- Take Back the Parks
- Fix Beer
- Build High— Really, Really High
- Expand D.C.’s Museums (in Southwest)
- Ban ANCs
- Fix ANCs
- What Will D.C.’s Next Mayor Fix?
- Build More Metro Lines. Now.
- Stop Building Affordable Housing. Buy It Instead.
- Retrofit the Reeves Center for the Arts
- Add Cupholders to Capital Bikeshare
- Give Free, Quality Childcare to Low-Wage Families
- Raise the Debt Cap
- Make It Easier to Sell a Used Bike
- Quarantine Out-of-State Drivers
- Give the National Mall's Concessions to the States
- Bulldoze the Booz Allen Building on M Street SE
- Install Webcams at Crowded Eateries
- Give DCRA a Steroid Injection
- Abolish Caller ID for D.C. Government Employees
- Legalize Prostitution
- Grow the Buses
- Allow More Smoking!
- Build a Parking Garage Under the Mall
- Make Working Elections More Like Jury Duty
- Fix Last Call
It’s hard work getting fed up with the District these days.
At least if you’re a politician, anyway. With next year’s primary election likely taking place in April, the mayoral race already has five declared candidates pitching their ideas for making Washington, D.C., a better, safer, smarter, more ethical place. Continued economic growth? Sure. Improved multimodal transit infrastructure? Cool. Better neighborhood schools? Bring ’em. It all sounds great—even if, as the candidates will admit, it all sounds like the kind of policies we’ve seen under Mayor Vince Gray and his predecessors. So far, Washington’s would-be mayors are mostly pitching more of the same, but better.
As any reader of Washington City Paper should know by now, there are plenty of reasons to get ticked off at the way D.C. runs, from Metro mismanagement to school quality to the demographics of petty drug arrests. And plenty of these problems won’t be solved by conventional wisdom.
Which brings us to this week’s paper. We asked an array of writers, thinkers, government officials, and involved citizens to describe a policy—either local, federal, or private—that could fix a single, nagging problem in the District. A handful of them address the widening gulf between D.C.’s poor and wealthy. Far more of them, not shockingly, look to transit. One contributor wants to legalize prostitution; another has a novel solution for the lackluster food options on the National Mall.
Some of our suggestions are small and practical, while others might generously be described as batshit. One thing they all have in common: With the District once again posting a budget surplus, they may not be so far-fetched. No matter who’s in office.
—Jonathan L. Fischer
Photographs by Darrow Montgomery
Take Back the Parks
Most Washingtonians don’t realize it, but the preponderance of green patches around them—from vast Rock Creek Park to Dupont, Logan, and Thomas circles to the scraps created by diagonal streets—belong to the National Park Service. Many of these are among D.C.’s most neglected public spaces, in part because the federal agency has its hands full keeping the monuments and the National Mall neat and tidy. And you can forgive the rangers for focusing their resources on America’s iconic parks, because that’s all that Congress really cares about, and Congress sets the agency’s budget every year.
But the situation in D.C. is a lot worse than it needs to be. The Park Service applies the same rules to our city parks as it does to Yosemite and Yellowstone: There’s no selling of food except by special event permits, for example, and most services must be provided by a monopolistic concessionaire. The coordination of basic necessities, like grass-cutting and snow-plowing, is spotty and inefficient. Getting even the smallest of neighborhood-serving amenities, like a playground, can be a multiyear ordeal. If any fun happens, it’s usually because citizens take it upon themselves to organize it and the Park Service looks the other way.
This problem could be solved fairly easily: Give all the parks outside the monumental core back to the city. (We’ve actually been doing it bit by bit for years, but an omnibus act of Congress could finish the job.) Local government is at least more accountable to the people who live here and could better integrate those precious pieces of nature into the neighborhoods around them. And I’m pretty sure the Park Service would be happy to have them off their hands, too.Lydia DePillis is a reporter for the Washington Post’s Wonkblog.
Make Bikeshare keys work in any city where Alta operates bike sharing.
Over the last decade, Washington has evolved from a city with just a handful of serious beer bars to a place where multiple production breweries churn out thousands of barrels a year, and where you can find great suds just about everywhere. But as D.C.’s beer world has evolved, regulation—the government’s, as well as the voluntary kind—hasn’t always caught up.
Have you ever ordered a draft beer and found it didn’t taste quite right? Many drinkers blame a “skunky” keg. But beer aficionados will tell you that a number of establishments around D.C. are terrible at cleaning their draft lines, layering styles without considering how the flavor profile of the previous beer will affect the next one—not to mention introducing minerals and bacteria where they don’t belong. It’s a bar manager’s responsibility to make sure their staffs know an IPA from a pale ale from a pilsner, and which kind of beer goes in which glassware—but when it comes to cleanliness, the D.C. government ought to step up, requiring the city’s Food Safety and Hygiene Inspection Services Division to not gloss over tap lines during inspections.
