Sorting political fact from fiction, and having fun while we're at it. Join us for our weekly review of the politics, policies and personalities of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.
As head of D.C.’s Office of Planning through the past two mayoral administrations, Harriet Tregoning has had a hands-on role over city policy during a transformational period for many D.C. neighborhoods. She’s championed public transit, biking and development around walkable urban centers. She’s also spearheaded projects to reshape the Columbia Heights and H Street corridors. Roger Lewis and Kojo speak to Harriet Tregoning about her tenure and what’s next for her in a new job within the Obama administration.
- Roger Lewis Architect; Columnist, "Shaping the City," Washington Post; and Professor Emeritus of Architecture, University of Maryland College Park
- Harriet Tregoning Director, D.C. Office of Planning
Inside The Studio
Harriet Tregoning, whose term as head of the D.C. Office of Planning is coming to a close, discussed controversy over the new streetcar line opening in the District. Responding to criticism that streetcars are expensive, redundant and “essentially buses for white people,” Tregoning notes that streetcars have been a favorite mode of transportation in the U.S. for decades. More than 100 miles of streetcar tracks ran in the city before the system shut down in the 1960s. She added that streetcars have more capacity, shorter wait times and bring private investment around routes. “For many people, change is a really difficult topic. I can’t say I love it myself in my own neighborhood, and so I think that’s what most of the conflict what you hear is about.”
Reshaping And Reusing Washington Spaces
Renderings of how changes to the D.C. Height Act would affect North Capitol Street, how the MLK Bridge could be repurposed into an aerial park and what Walter Reed might look like as a community space.
Master Plan For Studying D.C.’s Height Act
In early 2013, Congress asked D.C.’s main planning agencies to study potential changes to the 1910 Height Act of Washington, D.C. This video summarizes the agency’s strategy and timeline for the Height Study report.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. As the District has boomed over the past decade, neighborhoods have been transformed and new development has made entire areas of the city unrecognizable from just a few years ago. Shaping that transformation has been the District's director of planning, Harriet Tregoning. Her vision included development around walkable urban centers with lots of public transit, bike options and green spaces.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd she's led a still unfinished rewrite of the zoning regulations and pushed for an evolution of the Height Act. After seven years and two mayoral administrations, Harriet Tregoning is stepping down to take a job with the Obama administration. Joining us to talk about what her tenure has meant for the district and what's next as she moves into the federal government is Harriet Tregoning, Director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. She's stepping down to join the Obama administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Harriet Tregoning, good to see you again.
MS. HARRIET TREGONINGDelighted to be here.
NNAMDIAnd in studio with us is our regular guest, Roger Lewis. He is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. Roger also writes the "Shaping the City," column for The Washington Post. Roger, always a pleasure.
MR. ROGER LEWISAlways glad to be here. Thank you.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call (800) 433-8850, if you have questions for outgoing Planning Director, Harriet Tregoning. You can also send us email to Kojo@WAMU.org. Your work has touched nearly every aspect of life here in the District of Columbia, even if people may not realize it. Can you explain, as briefly as you can, what the city's planning director does?
TREGONINGHmm. Briefly. I think the...
NNAMDIThere's no way of doing it briefly.
TREGONINGI think the city's planning director does something very important: managed change in neighborhoods.
NNAMDIWell, what Jonathan O'Connell said in The Washington Post is that the Office of Planning enjoyed broad influence over how the city managed transportation, parking, energy uses, economic strategy and historic preservation. How accurate is that?
TREGONINGI think that's reasonably accurate.
NNAMDIThere you go, Jonathan, you got it right. Roger, what would you say that Harriet brought to this job?
LEWISWell, I think the question's already been answered. But I think, what I would add to that as kind of an overlay is that I think Harriet brought something that is always needed in planning directors, which is leadership and a willingness to advocate -- not just offer advice, but to really take the lead in pushing for these things that we just talked about. I think that’s -- I think leadership is probably one of the most important attributes of somebody in a job like Harriet's.
NNAMDIYou know, during your tenure as head of the Office of Planning, the concept of smart growth has been your mantra. Lydia DePillis -- I've been reading everybody else today -- has pointed out that after researching 20 years back, it seems like you are a founder of the smart growth movement here in the United States. What does that mean? What does smart growth mean for those of us who are not urban planners?
TREGONINGI think, in many ways, you see what it means just by walking around the District of Columbia, where a wonderful example of what it means to put housing, transportation, daytime uses, retail services, convenience in everyone's neighborhood, in walking distance. Giving people lots of transportation choices to connect on short- and long-distance trips. And having economic diversity within a neighborhood -- having a city that hopefully everyone who wants to live in can be able to live in.
