CNU blogs

Walkability and Public Space – Public Engagement to Drive Corridor Planning

1,000 Friends of Wisconsin - 1 hour 1 min ago

1000 Friends of Wisconsin teams up with Schenk-Atwood neighborhood to proactively study the walking environment for better planning outcomes.

The post Walkability and Public Space – Public Engagement to Drive Corridor Planning appeared first on 1000 Friends of Wisconsin.

Categories: CNU blogs

Two maps that explain what DC might look like as a state

Greater Greater Washington - 1 hour 27 min ago
by Dan Malouff

On Monday, Congress considered DC statehood. But what would DC actually look like if it became a state?

Maps by Geoffrey Hatchard for Neighbors United for Statehood.

The most likely path to statehood for the District would shrink the federal city to a tiny section surrounding the National Mall and other federal properties. That section would remain not part of any state. The rest of the city would then become the 51st state, possibly called New Columbia.

Here's a zoom-in to what would become the remaining federal city.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Categories: CNU blogs

Survey Will Help Identify Downtown Revitalization Needs

New Jersey Future - 2 hours 7 min ago

Downtown Bordentown. Photo courtesy of JGSC Group.

A survey being conducted by New Jersey Future, in conjunction with the downtown economic consulting firm JGSC Group, is designed to identify unmet needs for capacity or technical assistance in local downtown revitalization efforts.

“Revitalizing our traditional downtowns is a key way for New Jersey to grow smart,” said New Jersey Future Executive Director Peter Kasabach. “There is increasing market demand for both housing and jobs in these places, and we want to help towns access the resources they need in order to meet that demand. This survey will help us identify the most urgent needs.”

The survey, which is being sent to local officials and executives in charge of downtown revitalization across New Jersey’s municipalities, asks respondents to indicate how this process is managed and funded in their towns and what they need in order to make their revitalization efforts more effective. It also provides an overview of tools available to help bring new life to downtowns, and it asks respondents to indicate which they’ve taken advantage of.

Survey results will be compiled by New Jersey Future into a report that will be made available to municipalities.

All municipal officials and executives responsible for downtown revitalization are invited to take the survey.


Categories: CNU blogs

Breakfast links: Metro delays

Greater Greater Washington - 2 hours 47 min ago
by David Koch

Photo by Kurt Raschke on Flickr.Silver Spring money hole: The Silver Spring Transit Center needs more money for ongoing repair work, though it's not clear how much. Montgomery County plans to sue the contractors to recover the funds, and believes repair work will be complete by the end of 2014. (Post)

New Metro cars delayed: Metro's new 7000-series cars won't be ready until early 2015, because the test track is not yet complete. Metro had planned to deploy the cars in the system by the end of this year. (WNYC)

When the levee's built: The flood levee on the National Mall is almost ready for testing. The project is meant to keep flood water out of the Mall and downtown, and has seen a delay of 3 years. (Post)

Steetcars soon: Simulated streetcar service, where streetcars will run routes without passengers, will begin September 29 on H Street. DDOT hopes to open the line to passengers in early November. (WAMU)

Goodbye corner office: Workplaces in DC are focusing on wellness, allowing more natural light into buildings and encouraging employees to collaborate informally. Individual workspaces are also getting smaller. (WBJ)

DC residents come from, go to MD: Between 2010 and 2011, the largest number of new DC residents came from Maryland, with Virginia a distant second. But even more people left DC for Maryland. (WBJ)

Slow down: Most DC moving violations are issued for speeding 11-15 miles-per-hour over the limit, with red light running and speeding 16-20 mph over the limit a distant second and third. (Post)

Smart meter opt out: A Chevy Chase woman refused to let Pepco install a new smart meter in her home, and says she won't pay the utility's opt-out fees. Smart meters automatically track electricity usage and can save customers money. (Gazette)

And...: The House Amtrak bill isn't all bad. (Streetsblog) ... Mourners for the Corcoran Gallery of Art will hold a memorial service. (WBJ) ... Robert Caro's The Power Broker, the seminal work on Robert Moses, turns 40. (The Daily Beast)

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Categories: CNU blogs

Learning From My Condo

Planetizen blogs - 3 hours 34 min ago
Even if new housing is expensive, it can reduce overall housing prices by causing existing units to become more affordable.
Categories: CNU blogs

