On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
She’s D.C.’s point person for planning neighborhoods and historic districts. Lately, Harriet Tregoning has found herself immersed in conversations about everything from getting more area residents to live closer to where they work to attracting more retail downtown. Kojo chats with the head of D.C.’s Office of Planning about her vision for the city.
- Harriet Tregoning Director, D.C. Office of Planning
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. If you think about D.C.'s employment problems long enough, you're likely to get a headache. There's a well-documented racial divide when it comes to unemployment. There's a disconnect between skill sets and demand for available jobs and the skills of many of those looking for work. And housing prices are suffocating many of the residents who are gainfully employed. But some of the master plans to solve those problems many not necessarily be that complicated.
MR. KOJO NNAMDID.C.'s planning office is experimenting with the idea of essentially paying people to live closer to where they work, to keep residents from fleeing to Maryland and Virginia. And planning director Harriet Tregoning has also suggested that it may be in the cities best interest to focus on person power, not on machine efficiency so that jobs are created at every level of the city's evolving economy.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining us to explore how the city is planning for the future in terms of employment and many other areas is the aforementioned, Harriet Tregoning, director of the District of Columbia's Office of Planning. She, who is responsible for making this a livable, walking -- walkable user friendly city. Harriet Tregoning, thank you so much for joining us.
MS. HARRIET TREGONINGKojo, always a pleasure.
NNAMDIIt's not like people in local government can control the weather or many of the big picture economic conditions that affect the city's employment rate. But I read in the city paper a few weeks ago that you feel the city should reconsider its move to mechanization, that it needs to focus on a path that has a lot more labor involvement. What did you mean by that?
TREGONINGWell, I -- what I meant was that we need a diversified economy. We need to be able to produce jobs at every level for every type of skill and that we've kind of reflexively, not just Washington, D.C., but, many, many cities have kind of reflexively gone to more automation, more mechanization, almost technological solutions.
TREGONINGNever sort of evaluating whether or not it makes sense to actually look at creating permanent employment opportunities, careers ladders if you will in fields where you -- the barriers to entry are very low, where you don't necessarily need a college education or a lot of on the job training to be able to do some of that work. I think you've had George Hopkins on the show before.
TREGONINGAnd he's actually working on a project right now that's very much in that same line. I think you know that we have one of the worst combined sewer overflow problems in the country and that we have an agreement to do a long term control plan with the federal government, our agreement. And it requires and engineering solution. Enormously large pipes, the machines themselves, I understand, are bigger then football fields that are required to dig these pipes. None of that labor, none of those materials comes from our local economy.
TREGONINGAnd we're doing that solution, at least in some parts of the city. But he's proposing for some of the pipes that are not yet -- their constructions not yet underway, that we do something different, that we look at green infrastructure. Rain gardens and streets that better manage storm water, tree plantings, more parks that can hold storm water and retain it. Those things not only don't require a very high skill level to implement, they need to be maintained and every single day, not just on the days when we have very heavy rain, they actually add something to the city.
TREGONINGThey make it more beautiful, they make it better habitat for nature, they make it cooler, they reduce the urban heat island effect. There's no reason that some of that plant material can't be food productive. So there are all kinds of benefits that might come from thinking about solving that problem at different way.
NNAMDIDo you think that the general perception and I say general perception because, well it's mine, that the march toward technology and mechanization is one that we have been proceeding on often without looking at the side effects of it on our labor pool?
TREGONINGI think that's true. And I think that the other thing that's been the case is that sometimes we draw a box around the problem that's a little bit too small. So we might say, you know what, that engineering solution, that mechanized solution is cheaper than it would be to employ people. But we don’t sort of say then, okay, well, if we're not going to employ this whole cadre of people, we may not have enough jobs here in the city that will employ the full range of folks that we have in this city. So maybe we'll be paying for health benefits and housing benefits and other kinds of support, maybe affordable housing. And so I think if we drew the box large enough, we might have a different outcome when we evaluated what's really best for the city.
NNAMDIHarriet Tregoning is our guest. She is director of the District of Columbia's Office of Planning. We're inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. Do you think the city ought to be thinking about development in more labor intensive terms then in more technological terms, 800-433-8850? You can also go to our website kojoshow.org, join the conversation there. In May, you introduced a pilot program called Live Near Your Work to give money to people looking to buy a house near where they work in the District. What was the initiative behind that program?
TREGONINGWell, we're a city that is a part of a region that has a real problem in terms of the balance between where jobs and where housing is. And in many parts of the region, we have people driving long distances to get to jobs. In the District, we have between 750 and 800,000 jobs, 2/3 of those jobs are held by people who don't live in the District of Columbia. Even though I would be the first to say, it's gotten so lovely to live in the District, it's so nice in every way.