NNAMDIRoger, what kind of shift in thinking has had to happen to move cities away from car-focused transportation planning? Because that's what we're talking about moving away from, aren't we?
LEWISWell, maybe I can preface my answer by saying that I've always told people that, if you're not engaging in smart growth, then you're probably engaging in dumb growth. And I should also say that this -- the notion of smart growth -- and when I -- back in the '80s I coauthored a book called "The Growth Management Handbook." We used to talk about growth management. We dropped that, and smart growth is probably a -- I think that was a State of Maryland coined word. But I think it's important for people to know that smart growth is not a code word for some arcane ideology.
LEWISIt's a set of principles that are applicable to any city, in my opinion, or any settlement -- any urbanized area: like transit-oriented development, like walkability, like sustainability. These are -- these -- there are still a lot of people in Washington and I think in other places who think smart growth is a code word for something that shouldn't -- they should be suspicious of. It's not. Smart growth is about being smart about how you grow. And I think Harriet's very well articulated -- some of the things that that entails.
NNAMDIShe's not only articulates and preaches the mantra of smart growth, she lives it. You're known for showing up pretty much everywhere, including, it is my understanding, to work this morning, on your folding bicycle. Is that correct?
TREGONINGI do bike. But I'll say, I don't bike to, you know, because it's any kind of a statement. We have a really wonderful city for biking. And, as you know, as a very busy person, Kojo, I know you're very busy that your...
NNAMDIAnd I've got a bicycle.
TREGONING...and your time is valuable. It turns out that biking is often the fastest way to get from Point A to Point B. And that's the reason I bike.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, our guest is Harriet Tregoning, Director of D.C.'s Office of Planning. She's stepping down to join the Obama administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Joining her in studio is Roger Lewis, Professor Emeritus of Architecture at the University of Maryland. Roger also writes the "Shaping the City," column for The Washington Post. You can call us at (800) 433-8850. What do you think of how D.C. has been developing over the past decade or so? (800) 433-8850. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
NNAMDIOr send us a tweet at KojoShow. Harriet Tregoning, you're also an advocate for the bike -- the sharing, the bike-sharing, car-sharing economy that's taking root here in the District of Columbia. What does that bring to an urban area?
TREGONINGWell, I think it brings a lot more choices. I mean, I think Americans everywhere, but D.C. residents maybe in particular really love to have choices: choices in housing, retail choices, choices in how they travel. So, you know, what's happened in the last several years is that we've gotten a lot more of those kinds of choices with car sharing, with bike sharing, with all kinds of degrees of sharing of transportation services. And what it has also meant is that people don't have to spend as much money on transportation. Even if they own a car, they don't have to drive it as much.
TREGONINGThey can keep it longer. They don't -- the distances they drive don't have to be as far. And all of that means that it makes it more affordable to be here in the city.
NNAMDIRoger, thanks in part to Harriet's work, D.C. was something of an early adopter in many of these realms. We were the first to get bike share, for example. You've been a biker long before I was. Is D.C. seen as a leader in smart growth by other cities and other regions?
LEWISI think so. I think, thanks to Harriet. And I think, getting back to the previous question, I mean this -- I think a lot of cities and a lot of the planners in cities and the developers in cities are -- look at D.C. and see that it's -- it really is a model. It is a template for how to do certain things. We're not done yet. It's still a work in progress. But I think -- I think D.C. is -- has -- I've been here since 1968 -- we've talked about this before on the show, it's changed radically. I never used to bike.
LEWISYou know, it's been a city where I think people understand now that the city, and particularly Harriet and the planning office, are not opposed to automobiles or to using automobiles. It's about, as she said, choices. And I think one of the -- this is a true -- this is a city where we have a lot of choices, as opposed to, let's say, my hometown of Houston, Texas, where there are very few choices.
NNAMDII live in Brightwood. I can get downtown on my bike faster than I can get there driving these days. Harriet Tregoning, transportation is crucial to any vision of a sustainable, smart-growth plan. What would you say were your top goals and what did you accomplish?
TREGONINGWell, I think one of the most important things is to establish a really tight working relationship with the Department of Transportation -- with DDOT. So I don't think that's true in every city, but in the District, we have worked very, very closely together. That's through, you know, two mayoral administrations and several different directors. And it's been really a pleasure to have that close collaboration.
TREGONINGBut that also means that we do a pretty good job of coordinating land use around transportation investments, which means we get the, you know, the best result: the highest ridership, the best mode split, because we have land uses that support transportation. It also means that we have kind of together worked to attract more of these types of transportation innovations. And we've really become a city with a reputation for very fast adoption of these innovations, making it much more likely that those innovations will come here in the future.
