It was a contentious battle between differing land use philosophies. One striving to retain a grip on a quiet suburban ideal. The other, embracing urban renewal and the benefits increased density can bring in the form of improved neighborhood retail. Of course I am talking about the Battle Royale that was the Giant PUD.
Some would rather leave this contentious debate in the past and just enjoy the Cathedral Commons we now have, including its ample and largely unused parking palace. But as we look forward to November’s elections, it is worth reflecting not just on the strident voices that enable the delay of urban revitalization and brand our neighborhood as unwelcoming to entrepreneurs, but focus on the voices who said “yes.”
As a 25+ year practitioner of public opinion research, I know that mobilizing the forces of opposition is the easier task. The much harder task is to energize those in favor of something, or at least not opposed to it. I decided to re-live the Giant debate – one which I was not a principal advocate or opponent of – by reading through the volumes of submitted testimony. What I found were many neighbors not just frustrated by the procedural delays, but who expressed genuine passion for embracing a better built urban environment for their community.
One of my favorite commentaries from the episode was from noted architect, professor and columnists Roger K. Lewis, who wrote in April 2009:
“Some residents of the District cling to a suburban mentality. This mentality, coupled with government mismanagement, can obstruct desirable redevelopment. For the city to evolve, residents’ attitudes and government performance must change.”
Cleveland Park architect Dickson Carroll wrote, “I support this mixed use project which appropriately increases urban density, efficient use of urban land, and favors the use of mass transit and walking over the use of the private car — it will be and must be the future of our city.” I agree.
Neighbor Sandra Burnis-Holly wrote, “As an urban area, we should be supporting higher density projects … We are not the suburbs; please don’t aid and abet those trying to turn our wonderful urban environment into one.” I agree.
William Newlin, a resident of Newark Street since 1961, writes in support of the project, “I have a strong interest in maintaining a vibrant residential neighborhood in Cleveland Park and I am convinced the proposed PUD will help do that. I welcome not only the Giant itself, but both the proposed residential community and the small retail stores. The new development, taken as a whole will enrich our community.” I agree.
Neighbor Claire Bloch wrote, “The project being proposed by Giant is a wonderful example of the kind of mixed-use development that my neighbors and I want to see.” I agree.
These are a sampling of the sentiment that I hope to represent on the ANC.