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July 30, 2008

How Does Your Garden Grow

Dear Gardeners:

Here’s another reason suburbs are bad. Suburbs have lawns. Believe it: some urban theorists don’t like lawns, and don’t think other people should have them. They say that lawns are wasteful, unecological. People water them and mow them, which uses water and energy. Lawns take up space, and therefore reduce “walkability” and “transit accessibility.” There is an ironic point for you; some “green” advocates want less green space, and think people should live more densely, without wanting or needing lawns. As a compromise, however, for those unwilling to do without lawns completely, they propose that groups of suburbanites should have communal lawns, shared by a few or several families, which will allow for denser housing with less space wasted on grass. Here are a couple articles that make this argument, pointed out by Patrick Appel on Andrew Sullivan’s blog:

These articles exemplify the weakness of the arguments often made by “smart growth” urbanists: the condescending attitude and tone of moral superiority; the confusion of their lifestyle preferences with the “right” and “correct” way to live; the eagerness to use legislation and government power to impose their own preferences on others; and the failure to respect other peoples’ values. Some advocates of dense development are just unable to understand that people want to live in different ways. Some people are happy living in apartment buildings with little or no green grass, and certainly with none that they have to maintain themselves. However, many other people want a patch of earth of their own on which they can do what they want, without having to get consent from a communal lawn committee. If suburbanites are willing to refrain from campaigning against apartment buildings in cities, why can’t urbanites refrain from campaigning against single-family houses with yards in the suburbs?

These tendentious tendencies also show up in arguments over transportation policy, and in the efforts of urban planners not to plan for the most efficient and best use of automobiles, but instead to make it increasingly difficult and expensive to own, use, and park cars in central cities. The changes to the zoning regulations governing parking proposed by the Office of Planning, which will be the subject of a hearing by the Zoning Commission tomorrow (6:30 p.m., 441 4th Street, Suite 220S), are a particularly bad example of these efforts. The latest catch phrases in this craze are “walkable neighborhoods” and “optimal mobility.” I’ll deal with walkable neighborhoods first. The number of cars in urban neighborhoods has almost nothing to do with whether they are walkable. Only three factors are important: compact neighborhoods with short walking distances; wide, convenient, and well maintained sidewalks; and things that are worth walking to. If these factors are in place, plenty of people will walk, and the presence of people on the sidewalks will make neighborhoods safe and attractive for walking. If a neighborhood has stores, restaurants, entertainment, and services, people will walk to them, and that has nothing to do with whether cars are encouraged or discouraged or whether there is adequate or inadequate parking for cars. However, if there isn’t adequate on-street and off-street parking for people from other neighborhoods who want to come to these facilities, stores, restaurants, and entertainment venues will be unlikely to have enough customers to stay in business, and they will close. Local government has two roles in creating walkable neighborhoods: maintaining sidewalks and locating government services — schools, libraries, parks — conveniently so that people can walk to them. Ironically, this administration, which claims it wants to encourage walkable neighborhoods, is engaged in closing smaller schools and libraries that serve as residential neighborhood hubs, and concentrating these services in larger regional schools and libraries that serve several neighborhoods — thus reducing the attractiveness of walking in the city’s residential neighborhoods.

The DC Office of Planning, which has proposed new regulations to reduce available off-street parking spaces, has done so in the name of “optimal mobility,” but in fact the regulations will reduce mobility; they will make it more difficult, expensive, and inconvenient to travel. Unless both the destination and starting point are within walking distance of a subway stop, taking public transportation is usually more inconvenient, time-consuming, and expensive than driving. (And some are making a good case for the argument that mass transit may even consume more energy per rider than individual automobiles; see Most people want to be able to drive. They don’t want to stay only within their home neighborhoods all the time. They want to move among urban neighborhoods and between the city and the suburbs. They have friends whom they want to visit and whom they want to visit them. They have places to go both near and far, and they value the convenience and independence that cars give them. Urban planners don’t want to plan to accommodate cars, since that is not their transportation preference. As a result, when people don’t take public transportation as much as planners want, because busses and subways are too inconvenient, too expensive, and too time-consuming, urban planners respond by trying to make car travel as expensive, difficult, time-consuming, and inconvenient as public transportation. Instead, they should be increasing public transportation routes and options, reducing fares, and making public transportation travel times shorter.

