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May 25, 2005

Bread and Circuses

Dear Mayor Williams, City Administrator Bobb, and Councilmembers:

Joel Kotkin has written an important short article on The New Republic online, “Urban Legends: Cities Aren’t Doing As Well as You Think” (,  that puts Washington’s population decline problem in the context of the similar problems of many major American core cities. “Urban politics has become self-satisfied and triumphalist, content to see cities promote the appearance of thriving while failing to serve the very people — families, immigrants, often minorities -- who most need cities to be decent, livable places.” Kotkin’s article attacks what he believes are the dangerous myths of urban success, that “cities are again gaining people”; “cities are where the successful people are”, and “cool cities attract the best jobs; uncool cities don’t”; and he attacks the failure of the “bread and circuses” approach to solving the problem. “Many mayors and governors,” he writes, “seem to be relying on a ‘bread and circuses’ strategy for revitalizing their cities. According to this logic, if cities can only put on a better show — in terms of arts, sports, conventions, and other amusements — they will become irresistible not only to tourists but also to educated workers and the companies that employ them.”

Kotkin’s prescription for really revitalizing cities is commonsense: “But two major things need to happen in order for cities to be saved. First, they must undertake a CAT scan of sorts, which would reveal, underneath the glossy exterior of arts centers and arenas and hip downtowns, the reality of lost jobs, dysfunctional schools, and crumbling infrastructure. Second, they need to acquire the political will to attack these issues head-on despite the inevitable roadblocks. What is needed is for cities to craft their own New Deal. Given their shrinking political power, they will not be able to extract resources from Washington or most state capitals. They will have to get smart about how they are run and focus their resources on basic issues, like schools, infrastructure, boosting small business, and creating jobs — rather than promoting bread, circuses, and tattoo parlors.”

Success for Washington won’t come from the city government’s current development strategy of building more costly, monumental but frivolous projects like the new convention center and baseball stadium; it won’t come from its population strategy of driving out middle class families in favor of attracting a smaller number of richer singles and young couples with less attachment to the city; and it won’t come from its economic strategy of displacing local small businesses and family-run restaurants in favor of more franchises of national chains. Success, if it happens, will come from moving the government’s attention back to where it belongs, its current residents, and from providing the very best services to them.

Gary Imhoff


Paranoia Reigns
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

The latest homeland security paranoia will affect all those who have watched the Fourth of July fireworks spectacular from their boats on the Potomac River. The Coast Guard plans to declare the whole Potomac River from Georgetown to the Lincoln Memorial a “security zone” and ban all boats from that zone. Seems that Homeland Security is worried that terrorists, like those in Tom Clancy’s Patriot Games, will storm ashore in landing craft and wipe out tourists. Sounds more than a bit farfetched to me. But, as usual here in Dodge City, paranoia reigns.


Coping with DMV Inspection at Half Street, SW
Edward Cowan,

As the Department of Motor Vehicles web site says, seniors get priority access when they bring their cars to be inspected. (Don’t ask me to justify this.) If a DMV employee is directing traffic entering the yard, say “senior citizen” and he will send you to the far-right lane, which is usually empty, and tell you to drive right up to the front. This will get you to an inspection lane several cars sooner than if you wait in one of the other lanes in the yard. If no one is directing traffic in the yard, as was the case last Friday when I arrived, what to do? I waited about seven minutes in a regular lane, behind four other cars, until I spotted a DMV employee. He directed me to the far-right lane. Next time, if no one is directing traffic in the yard, I would drive directly into that far-right lane.

Couple of other DMV notes: inside the building adjacent to the inspection lanes I found a flier that listed about fifteen minor infractions for which a car will not be failed, for example the middle brake light — in the rear window — doesn’t work. The motorist is required to correct the infractions, but, the flier says, the car will emerge with an inspection sticker. The flier was dated 2003. News to me.

