses. They have this in subways. Can we get something like that and get some of these people out of their cars and into that mode of public transportation?
TREGONING...that's a great question, and I think that that's exactly what we're hoping to do. We have the H Street and the Anacostia lines that are under construction. And H Street is supposed to open for service in 2012, so that's not very far from now. We also have more than 37 miles of proposed future streetcar lines for the -- that are proposed for the rest of the city that we're in the process of planning along with DDOT right now. So we expect a lot more of that to happen. We also launched -- DDOT launched, last year, Capital Bikeshare.
NNAMDII was about to talk about that. It's the nation's largest bikeshare program, and it's apparently expanding to Northern Virginia. Where is it going to be linked next?
TREGONINGWell -- I mean, we've got a lot of interest in all of the immediately surrounding jurisdictions. Montgomery County's expressed interest, Alexandria, Prince George's County. So, you know, we're really excited about that. In many ways, Lino, that's two-wheel transit. You know, everything is kind of point-to-point. You don't have to return the bike to where you picked it up. You can use it to make short trips or long trips or to fill that gap between where transit lets you off and where you really need to go. So we're really excited about that system.
NNAMDIIt's going very well, by all accounts. But usage is apparently very low where Lino lives -- east of the River.
TREGONINGThat's absolutely right. And I think that part of the answer to that is to provide more destinations east of the River and to have a better connection so that people can cross back and forth east of the River. And I think that we're gonna see that on the 11th Street bridge reconstruction, a much better way to go. You can go now. People describe it alternately as not bad or hair-raising, depending on, I guess, what kind of a biker you are.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Lino. There was a time when surface parking lots were a big part of any urban development. How do you see parking fitting into future plans for the city?
TREGONINGI think parking is absolutely essential. I think you have to have parking. And I think that -- you know, we're trying to provide all kinds of different ways in our zoning rewrite to accommodate that parking. What's difficult is to kind of dictate a specific number when the situation is pretty fluid. So one of the things that we learned is lots of parking can be shared so that if you have a residential use and an office use, people actually use the parking differently at different times of day. Some studies have said that we have seven parking spaces for every single automobile that exists in the country. And the city, in particular, kind of can't afford to be that profligate. We can't have seven spaces set aside, vacant 90 percent of the time, you know, for every single car. So we're trying to get a lot smarter about it.
TREGONINGBut I also think that without any pressure from the city, without any real incentive to do so -- an amazing thing has been happening, and that's even as our population has grown -- so between 2005 and, say, 2008, our population went up about 1.4 percent -- our income went up about 24 percent on average so that people say, oh, well, car ownership is correlated with wealth and income. But during that period of time, vehicle registrations for cars and motorcycles dropped by 11 percent in the District of Columbia. So people are shedding their vehicles. They're doing with one less vehicle. And that means that we have less of a parking need going forward. So part of our planning has to be, how do we share that parking that already exists? How do we think about what that next use might be if parking becomes something that's not so necessary? You know, how do we do that in the future?
NNAMDIThis e-mail we got from John. "What is the status of the decades overdue redevelopment of the Southwest Waterfront?" We had a discussion about this two weeks ago, but maybe you can give us a brief update.
TREGONINGWell, we've actually just gotten the planned unit development application submitted by the developer. So it's on its way. You know, it'll have to go through the zoning commission, you know, to get approval to do this initial stage of development. But, you know, it's closer to breaking ground and being ready to go than it's ever been. So we're happy with the progress and look forward to, you know, to the first new building.
NNAMDIAnd finally, James in Mount Pleasant in Washington has a question for the ages. James, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JAMESYeah. Hi, Kojo. My question is about how one neighborhood -- the emphasis on one neighborhood might take away from another. I go to the Target every weekend, Columbia Heights, and I shop at all the local neighborhood stores around that as I'm walking back with my goods. But then what's happened is that the Mount Pleasant Street strip has kind of faded a bit. And I'm wondering, what can the city do with that? That Pop-Up store, by the way, on Mount Pleasant, just below Irving Street, is amazing. Some really cool stuff in that store, and there's a lot of traffic there. But what else can the city do when they're pushing one neighborhood but those around it might end up suffering?
NNAMDIAnd you only have about 30 seconds for your response.
TREGONINGWell, we just completed Mount Pleasant Street plan, actually, that addresses that very question, and it has a bunch of recommendations about what we can do to kind of enliven Mount Pleasant and to, you know, let more people know about it because, you know, you can -- you know, bajillions of people go down 16th Street and aren't aware that it's right there and how wonderful and unique it is. And this Temporium that we opened is the -- one of the first things we're doing to help to implement that plan.
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid that's all the time we have. James, thank you very much for your call. Harriet Tregoning, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDIHarriet Tregoning is the director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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