Making it ever harder to park in DC won’t force people to come here on public transportation; instead it will simply discourage people from coming to DC. If parking restrictions in DC make it too difficult or expensive to park downtown, both DC residents and suburbanites will go to shops, restaurants, and services in the suburbs, where ample free or cheap parking is available. If office buildings can’t provide adequate parking for their tenants, their tenants and the jobs they provide will go to the suburbs. If new downtown apartment buildings can’t provide adequate parking with their apartments, they won’t be able to sell or rent their units, and the fledgling movement to make Washington a living downtown will fail.

Gary Imhoff


Brookland Development
Daniel Wolkoff,

It is surprising that the central square plan, which we have lived with for years and which is similar to those done all over the world, is so condemned by the very people whose children will benefit from trees, grass, and truly open space. You can have your cafe, bookstore, and more housing without taking the park down. You can have it all; just demand it. If the DC Planning Office cannot facilitate sensible development planning, they should step aside. I have no doubt that a freshman architecture student down the block at Catholic University of America can draw a landscape and renovation plan that serves our city better.. The Jim Abdos of this city do not need every park to make their millions; let them build in creative and compatible ways.

Why can’t DC do anything in moderation? What city planning schools did the clowns in our planning office graduate from? It’s not the same one all other the other city planners went to. Any competent city planning department would have made the Sand Filtration Plant a historic park years ago. If that had been done, Brookland would have a comfortable, breezy central square as good as in any town in this country. Only the DC government would even consider bulldozing the entire green space, cutting down the mature trees, building a series of generic buildings out of Styrofoam, and blocking our sunset views. If you call that progress, that is what you will get. I prefer to say, do better.

I support a coherent area wide plan to renovate derelict properties, expand upward over commercial properties and alleys, and develop the dozens of church parking lots that surround the Metro. I support any decent proposal that does not destroy the character of our community. Development has to be done at a prudent pace to avoid over development, traffic congestion, ground water and flooding problems, and pollution.. Development all over the place is not sensible planning, especially not on the only green space with beautiful mature trees that buffers our community from the Metro and could provide many valuable uses and recreation. We could get to the same goals that the city proposes and save our valuable natural features. The problem is that the DC government operates for the developers, not for gracious planning. That is why northeast has one fifth the parks as in northwest, street trees are dying, and sewage pours into the Chesapeake and Anacostia every time there is a heavy rain. This is their planning. We must say, Ms Tregoning, go back and work out a plan that preserves the valuable things in Brookland, like the Metro green space, all of it, and the Sand Filtration Plant. We want creative, resourceful solutions to future development.


District Proposes Drastic Change in Library Hours
Richard Huffine, Federation of Friends of the DC Public Library,

At the Board of Library Trustees meeting Wednesday night, July 23, Chief Librarian Ginnie Cooper presented a grim picture of the FY2009 library budget and staffing plan. While the library budget will go up slightly (by $16,000), that budget includes $5.6 million in earmarked enhancements and the elimination of seventy-four library positions. This is a 14 percent reduction in the staffing for DC Public Libraries. The DC Public Library needs $2 million by October 1, or the Library will be forced to drastically cut the hours of operation of all our libraries.

Mrs. Cooper laid out the changes to the Board and the community. They include closing all libraries on Fridays, reducing basic operating hours to 10:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. at all branch libraries and opening 12:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m. on days when libraries are open in the evening. Regular hours at the Martin Luther King, Jr., Library would also change to 10:00 a.m.-8:00 p.m. All libraries would remain open on Sundays during the school year but would all be closed on Sundays during the summer months.