Live Urbans 2014 Live and Give Recipient Spotlight: UrbiCulture Community Farms

Denver Real Estate - Tue, 2014-09-16 21:49
Live Urban is proud to spotlight the first of our four non-profit community partners, and 2014 Live and Give recipient, UrbiCulture Community Farms. If you have ever driven around Denvers urban neighborhoods and seen a front yard or empty lot with a thriving garden where grass or weeds used to live, its likely that youre looking at an UrbiCulture Community Farm We are so happy to support this awesome community program by donating a portion of our profit from each transaction to non-profits like this one through our Live and Give program....and we leave it up to our clients to choose which organization should benefit from their property sale or purchase If you would like to learn more about UrbiCulture Farms, plan on stopping by our Harvest Party on September 27th from 1-4, which will take place at one of their many community farms at 4226 Clay Street   The amazing farmers will be there to share information about how you or your yard might be able to get involved, and there will also be a Pay-What-You-Can stand where you will be able to buy super-fresh produce straight out of the garden  You can also enjoy live music, and pick-a-pumpkin while they last From the UrbiCulture website: Our Mission UrbiCulture Community Farms is a multi-plot farm committed to providing food to people of all income levels by sustainably growing affordable, local food in the Denver metro area. We engage our community by educating our youth and neighbors on growing food and promoting healthy, active lifestyles, beautifying our neighborhoods with edible landscapes, and lessening the distance from farm to plate. How We Carry Out Our Mission Through our Yard Angels Program we turn donated plots of land, whether it is people’s front yards, back yards, unused plots of land, church land, school land and  more into lush, beautifully designed gardens that grow food for the community. A CSA member can literally get their families’ produce from an UrbiCulture farm located across the street or from the former eye-sore vacant lot down the street. We currently have fourteen plots of land or 32,300 square feet of farming land throughout Denver that feeds 100s of people each season.  We offer a variety of memberships, including for people of low-income and for Denver nonprofits.  Read more about our fabulous programs on our Program Page. Why We Believe in Local, Sustainable Food Sources  There is an awakening occurring.  This awakening acknowledges that our future is not sustainable if we continue to eat crops that are grown 1500 miles or more from where we live.  In Colorado, nearby crops are mostly wheat and corn, which are not grown for human consumption. This awakening has given birth to the local food movement in a variety of ways -- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA); farmers markets; restaurants committed to serving only local, sustainble and organic; and more people growing their own food.  We at UrbiCulture Community Farms want to be a part of this important local food revolution.  We also believe in food justice and want to ensure that people have access to fresh and local vegetables, eggs, and fruit, despite their income.Additionally, we aim to become a Low Carbon Farm.  By lessening the need for transporting food, the use of agriculture machinery, by not using toxic pesticides or synthetic fertilizers, UCCF is helping to decrease our collective carbon footprint.  Furthermore, we build community by teaching people about where their food comes from, using water for food not lawns, and much more  We transform yards, vacant lots, and more into farm spaces that grow food, host chickens, beehives and foster spaces for the community to come together and learn about local food.  Visit the UrbiCulture Community Farms website for more information about this amazing program
Categories: CNU blogs

Urban Farming Is Not Making the Housing Crisis Worse

By Eli Zigas, Food Systems and Urban Agriculture Program ManagerSeptember 9, 2014

San Francisco's Bee Cause Bee Farm. Photo by Imma Dela Cruz for SPUR.

The post first appeared on CityLab.

A recent article in the Atlantic article argues that San Francisco’s new urban agriculture property tax incentive will only exacerbate the problem of limited housing supply in an already overheated housing market. We share the author's concern about housing affordability, but his critique of this policy, which SPUR worked to pass, misses the mark.

The law does not discourage anyone who wants to build from building.  Instead, San Francisco’s urban agriculture incentive zone program targets land that is unlikely to be developed in the near future. This includes sites that are oddly shaped, not well-suited for development or where the owner, for personal or business reasons, does not intend to put up a building anytime soon. If a property owner wants to build housing (or an office building or anything else) on their vacant lot, they’ll make far more money developing the land then they would from the property tax savings they’d get for committing it to urban agricultural use for five years.

What the law does do is give landowners who can’t or don’t want to develop a reason to consider making something more of their land than leaving it an unused, weedy eyesore. We’re talking about properties like the 15,000 square feet next to a billboard that now houses a small bee garden, mentioned in the Chronicle article that inspired Mr. Friedersdof’s piece. Or the nearly one-acre property in the Mission Terrace neighborhood that sat vacant and blighted for decades and now houses a commercial urban farm. Urban farms and gardens offer more than just aesthetic appeal. They provide numerous public benefits, including vibrant green spaces and recreation, education about fresh food and the effort it takes to produce it, ecological benefits for the city, and sites that help build community. Not every vacant private lot is suitable for housing (or zoned for it) and, where housing is not in the cards, we would rather see a garden or small farm that provides benefits to the neighborhood over an untended patch of dirt.

The housing affordability crisis in the Bay Area is an enormous problem, and SPUR has long advocated for increasing the supply of housing. Most recently, we recommended eight practical, constructive strategies to address the ever-increasing cost of rent and home ownership. And we simultaneously support urban agriculture incentive zones, because they don’t undercut efforts to make housing more affordable.

Categories: CNU blogs

FHA “Blueprint for Access” Update – Getting It Done

HUD blog - Tue, 2014-09-16 16:20

Over the last year I’ve listened to market participants, reviewed the data, and seen firsthand the lack of access to affordable credit for qualified families.  At FHA, we know we have an important role to play in any solution – so in May, we announced our Blueprint for Access. We set out some pretty big goals for ourselves, outlining steps we would take to improve access to credit for qualified families and make it easier for our partners to do business with us.

Since then, we’ve been hard at work on all parts of the Blueprint. We’re making real progress on our Quality Assurance initiatives and we’ve used our Drafting Table to post sections of the updated Single Family Handbook for feedback.  These individual steps all contribute to our overall goal: to improve access to credit for a much wider spectrum of qualified borrowers.  So let me give you an update.

