Note from Wayne. This entry was written by Betsey Krumholz of the Planning Commissioners Journal staff. Betsey was able to join me for three days in the Washington, DC, area.
Robert Moore greeted me on the doorstep of his office townhouse on 14th Street in the Columbia Heights Neighborhood of Washington, D. C. Folks were out and about on this Saturday morning walking dogs, picking up the newspaper and coffee, and greeting each other with the familiarity one finds in a close knit community. Mr. Moore is a popular man in this neighborhood, and with good reason.
During the civic unrest that followed the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King in 1968, almost 65 acres of homes and businesses in Columbia Heights were devastated. More than 60 percent of the businesses were torched or looted, and much of the housing stock of the neighborhood was rendered unlivable. For years, the area remained burned out and boarded up, neglected and crime-ridden.
Today, the intersection of 14th Street & Irving is dominated by construction equipment on one side and fresh landscaping, sidewalks, and bike racks along the other. Moving vans are unloading new residents into high-rise complexes (photo, right) and grocery shoppers are enjoying a sparkling new Giant grocery store (photo, below left). The bones of the new 890,000 square foot DC USA shopping center, to be anchored by Target, are clearly visible across from the Columbia Heights Metro rail station (photo, below right and postcard below it showing design of the center). And the once dilapidated Tivoli Theatre -- also at this intersection -- is filled with activity in its new life as a multi-use commercial, arts, retail, and office center at the prominent intersection.
Side streets are lined with substantial town homes, neatly maintained by watchful neighbors. And the large public housing complexes are once again tidy and quiet.
The Development Corporation of Columbia Heights (DCCH), directed by Mr. Moore, has helped orchestrate this transformation.
[photo left: the former Tivoli Theatre, now Tivoli Square, still has a theatre space. But after 30 years of neglect, it now also includes a dentist's office, sportswear shop, Ruby Tuesday restaurant, and locally owned Mayorga coffee house/lounge]
In the early 1980s, the Ford Foundation supported the “14th Street Project Area Committee” which began to create a plan for Columbia Heights. One critical aspect of this planning process was to identify the intersection of 14th and Irving as the future site of intensive commercial development within the neighborhood. (This was essential to the designation of the Metro station at that location -– finally opened for service in 1999.)
Nine community activists, with extensive background in urban policy, housing, economic development, and community-building, established a community development corporation (CDC) in 1984 in order to get city officials and members of the public to think beyond the traditional urban renewal framework, which then largely concentrated on housing.
Rather than work under the jurisdiction of the city planning and housing agencies, the DCCH partnered with non-profits, lenders, government agencies, for-profit developers, and business owners to get the neighborhood back on track.
[photo above right of DCCH President & CEO, Robert Moore]
[photo right: senior housing above storefronts along 14th Street]
With a focus on community involvement –- including annual neighborhood charettes -– the DCCH has tapped into the desire of residents to have a voice and a stake in the future of their neighborhood. While not every one likes every change, the DCCH has challenged the community to speak up and get involved.
National chains like Target and Ruby Tuesday have taken notice -– and are being drawn into this growing community. But, the walkable streets, state-of-the-art grocery store, and mom and pop businesses are evidence that although the neighborhood is moving forward, it is trying hard not to leave anyone behind.
p.s., just a couple of blocks south of Columbia Heights is the national African American Civil War Memorial & Museum. The "Spirit of Freedom" sculpture, by Ed Hamilton, is the first major work by a black sculptor to be placed on federal land anywhere in Washington, D.C. It also reflects, as Wayne describes in a separate post, the Congressional policy (implemented by the National Capital Planning Commission) of locating new monuments and memorials throughout the District.