November 28, 2012

A new type of urban controversy

I lived in DC most of my life and became used to ethnic conflict, class conflict, neighborhood vs. downtown conflict, geographic conflict, but now there's a new aura of conflict, described below by two of the city's most perceptive journalists. There is one thing this conflict has in common with previous ones: power calls the shots.  - Sam Smith

Courtland Milloy, Washington Post - As an increasingly elite D.C. begins walling itself off from the masses, the rough outline of an architecturally restored yet soulless city emerges. Red-lined school boundaries around wealthy neighborhoods keep out less-privileged students. Closed streets and parking restrictions make for a “walkable city.” For the low-income resident who must travel longer distances to get to work and stores, a better description would be “trudge town.”

In the new D.C., the rich take a stroll. The poor take a hike.

No middle school students from outside the Wilson [High School] boundary were accepted this year, raising the specter of a “new line between educational haves and have-nots,” wrote [Ken] Archer, chief technical officer of a software firm who lives in Georgetown.

You’d hope that striving for the common good would continue through a building boom, that the economic gap among District residents wouldn’t grow so wide that the well-to-do would lose sight of those on the other side.

“What I think is missing is a vision of what we can do to preserve affordable housing, maintain diversity by helping those who are struggling to stay in the city as housing costs go up,” said Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute. “The number of families with children in the city is going down, and they are largely African American families, low- and moderate-income families who aren’t just moving to other parts of town but actually leaving the city.”

... “If there is one system that serves rich neighborhoods, and another serving the poor neighborhoods, would well-meaning parents in the wealthier and more politically powerful neighborhoods lobby for more funding for traditional public education and inadvertently disadvantage less affluent areas?” Archer wrote on the Greater Greater Washington blog. “Or would politicians from the poorer wards of the District end up opposing DCPS’s needs? A battle for resources between the haves and have-nots is not what we need, regardless of how it turns out.”

District officials recently announced a plan to promote bicycling and mass transit, with changes that could affect 10,000 parking spaces. How about making the creation of 10,000 decent-paying jobs for working-poor residents more of a priority?

“That is the sign of the future. That discourages car ownership,” said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), referring to the aggressive campaign against parking spaces.

Meanwhile, the basic rush-hour fare for a Metro bus and rail ride is up to $1.60 and $2.10, respectively, making public transportation more expensive than some car trips.

“Stay out.” That’s what the sign of the future really says.

Gary Imhoff, DC Watch - We don’t like suburbanites; we don’t want them coming into the city; we don’t want them to patronize our shops or work in our businesses. If they must come here, they should leave their cars at home and take the subway or buses or, better yet, bicycle or walk. That’s healthier and more environmentally correct, anyway.

Those are the messages sent by the Washingtonians in the more than four hundred comments to Sunday’s Washington Post article by Tim Craig, "DC Implementing Parking Rules to Limit Visitor Spots, Discourage Driving,"

Here are the first sentences of the article: "District officials are reserving thousands of on-street parking spaces for residents on weekdays in the city’s most crowded neighborhoods, part of an aggressive effort to limit spots for visitors. The restrictions are a slice of a city strategy to promote bicycling and mass transit while increasing the odds that residents can find parking. The changes, which could affect as many as 10,000 spaces, come as the city eliminates some on-street parking to make room for bicycle lanes and prepares to set aside hundreds of meters for the disabled .... Angelo Rao, manager of the District’s parking and streetlight program, "said the new revisions, which will affect as many as twenty parking spaces per city block, are driven both by residents’ concerns about a lack of on-street parking and a broader city policy to encourage less vehicle traffic."

... Is this the way to market DC to new residents or potential new businesses? Is this even thinking about Washington constructively as what political leaders claim to believe is "one city"? Divide the city into eight wards, and deliberately make it difficult for people who live in any of the wards to have guests, visitors, or workers who come from any of the other wards? If you shop for something bigger than you can carry in your arms as you walk, or bigger than you can fit in your bike’s basket, you should drive to Maryland or Virginia so you can shop in a store where you can park?

If you’re young and healthy, or if you’re alone in life, you’re welcome in the city. As long as you’re grocery shopping for yourself alone, and can fit what you buy into your bicycle basket, you’re welcome to live here. If you do a weekly grocery shopping for a family of four, move out of town. We don’t want you and your and your cancer-producing automobile here. Earlier this month, Zoning Commission Chairman Anthony Hood made the commonsense observation that, "Some of us who are riding bikes now will not be riding bikes later. And then also, we need to make sure we balance the development we do in this city for all, ’cause I haven’t seen too many people go to the grocery store and come back with their groceries on a bicycle," He was mocked by people who said that, of course, they carried their groceries on their bicycles. These are people who see their lifestyle, their current lifestyle, as the normal, natural way that everyone should live, and are scornful of anyone who would actually buy provisions for an entire family.

If you’re running a business that requires patronage from more than the fifteen thousand people or so who live in your immediate neighborhood, take your business to the suburbs. If your employees want to drive to their work instead of spending hours a day on public transportation, take your business to the suburbs. This city’s planners have decided that it should be only for young, wealthy, single hipsters. Families and old people and people who have friends in distant neighborhoods aren’t welcome. They may as well be suburbanites.

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