Finally, speak up. When I took our other car to Half Street in April, it languished a long time in the middle of the lane. Finally, an inspector told me it had failed because it needed front-end alignment. (I had reason to doubt that.) Which way is it pulling? I asked. The young man dutifully went back to check, returned, said he couldn’t find the inspector who had handled my car, and took the car back to re-test it. He and the car emerged a few minutes later. “It passed,” he said. Footnote: My impression is that the inspectors now are more communicative (and younger, or I’m older) than the laconic grunters I think I remember from twenty or thirty years ago.


It’s Time for a Change
Ed T. Barron, edtb@aoldotcom

Currently the default number used on your DC driver’s license is the Social Security number. That’s a major risk these days in the era of identity theft. I’ve had a drivers license in three other states to date, and none used the SS number as the number on the license. How many times do you have to show your driver’s license in any week to prove your identity? Each time you do you are at some risk of a bad person taking note of that SS number and using it for his own.

You can request a different number on your license at the DMV any time you renew your license. But the DMV should change this practice and give out different numbers on every license as a matter of practice.


A Recent Message
Jim Graham,

Ordinarily I would not dignify comments like Wayne Turner’s [themail, May 22] with a reply. However his slanderous distortion of facts must not go unanswered. In simple fact, when I left the Clinic in 1998 after fifteen years as its executive director and three years before that as its President, I offered to purchase the office furniture. The Board officers declined my offer. Several months later, without any suggestion from me, the Clinic presented me with a Mapplethorpe photograph at an event held in my honor. Years ago all of this was clarified by the Clinic and myself. I am once again working hard to help on the financial challenges that Whitman Walker today faces.


Homeowners and Renters
Mary Vogel,

Ann Loikow wrote in the last issue [themail, May 22]: “If you truly care about affordable housing — and are not just giving it lip service — condoning this shift of our tax base onto the property tax . . . only ultimately decreases affordable housing." In the very next line she writes "These escalating property taxes either force people to sell their homes and leave the city or encourages them to turn their homes into rooming houses by getting renters to help share the tax burden, which leads to destabilizing our neighborhoods.”

What evidence does Loikow have that renters sharing a house with an owner destabilize a neighborhood? Is “affordable housing” just a concept for homeowners? She has led me to believe that perhaps the escalating property tax is a good thing if it leads to people who are living in far more space than they need to share it. Now, if only they would share it at a reasonable rent rather than asking us renters to cover all of their increases and a good portion of their mortgage while getting none of their equity or tax breaks. I have improved both the property and the neighborhood of every place I have ever rented — far more than most homeowners.


Bus Lore
Dennis Jaffe,

Bryce Suderow, meet Jack Requa, Chief of Operations for Metrobuses. Jack Requa, meet Bryce Suderow, local citizen. When messages such as Mr. Suderow’s May 22nd post [in themail], the third by Mr. Suderow in recent weeks, are published in themail, I take them seriously enough. When I contacted the Metro agency recently, I was assured that Mr. Suderow’s posts were inaccurate. While I encouraged Metro to respond in themail if that were the case, I have read nothing yet.

With as many subscribers as themail has, if the posts by Mr. Suderow are inaccurate, then it is incumbent upon Metro to respond to them by providing assurance to the engaged citizens of the area who read themail. If Mr. Suderow’s posts are accurate, then it would seem that Metro has some serious, corrective actions to take. I do not have enough knowledge about Metro to even guess whether two of Mr. Suderow’s recent posts preceding the May 22nd edition of themail were accurate. They certainly caused me concern. Today’s post on May 22nd causes me concern again.

I do discern the language in one sentence to be questionable: “Thus, a lot of people apply for the bus driver job, work a few months, and then transfer to, let’s say, driving trains.” On what basis is Mr. Suderow using the words “a lot?” Perhaps Metro doesn’t subscribe to themail, as I have previously recommended they do, complete with a link to Not every message posted on the Internet about Metro merits a response. These do. How about it?