TREGONINGBut our employers aren't necessarily marketing the District to their employees even though there might be real benefits to having proximity. Imagine if you ran a hospital or a university, how handy it would be to have your employees very close by. So this is a little pilot program that we're running and we're taking very good care to collect a lot of data so we can evaluate if it works or not. But to suggest that we partner with some employers to get some of the people who are now traveling long distances to get to their jobs, the opportunity to live much more approximate to their place of employment here in the District.
NNAMDIBut you've only got $200,000 to spend on this program. Has the department been limited in terms of how many businesses and what kinds of businesses you're giving money to? What are you looking for in a business that would make it a good fit for this program?
TREGONINGWell, we're looking, initially, at institutions. I mentioned colleges, universities, hospitals in part because they're very large employers. But we're not limiting how much money the employer might contribute. So they at least have to match what we would provide but some of them might be interested in doing much more than simply matching. So the incentive could end up being significant. And as I -- as you mentioned, it's a pilot. So this isn't necessarily what we'd be doing on a steady state basis but we want to see about evaluating the various benefits to the District that would occur if more people did live closer to their jobs.
NNAMDIWould you like to live closer to your job if you work in the District of Columbia? And what would encourage you, incentivize you to do that? Call us at 800-433-8850 or if you're saying, what, live closer to my job so they'll be calling me in the middle of the night every time there's an emergency, no not for me. 800-433-8850, you can also send us email to firstname.lastname@example.org. What would make this program a success in your eyes? Would it be based on the number of people using the program, the amount of people using Metro, maybe?
TREGONINGI mean, those are two great metrics that -- to think about. I think another thing that would make it a success is if, you know, we could tangibly measure how much less automobile driving was associated with someone's commute. So that's something we could measure specifically. It might be that someone is moving from outside the District inside the District. So to the extent that'd become a taxpayer. That's a measurable thing for us. You know, the employer might really want to measure job satisfaction and see how people who participate in the program, how much more likely they might feel about staying in that job and helping that employer avoid the cost of having to recruit and retain a different employee.
NNAMDIDon, in Bethesda, Md. asks "In some cities like St. Louis, you have to live in the city to work for the city. Why can't it work here?" Aren't you from St. Louis?
TREGONINGI am from St. Louis.
NNAMDII thought as much, yes. Well, Don would like to know "Why can't we have it here like it is in your hometown?"
TREGONINGWell, Don, I believe -- and my history might be a little rusty on this. I believe that the District has tried to do that. And we have this little issue of not having representation in Congress. And so our -- the congressional delegations of our surrounding jurisdictions didn't love that idea. And I could be getting this wrong but that's what I recall. Kojo, you might remember also but that...
NNAMDIOh, yes, it's also what limited the -- or what decided the fate of the many commuter taxes that D.C. has tried to have invoked over the years. The congressional delegations from suburban jurisdictions absolutely would not have it, Don. And so that could be one of the reasons for it, the fact that we don't have a vote in the House of Representatives. Considering the high price of D.C. homes, will $12,000 be enough to convince someone to move into the District?
TREGONINGYou know, like I said, it could be more and again depending on how much the employer wants to contribute and that, you know, that's not a magic number. It could be more, it could be less. We'd also love to explore, even for renters, giving them incentives to be closer to where they work. So that's part of what we're going to evaluate in the pilot.
NNAMDIIsn't the bigger problem here in D.C., overall, affordability? Will a simple incentive be able to solve that problem or should there be a more comprehensive approach to the issue of affordable housing? Mayor Gray -- I mean, Harriet Tregoning.
TREGONINGSpeaking of Mayor Gray, the Mayor has charged the deputy mayors office with taking a look at a comprehensive housing strategy, updating the one that has been in place for the city. So that look at housing, I think, is ongoing but your point about affordability is a really good point. But part, you know, affordability for a household isn't really just housing. So, you know, one of the issues that this program really gets to in terms of Live Near Your Work is addressing transportation costs.
TREGONINGSo in our region, if you're -- you might be spending 20, 25 percent of your income on housing, but you're probably spending something very close to that, 19 percent on transportation. So if you can lower your transportation costs, then you have a little bit more room in your budget even to pay some more for housing. And on average, in the District of Columbia, because we have so many transportation choices -- in fact, households spend about nine percent of their income on transportation especially if they're living near transit, it might even be lower.
NNAMDI800-433-8850 is the number to call if you have questions or comments for Harriet Tregoning. The Office of Public Education Facilities Management launched another incentive program in May which gave money to employers to hire workers who lived in D.C. Were these two incentive programs intended to work together?