Today, we are posting our Loan Quality Assessment Methodology on the Drafting Table for feedback. It proposes a defect taxonomy that will help clarify our thinking on loan manufacturing risk – allowing lenders to understand what defects are most serious and pose the biggest risks to their business.  It should also help reassure lenders – they will be able to lend more confidently, knowing what FHA’s expectations are.   We’ll be taking feedback on the methodology for the next 30 days – and we need your input. We’re also going to host roundtables and webinars so we have even more opportunities to hear from you.

By the end of the month, we will publish the Origination section of the handbook, which covers the topics of Application through Endorsement. We posted this section for feedback earlier this year. Now, with that feedback incorporated, it will be the first section of the Handbook to become final.  This accomplishment brings us another step closer to clarity and certainty for our partners.

And that’s not all the progress we’ve made on the FHA Handbook. This summer we have posted five sections that make important changes aimed at clarifying and consolidating policy and working effectively with FHA.

  • Doing Business With FHA  andQuality Control, Oversight and ComplianceWe posted these sections earlier in the summer.  They sections cover a number of important topics including eligibility, approval, and recertification requirements for FHA lenders and mortgagees as well as  explaining ongoing lender and mortgagee responsibility to perform institution and loan-level quality control.  We’re incorporating feedback now and plan to release final versions this winter.
  • Appraiser RequirementsWe have just finished accepting feedback on this section and plan to publish a final version which incorporates that feedback sometime this winter.  Policy changes include updated instructions for valuation of energy efficiency measures and new requirements to the Market Conditions Addendum.  Also see Appraisal Report and Data Delivery Requirements
  • 203(k)Consolidating policy from more than 30 individual documents, this section was posted for review last month and we will be accepting feedback until September 29th.  The 203(k) program is FHA’s primary vehicle for the rehabilitation and repair of single family properties. This section of the handbook includes automating the collection of certain data, clarifies policies for calculation the Mortgage Insurance Premium (MIP), and outlines establishing an Adjusted As-Is Value.
  • ServicingMost recently, we posted the Servicing section for feedback.  It covers actions post-endorsement through the end of the insurance contract and includes general requirements, servicing of both performing and defaulted loans, and HUD’s Loss Mitigation Program.   We’ll be taking feedback on it through October 17th.  This is the beginning of a larger discussion on our long-term goals for servicing policy with the industry.

These changes ultimately move us much closer to a single, authoritative guide on working with FHA. These pieces are all giant steps forward as we meet our goals to clarify policy, make it easier for our partners to do business with us, and improve compliance with FHA requirements. I look forward to keeping you updated as FHA drives towards our next Blueprint goals.

Categories: CNU blogs

Events roundup: Park(ing) Day 2014

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2014-09-16 15:03
by Aimee Custis

As the weather cools off, it seems the calendar heats up. But that's great, because cooler weather is perfect for enjoying a park(ing spot). Get outside and enjoy Park(ing) Day, a WABA walking tour, or a family biking workshop. If you prefer the great indoors, or talk about the future of Pennsylvania Avenue on Friday.
Park(ing) Day 2013. Photo by the author.

Park(ing) Day: A 2005 San Francisco idea gone international, the annual Park(ing) Day takes over the DC region on Friday, bringing pop-up parklets to curbside parking spaces across the region. While Park(ing) Day is an all-day event, you're most likely to find a parklet operating between 9 am and 3 pm, so be sure to check it out over your lunch break. DDOT promises to have a map of DC parklets, but Twitter is perhaps the best way to find a site near you.

The future of Pennsylvania Avenue: Friday morning, join NCPC at the Newseum for "Residents to Presidents: Pennsylvania Ave's Role in the 21st Century." A panel (including Gabe Klein and author Zachary Schrag) will discuss the avenue's roles: local and national, daily routines and big events, grand and intimate. Planners, AICP credit is available. RSVP is requested.

Walk the Met Branch Trail with WABA: Join WABA this Saturday for a walking tour of the northern phase of the MBT to learn about the trail's next phase, its history, and WABA's role in it all.

Family bicycling workshop: On Sunday, head to Georgetown to join Kidical Mass and WABA's Women & Bicycles group for an afternoon workshop on biking with children. Workshop leaders will go over the ins and outs of riding confidently and comfortably with children, equipment, packing and preparation, and next steps. Bonus: snacks and beverages will be provided! This is event is for all genders and all ages.

Do you know of an upcoming event that may be interesting, relevant, or important to Greater Greater Washington readers? Send it to us at


Categories: CNU blogs

SB 743 at CCAPA: Will Roadway Expansion Be Transformed From Mitigation To Impact?

Bill Fulton's blog - Tue, 2014-09-16 14:51
Bill Fulton

The SB 743 roadshow went to Anaheim over the weekend, where the Governor’s Office of Planning & Research – along with Ron Milam from Fehr & Peers – faced an overflow crowd and probed deeply into OPR’s proposal to dump traffic congestion as a significant impact under the California Environmental Quality Act. And the discussion showed just how much the OPR proposal is turning the CEQA’s traditional assumptions about traffic on their head.

read more

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End of Redevelopment: Nobody's A Winner

Bill Fulton's blog - Tue, 2014-09-16 14:44
Bill Fulton

The end of redevelopment has never turned into a cash cow for the state, as Gov. Jerry Brown hoped back in 2011. And while the 2012 cleanup law – AB 1484 – has clarified the rules, cities are still losing most lawsuits against the state that seek to retain former redevelopment funds.

read more

Categories: CNU blogs

The war on Dana Milbank's car

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2014-09-16 13:40
by David Alpert

"DC doesn't deserve self-rule until it... lets Dana Milbank break traffic laws." That's the message from the Washington Post's columnist today.