Or consider growlers, fast becoming our residential beer delivery method de rigueur. While there’s an undeniable appeal to hauling fresh draft beer to your Saturday cookout, the pricing of growler pours is somewhat out of whack. According to data compiled by the beer connoisseurs at DCBeer.com, growler pours at grocery stores in Washington can cost consumers twice as much per ounce, even for local beer. At DC Brau’s Bladensburg Road NE brewery, a standard growler fill costs about 15.5 cents an ounce. But a 64-ounce growler of its Corruption at the Tenleytown Whole Foods costs more than 28.1 cents/ounce; at Petworth’s Yes! Organic Market, a 32-ounce growler of the brewery’s Public will set you back a whopping 31.3 cents/ounce. At both stores, a 72-ounce six-pack of either beer costs merely 16.6 cents/ounce.
The District could lend a hand in the regulation of such wild pricing differences by extending financial incentives—a growler grant, perhaps?—to local beer-centric businesses like the in-progress DC Growler Station, in the hope that more growler shops will lead to streamlined pricing. Then again, the free market solution is far simpler: D.C.’s beer drinkers just need to vote with their wallets.
At the end of the day, the biggest problem with beer in the District isn’t dirty lines, wacko growler pricing, or your buddy who only drinks Keystone Light. These issues are symptomatic of a larger problem: a general lack of beer education. Fixing that is complicated—because, well, most of the city hasn’t been intently drinking great beer for that long. And how do we fix that? By drinking more beer, which takes time, money and self-sufficiency.
It’s a tough task, but we owe it to ourselves to take on the challenge.Aaron Morrissey is a local freelance beer nerd.
Put free WiFi in buses and at bus stops.
Build High— Really, Really High
D.C. needs skyscrapers. Not the piddly tinkering with the Height of Buildings Act of 1910 that politicians are talking about right now, but honest-to-God, balls-out skyscrapers.
Currently, office rents in downtown Washington are nearly as high as midtown Manhattan. But unlike in Gotham, in D.C. it would be very simple, as a matter of technology and logistics, for developers to massively increase the supply. Allowing the construction of buildings with dozens of stories would immediately begin to address the city’s shortfall of blue-collar employment opportunities by unleashing a building boom. In the longer term, more abundant office and hotel space downtown means more jobs up and down the economic ladder. More white-collar folks in the offices, but also more opportunities for plumbers, janitors, restaurant workers, and other service personnel. Best of all, once a fair share of the Central Business District’s current squat blocks have been replaced with gleaming towers, more peripheral buildings will simply age and fall in price. That’ll give D.C. the kind of affordable space that startups and firms not directly associated with the federal government need to thrive.
A torrent of new office workers would, of course, increase the city’s infrastructure needs. But it would also release a flood of property and income tax revenue that could fund new Metro tunnels, upgrade buses, or offset reductions in regressive retail sales taxes.
The crisis of underinvestment that long challenged D.C. made our city’s neglect of tall buildings acceptable. But with the completion of the City Center coming soon, downtown is essentially built out. And despite talk of a boomtown, the city still lacks adequate job opportunities for too many of its residents. We can’t afford to turn our back on growth or have office expansion crowd out housing. That means adopting the basic technology used by every other major city in the world—skyscrapers.Matthew Yglesias is the business and economics correspondent at Slate and the author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.
Make solar panels and rain barrels mandatory in all new buildings.
Expand D.C.’s Museums (in Southwest)
So many things could make Washington a better place for art: a world-class public art program, say, or more residency programs for artists who want to spend time in the capital of the free world. But D.C.’s biggest opportunity for a game-changing art policy lies in its quietest quadrant: Southwest. The Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden and the National Gallery of Art need to expand, and that’s where the clearest, most cost-effective opportunity will be.
Late last year, the General Services Administration announced its interest in redeveloping the cluster of buildings that form Federal Triangle South, the soulless office complex across the street from the Hirshhorn and the Smithsonian Castle. The area is roughly bordered by 12th Street on the west, 6th Street to the east, and Independence Avenue to the north. The GSA’s December call for redevelopment proposals asked for ideas that would include a “vibrant mix of uses.” One of those uses should be cultural.