TREGONINGYou know, that's something that we're looking at doing if we roll this up permanently. We have another great program administered by the Department of Housing and Community Development called HPAP and don't make me say what that acronym stands for.
NNAMDIHome Purchase Assistance Program is how I bought my first home in the District of Columbia way back in 1977.
TREGONINGThere we go. Now, that's a program that means tested. It's pretty generous in terms of the incomes that are allowed but that's a program that we're hoping to explicitly co-market with Live Near Your Work if we end up doing this on a permanent basis.
NNAMDIYes, when I bought my house, you had to be making no more than $15,000 a year which shows you where salaries were back in 1977. On to the telephones. Here is Lloyd in Northwest Washington. Lloyd, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LLOYDHello, yes. I know there's a new development downtown. It's called City Center D.C. It's on, like, four blocks from the old convention center was. And, like I said, very well designed development except I don’t see anything for at least one or two department stores that's going to connect Gallery Place and Metro Center. And there, you're going to have medium income housing from what I've read.
LLOYDSo it makes sense to have at least one or two big department stores downtown where people can work and shop at different levels. Also, especially since downtown has become a residential area as well. Are there any plans for that?
TREGONINGLloyd, that's a really good question. And I'm glad you brought it up because I was hoping that I would get some questions about retail choices in our cities.
NNAMDIIs Lloyd a plant -- no, Lloyd's not a plant. Lloyd just called in.
TREGONINGAnd I think that's a great question. City Center is a big, big project that's -- I think it's the biggest hole in the ground in the city that we've had in a long time. And it's going to be attracting a lot of retail. And honestly, I don't know specifically what retailers are going to be coming there. But when you talk about department stores, you know, department stores have been doing a lot of consolidating. Some of them have clothes, as you know. Retail is a very fickle thing, almost a fashionable part of the real estate business that follows these different trends and kills off the thing that went before it.
TREGONINGAnd so, I think the health of department stores in general is probably not what it was in their heyday. So, while I would love to attract another department store down here. Right now, we have Macy's downtown. I don't know how much that's necessarily in the cards. But I think it's a great idea and I'll certainly encourage the folks who are doing the Center City development to take a look at it.
NNAMDILloyd, thank you very much for your call. We're gonna take a short break. If you have called already, stay on the line. We will get to your call. We still have a few lines open at 800-433-8850. What keeps you from wanting to move closer to Washington, D.C.? Is it price, education, crime, or simply a desire for a more suburban environment? You can also join the conversation at our website, kojoshow.org. Send us a tweet @kojoshow or email to email@example.com. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIOur guest is Harriet Tregoning, director of the District of Columbia's Office of Planning. Speaking of things out of town, in Maryland and Virginia, you have said that the District is literally losing billions because residents spend money in Maryland and Virginia on things they simply can't find in the city. What should the city be doing to attract more retail? Or what is the city doing to attract more retail?
TREGONINGI mean, one of the things we've been doing is simply talking about it, talking about how much we are leaking in terms of lost sales to the surrounding jurisdictions and the number is about $1 billion a year. You know, we're very under-retailed, less than nine square feet per capita compared to the national average, which is closer to, you know, it's north of 20 square feet. Not that I think 20 is a great number. I think that's probably too much.
TREGONINGBut that doesn't count the people who come here every day to work, the 400,000 people who come here. Nor does it count the 16 million visitors that we get every year. So, you know, there are definitely retail offerings that I think would do very well in the District of Columbia that aren't here yet.
NNAMDIWhere do -- I forgot the name of the word I was looking for. Oh, Walmart. Where do Walmart projects fit into this conversation? Then is that part of the retail the city should be getting into the mix?
TREGONINGWell, I mean, already many people who live in the District, you know, leave the District to shop at Walmart. By one estimate that I've heard, it's something like $26 million in sales from a District of Columbia zip code. So, clearly, some people want to shop at Walmart. On the other hand, Walmart is definitely not the cup of tea for everyone in the District. And so, I think that they are part of the mix, but I also think that, you know, all of us need to understand how tough it is for our local retailers.
TREGONINGIf you were to look at the height of our population. Let's say, you know, early in the 1960s, in most neighborhoods, we probably had almost twice as many people per household as we do today. And I sometimes ask people in a room, you know, how many of you have left the District to shop for something in the last month. And almost every hand goes up. How many people have bought something in the last month on the Internet? You know, even more people have done that.
TREGONINGAnd so, the retailer, the local retailer that everybody finds so vital to their own convenience in their neighborhood, they're really struggling, whether that's a hardware store or, you know, a small bodega or grocery store. I mean, think of the fate of bookstores. You know, a lot of the things that people very much want in their neighborhood are things that are hardly, you know, available anywhere.