TREGONINGSo car2go, we were their fastest ramp up ever in any city. Same for Parkmobile, that app that launched here. We were their fastest -- I don't, excuse me, I don't mean it launched here first -- but we were their most widely adopted, most quickly adopted city of anyplace that they've ever launched. And it makes it just much more likely that other innovations would want to come here, because our citizens love these new transportation choices.
NNAMDIHow about streetcars? They have been somewhat controversial for being expensive and, some say, redundant, because we already have buses. There's even a racial element here. Some people feel they're going into newly transformed areas with these -- with the understanding that these are -- streetcars are essentially buses for white people. What do you say?
TREGONINGWell, I would say streetcars have been a favorite mode of transportation in this country for, you know, more than 100 years. And I think many, many people are eager to see them come back. We last had streetcar service in the District in 1962. You know, but we had well over 100 miles of streetcar running in the city, you know, very much in the conditions that are similar to what we're going to be seeing -- often mixed traffic on a lot of popular transportation routes. The thing about streetcar is that it's got much more capacity than a conventional bus.
TREGONINGThat, unlike our really wonderful buses that we have now, with these great names like the X2 and the, you know, the S2, and the 42, if you don't already know how to ride that bus route, you have no idea where a lot of these buses are going. So the streetcar helps make it much more legible what the routes are for this type of transportation service. And we expect it to be very high quality. So with very short headways, so you don't have to wait a lot -- a lot of time to get on this transit service.
TREGONINGAnd because it's fixed in place and not likely to move, we think that they'll be investment, private investment, around the streetcar routes, in a way that will bring more people and more businesses within access to this kind of premium transit.
NNAMDIThe reason that I mentioned that some people have a different view about streetcars is that your leadership on a lot of these very visible changes coming to the District has also made you a target when people are not happy with those changes. Can you talk about how you handle the inevitable criticism?
TREGONINGWell, I think, when I described the job of the planning director as someone who manages change in communities, that that, you know, that that's a very short description, but every community is always changing, right? You can't stay the way you are. So you're demographics are changing. You're -- things are declining. Things are improving. Things are -- whatever is happening, things are changing. And planning can really affect -- mitigate the negatives, you know; enhance the positives; turn things around, if things are going poorly. But for many people, change is a really difficult topic.
TREGONINGI can't say I love it, myself, in my own neighborhood. And so I think that's most of what the conflict that you hear is about. People would much rather have it -- things not changed.
NNAMDIRoger, you would add that no one in this kind of position can make everyone happy.
LEWISI have to agree with that. I mean, I think that's inevitable. And I -- having been a practitioner for much of my career, I mean, I can't tell you how many times I've stood up at hearings and presented my design or plan or whatever it was. And invariably many of the people who were sitting in the room were not the proponents. They don't show up. It's usually the people who are the skeptics and the opponents, and that's another problem. We can talk about that some other time.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back we continue our conversation with Roger Lewis and Harriet Tregoning, and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Are you a fan of the transit bike and walkable options that Harriet Tregoning has championed here in Washington, D.C.? Do you feel D.C. has a vision for how it's growing, 800-433-8850? You can go to our website kojoshow.org and ask a question or make a comment there or send us email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. We're talking with Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office on Planning who is stepping down to join the Obama Administration at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Also with us is Roger Lewis. He is our regular guest. He's professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland and writes the Shaping the City column for the Washington Post. Harriet Tregoning, you trained as an engineer so what brought you to the Environmental Protection Agency in your first job out of college, if you can remember?
TREGONINGWell, I -- thank you, it was long ago, Kojo.
NNAMDIIt wasn't that long ago, come on.
TREGONINGYou know, I'll see if I can drag out that ancient memory. I think it was always a desire to serve the public. I've been in the public sector most of my career. And that attracted me very early on. I thought that our environment was in the crisis and that was an area that I wanted to work in. So that's why I first started working at the Environmental Protection Agency.
NNAMDIAnd it was there at the EPA that you launched the Smart Growth Network. What did that involve? What was the epiphany?
TREGONINGWell, I worked for a while -- you know how when you're in a government agency, sometimes you just ask -- get asked to go to some random meeting. So I covered some meeting and it was actually a meeting about the greening of federal disaster relief, is what it was about. But it led me to a series of other meetings that I was asked to cover. President Clinton had something called the President's Council and Sustainable Development. And I ended up working on that effort, specifically chairing a transportation infrastructure working group for the sustainable communities taskforce.