The idea that DC might be entitled to govern its own affairs, but only if it shapes up in some way that happens to appeal to the writer, is a sadly common refrain from political commentators. Though governors of many states have been actually convicted of corruption—most recently, former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell for allegedly selling his influence to a dietary supplement maker in exchange for personal gifts—many say the District doesn't deserve autonomy because there's a campaign finance investigation into our mayor. (Or because Ward 8 votes for Marion Barry.)

Today's Milbank column is a new low in this trope, even compared to the one he wrote last year where he objected to budget autonomy because the city was making all taxis switch to a uniform red paint job.

Apparently, Dana Milbank has been breaking a number of traffic laws, such as not fully stopping at a stop sign, or not fully stopping before turning right on red. He admits he's broken these rules, but rather than suggesting they be changed, he calls efforts to enforce them a "startling abuse of power," an "appalling overreach," and "like a banana republic."

The column is also a new low in the tired "war on cars" meme, which keeps popping up for one reason: Representatives of AAA Mid-Atlantic, the region's local branch of the national auto club, repeat it every chance they get. And with good reason: it gets quoted. It revs people who drive aggressively, but think they're being safe, into a frenzy of blaming the government for daring to suggest that their behavior might be dangerous.

Fix problems, don't attack all enforcement

That's not to say DC's camera system is perfect. A recent report from the District's Office of Inspector General exposed some real problems with the program. For example, sometimes officials couldn't tell which of multiple cars was speeding, and sometimes improperly decided which one would get a ticket. This shouldn't happen. Authorities need to be very confident they have the right car, and if they aren't, they shouldn't give a ticket. (According to police, these problems have already been fixed or are in the process of being fixed.)

However, Milbank isn't saying he's been the victim of any of these errors. He's not saying the law should be changed, but rather, not enforced. (He does allege some other instances where a ticket appeal was denied improperly—and if true, that's also wrong.)

The Post editorial board had a much more level-headed response to the IG report, writing, "The widespread and consistent enforcement of traffic laws made possible by photo enforcement has caused drivers to slow down in the District and obey the rules. While it is important to fine-tune the system to make it as fair and accurate as possible, suggestions to limit or curtail the program should be rejected."

Yes, safety is important

I agree with Milbank, AAA, and others that the camera program can target safety even better than it does. The strongest argument for enforcement is where pedestrians or cyclists are at risk. These vulnerable road users have little recourse against aggressive driving. There are many places in the District where people speed, turn right on red without looking, or just plain fail to yield around significant numbers of pedestrians. Residents of those neighborhoods can often tell you just where the bad spots are.

There should be lower fines, but more cameras, so that people know they're going to get caught doing something illegal, but each incident can be more minor. Criminology research has shown that more frequent enforcement with lower severity changes people's behavior more than random, occasional, high-severity punishment.

AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesman Lon Anderson alleges that not fully stopping at a stop sign or before turning right on red isn't a real safety issue. WTOP's Ari Ashe tried to research this, and found that crashes involving right turns on red aren't that frequent. However, the crashes that do occur tend to cause injuries.

AAA used to agree. During meetings of 2012 task force on cameras which DC Councilmembers Mary Cheh and Tommy Wells convened, AAA's John Townsend said the organization fully supported stop sign and red light cameras. "Complete cessation of movement" is the legal standard, and Townsend said they agreed with that. Now, that seems to have changed, and maybe slowing down mostly, but not entirely, is OK.

How do you stop unsafe right turns on red?

The problem is that it's hard to draw a line other than "actually stopping" that protects pedestrians. For speeding, our society has generally tolerated driving up to 10 mph over the limit, and now drivers come to expect that they have a 10 mph buffer. But the consequence is that even on residential streets with 30 mph speed limits, people feel justified driving 40. A pedestrian will survive a crash at 30 mph 70 percent of the time; at 40 mph, it's only 20 percent.

So should it be OK to turn right without stopping as long as you're going under 2 mph? 5? 10? When will we get to the point when whipping around the corner at moderate speed is considered acceptable (many already think it is), and if you hit a pedestrian, "I didn't see him" is enough to get off with no consequence?

Behaviors that drivers intuitively think are safe enough aren't necessarily. The challenge of a camera program is to convince a large group of people that something they've been doing for a long time is actually kind of dangerous. There's always going to be a gray zone of what is and isn't dangerous, but people are always going to want to push that envelope to excuse more behavior.

They'll insist that the program is about money, not safety, as many do. AAA will tell them it's not their fault. They'll craft biting turns of phrase to criticize the government, as Milbank did, or suggest DC doesn't deserve statehood because of it, or even argue that the District is "like the Soviet East" because locally-elected representatives passed laws and want more freedom from an overbearing central government—wait, what?

What's that about statehood?

But Milbank's statehood point is more apt than he likely realized. Even when Democrats held the White House, House of Representatives, and a supermajority in the Senate in 2009, they didn't pass statehood for DC, or even budget autonomy. Republicans talk about the value of local control, then legislate their values for District residents who have no say in the matter.

