Economic Dynamism and Resilience

The COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated that single-use zoning is not resilient.  Our downtown has seen restaurants close, companies go permanently remote, and office buildings empty.  We need leaders who have raised the alarm at the first signs of economic stagnation and worked hard to bring people together to ensure that their community is on the path to a dynamic, vibrant future.  I’ve done this as an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Cleveland Park.

One of the reasons that I initially ran for Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner in Cleveland Park was because I saw that my neighborhood was losing businesses in the middle of an economic boom for the District.  I knew the issue wasn’t the quality of our businesses but a lack of demand due to there being insufficient people living within walking distance of the commercial strip.  To get more people, though, we’d need to amend the Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Map to allow for property owners to request changes in zoning to allow for more people to move in, so I worked with a few neighbors to draft and submit an amendment, which eventually became Amendment 2123.  When we presented the proposal to the community, we found hundreds of like-minded neighbors and a supportive Cleveland Park Business Association who helped provide the foundation for our next steps. 

Our key to long-term economic development is also what will make the District more resilient: making all of DC a place where people want to live and can afford to live.  In DC, we’re heavily reliant on the large federal regulatory apparatus and its accompanying coterie of private companies to keep our economy going.  We need to diversify.  But how do we attract the parts of large employers that are not already in the federal orbit?  Today, when these companies select where to set up, they increasingly look to where their likely employees want to live.  

Parts of DC are already pretty good at that.  But we need to improve other parts of the District to keep pace.  I think the semi-vacant downtown core presents us with a unique opportunity right now to reimagine what a resilient DC looks like.  Currently, there is little housing, plenty of office space, and not particularly useful retail in a work-from-home environment.  How do we make it a more attractive, livable place?  We have to be creative, but we can do it:

  • Redevelop downtown into several “15 minute neighborhoods

  • Activate vacant office space through DC portal for companies to share or sublet office space

  • Activate streetscape through parklets, creative/temporary use of vacant retail space

  • Consider increasing the rate at which vacancy taxes go into effect or providing other incentives to create pop up galleries and venues

  • Address our housing crisis through conversion of commercial space to residential and determine whether incentivizes are necessary for total/partial conversion

  • Create special zoning exceptions for eventual commercial-to-residential conversion

  • Ensure long-term uses of buildings are diverse (i.e., not just restaurants)

  • Plan for daycare, groceries, schools, and transportation due to influx of residents in previously commercial area 

  • Adopt commercial rent stabilization for single-shop retailers to protect our small businesses

 

If we’re able to create neighborhoods vibrant with commerce, amenities, and infrastructure, we’ll be resilient enough to attract companies that will want the highly educated workforce that lives, shops, and plays in our city.