Last Thursday I was interviewed for an upcoming Post article about development (or the lack thereof) in the Shaw neighborhood. A lot of the interview focused on why I bought in Shaw and on what I’ve observed and what I forecast in terms of development. I tried to stress that I didn’t buy in Shaw just to make a buck--that I’m not just “waiting” for the area to change--but that I want to be an active player in and observer of our area's renewal. There are a lot of great things about the neighborhood as it is that drew me to Shaw. I love our diversity and rich history, I love the architecture in Shaw, and I find convenient Shaw’s proximity to a lot of things, including Logan Circle, 14th Street, U Street, and downtown. I also have a growing number of friends in or close to Shaw, which is a big draw.
There is, admittedly, a lot of yet-to-be realized potential. That's not to say that development has "skipped" over Shaw, however, as others posit. Rather, development has been ongoing. As for widespread infill and renewal of vacant structures, I think the timing just hasn't been right and the forces haven't aligned as they are aligning now. I believe we're going to see major changes in the next five to ten years, and here are some of the things I point to for believing so:
1. The Convention Center and the New Convention Center Hotel – the Convention Center already draws people to our neighborhood; the new hotel (which reportedly must open by 2010 or the convention center will start losing bookings) will keep convention foot traffic north of Massachusetts Avenue, thus helping our retail/galleries/restaurants. Based on my Internet research, it seems that construction *should* commence in 2008. We need to hold the Fenty administration accountable to getting this project on track and on time.
2. Proximity to Everything – our easy access to downtown (I mean, many of us can WALK to work--that's huge), the Capitol, the Metro (the green AND yellow lines run through our neighborhood), the interstate, museums, U Street, 14th Street, the Circulator, etc. make us a naturally appealing spot in which to reside. Indeed, it seems we might be the most convenient urban neighborhood in D.C. given our connectivity and proximity to everything.
3. Development Trends in D.C. – development is moving our way. From the west, Logan Circle (which technically used to be Shaw) is already a safe, beautiful, and desirable area in which to reside. Compare what Logan is now to what it was ten years ago, and the eastern movement of renewal is apparent. From the South, Chinatown and Gallery Place are booming, and growth to the north is natural, especially with the convention center and the metro aiding growth. To an extent, saturation of these hot real estate markets seems to be a necessary predicate to Shaw's development boom.
4. Big Projects Underway in Shaw – several large projects planned for Shaw, like the O Street Market and the Broadcast One Center, will be catalysts for growth and renewal. Although Shaw citizens are tiring of unfulfilled promises on the commencement of these projects, I truly think some of these large projects are going to move forward soon (e.g., the O Street Market sounds like a very viable project, anchored by Giant--a store busting at its current seems--and a senior living facility--a major market need). Once these projects are on line and brimming with residents and businesses, ancillary development will surely occur. The Exchange at 9th and N is another example of a catalyst project. It's well under construction and set to open in early 2008. It will likely do a lot for the 1300 block of 9th.
5. Change in the Local Political Environment - The political environment in Shaw has already changed considerably over the past few years. The wonderful (contrast in) leadership that Kevin Chapple has already brought to Leroy's former seat on the ANC and the increasing number of responsible, active, concerned, invested, and impassioned citizens create an environment that fosters development. The surge in Shaw blogs, and the increased accountability/information sharing produced by such, evidence the change in the political atmosphere.
6. More Accountability Regarding Vacant Structures - Related to point #5 above, historically bad stewards of vacant properties (like Shiloh Baptist Church) are being held accountable for their real estate holdings. I know of efforts underway to make sure that property taxes on vacant structures are collected and maximized, which will hopefully prompt these bad neighbors to action (sell or rehab).
That’s not to say that we don’t have our challenges. I’d say the biggest three things hurting us are 1) Crime, especially the recent surge in violent crime (check out this interesting piece on crime and urban renewal; I read it in USA Today while traveling for work last week); 2) The number of low income housing projects—-in contrast to mixed income housing, which is less conducive to crime and more socially responsible than traditional public housing--is a red flag to many developers; and 3) The reputation of the schools in our area discourages many families from setting down roots. Although slower than desired, these deterrents are slowly being addressed (e.g., various crime fighting efforts being implemented currently, the Kelsey Gardens complex goes off line soon, the Fenty administration has made the school system a priority focus).
Anyway, all to say, I love Shaw for what it was, is and will be, and am happy I moved here.