For some in the political classes, democracy is a great idea in theory, but when it comes to giving up one's own control, ideology often loses out. Milbank is pointing out a real reason DC will have a hard time winning more autonomy. It's not because the government is behaving badly. Rather, it's that for the people who hobnob with members of Congress, it's more convenient to have their friends calling the shots for the District—so they don't have to do something as pedestrian as drive carefully enough to protect pedestrians on the road.

Cross-posted at the Washington City Paper.


Categories: CNU blogs

Let Them in. Bring Them Here.

Empire State Future - Tue, 2014-09-16 12:56
(Photo courtesy of Supporters of the plan to house immigrant children on the campus of the former Maria Regina College)  If it were only a case of 50,000 destitute children interned for trying to enter the United States, we would not still be reading about this ongoing sadness.   Many right-minded, good people fear that where […]
Categories: CNU blogs

School quality is the issue, says Catania. But his platform may not improve it.

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2014-09-16 12:43
by Natalie Wexler

Mayoral candidate David Catania has laid out his vision for a key issue in the race, education. Building on the education-related legislation he has introduced as a DC Councilmember, Catania calls for strong measures to improve school quality, reduce the achievement gap between black and white students, and strengthen special education services.
Photo from office of David Catania.

Catania identifies the basic issue in DC education as school quality. The unevenness of that quality, he says, results in what he has called a "morning diaspora," with some 60,000 DC students choosing to commute to schools other than the ones they're assigned to.

Catania proposes attacking the quality problem through both vertical and horizontal measures. He calls for "vertical alignment" between the elementary, middle, and high schools in the same feeder pattern, so that programming and expectations are consistent throughout a student's school career.

On the horizontal front, Catania wants to standardize offerings across the District. One middle school, he points out, might have "expansive language and enrichment programs while a middle school across town has far fewer of both."

And when elementary schools with different levels of "quality and preparedness" feed into the same middle school, he says, the entire middle school suffers.

Catania also has other prescriptions, such as directing more funding to at-risk students, something that he's already effected through legislation he introduced. He also wants to guarantee college aid to students who graduate from DC high schools, expand career and technical education, and change the way school improvement is measured to introduce factors other than test scores.

And he discusses, in general terms, the legislation he's introduced that would overhaul many aspects of DC's system for delivering special education services.

Catania has made himself into something of an expert on DC's education system since becoming chair of the Council's education committee at the beginning of last year. He's personally visited almost 150 traditional public and charter schools, and he's introduced a raft of education-related legislation. His energy and ability to retain information are awe-inspiring and have won him ardent supporters among parents and others involved in education.

A variation on "Deal for All"?

But his basic plan for improving school quality—vertical alignment and horizontal standardization—is unlikely to get to the root of the problem. At bottom, it's a more sophisticated version of his opponent Muriel Bowser's simplistic mantra of "Alice Deal for All," a promise to bring the features of Ward 3's highly sought-after Deal Middle School to every sector of the District.

In arguing for the benefits of vertical alignment, Catania points out that "DCPS's highest achieving feeder pattern"—the one that includes both Deal and Wilson High School—"already employs this practice of vertical integration with great success." But while vertical integration may be a good idea, it's not the reason Deal, Wilson, and the elementary schools that feed into them are high-achieving. That has far more to do with the relative affluence of their student bodies.

Similarly, Catania's plan to standardize programs and offerings throughout the District will only take us so far in improving quality. You can offer the same "expansive language and enrichment programs" that Deal boasts at other middle schools. But if the students at those schools aren't prepared to take advantage of them, they'll be no more than empty promises.

As Catania is no doubt aware, low-income students generally start school far less prepared than their middle-class counterparts, and the gap between the two groups only widens as the grades progress. If you want to truly improve the quality of neighborhood schools beyond the few that are now seen as desirable—and which, not coincidentally, have a high proportion of affluent students—you need to figure out a way to improve the performance of low-income students.

Prescriptions for closing the achievement gap

Catania does have some prescriptions for doing that, but they're either vague or somewhat mechanical. For example, it's great that, largely thanks to his efforts, more money will be directed to at-risk students, but there's still the question of what that money will be used for.

He mentions that directing funds to at-risk students recognizes "the fact that students from more challenged backgrounds often require additional resources for academic and social-emotional interventions." But he doesn't specify what those interventions should consist of, or how the government can ensure that poor children get the services they need to counteract the effects of poverty that often interfere with their ability to learn.

Catania also points to legislation he authored that essentially ends the practice of social promotion. True, promoting students who haven't mastered material year after year is a recipe for disaster.

But merely requiring those students to repeat a grade doesn't ensure they'll learn what they didn't absorb the first time around, especially if teachers use the same methods. And the stigma of being held back can have lasting effects.

School quality and school boundaries

The question of improving school quality has taken on added urgency because of the recent controversy over school boundaries. Catania has said he's opposed to any plan that would switch students to lower-performing schools.

He's also said that he would delay implementation of the current plan for at least a year, but the measures he outlines—or any measures, for that matter—are unlikely to improve school quality anywhere near that fast.

Catania doesn't mention school boundaries anywhere in the 15 pages his platform devotes to education. Nor does he mention another hot-button issue: whether to place limits on the growth and location of charter schools.