TREGONINGAnd it made me realize that at EPA I might be swabbing the deck of the Titanic to be worrying about vanishingly small amounts of pollution coming out of smokestacks and tailpipes while the landscape was being transformed all across the country in ways that were hugely detrimental to the environment. And there wasn't anything anyone was doing about it. So I got the opportunity to reorganize my division at EPA to address this issue. So it was a really lucky thing.
NNAMDIIt also, it is my understanding, led to a relationship that became a marriage.
TREGONINGEventually it did. I'm happy to say that my husband works in this field as well. He's the president and CEO of an organization called Smart Growth America. So you could say this is our family business.
NNAMDIOnto the telephones. Please put on your headphones Harriet Tregoning because we're about to hear from John in Washington, D.C. John, you are on the air. Go ahead, please.
JOHNDirector Tregoning, I'm a big fan, a 25-year resident at the (word?) have been biking and walking to work for years and you're absolutely right. I've been able to hold onto my car, for instance, for more than 15 years because of the low mileage, so big, big fan. I do have a concern and real specifically, just as an example, 14th Street between U and T Streets on the north side of the street, the very, very large, huge glass buildings that look like they were dropped out of the sky and kind of flattened the old classic D.C. buildings that were once there. Is there any -- is that something that, you know, architecturally and aesthetically you like? Is that your vision for more of that?
JOHNYou know, I feel like we're getting a lot of large glass corporate-style condominium buildings that really are not adding to the texture and really are kind of detracting from the texture of the city. Can you talk about that?
TREGONINGWell, John, first of all, let me applaud you for being an advocate for good design. I think that's a huge thing in the city. Let me tell you what might sometimes counterbalance that desire to craft every single building. Right now about 70 percent of all the housing that gets produced in the District of Columbia is through what we call a buy right process. So we set out these rules in zoning and developers who want to develop a building, whether it's retail office or housing, if they follow those zoning rules, they essentially can build their building. And we don't have a design review that's built in to part of that process unless that building is being built within a historic district. And then we do have design review.
TREGONINGSo 30 percent of the housing that gets built comes through a discretionary approval process. And then there's a lot more ability to look at the kind of design issues that you're raising. Many cities do it differently. They have other types of design review that might be more rapid than our planning and development process. And, in fact, as we go through the zoning revisions that are currently being considered by our zoning commission, there are some proposals to basically have more sets of choices about how you would do even discretionary development.
NNAMDIWell, Roger's from a -- we did design review on this broadcast and Roger's from the City of Houston in which design review is scarce if not nonexistent. But we got an email from Lisa in Southwest who says, "In a town where there's so much beautiful architecture, I find it appalling that the city's planners have not required developers to build buildings that enhance the beauty of the colonial architecture of the city. Instead we get large, square, ugly glass or concrete buildings.
NNAMDII'm sick of the excuse that there's a restriction -- a height restriction that that's all they can build. What a crock. It's because it's the cheapest way to build. Let's keep D.C. beautiful and require developers to put some architectural and historical beauty into the buildings they build." Roger, I get the impression that our caller and our emailer Lisa would like to see design review expanded in the District of Columbia.
LEWISWell, we -- and as, you -- we -- you and I have been talking about design review for what, seven years now?
LEWISI think that -- I bring an architect's perspective to this and I would -- the first thing I would tell the listener and the email writer is that the zoning -- generally you could end zoning. Conventional zoning does not do much other than establish density, height, bulk, setbacks, parking requirements. It doesn't design buildings. And the very first and most important thing about getting good building design is to have a talented architect, a sensitive architect. And so the -- I think that's part of the problem.
LEWISWhen a developer does a matter-of-right building, the city, the citizens and neighbors have no say. There's no say at all about who designs it or even how it's reviewed. I think that -- I happen to personally think that we -- while we have the commission of fine arts doing aesthetic design review of projects that have either -- that are either federal or have an impact on federal interests, we really don't have a methodology in place in Washington to review the other 90 percent of buildings that are designed or built as a matter of right.
LEWISBut I think the -- that's a discussion for another day, I think, how and what way we would effectuate design review in the city.
TREGONINGBut I think the email question really referred to something else as well, which is the notion that we should be historicists, right. That we should build today as...
NNAMDIAnd has the beauty of the colonial architecture of the city.
TREGONINGRight. And I don't know if the writer meant really colonial architecture, but the notion is a totally valid notion. And I don't -- it's not one that I personally ascribe to but that we would have to build the city to match the stuff that had already been built as if in our city all of our best days were behind us. And we were just imitating what others had done. I don't think that's true but in architecture there's clearly a fashion. There wouldn't even be historic preservation if we couldn't tell, you know, by looking at a building around when it had been built. It has a particular style. It has a particular form.