These changes would have a number of impacts: community groups would have difficulty holding meetings that must end by 8:00 p.m.; daycarers and caregivers would have difficulty using their libraries in the mornings when they open later or not until noon; seniors will not have an opportunity to use the library consistently in the mornings; working families would have reduced access to the library during the summers, and commuters will find it difficult to get to their branches by 8:00 p.m. on the nights their library branches are open. The Library System needs your help to appeal to the District council to find the two million dollars that will avoid this calamity. A number of things converged to create this problem and a number of promises have been broken along the way by the council and the Administration. Our communities should not have to suffer the mistakes of our leaders. Please, write to your councilmember today. Share this message in your community, and let’s make sure our libraries remain open and available to everyone in our community.


The Apple Doesn’t Fall Far from the Tree
Dorothy Brizill,

Unless you’re a subscriber to Legal Times or caught the recounting of the story on the City Paper blog (, you haven’t heard that Garrett L. Lee, the interim Deputy General Counsel to the mayor, has resigned after being disbarred on July 24. While in private practice, Lee badly mishandled a divorce case and two real estate disputes for a client — he repeatedly failed to respond to motions, missed filings, and failed to respond to discovery requests. When the client sued him for malpractice, Lee mishandled his own defense, again failing to respond to the initial claim and not replying to a motion for summary judgment. After appeal, the client was finally awarded a million dollar judgment against Lee, and Lee consented to disbarment (

Lee was first hired in DC government for Councilmember Adrian Fenty’s committee staff, and then repeatedly promoted over two years to rise to be interim Deputy General Counsel. The really troubling point is that Lee’s hiring and entire career in government occurred after the malpractice suit was filed, and that Lee says that Fenty was aware of the suit before he was hired. Both the Legal Times and the City Paper, however, fail to draw the obvious parallel to Lee’s case that may have made Fenty sympathetic to him. On August 31, 2005, the DC “Bar Counsel issued Fenty an informal admonition for failing to provide competent, zealous, and diligent representation as court-appointed fiduciary for a ward of the court, to file accountings required by the court, and to take timely steps to the extent reasonably practicable to protect a ward of the court’s interest following his removal,” ( Only Fenty’s zealous representation by Peter Nickles, Fenty’s first General Counsel and now his nominee as Attorney General, kept Fenty’s case from ending as badly for him as Lee’s did.


Sidewalks in Construction Zones
Ralph Blessing,

What became of the new regulations passed earlier this year requiring construction projects in DC to provide passageway for any sidewalks that border the project? Initially I saw some adaptation to the regs, even if it meant taking up a lane of roadway to allow pedestrian right of way without having to cross the street. But in the last few days I’ve seen a number of projects, such as those at 19th and K and at 20th and K Streets, neither of which includes a passageway for pedestrians. Is this just another DC law passed with much fanfare that ceases to be enforced moments after it becomes law? Sure looks like it.


Wenzell Taylor,

Does anyone know what the problem is between the city government and Verizon regarding the availability of FIOS in DC?


Single Sales Ban
Laurie Collins,

In response to Jack McKay’s Single Sales Ban posting of July 27, it is no secret that ANC 1D has been in the minority on a number of issues in Mount Pleasant and will not follow the will of their constituents. While ANC1D may vote against a single sale moratorium, they have yet to explain how allowing single sales would benefit the community. Our intent in seeking a moratorium and now the permanent ban was never meant as a cure for alcoholism. We prefer to leave that to the professionals. Alfredo Enriquez-Morales, Executive Director of Neighbors Consejo said, “We believe that the single sales moratorium creates a better environment for success for our clients who battle daily to overcome alcoholism. The easy availability of singles exacerbates the problem of alcoholism making it all too easy to consume and thus even greater challenge for our clients to overcome alcohol abuse. Without the single sales moratorium, such easy access to alcohol would be detrimental to our success in fighting alcoholism in the community.”