TREGONINGSo, I think that what we all need to recognize is that that convenience that's so important to quality of life in a neighborhood, that we need to be supporting that. And I think that what we're finding in Washington is that Walmart and the Internet, in some ways, are kind of similar. They offer a shopping experience that is, I don't mean this pejoratively, but somewhat generic, right? That it's almost a commodity, something that you don't actually need to see in order to purchase, in many cases. Compared to something that is flourishing in the District of Columbia, and that's restaurants.
TREGONINGSo, I do think that our local retailers need to increasingly differentiate themselves from this experience that's out there of Internet shopping or something that's more generic or commodity like and things that they can provide, whether that's in terms of service, whether that's in terms of the product itself, whether it's in terms of really creating a unique experience because I think that's the way that they're going to be able to best...
NNAMDIYou're encouraging them to, so to speak, think outside of the big box. What concern do you have about whether the big box model that Walmart embodies is something that can work in a dense urban environment like the District. What do you think of the model that Walmart plans on using here, which is apparently a somewhat less large box?
TREGONINGIt is a less large box. It's a lot more grocery, up to half grocery. And I understand that in Chicago they are also experimenting with a much smaller model that might be 30 or 40,000 square feet, which is the size of what we would call a small to medium grocery here in the District. That's basically -- let's say half of that might be a Trader Joe's.
TREGONINGSo, you know, they're definitely experimenting with that format. But to be urban, you know, to be successful here, I think they have to be getting used to dealing with a lot less parking, perhaps changing the merchandising mix because how urban dwellers use retail, even big box retail is very different. That certainly been Target's experience. People come much more frequently. They...
NNAMDIDon't spend six hours every time they walk in.
TREGONINGThey don't but they might come a lot more. They might bring a friend to carry out that 52-inch television and walk it home. I've seen that myself a couple of times. You know, so it's different. But nonetheless, I think from their perspective very successful.
NNAMDIOn to the telephones again. Here is Lisa in Loudoun County, VA. Lisa, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
LISAHi. I was wondering about the other data, the contrasting data about how much more often people change jobs. And in the 19 years since we've lived in Loudoun County, my husband and I have changed jobs four times and lived four different places throughout that time period. So just because you're near the job you have to stay. Where does that leave you in two or three years when even constantly you might not be in the same facility?
NNAMDIFrankly, Harriet Tregoning, that thought did occur to me also that people now change jobs a lot more frequently. So live near your work may only be for some people a temporary solution.
TREGONINGYou know, that's a really good point. And especially if you're talking about two income households that try to, you know, get that location right. All I would say is that if you're looking broadly at the job market, the District really is in the center of it. So, wherever you're commuting to, it might be a shorter distance. Let's say one of you is in, you know, going to Reston and the other one of you is going to Greenbelt that your best location might in fact be the District.
TREGONINGBut, you know, to the point that mobility is important in your job search, we're certainly seeing more renters in the District than we've seen in the past. And that I think that's true throughout the country that the home ownership rate has dropped off. In part because people want the ability to not necessarily be tied to a given location if they to move to another part of the region or another part of the country in their search for a job. And so, you know, making sure that even in a live near your work program that we might be offering incentives not just for ownership but also for people who want the rental choice I think would be a good addition.
NNAMDIAllow me to see if we've answered the question of Ellen in Leesburg, VA. Ellen, have we or have we not answered your question?
ELLENWell, to a great deal, Kojo, thank you for having me. To a degree, you have answered that. I had been encouraged to move closer to my work by some friends years ago. And if I had done so, I lost my job two and a half years ago and I would be in foreclosure today. So, affordability is the name of the game. I used to be a district resident for many years and I had one child in the D.C. school system. And then many years later I had another child and I have to tell you there's no comparison. I think many people might be concerned if they moved closer to their job would their children be able to attend schools sort of on par with what they were leaving behind.
NNAMDIWell, that's a conversation in part for D.C. Schools chancellor, Kaya Henderson, who will be our guest at some point. But in part it's also for Harriet Tregoning.
TREGONINGI think that that's a very legitimate concern. So much so that both of the last two mayors at least that we've had have made it a priority, improving the quality of the education system in the District of Columbia. One of the things that Mayor Grey has done I think has not really gotten enough play, but I think it is game changing, Ellen, in the very terms that you're talking about. We now have in this 2012 budget year for the first time universal pre-K for three and four-year-olds. Let me put that another way, free all day daycare which, you know, most people that would be a considerable inducement to come to the District or stay in the District.
TREGONINGBut I think even more important is how it might change the quality of the education going forward. This was something that was piloted first in Ward 6 and according to Counselor Member Wells who was talking to me about it the other day, just the fact that parents worked closely with each other and got to know each other through a pre-K program. When it came time to decide if they were going to put their kids in a public schools they already had relationships both with the elementary schools and with the a lot of the parents.
