- The Washington Times - Monday, October 29, 2001

How would you like a municipal trash transfer station in your neighborhood? How about a private prison, or a 1,000-bed homeless shelter? In the last three years, the Far Southwest community has worked to oppose just such developments in the area called D.C. Village, the largest undeveloped parcel of land remaining in the District. Now that we've established what we don't want in our neighborhood, we believe it's time to build a community vision for D.C. Village.
Consisting of more than 100 acres and located just inside the Beltway off Interstate 295, the former D.C. Village is a onetime facility for the aged and infirm that the city began phasing out in the 1980s. It finally closed in 1996. An unsolicited proposal for development of the site has been submitted to the District by a Virginia developer, who proposes building housing and retail on the site. I hope that we, as a community, will have the opportunity to weigh in before the city either approves this proposal or puts out an official Request For Proposals (RFP). Unfortunately, D.C. officials are already off to a bad start.
A community session is to take place in only two weeks. That's hardly enough time to effectively inform the neighborhood and surely not enough time to develop a comprehensive and broad-based community consultation process. A location for the meeting hasn't even been identified by the city.
We know that the District is capable of doing this right. In the last two years, Columbia Heights, Near Southwest and the McMillan Reservoir communities in Northeast and Northwest have had official consultation processes to build a vision for each of those neighborhoods. An investment of time and resources by city agencies has helped to build cohesion and good will in those neighborhoods. Contributions and grants from foundations, city agencies and private citizens exceeded $100,000, which greatly assisted in professionalizing each effort.
Recently, city leaders and citizens participated in an exercise designed to identify and implement community objectives through the mayor's Citizen Summit II and its neighborhood action project. While I applaud the District government for creating such tools, they are no substitute for direct community participation at the neighborhood level. We look forward to using the neighborhood action template to address the specific needs of our community, but, thus far, there have been no attempts by the District to evaluate and address the needs of our residents. We await a commitment and an investment from Mayor Williams for action in our neighborhood.
Our voices need to be heard. Working families in Far Southwest, which is in Ward 8, are the backbone of the city. We are not new to the city, we pay taxes, and have made a commitment to our community when many others have moved on to better-served wards or on to the suburbs. Despite our commitment and recent victories, our officials have not seen fit to respond to residents' constant requests to become active participants in rebuilding their own community. For example, there used to be three drug stores at Atlantic and South Capitol streets Southwest. Today, there are none. In fact, Ward 8 has been without a supermarket since October 1998.
We believe that the former D.C. Village site is a special place that requires professional planning assistance, development expertise, and community input and support and that D.C. Village holds special significance because of its potential impact on not just economic development, job creation and quality of life for communities in Ward 8, but for the communities that lie elsewhere east of the Anacostia River as well. But give us a chance to build that vision for our own neighborhood.
Our situation in the far Southwest reminds me of a remarkable novel, "Having Our Say," written by sisters Annie and Elizabeth Delaney. The novel chronicles the extraordinary lives of the sisters, daughters of former slaves, who, despite difficult times for both women and minorities, fought to determine their own quality of life through persistence, self-determination and sheer force of will. The book brings light to the gray area where neighborhood issues, community participation and self-determination intersect. Its recollections are important, and serve as lessons that are useful to both citizen and community alike.
Having our say about the former D.C. Village site means building a first-rate, world-class community participation process designed to make use of this neighborhood's best assets its people. Having our say also means providing the forum to offer ideas and develop the best plan possible in other words to not just say what we don't want but what we want as well. The best method of hearing what the community wants is to have a charrette, a public participation process that allows participants to look inward, outward and forward in saying what might be best for their community. We look forward to an opportunity to serve our community.

Eugene Dewitt Kinlow is president of the Far Southwest Civic Association.

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