TREGONINGRight now there is a bit of a fashion in big glassy boxes. And later -- you know, a hundred years from now when people look back, if those buildings are still standing they will say, oh that was this time because look at the architecture of the time. And I think cities -- it's important that cities reflect that but I also don't want to suggest that when I say buy right development happens and we don't have any design control, it doesn't always mean we get an ugly building. It doesn't always mean that we get no public input.
TREGONINGDifferent developers, different landowners choose to approach this process differently. But in order to have housing that doesn't cost the earth, it's important that we have a process that's reasonable and that doesn't take a lot of time. That's why so far in our city we have not opted to put, you know, what is buy right development through a design review process.
NNAMDISpeaking of housing costs, I think that's what Mara in Washington would like to talk about. Mara, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARAHi. Good afternoon. My name's Mara and I live in Adams Morgan where I absolutely love everything about my transportation abilities. And I haven't owned a car in four years and everything's great about that. But it's really the housing costs that are defining D.C. in the next decade or two for me and other people like me who work for nonprofits. Who -- you know, who just really cannot be expected to be paying the 4 and $5,000 a month rent that are right on the horizon in D.C. as more developers buy buildings and use the rent control levels as not the maximum they're allowed to do but as their business model. The transportation and how pretty the buildings look while great, I think...
NNAMDIWhat your concern is with affordability. Is that correct, Mara?
MARAYes. Yeah, we have to figure out...
NNAMDIA good number of residents are saying they're being left out by all the luxury condos, the dog parks. What about those who would say that this vision for the city doesn't seem to include us?
TREGONINGWell, I will say that what is happening is certainly very different than what the city has experienced in the past. We've only reversed decades and decades of population loss with the 2010 census. So ever since then we've been growing at a rate of about 2 percent or more a year which is pretty rapid for us. And so we're really experiencing, you know, an unexpected level of demand for housing in the city.
TREGONINGWhat's also different is the demographics of the population are shifting. So, you know, we have more people under 35 in the city, a lot more. Maybe 60 percent of the growth have been people under the age of 35. They're coming sometimes with their multiple college degrees. They're almost always getting a job. And so it also means that the market for, honestly, higher-priced, more luxury-appointed albeit smaller units is suddenly very, very high. And developers and builders have been rushing to try to meet that demand.
TREGONINGBut I am with you, Mara. I would be really happy to see a good old Formica countertop, you know, on some new newly built building in some kitchen instead of so much stone, granite and stainless steel. But I think it is just a temporary issue in terms of the market trying to catch up with demand. Once that demand is satisfied I hope we see a return to a much broader range of building types.
TREGONINGThe other thing that's happening is the city is investing. Mayor Gray's announced not only $187 million in new funds to be immediately spent on affordable housing, but a permanent commitment to devote 50 percent of the surplus, the city's budget surplus to affordable housing in the future, which should make a huge difference. Because I'm with you. I do see us having a hard time keeping up with the growing demand if our population growth continues without a lot more building than we have been doing.
TREGONINGSo we're either going to have to increase that supply dramatically or we're going to have to think of other ways that we're going to be subsidizing even for higher and higher levels of income as you suggest, Mara.
NNAMDICare to comment, Rog?
LEWISWell, again this is a subject that we've talked a lot about and I've written a lot about it. And much of my practice before Ronald Reagan was elected and when he tried to -- some may remember he tried to get rid of HUD --but -- and I did on a lot of HUD financed affordable housing projects -- this is a national problem. I think the people in Washington need to know that this is not unique to Washington. The inventory of affordable housing -- truly affordable housing in the United States is essentially shrinking.
LEWISAnd we -- solving the problem requires subsidy. There are many modes of subsidy. And as Harriet has just said, it involves among other things the public sector like the mayor's proposing, investing and upping production. But this is a really challenging problem. It's very -- it's not very high on the political agenda in terms of priority. It's a national problem.
NNAMDIOne of the hot-button issues that's being debated now, proposed changes to the zoning ordinance. Harriett Tregoning, can you talk about what's being proposed and why those changes are so controversial?
TREGONINGWell, I think that there are few things that are controversial but it's -- what's important to emphasize is that 95 percent of the code is not changing at all. So in the scheme of things, there's not much that is changing. Three things that are changing, we've just been talking about affordable housing so two of these things relate to it very directly.
