Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Can’t We Do Better than This?

Tonight is the meeting with Tommy Wells on the Hine Junior High redevelopment. For local residents, the redevelopment project started with a series of meetings organized by former Mayor Fenty, in which a certain kind of redevelopment was already assumed as necessary: Hine would be replaced by a building with expensive residences, a first floor of businesses, some room for potential non-profits or a boutique hotel, and the city-mandated few residences for moderate-income and very few for low-income individuals or households. At these meetings, political officials presented this redevelopment model without any real discussion or any real imagination. The options have been presented as only 1) new urbanist high-density transit-oriented development or 2) local NIMBYism and lack of development (see "When is density just density of the wealthy?"). Developers and politicians have pushed and continue to push this redevelopment plan forward, presenting it as inevitable and good for Capitol Hill. What if we stopped for a moment and really talked about the redevelopment of Hine Jr High?

Yes, a delay would make many people anxious, but the Hine site is a spectacular space that invites us to think in a more imaginative way. A delay would make the architects and urban planners nervous because, as I spoke about in my last post, they have no role when there is no building going on and many of them make their money when building is moving forward. City officials are also looking for tax revenue. People will likely say that we don’t have time for delay because the abandoned building will attract crime. People might say that such a discussion is a waste of time, it won’t go anywhere, there really are no alternatives, and we already have the Hill Center and CHAW. But can’t we do better than the current plan? We don’t have to be perfect, but the site is a spectacular space and deserves some real discussion.

What is a more imaginative vision of the neighborhood? Is it just a desire for expensive town houses and high-end boutiques? Or is it something else? Something that might draw even more people to the area? Such imaginative models emerge from real discussion, not orchestrated discussions with already set agendas. Here are some ideas inspired by a commenter on my last post:
  • Give adequate space to the flea market. Think about how the flea market might be expanded, not reduced, in interesting ways.
  • Keep the views of Eastern Market open from 8th Street, not blocked by new buildings. Without this view, we can only view the glorious front of Eastern Market in a cramped way, right in front of the building. Think about how to improve and highlight this wonderful view with new walkways and plantings.
  • Return the tennis courts, the basketball courts, and the playground to bring a lively non-commercial aspect to the area. Maybe even include picnic tables and benches to create a new social space.
  • Learn from other cities. Lots of Hill residents have seen cities all around the US and abroad; they could bring these experiences to the table. Rome’s Villaggio Globela provides so many activities far different from those offered by the great CHAW and Hill Center. Many other interesting experiments could be found.
  • Develop the site over time. We don’t need to have the answer right now, but we can open the discussion up and invite, for example, students from area schools and universities to talk about possibilities and experiments from other cities in the United States and elsewhere. We can develop parts of the site and think about other parts. We can work to stop the intrusion of crime, trash, and any ugliness. Most importantly, we don’t have to have the perfect solution. The current solution is also in no way perfect, but it will be permanent.
Want to have a real discussion? All you have to do is start talking tonight:

Hine Meeting with Tommy Wells, Tuesday, May 22, 6:30-8pm @ Brent Elementary School, 301 North Carolina Ave, SE.

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