What to Do with D.C.’s Downtown

We start with this quick hit from Axios (boldface mine):

Driving the news: Bowser and Mendelson spoke last night at an event hosted by the planning advocacy group Committee of 100.

  • Bowser reiterated her support for raising the federal Height Act from 130 feet to 160 feet in some areas to allow for more dense buildings and make room downtown for 15,000 new residents by 2028.
  • Mendelson said “development is not the solution” and that D.C. can reverse its stalled population growth by improving public education, supporting cultural and live events, and getting federal workers back to the office.

One point of agreement: D.C. should not permanently ban cars in some zones, both leaders said. It’s an idea inspired by some European cities and floated by pedestrian advocates.

Bowser appears to have learned that many of her constituents are federal employees, and they don’t want to be forced back to the office. Sadly, Mendelson hasn’t. For a variety of reasons, federal managers at many agencies understand this (even if some of them don’t like it). Waiting for a full return to downtown is as absurd as waiting for Godot. It’s not coming, certainly not like it once was (and even before the pandemic, lots of people weren’t in on Mondays and Fridays).

As much as it pains me to say this, Bowser is right. Downtown used to be far more residential–you can still find relictual townhouses that have been turned into offices. People used to live in those! Having more residents also increases tax revenue. To the extent new downtown apartment buildings could add three more floors, that will only help add more housing stock.

That said, Mendelson is right in that we need better schools, and supporting the arts is not only good in and of itself, but also provides economic benefits.

My concern is we’re going to get the worst of both of them…

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