The decision, made in 2000, to seek a prohibition on single sales of beer and malt liquor was an easy one for Mt. Pleasant. We were compelled to alleviate the problems associated with rampant public consumption of alcohol on the street: littering, public drunkenness, loitering panhandling, disorderly conduct, aggression, assaults, and public urination, to name only a few. A moratorium on single containers of alcohol was a logical next step in our attempt to lift the overwhelming pall these symptoms cast over a small local business strip. Actually implementing the moratorium proved to be time-consuming and arduous task, as well. Local merchants were concerned about loss of business. Some neighborhood activists claimed such measures just shunt the problem to other neighborhoods. In any case, our neighboring communities, ANC 1A and ANC 1C, either aren’t interested in or don’t see a need for a single sale moratorium. That is enough evidence for us that the problems we face were and are unique to Mt. Pleasant.

The moratorium obtained from the ABC Board eight years ago has resulted in visibly reduced public drunkenness. The vastly improved street environment and removal of a troublesome product from store shelves also bolstered Neighbors Consejo in its efforts to help clients fighting alcoholism in our community, and significantly reduced or eliminated many of quality of life problems associated with public drinking on Mt. Pleasant Street and nearby residential streets that we had experienced for decades. Mt. Pleasant’s economic vitality has improved, too. Many ABC-licensed businesses have responded positively by sprucing up their stores, stocking better wines and cheeses, introducing new products and cuisines, and improving displays. Where these businesses previously made money selling singles to a troubled clientele, they now serve more residents who previously avoided their stores. We are proud to say that no one went out of business because they were not allowed to sell singles. This speaks volumes.

We are also proud to say that not only did Mount Pleasant lead the way and pioneer the first area-wide single sales moratorium in the District of Columbia, but also that we have helped other neighborhoods struggling to overcome problems similar to ours. We are grateful and thankful to Councilmember Jim Graham for introducing a permanent ban in Mount Pleasant. While the ban on single container sales in Mt. Pleasant certainly isn’t the panacea for all of our neighborhood problems, it clearly has improved our quality of life.


Guns and Congress
Martin Andres Austermuhle,

I’d like to respond to Gary’s response [themail, July 27] to a post I wrote for DCist on the recent news that Congress was looking to stop in and overturn the District’s gun laws . . . Again. First, Gary mistakenly assumes that I don’t think Congress has a role to play in ensuring that constitutional rights are upheld and protected. Of course it does, and I never said otherwise. What is key, though, is how it does it. Congress does not step in and try to micro-manage the affairs of cities, counties, and states like it does with the District. It uses its many powers to ensure that federal laws are followed and applied locally, including the threat of withholding federal funds, etc. For example, federal law states that the drinking age is 21, but Congress only forces states to comply by threatening to withhold federal highway funds. But in this case, Congress, in which we have no full voting representation and the overwhelming majority of the members are unaccountable to us, has stepped in to directly rewrite local laws. Congress can hide behind the claim that they are merely trying to protect the constitutional rights of District residents, but that is something that is left to the courts. (As to whether the court’s decisions can be enforced, it’s interesting that the only case that Gary could cite where a court’s decision was ignored dates back to 1832. The power of the judiciary is well institutionalized in the US, and it’s rare to see cases where a city or state just refuses to comply with a judicial mandate.)

Second, just because Congress has a right to do something does not mean it should do it or that it is right that it be done. Local affairs should be run by local officials who are elected and accountable to local voters, period. I don’t accept any exceptions to that rule, because even one exception opens the door for many more. Sure, Gary might see this as the perfect time for Congress to step in and legislate for the District, but what about the many other cases where it has done so to our collective chagrin? How about the prohibition it long imposed on needle-exchange programs? Just because Congress could impose one, should it have? Local health advocates across the board said not. And school vouchers? A flat tax? There are 535 members of Congress that could use the power of the institution over the city for any number of purposes, and it’s vital that District residents let them know that no matter what the cause, it’s not okay that they substitute their judgment for that of local residents and officials. If we say it’s all right that they do this time, what will they say to us when we object the next time?