The Hirshhorn and the National Gallery are the two museums that would most benefit from expansion. Both have seen their collections grow substantially since they last added significant gallery space: For the NGA, that’s since it opened the East Building in 1978; for the Hirshhorn, since it opened in 1974. The area south of the Mall has long been cut off from the rest of the city. Extending the Hirshhorn and the NGA there would help extend foot traffic and urban energy into a place that needs it.
Sure, there are roadblocks—and big ones. For the last decade or so, the NGA’s leadership has been more interested in adding office space than adding galleries, and the current leadership has often seemed allergic to ambition. Meanwhile, the Hirshhorn has stumbled along for the last half-decade. After former director Richard Koshalek wasted nearly four years trying to build an architectural folly with no evident connection to the museum’s mission, he resigned. The museum must now focus on rebuilding its board (again) and finding a new director before it can think big.
Federal Triangle South won’t be redeveloped overnight. Perhaps that would give the NGA and the Hirshhorn time to be ready to embrace opportunity.Tyler Green writes the Modern Art Notes blog at Blouin Artinfo.
Close every block outside the downtown core one day a year for a neighborhood block party, on a rotating basis.
Advisory Neighborhood Commissions are excellent in theory: Low-low-low-level elected officials, representing single-member districts in all eight wards, are empowered to take care of low-low-low-level concerns (neighbor-on-neighbor parking feuds, sloppy trash pickup). But since 1973, when ANCs were established along with Home Rule, that power—one of the few shreds of autonomy in a place systemically denied real representation or voting rights at the national level—has gone to everyone’s heads. Despite the fact that ANCs have no legal ability to approve or deny things like liquor licenses, operating hours, or construction, many act as if their “great weight” is the equivalent to a decision by a city agency. As a result, business owners feel compelled to waste a whole lot of time kissing the ass of a body that can’t really do anything—good or bad—to them. And if it’s not a catfight, it’s corruption, albeit equally low-level: Last year, a Ward 1 commissioner used a government-paid phone for personal calls, which included 9,512 minutes on 18-and-over chat lines. The ANC system might be the most egalitarian thing in a city plagued with inequities, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t become a hot, inefficient, bigheaded, power-tripping mess. Dispensing of it might not result in anything significantly better, but at least privately formed neighborhood groups don’t require the city to run elections in order to be staffed—and don’t take city money while picking petty fights over peace, trash, and parking.Alex Baca is a writer who lives in ANC 1D.
Require all elected officials to spend one night a year in a D.C. homeless shelter.
Like any experiment in democracy, D.C.’s lowest level of government—the Advisory Neighborhood Commission—sometimes functions extremely well. And sometimes ANCs are utterly dysfunctional.
Unfortunately, good news is no news at all, so ANCs whose activity generates complaints or breaks the law tend to be the ones that make the blogs and papers, creating a negative public image for what could be a powerful and positive example of neighborhood democracy in action.
We hear about negative stories like ANC 5B’s William Shelton stealing more than $28,000 from his commission, or commissioners throwing fits when residents seek to record meetings to share information with neighbors. We don’t hear about the creation of citizen-led committees that allow greater thoughtful input from interested neighbors, or grant programs that help pay for neighborhood children’s activities. Many residents see the ANC system as a hindrance to getting the things they want, like restaurants with liquor licenses or neighborhood-serving retail. Read the comments on any negative ANC story online, and you’re sure to find multiple comments calling for an end to the entire system.
That’s defeatist. We need to do the opposite. Double down on the ANC system. Make it stronger and better.
A definitive history of the founding of the ANC system is hard to find, but I’ve read stories from those who were there in the beginning, like Sam Smith, who opines that ANC chairs in each ward could start holding informal meetings to discuss issues that cross jurisdictional lines. Eventually, this cooperation could lead to a strengthening of ties between communities and create a stronger voice to lobby for change.
Had history taken a slightly different course, urbanism blogger Richard Layman notes, there could have been an “ANC assembly,” which could have served as a “lower house” of a bicameral local government. A step toward the creation of such an assembly could be to create a centralized fiscal authority for the ANCs. A centralized ANC treasury could help streamline bookkeeping and provide an easier way for active citizens and local media to oversee spending.
A training program for current ANCs could also improve the system. These are volunteer positions, and while it’s great to see people excited to serve their city, not everyone has the background or knowledge to be an effective leader. Funding for an “ANC school” of sorts would be a worthwhile investment.
In addition, the Office of Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, which is tasked with advising the nearly 300 commissioners across the city, needs better funding and a more creative, envelope-pushing leader than Gottlieb Simon, who has been in the position since May 2001. We’ve been blessed with some of the best and brightest in the country in our city’s planning, transportation, environment, and housing departments. It would be great to see the same when it comes to the mechanics of governance.Geoffrey Hatchard blogs at The District Curmudgeon.
