The Week That Was
Did anything actually happen in Housing Complex world while everyone was busy recapping the last year and ringing in the next? Not much, but a few stories of note. Herewith, a review.
- The Czech company that made D.C.'s first three streetcars has appealed the District's decision to award a contract for the next pair to a Portland-based company, saying that the winning bid was technically inferior, even though it came in $800,000 cheaper. That's in spite of a built-in advantage for streetcars manufactured in America, which scored United Streetcar an extra five points, per the request for proposals. Even if the District wins out in the end, the appeal could take years to resolve, potentially meaning further delays for full service along H Street NE.
- The normally-staid Greater Washington Board of Trade was upset enough about the effect of Congressional dithering on the area's economy to pull an old-fashioned stunt, sending bags of coal to every U.S. Representative for Christmas. And the business group is right: It's inevitable and probably fitting that the federal government will downsize, but uncertainty makes a bad situation worse. Their fears were born out today, with the news that foreign investors are shunning the once-coveted D.C. real estate market in droves. Damn the feds!
- Looks like the Old Naval Observatory—which sits behind a gate to your right as you go down 23rd Street past the State Department—will soon belong to its neighbor across the way, rather than the Navy, which hasn't really needed it since hospital operations were transferred to Bethesda in the 1940s. The 13-acre campus has been closed to the public for security reasons, and the Northwest Current reported in August that it'll stay off-limits under its new management, even though the D.C. Preservation League had hoped to push for greater access by designating the whole thing as an historic district (not just individual buildings, some of which are already landmarked). The feds are about to start accepting bids from contractors to renovate four buildings for State Department swing space, but there's been no mention of opening it to the public yet.
- Salon, which has a new-ish blog about cities, rehashed the chatter about gentrification in D.C. The author concludes, as have many before him, that the phenomenon need not be a net negative if managed correctly. Richard Layman complicates the discussion.
- The campaign against a women's shelter on Good Hope Road got political, with a Ward 8 Council candidate using a rally against new social services in Anacostia to bludgeon the leadership of Marion Barry, who has made no bones about his support for the facility. Calvary Women's Services has agreed to finally meet with the community this Thursday.
- The Department of Employment Services finally found tenants for its downstairs retail space on Minnesota Avenue (why it didn't issue the solicitation sooner than 10 months before the building was completed, allowing the Metro-proximate location to remain empty for a year longer than necessary, remains a mystery). The winner is District restaurateur Paul Cohn, who proposed a culinary training academy, as well as the erstwhile owner of the Bagel Bakery, which closed early last year.
- Reuters economics blogger Felix Salmon took a hard look at the Bank on D.C. discount for new Bikeshare memberships, and found that it's still likely to be prohibitively expensive, considering the hold placed on your account when you sign up and the replacement cost of lost bikes. He suggests that the unbanked should be able to pay for their memberships in monthly installments, and that churches and nonprofits would do well to back the $1,000 financial hit of losing a bike, in order to insure newbies against the risk of taking a ride.
- Under cover of an omnibus spending bill, the Architect of the Capitol has snatched control of Union Square—an 11-acre parcel that includes the Capitol Reflecting Pool and the Grant Memorial—from the National Park Service, citing "security concerns." Although I daresay the AoC tends to take better care of its grounds than the Park Service, civil liberties advocates are concerned because the area will now fall under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Capitol Police, who are even more empowered than the Park Police to keep a damper on disturbances. It's also a big deal for reasons that I'll explain separately.