In the Supreme Court decision, Justice Antonin Scalia even admitted that the final contours of the court’s ruling would take years of litigation to iron out. In fact, that’s pretty much how the limits to every constitutional right have been established. While I feel that the DC Council is dragging its feet needlessly, it would be dangerous to shortchange its legislative approach by calling on Congress to act. (Interestingly, and something that Gary doesn’t mention, is that the current congressional push to do away with the city’s handgun ban would also prohibit the city from registering guns. How does he feel about this? How do District residents feel about this? Is it fair to replace an outright ban on handguns with an outright ban on reasonable restrictions on handguns?) Once the DC council endorses a new set of regulations, it is up to the voters and the courts to decide on their merit and their constitutionality. Sure, this process will be slow, but that’s how democracy works. And when it comes to a decision that has such an impact on public safety, slow and safe is much better than sudden.

Postscript: It was only after I had written this that Dick Heller filed a second lawsuit against the city, this one asking that a court nullify a number of the regulations imposed by Mayor Fenty in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision. Heller’s got it right — he’s taking his fight to the courts, not to Congress. As a District resident, he is both running for office (he’s announced his intention to challenge Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton) and using the courts to challenge local laws he views as unconstitutional. We should applaud him and his consistent use of existing democratic mechanism to right a long-standing wrong.



Fun Family Films Under the Stars, August 1-3
John A. Stokes,

The District’s Department of Parks and Recreation (DPR) will hold “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” its 2008 Family Movie Night Season, this summer. “Fun Family Films Under The Stars,” which continues until late-September, will afford residents of all ages and families of all sizes the opportunity to enjoy viewing the free, family-oriented films in DPR’s outdoor settings. As in previous years, viewers are invited to bring their own snacks, chairs, and blankets. This year, District residents will have a greater selection of viewing locations. Movies will be shown from 8:45 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

Community members who arrive early enough for each screening will have the opportunity to place a vote between two movies that may be shown that evening. The movie that receives the most votes will be shown.

Friday, August 1, Florida Park, 1st Street and Florida Avenue, NW
Saturday, August 2, Langdon Park Recreation Center, 2901 20th Street, NE
Saturday, August 2, North Michigan Park, 1333 Emerson Street, NE
Sunday, August 3, Brentwood Recreation Center, 2311 14th Street, NE


National Night Out, August 5
Laurie Collins,

On Tuesday, August 5, the Mt. Pleasant neighborhood will celebrate National Night Out, a crime prevention and public safety awareness event that is celebrated the same day throughout the country. This is a great opportunity to meet your neighbors, businesses, and get to know your MPD patrol officers who patrol your neighborhood. Sponsored by Third District Metropolitan Police Department and the Mount Pleasant Neighborhood Alliance, Tuesday, August 5, 6:00 p.m.-8:00 p.m., at Lamont Park.

Are you good at face-painting? Would you like to help or make a donation to this event? Can you donate chalk? Please let us know; E-mail to volunteer.


Upcoming Talk for Change Toastmasters Meeting, August 6
Emily Cohen,

Please join us this Wednesday, August 6, at 6:45 p.m., for our next meeting of Talk for Change Toastmasters. We meet at the Teach for America offices, located at 1413 K Street, NW, on the 7th floor. We a public speaking group that helps members improve their speaking and leadership skills in a supportive and constructive environment. Some of us are former teachers and alumni of Teach For America. Some of us are making a difference in our community through work in the nonprofit sector. All of us just value the opportunity to keep learning. We welcome anyone to join our friendly, fun-loving group.

Are you curious what Talk for Change can do for you? Join us at an upcoming meeting to see what we are all about. We meet on the first and third Wednesdays of every month. We look forward to welcoming you as our newest member. If you have questions, feel free to send us an E-mail at


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