And yet both of these issues have major implications for school quality. When more middle-class families attend a school, its quality generally goes up, benefiting the school's low-income students as well. If boundaries are redrawn so that a group of middle-class parents know their children will be attending a particular lower-performing school in, say, five years, they can strengthen each other's resolve to send their kids there and improve it.

On the other hand, if charter schools that attract middle-class families continue their current rapid growth, they could undermine that possibility by draining those families out of the traditional system. Catania's failure to address this controversial question is understandable, but it's nonetheless disappointing.

For all its flaws, Catania's education platform is far more detailed and has many more solid ideas than anything that his rival Bowser has put forward so far. There are still many uncertainties, not least of which who Catania would install to replace DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson, who is likely to depart if he wins. But right now, he's the only candidate who has both articulated a vision for improving education in DC and who stands at least a chance of winning.


Categories: CNU blogs

Anacostia residents feel "meeting fatigue"

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2014-09-16 11:52
by John Muller

In my half-decade as a reporter covering the Anacostia neighborhood I have attended nearly 400 meetings. On many occasions I've left one to run to another on the same evening. Some residents who've trundled through these meetings say there have been too many, with not enough results. Is there a better way, or is this necessary to get community input?
William Alston-El and Denise Rolark Barnes at a community meeting in 2013. All photos by the author.

"All these meetings are pseudo-participation at their finest," says Rev. Oliver "OJ" Johnson, a former ANC Commissioner who's lived in Anacostia for 55 years. "Generally, the community never gets the feedback or follow-up reports from these meetings that we are promised."

Meetings come from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A, Anacostia Coordinating Council, Anacostia Economic Development Corporation, ARCH Development Corporation, Anacostia Branch of the DC Public Library, DC Housing Authority, Historic Anacostia Block Association, Councilmember Marion Barry, Office of Planning, United Planning Organization, Metropolitan Police Department, DC Commission on Arts & Humanities, Cultural Tourism DC, Union Temple Baptist Church, Urban Land Institute, DC Department of Transportation, WMATA, Chief Financial Officer, Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, DC Public Schools, and more.

Meeting fatigue is not a condition unique to Anacostia. Residents of Capitol Hill and other neighborhoods have been inundated with meetings for decades. Washington, for all that it lacks in local sovereignty makes up for the near endless opportunity to participate.

Most meetings happen in the immediate neighborhood or surrounding ones. But important meetings, which can determine the future of Anacostia, like with the Zoning Commission or the Alcohol Beverage Control Board, frequently occur outside of the neighborhood. Anacostia's status as a Historic District adds an extra layer of regulation over building and renovations. There are more than 30 other Historic Districts in the city, with residents enduring a similar litany of meetings.

Johnson adds, "The meetings have slowly evolved over the decades. These meetings used to be about holding the city accountable and now they've become events on the social calendar. For people who've lived in the neighborhood for more than 15 years or longer, these meetings serve as reunions. I've seen people at meetings now in their mid-30s I first met attending meetings before they were in grade school because their parents initiated them decades ago. There's a lot we may not have in Anacostia, but it's not for a lack of meetings."

A Mayor's Agent hearing on the Big K development earlier this year.

New leaders restart the meeting process, frustrating longtime residents

While the cliche of Washington being a "transient city" holds true in certain sections of town, Anacostia and areas east of the river have a core of activists that have outlasted changes in local leadership.

"The community has had the same issues for decade," says Angela Copeland, a resident of old Anacostia for more than two decades. "But, we get a fresh crew of bureaucrats every election cycle and start again from scratch. 'What does Anacostia want/need?' You can go crazy after a number of years having this same darn conversation."

At many meetings, community members express their dismay at how the meeting was organized and presented. They offer statements, not questions. Some offer respectful critiques, while other residents lash out. Older residents often citicize the city for duplicating efforts; in reaction, newer people offer a willingness to do whatever is necessary to help the neighborhood revitalize.

Some people ask questions but are told it is not the correct meeting in which to ask that particular question. For example, at a Big K meeting, a resident will ask about the Anacostia streetcar. At an affordable housing meeting, a resident will ask about the CBE process for local businesses applying for government contracts. Confusion and disorientation often reigns.

A young professional speaks out at a community meeting.

On top of administrative turnover, in my 5 years covering Anacostia I've noticed an exodus of upstart activists, regenerated by a new wave of enthusiastic young professionals. In September 2009, I attended a meeting of the River East Emerging Leaders (or REEL). At least eight people I spoke to either no longer live East of the Anacostia River or have left the area entirely.

REEL continues to hold meetings. "Every time I go to one of their meetings they have a new Vice President or someone with a leadership title who I've never met before," said one local business leader who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They interrogate me, asking who I am. I kindly tell them I helped support the formation of the organization."

Can technology provide more ways to participate?

"Before I had a family, I used to go to meetings," said Copeland. "It's just harder for me to make the time, now. And, people get an attitude if you ask for an agenda in advance or minutes after or live social media interaction during or anything that attempts to break old molds. The old guard appears to enjoy keeping newer voices (I'm not a newer voice) out of the process by hanging on to old ways and dysfunction—namely lack of transparency."

I've intermittently live tweeted public meetings on Big K, Barry Farm, and pending development. As a result I receive messages from residents who are unable to attend but share their thanks for documenting what is being discussed.