Require establishments that sell tickets to events to accept smartphone images of the tickets instead of paper ones.
What Will D.C.’s Next Mayor Fix?
On the level of policy, the leading candidates lining up to run for mayor of Washington, D.C., haven’t strained too hard to differentiate themselves from Mayor Vince Gray. They’ve largely pitched more of the same, but better, faster, and without the cloud of a federal investigation. So where would the councilmembers who want to be mayor innovate? Loose Lips columnist Will Sommer asked them.
Hire More Teachers, Buy More Books
One of the basic things that every school should have is a music teacher, an art teacher, a librarian, and a physical education teacher. And they don’t exist in our schools today, so I’ve actually introduced legislation demanding—which has not moved anywhere—but to mandate that our schools have those four at a minimum, those four instructors. And legislation to, if there’s any money left over when we modernize schools, that it be used to buy books for the libraries which right now we have a lot of our schools got modernized, but we don’t have any books in the libraries.Jack Evans is the councilmember for Ward 2.
Encourage More Female Candidates
Everyday, I’m encouraging women especially to run for public office. I think one thing that has concerned me especially over the past couple of years is that we don’t have enough women running for city council. My hope is for city council that we’re going to have a viable woman candidate running for every race.Muriel Bowser is the councilmember for Ward 4.
Decriminalize Possession of Small Amounts of Marijuana
I think that it’s one of the greatest impediments to not just young people but minority young people from getting work and from fully participating in society because of the fact that they will have a criminal record for having a small amount of marijuana. And so this is something that has not changed in more than 50 or 60 years, so clearly the criminalization is a problem. [It’s] one of the solutions to get young people into the workforce.Tommy Wells is the councilmember for Ward 6.
Charge wealthy drivers more for residential parking permits for two or more cars by tying fees to annual income.
Build More Metro Lines. Now.
In January, the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority released a new strategic plan that focuses mostly on boring medium-term improvements like more eight-car trains, bigger capacity at core stations, and enhanced communication. At the end, it mentions offhand that by 2040, it might make sense to start thinking about adding new lines. There’s no reason to wait that long—or, really, to wait at all. Interest rates are low, the system is clogged, the city’s running big surpluses, infrastructure investments will spur economic development, and building now is cheaper and easier than building later. Ideally, we’d get new lines serving low-access areas east of the Anacostia River; more realistically, the Blue Line would split off from the Orange and connect Georgetown, Union Station, and H Street NE, and the Yellow would separate from the Green and run up 10th Street NW, and possibly cross over to 14th. If we’re lucky, we could get a Red Line split, too, with one half on Connecticut and the other on Wisconsin. None of this is transformational, but it’d improve thousands of people’s commutes and make the Metro experience a lot less claustrophobic. Let’s get moving.Aaron Wiener is a staff writer at Washington City Paper.
Allow people to drink water on Metro, always.0
Stop Building Affordable Housing. Buy It Instead.
Rather than subsidize the construction of new housing, the District should be buying covenants on units that are currently affordable to keep them permanently affordable. It costs hundreds of thousands of dollars in subsidy per unit in some neighborhoods to build new affordable units. The cost of new construction is vastly higher on a per-unit basis than purchasing existing Class B and Class C units. So you take a building on Connecticut Avenue NW that’s currently affordable, and when the building comes on the market and someone says, “I’ll pay you $150,000 per unit,” the District could come in and say, “We’re going to use the District Opportunity to Purchase Act to purchase them, and we’re going to covenant, say, 20 percent of the units.” And you means-test those units that are covenanted, so when they become available, you have to rent them to lower-income people. As soon as you put the covenants in place, you put the building back on the market. So you’ve created affordable housing at a fraction of the cost of new construction. My guess is you could probably preserve three times as many units as you could build for the same amount of money.Joe Sternlieb is chief executive officer of the Georgetown Business Improvement District; as told to Aaron Wiener
Require employers that offer free parking to also offer Metro SmartBenefits.
