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While I heartily applaud Michael Schaffer’s right to poke fun at everyone and everything related to the new convention center (“When Pigs Fly,” 1/9), including me and my politically active 5-year-old, there is a serious story here that will never make the pages of Washington City Paper. Between now and when this development is built, my neighbors and I have a real shot at making sure that the new convention center turns out to be a swan rather than a swine.
Nine months ago, our major concern was whether the new facility would close off L and M Streets, two vital east-west arteries in our neighborhood. Responding directly to our requests, the Convention Center Authority revised the design to keep both of these streets open to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why Dorn McGrath and other members of the Committee of 100 continue to insist that the development will “wall off the neighborhood,” either physically or “emotionally,” and I’m surprised that a reporter as sharp as Schaffer failed to expose or exploit this silly argument. As for McGrath, presumably he knows as much about Shaw as I know about Foggy Bottom. If anything, I admire the sheer chutzpah of a GW professor who has admitted to me that Shaw is far out of his normal stomping grounds but still continues to mouth off about what’s good or bad for my neighborhood.
Schaffer’s article is based on the assumption that there are only two kinds of people: those who support the development (in Schaffer’s words, “acolytes” and “cheerleaders”), and those who oppose it (“Chicken Littles” and “idiots with megaphones”). In fact, a much larger group of people who actually live in Shaw choose to spend their energy making the development as neighborhood-friendly as possible. Working with a coalition of 11 neighborhood and civic organizations, we are focused on three main activities. The first is to make sure that Shaw residents and businesses benefit from the economic spinoffs of the convention center by preparing our neighbors for the employment and business opportunities created during the construction and after the facility is operational.
The second is to monitor and influence the design of the center to ensure that it is inviting and open to the neighborhood around the perimeter and on L and M Streets, that it incorporates enough street-level retail to promote lively pedestrian traffic on our sidewalks, and that the retail answers the needs of our community as well as those of convention center users.
Our third goal is to continuously monitor and influence all aspects of convention center transportation, including private vehicles, trucks, buses, taxis, Metro, pedestrians, and parking. Possibly due to some bias on his part, Schaffer fails to mention that Mount Vernon Square, which sits on top of busy New York Avenue, is currently host to thousands of trucks, trailer tractors, and private vehicles on a daily basis, and the new convention center, with a marshaling yard located outside Shaw and more than 60 internal truck bays, will more likely improve traffic conditions than compound them. But we’re not taking anything for granted. You can be confident that long after the Committee of 100, Dorothy Brizill, and others who live outside of Shaw have lost interest in Mount Vernon Square, we will be holding the authority’s feet to the fire on all these issues.
One howling error that persists throughout the article is Schaffer’s use of the name Shaw when he really means the Mount Vernon Square site. Schaffer correctly points out that the site is ugly, neglected, and virtually a magnet for the inebriated, the stoned, and the criminally inclined, but to confuse this six-block area with all of Shaw is a major gaffe. In fact, Shaw is a large geographic area that includes several distinct neighborhoods, many of which are several blocks away from Mount Vernon Square and may not experience any change at all as a result of the development. To say, as Schaffer does repeatedly in his article, that Shaw is already dead, and to characterize the entire area as a desolate and dangerous wasteland, suggests that Schaffer really didn’t do his research. It also begs the question: If Shaw is such an “urban hellhole,” why does anyone live here?
The fact is, Shaw has been experiencing a renaissance in its residential neighborhoods since the ’70s. For the past five years, it has been the only area where real estate prices rose or remained steady while they dropped in nearly every other neighborhood in the District. Crime rates have been dropping significantly in Shaw, as they have all over the city, and thanks to Jack Evans and his Shaw Task Force, we’ve seen steady improvements in city services to our community. Plans for a new recreation center at Kennedy Playground and ongoing negotiations with Giant give us hope for a cleaner, safer environment around historic O Street Market.
We don’t expect the convention center to solve all our problems, but it does represent a tremendous opportunity for Shaw, one that requires no “grease” to recognize. I suppose that after months of bad-mouthing the authority, the hospitality industry, Jack Evans, and anyone who supports this development, it would be very painful for City Paper to change its view. I suggest that you come back when the building is open and ask us if we’re suffering from the “emotional divide.”