Tuesday, April 01, 2008

DOA

With the brazen daylight robbery of the Monarch's Starbucks late Sunday afternoon, the Growler must conclude that the Braddock Road Metro Small Area Plan is basically dead on arrival. It took less than a month.

It's a blow for all of those (including the politicians) who believe fervently in the dilution theory: that if you construct enough big, anonymous condo buildings with first floor retail near Metro, the crime and dysfunction will magically fade into the woodwork.

Looking back, the Growler believes the real story behind the recently-approved Plan is that despite all the window dressing — the talk of eyes on the street, transit-oriented development and smart growth — the City has once again failed to address the fundamental issue in the area closest to Metro that prevents its evolving into a "vibrant" community: public housing and the concentration of poverty the City has nurtured for generations.

The new Plan represents at best a new twist on the City's perennial wishful thinking. For decades, the City prayed for a renaissance at the Braddock Metro wrought by the private sector with no political intervention required. When the Metro arrived in 1983, there were hopes that it would help "clean up" the area. But that never happened. Braddock Place was built but was slow to lease, and its retail quietly died. The 1992 Plan, which like today's Plan was also approved at the outset of a recession, also anticipated change. But nearly seven years passed before a few additional buildings were constructed and who knows what their economic health is like these days.

With credit markets in disarray, a glut of unsold condos in the neighborhood and America entering a recession, the Growler thinks it's unlikely we're going to see much new in the next five to 10 years around Metro.

Paradoxically, the outlook for the Parker-Gray district to the south and east has never been brighter. Our historic community is infinitely safer, cleaner and more attractive than it was in 1992 — no thanks to the City, but to the efforts of private citizens. Homes are worth more — at one point both Del Ray and Parker-Gray had the fastest-rising property values in Alexandria — and there are significant changes underway that will make them more so in the coming years. That includes the proposed redevelopment of the James Bland project, which is being forced on the City by ARHA's financial imperatives.

Residents who bristled at the City's naked attack on "gentrification" in the Braddock Road Plan have nothing to be ashamed about. Unlike many urban areas, where "gentrification" involved the expulsion of low or moderate income renters for condo conversion, the free market operated in Parker-Gray, with the peaceful transfer of wealth from new arrivals to the old families who cashed in on their single-family homes (the majority of the housing stock here) and profited significantly.

No, residents need to understand that the Braddock Road Plan's nonsense about "gentrification" was part of the City's desperate attempt to find voices in the community — and they are becoming fewer and fainter — to justify keeping public housing and poverty entrenched here so the City can avoid the hard decisions it needs to make if it truly wants the area to the north of us to thrive.

And that failure of leadership is what will continue to hold the Braddock Metro area back.