Although agencies maintain strict control over Anacostia meetings, leaving many to feel their participation is not valued, accessibility has improved over the years, Copeland said. "The joke for me is that the city used to hold meetings during business hours like the community didn't work. The only people getting paid for their effort at the meetings were those who worked for the city."

Kaya Henderson speaks to a community gathering including Councilmembers Anita Bonds and Marion Barry as well as clergy and commander of the 7th District Police Station.

Meetings play an important role

"Meetings are important," Copeland, who is also the administrator of the Great Ward 8 Facebook page, wrote. "The most dedicated make the time and commitment and shoulder most of the burden. There are tools available (all kinds of meeting facilitation tools online, via phone) that could help spread the responsibilities. But, people have to want to let go of the control."

One of the co-founders of REEL, Historic Anacostia Block Association, and current 8A ANC Commissioner Charles Wilson said that regular gatherings are invaluable to build a physical sense of community that trumps a digital community. "Monthly community meetings are important because it is an easy way to keep residents thoroughly informed of the issues and it allows them to communicate in person with each other. Email communication is great, but nothing beats the effectiveness of face-to-face conversations."

When revitalization and development begin to arrive in Anacostia and the surrounding neighborhoods is uncertain, but one thing is for sure; the meetings will continue.


Categories: CNU blogs

Stormwater Utilities: A Tool for Managing Rainwater Runoff

New Jersey Future - Tue, 2014-09-16 11:18

The following article was written by New Jersey Future summer intern MicKenzie Roberts-Lahti.

Diagram of how urban sewersheds function with separate (left) and combined (right) stormwater/sewage systems. (Click on image for larger view.) Source: USEPA

In 2008, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency ranked stormwater management – the control of flooding and pollution caused by rainwater runoff – as New Jersey’s number one water-related need. Stormwater management affects urban, suburban, and rural municipalities, above and below ground.  When aging water infrastructure breaks, when flooding results from pipe systems overloaded with rainwater, when sewage backs up into streets and basements, and when runoff pollutes waterways, New Jerseyans experience the negative effects firsthand. A failure to manage stormwater infrastructure effectively can create sinkholes, close businesses, damage property, contaminate drinking water and cause sewage overflows.

A new report (PDF) prepared by New Jersey Future intern MicKenzie Roberts-Lahti, examines the use of one tool – the stormwater utility – to manage stormwater. Stormwater utilities provide a mechanism for raising funds dedicated to stormwater management – for the construction, operation, and maintenance of stormwater infrastructure and for the development of related water-quality programs and public education.  Stormwater utilities assume responsibility for maintenance and upgrading of things like storm sewers and for developing asset management plans to maximize their useful life.

The report, Stormwater Utilities: A Funding Solution for New Jersey’s Stormwater Problems, provides an introduction to and description of stormwater utilities as a tool to manage stormwater more effectively. It includes an overview of the more than 1,400 communities around the country that have set up stormwater utilities; it provides examples of prevalent stormwater management practices, utility operations, and finance systems; and it discusses the various choices available to stormwater utilities for operations, planning, and financing. For example, the management of stormwater can be assigned to a separate entity or remain with a municipal public works or water department, and funding can be based on the amount of impervious pavement at the individual property level or as a flat fee.

The role of the New Jersey state government to authorize the local creation of stormwater utilities is also discussed. New Jersey is one of the 11 states without a single stormwater utility, although a current bill in the state legislature (A-1583/S-579) would grant all municipalities, counties and local government utility authorities that have combined sewer systems the authority to create such a utility.

Download the full report.

Categories: CNU blogs

Have you been "walkblocked"? Are you "zonely"? New terms sprout in the urbanist lexicon

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2014-09-16 10:33
by Matt Johnson

The other morning, a taxi making an illegal right turn on red prevented me from entering a crosswalk. There's no term for that phenomenon, so I decided to coin one: I was "walkblocked."
Dictionary image from Shutterstock.

Living or working in cities, we often encounter events over and over that don't have names. Here are a few that some of our contributors have named themselves, plus a few others that have grown common around our region.

Walkblock: v. The action of a motorist that blocks access to a crosswalk or causes a pedestrian to miss the walk sign. Example: "I got walkblocked by a bus blocking the intersection this afternoon."

I also devised a name for what frequently happens when a cyclists bikes down the street with a bus.

Bikefrog: n. The travel pattern that occurs when a bus has a higher top speed but a cyclist has a higher average speed, resulting in the two passing each other in an alternating pattern for several blocks.

If you've ever cycled along a bus route, this has probably happened to you. I can generally cruise on my bike at around 16 miles per hour, which can't compete with a bus running on the freeway. But on a local route, the bus stops every block or two.

Because the bus has a higher top speed than a cyclist, but a lower average speed (because of the stops), the bus passes the biker and then pulls into a stop, whereupon the cyclist passes the bus. This pattern then repeats, sometimes for quite a while, generally until the bus either encounters a long stretch with no boarding or alighting passengers or a stop with a bunch of people waiting.

BRT Creep: n. The tendency of planned Bus Rapid Transit projects to be sold as a gold-standard project, but then be built with fewer rapid transit aspects or even as just a specially-branded bus.

This term, which our own contributor Dan Malouff coined some time ago, has started spreading much more widely.

