Washington's evolving comprehensive land-use plan may be headed for more trouble than people think.
Congress, community groups and political opponents alike have chided Mayor Barry for a plan that has been too long in the making. In the process, the planners failed to solicit comments from neighborhood advisory groups and other parties who have legitimate views on a matter of such pervasive, long- term consequence. Now, having received some citizen views, the planners are reacting in a literal fashion by producing a land-use map that freezes the status quo.
There are at least two fundamental flaws: the lack of a coherent vision for the District's future, and a regulatory concept that will inhibit rather than promote a thriving city.
The plan never discusses the importance of Washington's role as the national capital and international center. What about international banking, communications, corporate headquarters and other activities? Housing is another case in point. The need for an improved and balanced supply of housing is well known, but it is likely to remain elusive without some definition of the qualities of life we seek here.
Calling for the construction of 25,000 new housing units over the next 20 years is fine-- but it should not be an end in itself. Understanding who needs these homes, what kinds of homes they should be and where they should be built is important. If it is our policy to stem the loss of middle-income families, let's say so and identify the type of homes needed and the areas where construction should take place.
Similarly, the plan calls for new commercial development, but again without correlating it with other factors. For example, it may be that New York Avenue offers the best opportunity for a new light-industry corridor. But should that be its exclusive use? And just as significant, where is a clear-eyed projection of the capital improvements necessary to go with it? What about development at subway stations? We have invested billions of dollars in the system. Metro needs riders.
Ideally, a community should be a seamless web of single-family residences, apartments, office buildings, retail outlets, gas stations, parks--an integrated whole. Resorting to the old land-use map approach, on the other hand, invites segmentation--with a condominium plopped here, low-income housing there and high-density office buildings jumbled together elsewhere.
A literal lot-by-lot, square-by-square regulatory approach will be the result, rather than a dynamic and flexible proposal that leaves the details for the various agencies. This also would lead inevitably to a perpetuation of the antiseptic and sterile development that has occurred in the past. Worst of all, such approaches almost ensure a social polarization of the community. Commercial and residential zones cannot function properly as line-drawn pigeonholes on a dense urban grid.
Sadly, the current plan stands the whole purpose of planning on its head. This is not just an economic issue. It is a social issue as well. For the long pull, the wedding of those issues will require political courage and professional steadfastness.