Friday, February 29, 2008

Is BRT Dead?

This just in: the Virginia Supreme Court has declared the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority unconstitutional. The body was set up by the state to raise $300 million in taxes for regional transportation projects.

Given this development and the fact that the Alexandria City Council is under strong pressure from local business not to increase the tax rate on commercial properties taxes, will BRT on N. Patrick and Henry Streets be starved to death from a lack of tax revenue?

If so, RIP ...

Building On a Lie

One sentence in the bulky 167-page Braddock Road Metro plan draft crystallizes the falsity on which the plan and most of its recommendations are based.

On page 27, the report states: "In the year 2000, for the first time, the neighborhood's white non-Hispanic population outnumbered its population of African-Americans."

What is the problem with this statistic?

A clue lies on the same page of the draft report, which reads "The economic and racial diversity of the Braddock Metro neighborhood is one of its great strengths, but it faces serious threat from the forces of redevelopment and gentrification."

It appears the City is attempting to manipulate facts to make it appear that "gentrification" and shifts in the racial composition of the neighborhood are of recent origin. Never mind that the neighborhood has been changing dramatically over nearly thirty years – not just since 2000 but since 1980. The City just woke up to this?

The City is also implying that its own definition of a diverse neighborhood is one in which minorities outnumber whites — i.e., to be diverse a neighborhood must be at least 51% black. Anything lower is described as a "threat" to our community.

Yet look at the changes in Census Tract 14 in the heart of Del Ray, where the African-American population in 1990 was 21.3% of the total but had dipped to 11.7% in 2000. Why is the City not trumpeting this crisis of "diversity" on the other side of the tracks?

It isn't ... and that's because the City's own Consolidated Plan for Housing and Community Development FY 2006-2010 notes with some approval that the City is becoming less segregated and more integrated.

Section I of the Consolidated Plan observed that there are now fewer Census tracts in Alexandria that are predominantly minority. “At the time of the 2000 U.S. Census African-Americans comprised more than 45% of the population in only two census tracts (12.04 and 16)" (p. 12).

The document goes on to state "There has been a decrease in the number of census tracts with both small and large concentrations of African-American residents, and an increase in the number of tracts more representative of the overall percentage of African-Americans in the City [which the report later notes is 22.2% according to the 2000 Census]” (p. 13).

Essentially the five-year Housing plan is saying that Alexandria became less segregated from 1990 to 2000. Is this not cause for celebration? But instead of encouraging this trend, especially in our neighborhood, the City appears to be decrying it in the Braddock Road Plan.

There can be only one reason for this contradiction.

The City is laying the groundwork to make the argument that public housing — most of which was built between 1942 and 1968 — is a hlack heritage issue and that it cannot therefore be deconcentrated without obliterating the identity of the neighborhood. In essence, the City poses as a “friend” of the neighborhood while happily ensuring public housing does not have to go anywhere else.

Never mind that this is grotesque. Never mind that this position flies in the face of HUD policies and 20 years of research demonstrating the effects of concentrated public housing on the poor, and especially children in poverty. Never mind the City's own Fair Share Policy of 1999.

From this artificial attempt to reinforce a community that has mostly disappeared, many of the recommendations in the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan flow.

The City is pushing extremely high density in the form of Coordinated Development Districts (CDDs) in order to reap developer dollars for the City's Housing Trust Fund, which as Housing Director Mildrilyn Davis pointed out at one of the Braddock Road charrettes has repeatedly been tapped in the form of grants and loans to support ARHA.

The City and ARHA are already committed to socking in density and height at the redeveloped James Bland site – not in order to deconcentrate public housing in our neighborhood but in order to bail out ARHA's troubled Glebe Park project in another area of town, Arlandria. Once this is achieved, will there be anything left for market rate units that pay for land and disperse Bland units elsewhere in Alexandria?

And the Queen Street retail strategy proposed in the plan takes on new dimensions when seen in this light. The purpose of the $4 to $6 million loan program will not be to transform the dwindling, faded shops there into retail stores serving current residents. Instead, we'll get more of the same and what is there will be preserved and propped up to continue to serve the City's notion of the old neighborhood. If readers think that this fund is about encouraging cute new businesses of the type that flourish on Mt. Vernon Avenue, they are sadly mistaken.

So is this City, dominated by liberal Democratic politicians, actually promoting policies not dissimilar to those of its segregationist predecessors by demanding that our neighborhood and ours alone must maintain “diversity”?

And think about Jefferson-Houston for a moment. Since the City-wide redistricting in 1999, has the school, which is down to a mere 200+ students, been virtually recreated by City elites into the old Parker-Gray Elementary School, reinstituting segregation in the 21st century?

The neighborhood has moved past all of that. Why hasn’t the City?