Annys Shin’s article on H Street NE (“Sub Par,” 6/21) is a brilliant account of an alternate universe. As a description of the real D.C. the rest of us inhabit, it is—alas—a few clues shy of a byline.
Let’s start with small stuff, like factual accuracy. Within the first three words of the lead-in, Shin manages to get the location of the controversial project wrong. (It’s the southwest corner of 8th & H Streets NE, not the northeast, which sports a handsome neoclassical facade.)
So clumsy an error might be excusable if the article had gotten the Big Picture right: the back story of the arrogant, self-involved H Street Community Development Corporation (CDC), which does its damnedest to exclude the local community from development decisions; the sorry tale of how the southwest corner at 8th & H NE became a vacant lot at the CDC’s hands; or even the gist of the advisory neighborhood commission’s June 13 zoning and licensing meeting Shin claims to have attended.
But Shin’s journalistic compass is just as broken as her magnetic one, and her article conveniently ignores these troublesome truths. It ignores the CDC’s pathetic track record (which, as the Washington Post reported earlier this year, includes turning down H Street small-business loan requests while pumping thousands of dollars into a Lanham, Md., restaurateur’s efforts to serve up soft-shell crabs). It ignores the CDC’s active (but unsuccessful) effort this spring to undermine the “Main Streets” revitalization grant for H Street. And it ignores the CDC’s hide-the-ball tactics, designed to thwart community involvement (such as CDC head Bill Barrow’s obstinate refusal, until the waning minutes of the June 13 meeting, to show anyone the previously unseen sketch of the proposed building).
Instead, Shin lazily takes the low road of caricaturing local residents as “upwardly mobile” “anti-Blimpites” who “sniff” their disdain. One can only wonder where Shin was when resident after resident told the ANC committee that their problem isn’t with Blimpie itself, but rather with the CDC’s chronic fait accompli strategy of utter refusal to engage the neighborhood in the development process. All this, of course, comes after the CDC itself created the disputed vacant lot in 1999 by tearing down—over community opposition, of course—four historic buildings, one a prominent nightclub where Nat King Cole and other greats performed during H Street’s better days.
And as a final insult to the intelligence of the Washington City Paper’s readership, Shin decreed that the choice for redeveloping H Street was “between a fast-food strip and a strip full of nothing.” Funny, I just finished reading Felix Gillette’s thoughtful article (“It’s Sprawl Good,” 6/7) pointing out that “take it or leave it” isn’t a coherent approach to new development projects (such as the new Brentwood Home Depot, whose brutalist style doesn’t exactly enhance its urban setting).
Even in this imperfect world, the choice for H Street isn’t a faceless suburban box building or nothing. We could have another handsome neoclassical facade (as on the far corner), or a delicate counterpoint to the Greek-revival bank building across the street, both of which exemplify H Street’s historic (and, one hopes, future) greatness as a vibrant commercial locale. And with the new Main Street redevelopment project—blessedly outside the CDC’s grasping control—H Street will soon have a coherent plan for its urban streetscape.
In short, the local community wants a real redevelopment plan, not another backroom deal that spends public funds on cinder-block boxes. We don’t have to settle for “at least it’s not a vacant lot,” just as the City Paper shouldn’t settle for Annys Shin’s vacant pseudojournalism.