This week, Saleem described his vision to a national audience at “Rediscover Main Street,” the 27th National Main Streets Conference in Baltimore, where 1,200 representatives of commercial districts, city planners, community leaders and architects from Detroit to Dubuque gathered to talk about revitalizing America’s traditional main-street districts.
Saleem, wearing a leather newsboy cap and caramel-colored tweed jacket, hobnobbed with chambers of commerce leaders and main-street advocates from West Des Moines, Iowa, to Atoka, Okla., to Seattle. He talked with small groups and appeared on panels that debated gentrification’s woes and wonders. And he talked about his dream of inner cities without roll-downs and bulletproof glass.
The H Street Cinderella story told by Saleem took many conference attendees by surprise. “You want to take your kids to Washington’s museums and monuments, but you want to be gone by dark,” said David Fred, a lighting company owner from Marion, Ind., voicing a commonly held view. “But maybe that’s changing?”
The conference had an exhibit hall where vendors’ booths displayed chichi iron bike racks, seating for al fresco dining and street-festival lighting complete with “artificial ice,” for winter events. There was a makeshift bookstore stocked with wonky titles on the issues that keep people like Saleem up at night: parking solutions, farmer’s-market strategies, window displays, pop-up shops and street murals.
“Notice there’s no roll-downs or bulletproof glass at the exhibit,” laughed Saleem. “Its day has ended.”
Saleem recently helped several H Street business owners get shares in an $1.8 million grant from the District’s Office of Planning and Economic Development to attract and enhance H Street retail. He also played a role in securing a $474,000 grant from D.C.’s Department of Housing and Community Development; the money will be divided among 12 businesses in four neighborhoods — H Street, Shaw, Mount Vernon Triangle and Barracks Row. “The neighborhoods are ready for this,” Saleem said.
New York City voted in 2009 to gradually ban metal roll-downs and replace them with other forms of security. Advocates told the City Council that the gates were a blight on the urban cityscape and actually make it harder for police to protect businesses.