TREGONINGAnd so, we've seen substantial increases in enrollment in those schools because people feel confident that they have the ability to work with those schools and get the kind of educational outcomes that their kids deserve. And I think that that's what we're going to see citywide as this program rolls out. The mayor's interested in actually expanding it to from infants all the way up to the first grade, which would be the only thing like it in the country. And I think fantastic for the city.
NNAMDIClearly for some people, Ellen, it's all about schools. We got this email from Ivan in Bethesda. I work in the District and I live in Bethesda by choice. Until the district can offer school options that are anywhere near those that my kids currently enjoy in Montgomery County, I'd never think about living near where I work. Until then, I'll bite the bullet with my commute. I'll keep paying my absurd mortgage and I'll try not to let it give me a heart attack.
NNAMDIAnd this we got from Jennifer who says I love living in the District. I walk about two miles each morning from my home near the new ballpark to my work near Metro Center. I take the Metro or bus home after work. It's affordable for me to live in the District because I don't have to own a car. Here's the problem there's not a public elementary school at all in my neighborhood, the New Capital Riverfront neighborhood. So when my three and a half year old turns kindergarten age I'll need to buy a cat in order to keep my commute time manageable.
NNAMDIAnd once I have to have a car, I can't afford to live in the district anymore. I don't want to move far away from my work, but I feel forced to do it. Another solution that has been mentioned it to increase the number of district workers -- in order to increase the number of district workers living in the city is to beef up public transportation and improve its condition and reach, which obviously our last emailer, Jennifer, uses. That will seem to make people more likely to move or live close to that transit. Has the District been looking into that?
TREGONINGOh, my goodness. We absolutely have been looking into it. You probably heard that there's a little streetcar system that we're in the process of doing the planning for. In fact, you probably heard most about the segment that's on H Street. But in fact we're looking at a new street car system bringing back streetcars in the District. Initially, the system would be about 37 miles and just to your point, Kojo, right now about 15 percent of the district residents are within a quarter mile of a Metro stop.
TREGONINGThat's our highest quality transit. With the streetcar expansion for the full 37 miles that would triple the number of people that are within a quarter mile of a fixed guide way transit system. So, that in and of its self I think is going to be game changing for the city. To the caller or to the emailer's, I guess, point, you know, we are looking at where the child age the school age population is in the city and how that's beginning to shift. And making sure that we do have public school options that are convenient in those neighborhoods. And so I defiantly appreciate the point that's been raised.
NNAMDIHere's Rob in Rosedale in D.C. Rob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ROBHello, Kojo. I'm calling because I want to get your feedback probably one of the largest lots of unused land in Washington, D.C. which is the RFK parking, the northern and the southern parking lots. And we in Rosedale and Kingman Park have been working for years to try and bring some development there. And recently the mayor traveled to Tampa to see what they did with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers training facilities. But also at the time community people in the neighborhood have come up a proposal to bring playing fields and soccer fields and sportsplex to the RFK parking lots north of us.
ROBI was wondering whether there was any ability to either link those projects up, you know, not simply go with a simple bringing in a Redskin training facility benefit the millionaire athletes. But if they're going to do that to tie it to a community based project such as the soccer on the hill proposal which originally got about 2,000 votes in a program online compared to 300 for the other sustainable development.
NNAMDIOkay, here's Harriet Tregoning. Your phone is breaking up, Rob. But here is Harriet Tregoning.
TREGONINGRob, I'm glad you raised this point because one of the things I was hoping we could talk about is that Sustainable D.C. Initiative. And it is true that we did something unusual. We crowd sourced some ideas for sustainable future for the District of Columbia and got…
NNAMDIFor those of our listeners who may be completely unfamiliar with the Sustainable D.C. Initiative, you may want to tell them what that is.
TREGONINGOkay. This is a plan that we're doing for our city that basically will describe the many ways in which we will have a sustainable future. And we initially began this exercise in September by asking people to give us their own suggestions. Citizens from across the city for the kinds of steps the District should take to become sustainable. We got more than 400 unique suggestions and one of them was the very thing that Rob called about. And not only did people make suggestions but other people voted on those suggestions.
TREGONINGSo we had thousands of people who voted on various ideas. And I'm sure there was no collusion or organized effort to up the vote count. But surprisingly the idea that Rob is suggesting was the top vote getter. And that was to convert some of the parking lots in and around RFK Stadium into playing fields. And you know that's the kind of, that's the kind of project, the kind of solution that we're looking for in our Sustainable D.C. plan because it does lots of things for the city.