Retrofit the Reeves Center for the Arts
Give the area around 14th and U streets NW some credit: It remains one of the best places in D.C. to see indie rock (the Black Cat), jazz (Twins), brainy dance music (Tropicalia), and scrappy, out-there theater (Source). Calling it an “arts district,” though, as many of the area’s lamp-post banners do, is pushing it: Art galleries are retreating for neighborhoods with cheaper rents; prices for apartments and condos are soaring; and most of D.C.’s vibrant art districts are nowhere near the semiofficially sanctioned “D.C. Arts District.” But the slow, slow death of the Frank D. Reeves Center—the crumbling municipal building that helped spark the gradual development of the area after it was built during the 1980s—could mean new life for the arts around U Street. Agencies like the District Department of Transportation have already moved their headquarters out of Reeves; the ones that remain should get upgrades while the District is posting such large budget surpluses. Meanwhile, the Reeves Center could get a retrofit, but not an extravagant one: Arts organizations like the soon-to-be-homeless Capital Fringe Festival and the itinerant Artomatic have scrappiness in their DNA. If the city cares about the arts as much as pols say it does, it should offer cheap studio space to working artists—the Commission on the Arts and Humanities could jury-review applicants—and abundant flex space for performing arts companies without permanent homes. Ground-floor leases—the D.C. Center for the LGBT Community should keep theirs—could be reserved for arts-related retail operations. And if the custodians of the Reeves Center turn to the building’s history, they might just be able to save a dying D.C. art form: A horrifically violent incident led to the shutdown of the center’s Club U in 2005, but it’s about time go-go at 14th and U got a second chance.Jonathan L. Fischer is the managing editor of Washington City Paper.
Allow texts to 911.
Add Cupholders to Capital Bikeshare
Capital Bikeshare bikes come equipped with nearly everything a D.C. bike commuter could want. They have lights, a rack, fenders, generous (if pokey) gearing, and a sturdiness ready for the bumpiest bike lanes. One thing they lack: cupholders. Currently, what do you do if you leave with your morning coffee but don’t finish it before your ride? Leave it? Toss it? Put it in your bag and risk spilling? By adding cupholders, CaBi would solve its own “last mile” problem, encouraging more ridership by reducing the inconvenience of bike commuting.
Plus, those bikes are heavy, and sometimes you need a sip of water after conquering a hill. There’s nothing better than light refreshment to cope with a weighty bike. And maybe you’ll even stop at a stop sign to take a sip. Quenched and law-abiding, bike commuters will transform from thirsty rush-seekers into cafe-dwellers on wheels. Conviviality will cover the cycle tracks, welcoming ever more relaxed bon vivants to the ranks of city cyclists.Brian McEntee blogs about biking at Tales From the Sharrows.
Put police crime reports online daily in a centralized database (with identifying details redacted).
Give Free, Quality Childcare to Low-Wage Families
Last year, my wife and I paid more than $14,000 to a part-time nanny whose salary we split with another family whose child she cares for at the same time, and who only started working for us in March. Which sounds crazy, but the going rate for daycare in D.C. is high enough to make that amount seem reasonable; in 2011, the average annual cost of a full-time daycare center here was $20,178, or $12,329 for in-home care, according to a report by ChildCare Aware of America. For relatively well-off professionals, that’s a significant expense, but it’s one most yuppies can find a way to deal with for a few years until public preschool is an option at age 3. For many parents in a city where the median household income is $61,835, though, childcare can stretch the budget past breaking. And paying rent in the District these days often requires two incomes, so staying home to watch children full-time might not be a financial option even for parents who’d prefer it.
So let’s make it slightly less difficult for working-class families to live in D.C. by paying for daycare for their kids—at accredited centers like the ones most wealthy families would choose, because poor kids deserve safe, nurturing environments during the day, too. Who would qualify? Let’s start with any family earning up to 185 percent of the poverty rate, which in D.C. works out to $21,257 for a family with one kid and $7,437 more for each additional kid. That’s who qualifies for subsidized or free lunch in D.C. schools; if you can’t afford $2 a day for cafeteria food for your kid, chances are you can’t afford $20,000 a year in childcare, either. Would providing free daycare cost a lot? Well, yeah. Pay for it by taxing millionaires, or taxing condo conversions, or by dipping into the budget surpluses the city’s been running recently. But forcing families to scramble every day to figure out who’s watching their children costs the city a lot, too, even if you can’t always track the price on a balance sheet.Mike Madden is the editor of Washington City Paper.
Equip food trucks with GPS devices to ensure up-to-date location information for diners.
Raise the Debt Cap
The debt cap is a limitation on the amount of debt service relative to expenditures. The theory is that you don’t want to spend too much of your income on debt as opposed to services like police and affordable housing. Increasing D.C.’s debt cap to 14 percent would help fix things much sooner than continuing under the current 12 percent debt cap—by allowing for infrastructure, economic development, affordable housing, and other social development investments in all wards of the city that will increase the city’s employment, population, and tax revenues. It would mean up to another $2 billion of investment capacity financed by debt, which could pay for infrastructure at Poplar Point, Hill East, McMillan, Walter Reed, St. Elizabeths, Metrorail’s Momentum Plan, and streetcar. That should allow the city to complete its remaining 100 to 120 million square feet of development capacity. In my mind, you’re done after that. You’ve set these areas up to reach their full potential. And hopefully when you set all this up, you’re going to pick up a lot of new revenue—more than enough to cover the debt service. My numbers indicate likely new tax revenues of $800 million to $1 billion compared to likely increased debt service costs of $128 million to $200 million per year.Gerry Widdicombe is the director of economic development for the Downtown Business Improvement District.; as told to Aaron Wiener
Have an annual “residents-only” day at each Smithsonian museum.