TREGONINGOne is parking. Getting rid of parking minimums in the downtown, which dozens and dozens of other cities have already done, which isn't getting rid of parking, okay. It's getting rid of the one-size-fits-all requirement for a minimum level of parking arbitrarily determined. So getting rid of that and allowing the market to determine how much parking is appropriate for that building for that use, etcetera. And also reducing parking requirements -- existing parking requirements in places that are well served by transit and defined in this new rule. So that's one area.
TREGONINGThe second is to allow more liberal use of something called accessory dwelling units. All right. That's an invisible way to restore historic levels of density to neighborhoods because we have so many fewer people living in every housing unit now than we did in 1950. You know, we had 50 percent more people in 1950 living in a housing unit than we do today. And that would both allow longtime residents to be able to have additional income and stay in their homes, have that supplemental.
TREGONINGI think after the great recession, many of us, you know, are now planning to outlive our retirement income. And so that might be important to be able to have that option. But it also brings income diversity and level -- like I say, historical levels of density to a neighborhood that helps support transit services and support retail and other choices.
TREGONINGAnd the third area is really a very small change that affects only row-house neighborhoods. And even then only in a limited way, allow the return of corner grocery stores to neighborhoods. A beloved fixture in much of the city, but currently only allowed if it's already existing. So if -- you can't open a new one if there isn't one already there. And that denies some neighborhoods a level of convenience to go get a ice cream cone or a quarter of milk within convenient walking distance of their home.
NNAMDIYeah, Roger, there's this perception that there's going to be this massive change in the zoning ordinance.
LEWISWell, I completely support what Harriet's proposed and what they're talking about for the zoning. I mean, I think what people need to understand is, this isn't again a one-size-fits-all strategy where parking across the city is going to suddenly disappear, where accessory dwellings are going to appear in conjunction with every dwelling in the city, where they're -- I have -- the people in my neighborhood -- I've heard people express anxiety that there's going to be a 7-Eleven in the middle of their block.
LEWISI mean, these are myths. These are total boloney. And I want to go on record as saying that I think what's been proposed for the zoning is completely reasonable.
TREGONINGAnd I will just say it's been the subject of literally hundreds of public meetings. And the proposal is absolutely a compromise, relative to what was originally proposed because people made a lot of good points and had a lot of comments in those several years of public dialogue about what are zoning should be.
NNAMDIHere's Elaine, in Washington. Elaine, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELAINEHello. Thank you very much for this very wonderful presentation. I am a native Washingtonian, born there, and then growing up in Jersey, but coming back in the early '80s. I was calling because I applaud so much of what has been done, but at the same time -- with regard to the urban planning -- we are residents and owners of a house in downtown in D.C. on Corcoran Street Northwest. I am, though, concerned that some of the other issues in the town are not keeping up with the developments that have been going on with the urban planning.
ELAINESpecifically, the management of the transportation, regulation of laws, where the bike lanes have been placed. On the 15th Street Corridor, I'm very concerned that the cars have been placed -- which are cars that are residential cars, usually, because this is a residential neighborhood -- so residents are getting out in the middle of the 15th Street, while the bike lane is protected on the 15th Street Corridor. This is creating problems for residents in getting in and out of their cars and other people that are coming to visit in our neighborhoods.
ELAINEThe other thing is bike riders, while it's really great -- we ride bikes, too -- but most bike riders -- I hate to say -- do not obey the traffic laws. They're supposed to stop and look.
NNAMDIWe've heard a great deal about that before. So allow me to have Harriet Tregoning respond because we don't have a lot of time. There was a caller who also could not stay on the line, Robert, who says, "What are the prospects for Dutch-style bike lanes, where cyclists are protected from cars by curb between car and bike lane?" So please go.
TREGONINGWell, I think those are really great questions. And I think that we are still in for a few more years of some growing pains, to kind of accommodate.
NNAMDIAnd we've heard about 15th Street here forever. Every time we do a show about bikes, yes.
TREGONINGWell, okay. Many people really love the changes to 15th Street and it's one of the few areas in the city where we do have that protection. But I do hear what Elaine has to say about feeling vulnerable entering and exiting next to a moving lane of traffic, although I will say that that car was already next to a lane of traffic. Right? So that condition hasn't really changed, except that passenger has to navigate now a bike lane, as well as a line of moving cars on the other side in order to get to the sidewalk.
TREGONINGBut think about this, cars are something in our city that are used less than 5 percent of the time and parked 95 percent of the time. So while there is a moment when people are entering or exiting that vehicle, most of the time that couple tons of steel are sitting there and they make a perfectly good barrier for bicyclists and really provide a lot of protection with only a slight reconfiguration of the street.