TREGONINGIt not only provides new recreational opportunities for a part of the city where we're really seeing a big increase in school age population. It also takes something, parking lots that -- where rainwater is falling rushing into the Anacostia or other places that we don't particularly want it to be and making those places spongier so that they can absorb water. It's bringing greenery and getting rid of a dark paved surface that helps -- that's making the city hotter in the summer.
TREGONINGSomething that we don't necessarily need. So it's that kind of solution that we're looking for. What we'd spend one dollar and get three or four or five dollars worth of benefits. Whether we do that project or something else, I'm not kind of ready to say yet. But I think it's a really great idea and something we are very interested in exploring.
NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, Rob. Here is Harold in Petworth in Northwest Washington. Harold, you're on the air, go ahead please.
HAROLDYeah, I just got two quick observations. First of all, I'm glad that Mr. Bellamy and Harriet, who used to be my boss in a sense when she was secretary of planning in Prince George's County. I'm a third generation Washingtonian. I still live there. And I've got a quick question -- a quick observation, quick question. I'm glad that she and Mr. Bellamy can read my handwriting. I and one other co-worker wrote a white paper back in 1988 that's the basis for the DC streetcar system that's going into effect right now.
HAROLDBut my more general question is, is I've got a very simple rule for some of the development, you know, in the trade. I'm a planner, and in the trade we call it transit oriented or transit adjacent development. I have a very simple rule that I think the District is probably getting at best a D in its grade on, and that is that some of the development, the residential development, the other kinds of things that are occurring metro stations, and I think will occur around some of the streetcar -- the more built up streetcar stops in the city.
HAROLDMy rule is that if my mother can afford to live there after all of the great transit oriented development is in place, on her salary as a retired, you know, just sort of stand -- ordinary mere mortal federal government worker, then it's transit-oriented development. If she can't afford to live there, then it's transit-oriented displacement. I don't use the word gentrification, because I think gentrification is misused in this context.
HAROLDWhat we're talking about you might call agentriplacement. I mean, policing a neighborhood, you know, to get rid of...
NNAMDISo you're saying it's either transit-related development or transit-related displacements. How do we have one and avoid the other, Harriet Tregoning?
TREGONINGWell, I think that we do a couple of different things. As you know, we have citywide inclusionary zoning on the books now, so the idea behind that is in the future when market rate development happens in sizes of 20 units or more, and usually around a transit site, that's would be very common to get larger projects that somewhere between eight and 10 percent of those housing units have to be affordable, you know, depending on the construction type, it's either eight or 10 percent.
TREGONINGThe other thing that we're doing with the streetcar is really looking at routing it in such a way that we go by land that the city already owns, or we're looking to acquire that land so that we can make it permanently affordable. One -- when you talk about, Harold, what your mom can afford, I mean, what's interesting about the city is the changing demographics of Washington.
TREGONINGI mentioned earlier that household sizes are a lot smaller. North of 40 percent of all the households in the District of Columbia now are one person households, and so we have a pretty big mismatch actually between the size of the housing and our population in many parts of the city. And you see it beginning to sort itself out in some places with single family houses become two, three, our four unit flats of various kinds.
TREGONINGYou know, my -- in many, many parts of the city, and I don't know if your mother still lives here, Harold, but I don't know if she's living by herself in her house, or if she still has a lot of family and others around, but that's what we're definitely seeing. There are a lot of young people moving in who are living by themselves, and a lot of retirees or, you know, our parents or our grandparents are now rattling around in large houses where there once was many, many people. So I think getting that -- getting a better fit there is gonna mean more housing choices and some more affordability.
NNAMDIHarold, thank you very much for your call. We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Harriet Tregoning. If you'd like to join that conversation, call us 800-433-8850. Does your employer offer incentives for moving closer to your job? Have you taken advantage of them, especially if your job is in the District of Columbia? 800-433-8850. Send us a tweet @kojoshow, or email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation with Harriet Tregoning. She is director of the District of Columbia's Office of Planning. If you're interesting in joining this conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. Can you afford to buy a home in DC right now? Would an incentive of up to $12,000 make it more affordable for you? 800-433-8850. You had a scary run this summer while on your bike. What do you think DC could do better to make biking more accessible for residents?
TREGONINGWell, the city is doing a lot of things. I give a lot of credit to DDOT, to Terry Bellamy and Jim Sebastian the bike coordinator there. I think today they just released their 2012 bike plan where they're making some distinct improvements in many parts of the city. I mean, my problem wasn't...
NNAMDIYou got sideswiped.
TREGONINGI wouldn't say sideswipe, I'd say hit directly by a speeding car from Maryland who ran a red light. But I told her it was okay when she told me she was late, that that was her reason. I said, well, you get a pass in the District if you're -- you can run a red light if you're late, that's -- you know, 'cause no one's late here.
