After all of the consultants' studies and task force reports on economic development have been digested, the District government should consider a set of recommendations being developed by neighborhood groups.
The recommendations aren't likely to form the basis of a comprehensive plan for reorganizing the District's economic development program as Mayor Barry is planning.
But organizers of a two-day conference held last week at the Sheraton Washington Hotel believe their input can make a difference in the planning for commercial and industrial revitalization of many of the city's neighborhoods.
As keynote speaker at the conference on neighborhood economic development, the mayor strongly encouraged input from participants. An aide to the mayor cautioned that Barry routinely asks for citizens' input and that, by doing so in this case, he isn't promising to accept recommendations from the conference.
If the recommendations prove to be impractical in this case, then the mayor should at least give serious thought to the concerns of participants in the conference, which was sponsored by the Institute for Neighborhood Reinvestment and 22 community organizations.
Revitalizing the city's neighborhoods "would help boost the city's economy," sponsors of the conference believe.
Until now, however, the District's record in neighborhood development "has been a series of disjointed, uncoordinated and fragmented efforts that have failed miserably," they declared in a statement that explained the purpose of the conference.
"We need to help the city understand what's going on out here in these neighborhoods and understand clearly what the neighborhoods are up against in terms of where the obstacles are and where the problems are in terms of getting some things accomplished," said Philip Johnson, president of the Institute for Neighborhood Reinvestment-Minority Business Research.
Johnson said the conference provided a vehicle for input from the grass-roots level into the reorganization of the city's government.
Reorganization is only the first step in improving economic development, he said. The larger issue is, what are the priorities? Johnson continued.
Emphasis on development of the downtown area suggests that that's where the city's priorities are in terms of economic development, Johnson indicated.
"Downtown cannot be the priority," he insisted. "It has to be a priority, but it can't be No. 1. Downtown's got its own unique set of problems. [But] developers are capable. That's where they want to be. The banks are comfortable, and that's where they're putting their money.
"Basically, what we think the city needs to do is set the framework and make the policy and leave developers alone. Let them do their own thing.
"From our viewpoint, we think the neighborhoods and New York Avenue ought to be co-equals in terms of the city government's priorities."
Johnson doubts that the private sector will take the initiative in redeveloping either the New York Avenue corridor as a light industrial area or commercial districts such as H Street NE or upper 14th Street NW. "What the private sector wants to put there is what we already know about and, if we aren't careful, 14th Street will be just another fast-food strip," he said.
Organizers of the conference concede that cutbacks in federal funds and greater demands on the city's budget make it impossible to pump money into blighted commercial areas. But by using urban development action grants (UDAG) and other tools to leverage private investment, the city can help revitalize neighborhoods, Johnson maintains.
At the same time, he said it is imperative that community groups and the D.C. government form a partnership with the private sector so that lending institutions and investors "feel comfortable" about investing in areas such as H Street NE or the Shaw community.
Johnson said it is precisely that type of partnership that is needed to develop a light industrial base that will produce jobs and viable retail centers that will bring goods and services to neighborhoods.
The conference is one way of getting the community involved in that type of partnership, he explained.
A government is "no better than the people it serves," Johnson reflected during a break in the conference. "And if you sit back in your neighborhoods and wait for somebody to come and do something about the problem, you'll be sitting there for a long time.
"Community groups have got to get together and put together sophisticated planning documents and go to the government and say, 'Here's a sophisticated plan designed to revitalize our neighborhood.' "
The next move belongs to the Barry administration.