TREGONINGSo I think a lot of people feel much more comfortable with that arrangement as opposed to having the bicyclist next to the very fast moving traffic. And those disparities in speed that I think caused the conflict. So to my fellow cyclists out there, be especially wary of pedestrians. They have the right of way and they can get hurt if we run into them.
LEWISWell, I was only going to footnote what Harriet said by reminding people that in my opinion we're still in what I would call the educational period. When I ride my bike -- and my wife often tells me, "Why don't you stay on the sidewalk?" And I say, well, I really need to be in the street much of the time, not only because there are places where you're not supposed to be on the sidewalk, but I see my mission in part is helping train drivers. I mean there are still many, many people -- and I've talked to them at times, who are drivers, who just can't stand bikers.
LEWISAnd I, as a biker -- actually I'm sometimes as frustrated by pedestrians, who, by the way in the city, love to disregard the walk/don't walk signs, as Harriet knows. I bike downtown a lot. And I'm actually more concerned about the pedestrians doing something they shouldn't do. And they're being trained as well. In other words, I think we're in a period of learning how to live with each other.
TREGONINGRight. I'll just add my plea, can't we all just get along? Let's just share the facilities.
TREGONINGAnd get to where we need to go.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break.
LEWISThere's plenty of paving out there.
NNAMDIElaine, thank you very much for your call. You, too, can call us. If the phones are busy however, send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Would you consider D.C. a model of smart growth and smart planning? Why or why not? Send us an email to email@example.com or a tweet @kojoshow. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back. Our guest is Harriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning, who is stepping down to join the Obama administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Roger Lewis is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. He writes the Shaping the City column for the Washington Post.
NNAMDIHarriet Tregoning, some have called you D.C.'s futurist-in-chief. Rather than looking at where we are now and planning for today's realities, your goal has been to anticipate what's next. So what do you see ahead for D.C. and perhaps where the smart growth planners of today will be looking at in 10 or 20 years?
TREGONINGWell, I think we're headed for a period of pretty substantial change in cities all around the world. And D.C. is not an exception. I think we're going to continue to see a lot of pressures on price and on affordability. We had several callers who raised it as an issue. But one of the things that's happening is that our economy is really reshaping in a way that's squeezing middleclass jobs out of the economy. So we're doing great as a city at the high end. Lots of knowledge-economy jobs, lots of high-paying jobs being created in the city.
TREGONINGAn enormous amount of retail jobs, of hospitality jobs, of service jobs, which, frankly, don't pay very much. Although, they're going to pay a bit more thanks to the city passing new minimum wage requirement. But those jobs in the middle -- so I think cities everywhere have an ability to decide to act to create more of those middle-income jobs. And we have a recent example. You had George Hawkins on the other day.
TREGONINGI tried to get on, myself. I called in to support that Clean Rivers Project, but in part because it's a huge job creator. You know, a set of permanent jobs that can only be met here in our local economy. For the same money that we'd spend on pipes, we could instead spend that money and create good jobs for many, many people and allow people to be able to stay in the city.
NNAMDIYou've talked about whether conservation districts might be an alternative to historic districts. What do you mean by that?
TREGONINGWell, this is something that was in the 2006 comprehensive plan, a proposal to look at something like -- maybe I would call it historic preservation light, that not all the restrictions of a historic district and not all the requirements and hurdles that you would have to go through to be designated, but something that would look more at neighborhood character and features that define that neighborhood. And use those to control or to influence what new construction looks like in that neighborhood.
NNAMDIWhat do you think about that, Roger?
LEWISWell, I think it makes sense. I think that some of our discussions sometimes get around to the style of things, which I don't think is really the issue. I think it's very important to decide what you're going to save because there is a cultural and historic legacy worth preserving, but I think you also have to be prepared to say this has had its life, it's obsolete, it needs to be revisited. So I think the problem is there's a tendency to be dogmatic about these things.
LEWISI've been accused of being against preservation because I've advocated that certain things be taken away, but that's not a fair accusation because I've supported things being saved. So what are you going to do?
NNAMDIHere is Kyle, in Washington, D.C. Kyle, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
KYLEHi, Kojo. I just wanted to say that I love your show. And thanks for taking my call.
KYLEA lot of the questions have been on the buildings and the transportation. I guess my question is on the lighting of D.C. Through some of your shows I've realized that Washington, D.C. has a major problem with light pollution from some of the old street lamps to various other parts of the city. And I was wondering what is currently being done and if there are any future plans to address the light pollution.