TREGONINGBut fortunately, I was largely uninjured. My bike was wrecked, but I got off pretty lucky.
NNAMDIYeah. Well, you were right near a bicycle space when it happened, and so you were able to get a replacement bicycle, a loaner bicycle at that point. But you do think DC is becoming a more bikeable place for residents?
TREGONINGI do. I think we're really lucky in that we're not a very hilly place, that it's pretty temperate. I mean, we just had our first freeze, we're in the middle of December, and we had our first freeze here in the city. So, you know, at most times of the year, it's pretty easy to bike, and I hope more and more employers are looking at providing facilities for their workforce so that they have that, you know, cheap, convenient, easy way to get around. You know, I don't know what I would do if I couldn't bike because it's -- I save so much time getting from meeting to meeting.
NNAMDIYeah. Especially in the downtown area of Washington D.C. The earlier caller talked about what's taking place on the site of the old convention center, which brings us to the larger, I guess, issue if you will, of the pace of the development in the city.
TREGONINGWell, I mean, it's been wonderful. I mean, I have to say that I might have been the most excited person in the whole city when our census numbers came back and showed us that we, you know, had had our first real decade -- solid decade of population increase since 1950, and that, you know, a lot of it had happened in the last half of that decade, and I really am confident that that growth is continuing to occur in the District.
TREGONINGAnd what we've seen is if you compare the six months -- roughly the six months from June to December to 2010 to what we've seen so far in the same period of this year, we've seen almost a 70 percent increase in early project activity. So that's, you know, astonishing and wonderful, and we're happy to see it.
NNAMDIAnd are you taking personal credit for the increase in the census over the course of the past ten years? Is it because you moved here?
TREGONINGAre you asking your callers, or your asking me?
TREGONINGI ran the census. I ran the census count for the city with my State data center and, you know, so I take a little credit for making sure that we had very good response rate, which we did.
NNAMDIHere is Maria in Olney, Md. Maria, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARIAHi. I am calling, I just moved to Florida not too long ago, and I am in Olney, Md. And I am listening to this show, and I'm interested in finding out if you some assistance for if I want to start a business in D.C. Where do I go for some information or assistance?
NNAMDIWhat kind of business would you be interested in starting in D.C., Maria?
MARIAIt will be -- well, again, I'm trying to get some information, but I thought maybe, I don't know, (unintelligible) bed and breakfast.
TREGONINGYou know, we have a great department run by Harold Pettigrew called the Department of Small and Local Business Development, and they're very, very helpful, and I do think that small business development is absolutely the key to our economic success and diversity in the future. So we'd love to see more small business people in the District.
NNAMDIAnd you can find that department at dc.gov?
NNAMDIMaria, thank you very much for your call. On to Greg in northwest Washington. Greg, your turn.
GREGHey, guys. Hey, Kojo. Thanks for taking my call. As always, a great topic. I moved back to the area after being gone 25 years, and I'm a virtual employee working for a high-tech company. And because of that, I was able to move back into the city. I got rid of my car, I ride my bike, so the topic is spot on. Is there any thoughts or incentives to try to get people like me here that, you know, don't clog the roads with cars and ride bikes not just because it's timely, but also it's great exercise?
TREGONINGI don't know, Greg.
NNAMDIYou're making Harriet Tregoning's day. This is not the purpose of having this conversation, but go ahead, please, Harriet.
TREGONINGWell, Greg, you tell me. You, you know, what would it have taken? I mean, you came here without an incentive, but if you were sitting on the fence, what's the kind of thing that would have been persuasive to you? I mean, I'd love for you to tell all your friends about it, and what a great experience you're having.
GREGWell, you know, maybe we can all meet at Trysts and just have business roundtables about startups in Adams Morgan. I tend to make that my office twice a week, so that would a fun start.
TREGONINGI think that's -- I think technology companies in particular, that that's a really great idea. But your company isn't based here, right? You work for a company remotely that's based somewhere else?
GREGThat is correct. I'm out of headquarters in New Jersey.
TREGONINGHmm. I don't know. So how do I reach the companies who aren't here so the people like you can enjoy a great quality of life even though your ostensible workplace is somewhere else?
GREGThat's a good question. I guess it's a matter of getting out on that social media and letting them know there's reasons to come to the city.
TREGONINGWhy don't you start up...
GREGI mean, I did it organically. Is there a way to incent people? I mean, can the city offer anything that makes it attractive to get your attention? It doesn't have to be hugely expensive, right?
TREGONINGYeah. I don't know. That's a really good question. I don't suppose you're a blogger, Greg?
GREGWell, I do have a wine startup -- wine-related startup, so I'm starting to blog.