Make It Easier to Sell a Used Bike
The first time I visited The Old Bike Shop in Arlington, I experienced some serious retail envy. Why shouldn’t bicycle-ascendant D.C. have stores that fix up second-hand bikes and sell them at reasonable rates? One major barrier: The District’s Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs requires used bike dealers to obtain a pawn license, which costs $1,430 every two years and comes with fairly onerous inventory oversight. Old Bike Shop owner Lawrence Behery says he wanted to open in D.C. but weighed the potential return on investment and decided it made more sense to go to Arlington, which has no such law. DCRA has said it’s willing to look into revising the regulation—it did, after all, change rules governing some kinds of second-hand shops last year after store owners complained. The Metropolitan Police Department and its pawn unit may be more concerned, given the number of bike thefts in D.C. Some oversight of used bike sales may still be necessary, but the District should ease the barriers to opening up shops that sell them. It can start by allowing used bike stores to operate with the much cheaper general business license. With more people cycling as a means of transportation, D.C. should be doing all it can to give its residents access to affordable bikes.Rebecca Mills tweets about Ward 5 at @Stronghold_DC
Give D.C. two senators and one voting member of the House of Representatives.
Quarantine Out-of-State Drivers
Cars with Maryland and Virginia license plates: I see you and how you can’t navigate our roads, watch for cyclists and pedestrians, or parallel park. Worse yet are those hailing from distant lands (Florida), clumsily driving around our traffic circles or slowing to 15 mph to see the White House just a wee bit longer. Yes, I understand it’s a landmark, and beautiful, and the seat of power. It’s also down the street from my home and I’ve got some errands to run, so pick up the pace so I can get on with my life.
The solution: Lanes on select streets just for D.C. drivers. Lanes paid for by District taxes and upon which drive those who know where they’re going and see no need to slow down to catch glances of monuments they pass. District residents do well in sharing their city with the rest of America. But can we not have a little space from time to time?Elahe Izadi is a reporter at National Journal.
Make the Dupont Circle farmers market seven days a week.
Give the National Mall's Concessions to the States
Here’s the thing most locals eventually realize about the National Mall: Our treasured expanse of Washingtonian grandeur kind of blows. Sure, it’s a fine place every four years for Inauguration Day oratory. It also looks suitably imposing on the big screen (cue the crooked senator, bribed right beneath Honest Abe’s sad, marble eyes). Visit on a summer day with out-of-town guests and their unhappy kids, though, and you’re in for a death march. Should you stop for a bite to break up the monotony—it’s a long way from Lincoln to the Capitol—you’ll have to settle for the kind of monolithic concessionaire fare that even baseball stadiums have decided they’re too good for.
Unsuspecting foreigners may wonder: Is this the best Americans can do?
It’s probably too late to do anything about the Mall’s urban design flaws: In the current climate, Congress would likely refuse to appropriate money for any improvement other than an Ayn Rand-themed amusement park. The food, however, is a different story. There’s a fix that’s good for the tourists, good for the country, and good for the bottom line, too. The first step is easy: Cancel the exclusive concessions contracts. If ballparks can cater to the diverse tastes of 50,000 spectators via tacos or sushi, surely the event space for a nation of 313 million should do the same. How? In the most American way of all—by turning it into an economic competition.
Combined with nearby patches of parkland, the mall has room for about 50 kiosks. What the feds should do is turn one over to each state. Their governments would likely see this as a PR opportunity—a rent-free culinary billboard to beckon visitors. Thus incentivized, state tourism boards would make sure their kiosks sold the best of native fare. North Carolina would know that the family being introduced to vinegar-based barbecue today might be spending scarce vacation dollars in the Tar Heel State next summer. Oregon’s image mavens might use sophisticated local wines to erase Portlandia stereotypes. Where self-promotion didn’t do the trick, plain old pride might: Does Michigan really want to be outsold by the hated Ohioans? (Since I can already hear prissy statehood types griping: Yes, D.C. can have its own kiosk, and yes, it can be just as big as the real states’.)