TREGONINGKyle, there is actually something being done. This is something that we addressed in our sustainable D.C. strategy, a planning effort that Mayor Gray initiated a couple of years ago that I've really very proud of. So there's a whole section that deals with light and light pollution and an objective to get to a dark skies standard. So I would direct you to that. And we'd welcome your help in trying to make that happen.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call. Harriet Tregoning I'd like you to reflect on the last seven years of your life as director of the Office on Planning and share your thoughts with our audience.
TREGONINGWell, I have to say that it's very bitter sweet to leave this job because it's been, by far, the best job I've ever had. It's been really wonderful. The District of Columbia is a fabulous place. And I think our best kept secret is that people don't know how easy it is to get things done here. We have a very progressive government. We don't have an Albany. We don't have a Sacramento, who stands in the way of things that we want to do, that even where we disagree, there's often a way that our council and our administration can find a path forward.
TREGONINGAnd that there's a real appetite for innovation and creativity. This is a city that's not afraid to be the first to do something. And it's not afraid to, in the course of that innovation, to make a mistake. I sometimes held our first bike share system as an abysmal failure and one I'm very proud of, that we were able to fail quickly and then move on to the bigger and better thing, which is what innovation is all about. So this has been a fantastic city.
TREGONINGAnd I have to give a shout out to probably the best planning staff any place in any city, at our D.C. Office of Planning. That is an incredible staff. Very dedicated, talented set of folks. And it's been my privilege to work with them. And finally, that my colleagues in the administration -- they've been wonderful. The way that we've operated is work very collegiately across different agencies and it's made it a pleasure to come to work every day.
TREGONINGOne last thing, a very engaged citizenry. I have to say I've gotten some lovely notes from people with whom I have not always agreed. And I share that sentiment that I believe that their advocacy is about trying to do what's best for our city. And most people give me the respect of knowing that I have exactly the same position. I love this city and I want what's best for it. And that, you know, it's that that motivates me to do this job and I hope to be a very active citizen going forward.
NNAMDIWhy the heck then are you quitting? Okay. The city is still growing at an enormous pace. And there are challenges ahead. What advice do you have for your successor in the Office of Planning?
TREGONINGRely on the staff, they're fantastic. Be open-minded. Listen to everyone who wants to talk to you, but keep your eye on the future. Keep your eye on the future. We shouldn't have the zoning or the regulations that Irvine, Texas has or that Irvine, Calif. has. We have our own trajectory into the future that's different than many, many other places. And we need to not be afraid to be that city that might get there before other cities because that's the trajectory that we're on.
NNAMDIWhat are you going to be doing at HUD?
TREGONINGSo I'm going to be working on an exciting set of issues. Some of them very similar to what I've been passionate about here in the D.C. Office of Planning. And that includes sustainability, it includes resilience, particularly economic resilience. That's increasingly important to cities. Green and sustainable building, obviously housing affordability, and transportation.
NNAMDIRoger Lewis, what would you like to see the District of Columbia focus on moving forward?
LEWISThat's a long list.
NNAMDIWell, we only have a minute left.
LEWISYeah, I mean I think that, as I've said and maybe implied a little while ago, I do think that housing affordability is a serious issue in this city. And it's going to require public, as well as private sector innovation and rethinking. I think there's a lot of projects in the pipeline. I just wrote a piece, which may be in the Post Saturday, about these very large projects, these ensembles that I think are going to change the city once again.
LEWISI think places like Burnham Place behind Union Station, and The Wharf, and even O Street, the market -- there are a whole bunch of very substantial projects that are in the pipeline or under way. City Center's already underway. Most of them will not be affordable, by the way, for people who are making minimum wage. That's one of the problems. I think the city's commitment to increasing, as Harriet said, transit, travel options is absolutely the way to go. And I think making it more sustainable. I mean sustainability covers a lot of things. That's high on my list.
NNAMDIHarriet Tregoning, we only have about 30 seconds left. But what do you hope your lasting mark will be on the city -- not that you're leaving the city.
TREGONINGWell, I'm hoping that, as Roger mentioned, that the sustainability plan, which aims to make us the most sustainable city in the nation by 2032, that that will be a lasting legacy -- more for Mayor Gray than for me, but I'm hoping that that will be the case. That our transportation choices will continue to diversity and we'll be able to mark that spot when it happened, you know, as being this wonderful period of time. And that we'll have assured that everyone who wants to be in the city can stay in the city.
NNAMDIHarriet Tregoning, director of D.C.'s Office of Planning, getting ready to join the Obama administration in the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Thank you for your service. Good luck to you.
TREGONINGThank you so much.
NNAMDIRoger Lewis is professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland. He writes the Shaping the City column for The Washington Post. See you next time.
LEWISThank you very much.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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