Zonely: adj. The state of an area of on-street parking reserved only for residents of the ward, thus excluding anyone else from parking there ever. Example: "Oh, there's a spot! No, keep going, it's zonely.

"Zonely" comes from Abagail Zenner's husband Todd.

Dockblocked: v. When a bikeshare user can't dock a bike at a chosen station because the station is full.

We didn't coin this one, and we're not sure who did, but it certainly happens to many of our contributors and, I'm sure, our readers, too.

A few years ago, Metro ran a set of ads on trains that fit into this category. I don't remember all of them (perhaps some of you do, though).

Escaleftor: n. A person who stands on the left side of an escalator and prevents people from walking past.

Some other terms have caught on in recent years, after initially spreading elsewhere in the blogosphere.

Shoaling: v. When one cyclist skips ahead of another cyclist when the first is stopped at an intersection.

Salmoning: v. Riding a bicycle the wrong direction along a one-way bike lane.

Sneckdown: n Following a snowfall, the area of a street that remains covered in snow after passing cars have swept the travel lanes clear, and thus functions as a curb extension. Short for "snowy neckdown."

Have you coined a term to describe something you experience in urban life? Let us know in the comments.


Categories: CNU blogs

Breakfast links: Changes to and from Silver

Greater Greater Washington - Tue, 2014-09-16 08:44
by Steven Yates

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.Bus Fairfax: After a major overhaul to accommodate the Silver Line, Fairfax will take another looks at its bus service. The county will be looking for input from the public at meetings and online. (Post)

Silver bows to stormwater : The MWAA voluntarily decided to make the second phase of the Silver Line comply with more stringent stormwater runoff regulations. The decision could increase costs and cause delays. (WAMU)

Rising waters: By 2100, rising sea levels from climate change could make big floods much more common in DC and surrounding areas. This could make building even more expensive. (Post)

Hearing DC statehood: The Senate held the first hearing on DC becoming a state in two decades yesterday, though only two senators showed up. While it likely won't go very far, would DC statehood be Constitutional? (Post)

Bikelash a good thing?: Could opposition to bikers, or "bikelash," actually be a sign of progress for cyclists? Opposition can be an indication that real change is being made in the streets. (CityLab)

Too many choices?: Could there be too much choice when it comes to schools in DC? Some students are going to 5 different schools in 6 years and schools that don't attract enough students risk losing funding. (Post)

Sidewalks everywhere: Sidewalks have come back into fashion. While building them with new development is easy, retrofitting them to existing streets can be difficult and expensive. (Bacon's Rebellion)

And...: Today is the first anniversary of the Navy Yard shooting. (WBJ) ... Metro picks a developer to bring housing and retail to Grosvenor-Strathmore. (WBJ) ... BART undergoes the long, detailed process of designing new rail cars. (CityLab)

Have a tip for the links? Submit it here.


Categories: CNU blogs

Metro Denver Real Estate Market Report - August 2014

Denver Real Estate - Mon, 2014-09-15 17:43
According to Metrolist, Colorados largest MLS and the provider of, August housing numbers for the Denver metro and surrounding area showed signs of the traditional end-of-summer softening. Prices dipped a bit, the number of sold listings decreased, and homes stayed on the market longer. As the kids head back to school, we tend to see a slowing of the housing market; this year is no exception, said Kirby Slunaker, president and CEO of Metrolist. The summer selling season was strong, and in many areas remains very active, with buyers quickly making offers on properties that are priced right. August brought the trend of increasing prcies for single family homes, which began in February, to an end. The average sold price for a single family home in August was $329,396, down two percent from last month, butup six percent year over year. Download a copy of this report. As is typical for this time of year, August also brought a downtick in the pace of home sales. Month over month, home sales was down seven percent and there was a seven percent decrease year over year. During the month, homes stayed on the market an average of 28 days, a two-day increase as compared to last month, and a 10-day increase over last August. With 9,623 active listings on the market, inventory of available homes in August was relatively unchanged as compared to last month. As is typical for this time of year, the number of new listings that came on the market was down 13 percent month over month and saw an eight percent decrease year over year. The market absorption rate continued to indicate a high level of demand for properties. There was a supply of just eight weeks of inventory at August month end, according to Metrolist.    
Categories: CNU blogs

Ocean Beach Town Hall, this Wednesday September 17, 6-8pm

September 15, 2014

Please join us this Wednesday, September 17 from 6 – 8pm at the Park Chalet (1000 Great Highway) for updates on the Ocean Beach Master Plan, Sand Management and Seawall Repairs. In this town hall meeting, Supervisors Katy Tang and Eric Mar will discuss updates about the Ocean Beach Master Plan, and we will also hear from representatives of SF Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) on sand management plans for this Fall, from SPUR on Ocean Beach planning, and from the National Park Service (NPS) on upcoming repairs to the O’Shaughnessy Seawall and other issues.

Ocean Beach Town Hall
Wednesday, September 17, 6 - 8 pm
Park Chalet Restaurant
1000 Great Highway near John F. Kennedy Drive

Also, please mark your calendars for SPUR's public workshop on Wednesday, September 24th 6 - 8pm at the United Irish Cultural Center (2700 45th Ave) for a chance to provide feedback on our open space design for the Great Highway between Sloat and Skyline Blvds.


Categories: CNU blogs
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