There would, naturally, be concerns about favoritism. Would craven pols offer swing-state Florida a prime perch while consigning poor old Rhode Island to some benighted corner of Hains Point? Another drawback: Some states—I’m looking at you, Utah—just aren’t in a position to lure visitors with food. But these issues can be preempted via still more competition. The kiosks would turn over each year, with an annual taste test determining who gets the pick of the next season’s locations. If Utahns can’t boast indigenous cooking, they’re free to import a Parisian chef to win for them.
If this works out, it could even turn the Mall’s other aspects into an appealing feature: After all, people are going to need a long, sweaty walk to burn off all of that Texas brisket.Michael Schaffer is the editorial director of The New Republic.
Abolish organized snowball fights.
Bulldoze the Booz Allen Building on M Street SE
A giant silver dud of a building, Booz Allen Hamilton’s M Street SE office distinguishes itself only with its unfortunate location directly between Nationals Park and the U.S. Capitol. Instead of a view of one of the most splendid and iconic buildings in the world, Nats fans get to gaze upon the architectural equivalent of a Ruby Tuesday’s. Knock it down, rebuild underground, do anything but leave it standing in everyone’s sightline.Jenny Rogers is the assistant managing editor of Washington City Paper.
Allow food and drink vending in Logan and Dupont circles.
Install Webcams at Crowded Eateries
There’s nothing worse than showing up to a restaurant you think won’t be crowded only to find it so packed you can’t get a seat. If only you could gauge the traffic levels before you left home, you could decide when and where to eat without going out of your way and wasting time. There is an easy solution, involving some self-regulation: cameras that live stream restaurant patios and roof decks online. The picnic tables at Standard beer garden, the patio at Le Diplomate, and even the line at Little Serow could greatly benefit from such a tool. To avoid any major privacy issues, the cameras would only focus on outdoor areas that anyone could see from the street. Shake Shack is already ahead of the curve; it has a live stream of its Madison Square Park location in New York. Who says Big Brother is all bad?Jessica Sidman is the food editor of Washington City Paper.
Make election day a municipal holiday.
Give DCRA a Steroid Injection
I’d wave a magic wand and change the structure at the permitting office so that they could attract really top-notch people and have enough of them, and the city could process its permits for things like restaurants in a matter of days instead of months. The city gets a 10 percent tax out of those restaurants, so they have an interest in getting them going as quickly as possible. What I find is that there’s no good system where all of the participants know what the other is doing and have a good way of structuring the process so that the person next in line knows the step has been finished and is ready to go. DCRA created a homeowners desk, where homeowners can go for help. Maybe we ought to have a restaurant desk, because a) it brings in revenue; and b) restaurants tend to hire a greater percentage of D.C. residents than other businesses. There are all sorts of reasons this should be a high priority for the city, but it doesn’t seem to be right now.Ellen McCarthy is the director of planning and land use at Arent Fox and the former director of the D.C. Office of Planning; as told to Aaron Wiener
Ban outside jobs for members of the D.C. Council.
Abolish Caller ID for D.C. Government Employees
Caller ID is not designed to facilitate communication. It is designed to inhibit communication, and our experience has been that frequently those in business and in government will use it to screen calls. And when people are trying to reach the government, they should be able to reach the government, and their calls shouldn’t be screened...I know from my own experience, if one uses the codes that blocks caller ID, sometimes it can be easier to get through than if one doesn’t block their number. I’ve called and the phone doesn’t get answered, and then called back and done the code, and lo and behold, the person seems to have returned from the restroom or wherever it was they were when I had called just a minute earlier.Andrew Kline is a lobbyist for the Restaurant Association Metropolitan Washington; as told to Jessica Sidman
Run a streetcar line from Brookland to Woodley Park by way of Petworth, Columbia Heights, and Adams Morgan across the Calvert Street Bridge.
What’s the difference if you give somebody cash or you take them out to dinner? It’s still money down...Everybody could benefit by that, unless you totally have no sexual frustrations. I think most people do—I think most guys do—based on their anatomy. I think women are recognizing that part of their lives more and more, and maybe they’re getting frustrations as a result of that recognition as well.Dennis Sobin is a former brothel operator, D.C. mayoral candidate, pornography impresario, and author of the unpublished sexual memoir Prostitutes as Sexual Therapists: How I Found Health and Happiness in 80 Practitioners; as told to Will Sommer
Require members of the D.C. Council to walk, bike, or take public transit to work at least once a week.
