What I’m Reading

I’m sharing what has caught my eye that’s applicable to the current work that the Commission is engaged in … I’ve listed them starting with “A” …

A. From Social Life Project, “Seven Catalytic Placemaking Strategies: A Discussion About the Future of Vermont Downtowns: Restoring Social Life in Vermont Starts with a Rethinking of Streets, Public Spaces, and Community Institutions,” by Fred Kent, Kathy Madden, Amy Tomasso published on December 3, 2021, found here.

There are any good points to contemplate in this article (a 35 mins read) that can be applied to Chevy Chase, DC. This one jumped out at me, especially when we think of how to use our public library, community center, and beloved Avalon Theatre to create a more engaging public space for our residents.

Making Public Buildings Multi-Use Destinations

Public buildings in small towns are often prime places to let the activities that normally go on indoors to “spill outside,” meaning that (for example) a local library might provide outdoor reading spaces. Basically, the idea is to go beyond mere landscaping to add social life to the surroundings of public buildings. Meanwhile, institutions housed in these same buildings can give more “heart” to spaces like the aforementioned Town Squares through collaborative programming and events.

B. If you’re interested in learning more about community land trusts, here’s an article on what’s happening in CA … “Can This Innovative Housing Model Help Solve CA’s Affordable Housing Crisis?,” PBS News Hour, print version, December 11, 2021.

C. I’ve been thinking how we can build affordable housing throughout our neighborhood by turning abandoned or blighted property into affordable housing, and whether community land trusts, which are private nonprofit entities, can offer a vehicle for making that happen if the District provided more acquisition funding.

Five cities have examined how to turn abandoned properties into affordable homes already as laid out in an April 2021 web article published by the National Association of Realtors’ Home Ownership Matters, “Thinking Outside the Box–Cities Utilizing Unique Spaces for Affordable Housing Projects: These 5 cities are taking advantage of abandoned properties for affordable housing.” 

The District’s Department of Housing and Community Development’s Property Acquisition and Disposition Division has a program to transform vacant and blighted properties with data on its website that stops in 2019 (website accessed on January 14, 2022) so it’s not clear if this program has continued.

The Center for Community Progress: Vacant Spaces into Vibrant Spaces put out a publication in Fall 2021 that includes a chapter on, “Land Banks and Community Land Trusts: Partnering to Provide Equitable Housing Opportunities Now and For Future Generations,” examining these two separate entities that are operating in New York, Georgia, and Ohio to reverse disinvestment and how they can work together to have a greater effect on communities. It is well worth a read. It is one chapter in many in the larger report published on September 29, 2021, Tackling Vacancy and Abandonment: Strategies and Impacts after the Great Recession, which is “a new edited volume from the Center for Community Progress and the Federal Reserve Banks of Atlanta and Cleveland that captures many of these efforts for practitioners, advocates, political leaders, and researchers looking to better understand the dynamics of vacancy and abandonment. It contains 12 articles by national experts in the field of neighborhood revitalization, including scholars from Georgia State University, the University of Michigan, the University of South Carolina School of Law, and the University of Utah, and practitioners from the Cuyahoga Land Bank, Atlanta Neighborhood Development Partnership, Reinvestment Fund, Enterprise Community Partners, the National Community Stabilization Trust, and the Center for Community Progress.”

D. When people talk about “character” of a place, what do we mean? I’ve explored this question and found this YouTube video, on the question of “what is meant by character and local distinctiveness in urban design,” if you, too, are interested in this question.

0:00:00 – Chaired by Scott Elliott Adams. UDG Executive Committee and Urban Designer. INTRODUCTION. How do we change ‘anywhere’ to ‘somewhere’?
0:10:22 – Chuck Wolfe. Seeing Better Cities SUSTAINING A CITY’S CULTURE AND CHARACTER, DECONSTRUCTED 0:28:54 – Jon Cooper. Oxford Brookes University VIEWCUE – USING COMPUTERS TO ANALYSE STREETS
0:47:15 – Summary of the three presentations by Scott followed by questions.
0:48:04 – Is character and distinctiveness subjective? 1:01:08 – To what extent does character stem from something more than the physicality of a place?
1:14:18 – How might local character be ascertained by disparate interest groups?