Bikes on Buses, Seats on Subway Cars
Richard Layman,

Donald Lief, in his recounting of Portland, Oregon, and transit [themail, May 22], makes the point that people are often too parochially “DC” when discussing issues in themail. He’s right. We’re also not always practical. Ed, just turn the bike around on the front-mounted rack, and the baby seat won’t be in the driver side of the windshield.

Front-mounted bike racks on buses appear to be the standard “best practice” in every jurisdiction where bike racks are installed on buses, although a Federal Highway Administration report on best practices to encourage cycling and walking mentions rear-mounted bicycle racks as well.

This takes me to seating on subway cars, which has been discussed before. Again, I wish WMATA would have included in their reports examples from other cities such as New York, which has side mounted chairs, and fits more people into subway cars. People in far locations on the WMATA lines (i.e., Shady Grove, Vienna, etc.) do advocate for more seats because they make longer trips. Most trips on the NYC lines are shorter, although not always, trips from distant points in Queens can be long.



Potter’s House Community Harvest Party, June 3
Ingrid Drake,

Come out to the Potter’s House for good music, good food, and good cause — sustainable agriculture in metro DC and healthy fresh produce for all people, regardless of income. 7 p.m., homemade dinner and desserts for sale; 8 p.m., concert with Eric Keller, folk guitarist and songwriter. Learn more about the activities of Community Harvest, meet our new staff, have a relaxing Friday night with your friends and family.

Friday, June 3, at the Potter’s House (1658 Columbia Road, NW). Off street parking, and short walk from the Columbia Heights Metro stop. Donations start at $10. For more information, contact or 577-3437 (Ingrid’s cell), or check out


Economic Incentives for Historic Preservation, June 15
Bruce Yarnall,

The District of Columbia Office of Planning/Historic Preservation Office in cooperation with the DC Board of Real Estate, the DC Board of Appraisers and The L’Enfant Trust will sponsor a half-day forum for the preservation, development, and real estate communities titled “Economic Incentives for Historic Preservation.” The event is slated for the Washington Convention Center, Wednesday, June 15, 12 noon to 5 p.m. Keynote speaker for the forum is Joe Cronyn of Lippman Frizzell & Mitchell LLC who will discuss “Housing Issues in DC’s Historic Districts and Main Streets.” Cronyn’s firm produced a Historic Housing Rehabilitation Strategy for the historic preservation office in 2004.

A panel of experts on preservation, real estate, finance and law will explore the benefits and responsibilities associated with conservation easements and cover historic tax credits and other incentive programs available to historic property owners. Panelists include Carol Goldman, president of The L’Enfant Trust; Paul Edmondson, vice-president and general counsel of The National Trust for Historic Preservation; Patrick Lally, director of congressional affairs for The National Trust for Historic Preservation; Bart Lanman, CPA, CFP, partner of the firm Farren Lanman & Associates; Carol Mitten, director of the DC Office of Property Management; and Edna Johnston, principal of the firm History Matters, LLC. Roundtable discussions will discuss in further detail the history and character of individual DC historic districts as well as cover subjects as diverse as “additions and new construction” and “researching a house’s history,” to “marketing properties in DC historic districts.”

Cost for the five-hour forum including lunch is $60. To register for the forum, please contact the DC Historic Preservation Office at 442.8801 or send an E-mail to:



House Sitter
A. Howard Jackson,

If you need a house sitter to secure and monitor your house, condo, apartment, or estate while you're out of town, I am a licensed DC Special Police Officer available to housesit from one day to one year. Reasonable rates. Services include mail forwarding, bill paying, twice weekly cleaning, and daily patrol and monitoring your property. For information, E-mail or call 256-1651.References available.



Body Shop and Video Company
Phil Greene,

If anyone knows of a good and inexpensive body shop, please let me know. We live in Chevy Chase, DC. I also need some recommendations for a company or individual that can take video tape and put it into MPEG and similar formats, do video editing and transfer, etc.


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