Grow the Buses
In North America, transit service is often seen as a social service for people who are poor and don’t own cars. Before 1960, transit ridership was high because people rode streetcars. Ridership dropped significantly when streetcars were replaced by buses. Today, streetcar opponents say that buses are more mobile and cheaper. But they don’t talk about ridership and the quality of the ride. Even the best implementations of highly touted “bus rapid transit” service haven’t significantly increased ridership. A bus duded up a wee bit is still unattractive to those with mobility choices. We can change that by switching to double-deck buses, like the popular red ones in London. The double-deck bus is fun, unique, and frequently used—as it is in D.C.—for visitor-focused tours. Tall buses wouldn’t be a problem on most D.C. streets because traffic signals hang at the side of the road. Immediately bus service would be repositioned as unique, special, and premium. (Of course, to make this reality, other service improvements would also have to be introduced simultaneously.) Instead of our buses being ordinary and boring, we’d have vehicles befitting a world capital. Think cool Britannia meets cool Washingtoniana.Richard Layman blogs at Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space and is a transportation planner at BicyclePASS, a bicycle facilities systems integration firm.
Institute moratorium on liquor-license moratoria.
Allow More Smoking!
I’ve lived in the District long enough to remember what things were like before the smoking ban. It was dreadful: If you saw a show at the Black Cat or the 9:30 Club, you came home smelling like a boozy ash tray. When the ban kicked in on Jan. 1, 2007, the result was a literal breath of fresh air. Everyone was happy, except for some of the smokers. These days, smokers have to run outside for their fix, but it doesn’t have to be this way. The District should modify its smoking ban so that certain bars and restaurants can have smoking permits (there are currently exemptions only for outdoor areas, retail tobacco outlets, and hotel rooms, and there’s an ongoing controversy over hookah bars). The idea is that some places could cater to chain-smokers or people who plain don’t mind as much. The bars turn a bigger profit, the permits give the city more money, and nonsmokers can further avoid smokers who hang by the front door. Everyone wins!Alan Zilberman is a film critic with an advanced degree in public policy.
Develop a smartphone app for filing instant taxicab complaints.
Build a Parking Garage Under the Mall
The idea is to place under the National Mall between 9th and 12th streets in front of the Castle an underground parking garage that would hold tour buses and private cars for visitors to the Mall, and it could do double duty when we have the heavy floods like we did in 2006…The parking garage would be emptied of vehicles and it could hold the storm waters. Underneath this structure, we’ve proposed in addition, an irrigation cistern that would collect rainwater…That irrigation cistern would then provide water to water the Mall.Judy Scott Feldman is the president of the National Coalition to Save Our Mall; as told to Will Sommer
Ban cable news from bar TVs except during actual breaking news events.
Make Working Elections More Like Jury Duty
Elections are the lifeblood of any functional democracy, but as new voting technologies have made the process of running a polling place more technical, lines at the polls have grown, and the experience of voting in D.C. has suffered. New electronic pollbooks, based on laptops, have frustrated older pollworkers who are often uncomfortable with computers, leading to precinct-wide delays.
What if pollworkers were selected like a jury pool? Voters would receive a summons to serve, work through a selection process and job training on the Friday and Monday before an election, and then manage votes the following day, fresh off their training, instead of six to eight weeks later, as the current schedule goes.
Most office environments have clear policies excusing workers from their duties in the face of a jury summons, which could easily be extended to apply to election work. The pool of pollworkers would likely contain a larger percentage of people who use computers daily than the current volunteer corps. Couple this with a larger understanding of what it takes to run an election, and you’ve got a winning solution without a dramatically expanded cost.Tom Bridge is the editor-at-large of We Love D.C.
Fine healthy Metro or bus passengers who don’t give up their seats to elderly, ill, or pregnant riders.
Fix Last Call
Metropolitan Police Chief Cathy Lanier took a local matter to the National Press Club this spring. The chief lamented that her force is feeling the strain of policing the inexorable creep of D.C.’s nightlife into previously sleepy neighborhoods, especially once “Last Call” is hollered.
Want to alleviate some of the ugliness? Push back, stagger, or eliminate mandatory uniform last call hours in bars.
Take a trip up NYC-way, and you’ll rarely see the scrums of flying fists, projectile vomiting and otherwise unmitigated “Snooki-ry” that now bedevil the District’s sousing strips from M Street NW to H Street NE at 3:01 a.m. on weekends. That’s because New York’s later serving hours allow patrons to stumble out in ones or twos, instead of getting bounced out en masse and in a mess all at once.
The worst reform idea? NIMBY counter-proposals for earlier closing hours. You’ll just get that mob madness a few hours earlier.John Vaught LaBeaume is a libertarian political strategist.
Let D.C. residents with photo ID cut in front of tourists at popular bars and restaurants.