TREGONINGAll right. Well, maybe this is another topic area you could put on your blog and we can see if we can get some other followers who might want to do the same thing that you're doing. But I'm delighted to hear from you, and I hope many of your colleagues will follow you to the District.
NNAMDIGreg, thank you very much for your call. Chicago has taken a slightly different approach to attracting people, offering incentives for not only moving into the city, but also for carpooling and using car or bike sharing programs. Has DC or has Baltimore ever considered that kind of approach?
TREGONINGWell, actually, the whole live near your work program began in Baltimore. They even have a non-profit called Live Baltimore. You know how permissible it is for cities to steal good ideas from other cities.
TREGONINGSo this one is a direct lift from Baltimore. But I think that, you know, the whole idea of incentives, you know, we're just beginning to experiment with it. So our live near your work is a pilot, and there are other things that we might be willing to do. But I do think that our employers and the people who have already moved here and are very happy with their life in the District, like your caller, Greg, who was just on the line. I think they're the very best advertising, the very best way for us to get people to move to the city, for us to just talk about how great it is to be living here.
NNAMDIHere's Bob in Washington. Bob, you're on air. Go ahead, please.
BOBThank you, Kojo. And I'm really enjoying your show. I have a different kind of question. What about all the unemployed people who currently live in -- why can't we get -- the city have a strategy to get them jobs, so rather than bringing people from elsewhere to work here and then live here, find jobs which is a big priority of Washington Interfaith Network.
NNAMDIBob, you should know that earlier -- go ahead, please, Bob. I was about to say, Bob, because your phone is breaking up, too, that we earlier talked about the Office of Public Education having an incentive program that gives money to employers to hire workers who already live in the city. You may not have heard that part of it, but I'd like to follow up with Harriet Tregoning by asking do you think a program like that, giving incentives to employers instead of workers is a good idea?
TREGONINGI mean, we're already doing some things like that although obviously we have a very substantial unemployment and underemployment issue in this city. I would just give a shout out to Lisa Mallory who heads our Department of Employment Services, and she's been doing a wonderful with many, many -- I would say a hundred plus at this point, and growing, employers in the city to try to work with them to hire district residents, the very people that Bob is talking about, the unemployed and the underemployed, and is doing so by doing some of the screening that the employers would otherwise have to be doing, providing some benefits so that they can on-the-job training with funds that we're getting from the Department of Labor.
TREGONINGAnd many, many other things to help to make that happen, and I think that focusing on our -- on reducing our unemployment is one of the most important things that we can do in the city. So I don't disagree with Bob, but the only point I would make is that the people that we're talking about with live near your work, they already have a job. They have a job in the city, and the, you know, one of our problems is that they don't live in the city, they don't pay any taxes in the city and you might know that, you know, something north of 40 percent of all the land in the district of Columbia is not on our tax rolls, which I would challenge any city in the U.S. to equal
TREGONINGIt's what Alice Rivlin has been calling for years, a structural and fiscal imbalance and so having a much more robust tax base is not the only solution, but part of the solution to a healthy and robust District of Columbia.
NNAMDIBob, thank you very much for your call. I was interested in one idea that the City Paper flagged about making better use of the cities alleyways as public spaces, aligning them. The City Paper is saying, why should they be the province of trash cans alone. The District's miles of alleys could be much more useful public spaces, as well as transitways for bikes and pedestrians with better signage and maintenance. What thought have you given to how the city's maze of alleyways could be put to better use?
TREGONINGWell, that's another really interesting thought that we're looking at. You know, part of the reason that we're doing the sustainable D.C. strategy, is that, you know, on many, many fronts, from green buildings to the purchase of green power, to our great transportation choices, we're really a leading city.
TREGONINGA place that we're not yet leading is storm water management and water in general, and when you think about all those alleyways, they are all hardscaped. They don't permit any of the water that falls, you know, from the sky to percolate into the ground, and instead it runs off and gets into our sewer system, or into our creeks and streams and rivers. You know, so the idea of looking to alleys to green them, to soften them, that's one of the things that we're looking at, but I think that's another great idea that we'd love to explore through sustainable D.C.
NNAMDIHarriet Tregoning, she is the director of the District of Columbia's Office of Planning. Harriet, Tregoning, thank you so much for joining us.
NNAMDI"The Kojo Nnamdi Show" is produced by Brendan Sweeney, Michael Martinez, Ingalisa Schrobsdorff, and Tayla Burnie, with assistance from Kathy Goldgeier and Elizabeth Weinstein. The managing producer is Diane Vogel. The engineer is Timmy Olmstead. A.C. Valdez is on the phones. Podcasts of all shows, audio archives, CDs and free transcripts are available at our website, kojoshow.org. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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