Tuesday, May 24, 2011

20-Minute Neighborhood Spotlight: Columbia Heights

Baltimore is fortunate to have a living laboratory of neighborhood revitalization and transit oriented development just 40 miles to our south. While there are certainly differences in economics and demographics between Washington, DC and Baltimore, good things have been happening in the District of Columbia that Baltimore can learn from.

One major success story is the on-going revitalization of Columbia Heights, a neighborhood in Northwest Washington less than two miles north of the White House. From the 1970's through the 1990's, Columbia Heights was a stark reminder of the state of urban America in the wake of the 1968 riots following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This once-vibrant neighborhood stood largely boarded up and plagued by drug-related violence, and for more than a generation it seemed as though this place would never recover.

However, after the Green Line MetroRail line opened in the early '90s, including a station in Columbia Heights, things began to change. First the changes were gradual. The improved access to job centers provided by the new Metro station was the catalyst for reinvestment in Columbia Heights housing stock, initially by entrepreneurs and risk-takers.

During this period, The District began focusing its energies on planning for Columbia Heights' revitalization by developing a thoughtful master plan around the Metro station that emphasized place-making and a pedestrian friendly public realm. New zoning and design standards were put in p lace to support the vision of an emerging walkable, transit-oriented neighborhood.


Then, as market conditions and public investment reached a critical mass, new retail investment finally became attractive and viable to the private sector. Because the master planning had been done in advance of the retail market, implementation occurred in a way that reinforced the plan's vision of a vibrant, walkable environment.


The recent reintroduction of major retailers around the Metro station, including a new Giant, Target, plus numerous eating establishments, and other services, all designed to fit compactly within the existing walkable, urban grid, have served to accelerate Columbia Height's status as a desirable destination and place to live. The newly implemented Capital Bikeshare bike-sharing program, which has a bike station in the heart of the neighborhood in front of the new Giant food store, gets frequent usage and provides additional mobility choices for residents and visitors.


Today, a new visitor emerging from the Metro station escalators, who is unaware of the history of Columbia Height's recent past, might find it hard to imagine how different this place looked just 15 years ago.


Baltimo
re has neighborhoods which suffered similar fates after the '68 riots, and which have good transit access and proximity to job centers, a solid housing stock, and pedestrian-friendly design. Yet by and large, there has not been the same focus to catalyze the market potential around key "transit-rich" locations that could become desirable 20-minute neighborhoods.

The next series of blog posts will begin to analyze the results of the 20-Minute Neighborhood Workshop and show where and how comparable change could start to happen in Baltimore.

1 comment:

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