The Northwest Current covered the January 31st Van Ness Vision Framework workshop in its February 4th issue, and this Viewpoint, written to add more context to that article, appears in the February 11th edition of the paper. We reprint it here with permission from Current Newspapers.
by Mary Beth Ray and Marlene Berlin
To reclaim the vibrancy of Van Ness, we need to look past the negatives and focus on potential.
The Office of Planning’s Van Ness Vision Framework workshop on Jan. 31 focused on just that. While acknowledging our challenges, the day’s presentations and interactive exercises emphasized improving the Van Ness retail offerings and streetscape.
Likewise, Advisory Neighborhood Commission 3F’s Van Ness Vision Committee has focused on what makes Van Ness special. Over the past two years, the committee has brought together property owners, merchants, community members and other stakeholders to dream and work toward our common goals.
In short, both groups aim to make Van Ness more beautiful and more vibrant, but the names are confusing. The Van Ness Vision Committee has built the foundation on which the Office of Planning’s Van Ness Vision Framework will add, with its action plan for improvement.
The Van Ness Vision Committee’s 12 neighbor volunteers have met over 18 times, and hosted various events for the community, merchants, commercial property owners, developers, city agencies, university officials and others. We are delighted to have an opportunity to work hand in hand with the D.C. Office of Planning, Streetsense, HOK, and Rhodeside & Harwell to realize our shared goals.
This is our committee’s vision statement: Connecticut Avenue at Van Ness will blossom into a beautiful, sustainable tree-shaded avenue that highlights and invites connections with Rock Creek Park and retail life. It will be accessible by Metro, foot, bicycle and motor vehicle, with outdoor cafes, markets, restaurants, activities, events and the arts. It will draw on its residents with its extraordinary community of embassies, schools, universities and businesses.
The committee’s next big goal is to grow a vibrant commercial and cultural street life.
Now what do the Van Ness Vision Committee, the Van Ness Vision Framework and some developers see as the potential? First of all, we have great demographics that could pay for much more than what we are being offered at Van Ness. Within the Van Ness trade area, we have 11,326 residents, a median income of $91,000, and a healthy daytime population (4,178 employees and 3,638 students). Average Metrorail ridership is 6,500, Metrobus ridership is 4,000, and we have a traffic count of 37,300 (Nielson/Claritas Demographics). Retailers love those cars passing their storefronts seeing their signage. And we have a walk score of 86 out of 100. This means that folks can walk to do many of their regular weekly errands.
And in our 2013-14 Van Ness Vision Committee Report, we list many other positives:
• Metro, walkability and BikeShare;
• Rock Creek Park access through Soapstone Valley Park trails;
• an international community, embassies and a great mix of ages and cultures;
• two farmers markets;
• large plaza spaces for events and concerts;
• the University of the District of Columbia with its Theater of the Arts, amphitheater and upcoming student center;
• Levine Music, Franklin Montessori and two law schools;
• new WAMU broadcast studios;
• new retail like Bread Furst and Park Van Ness space soon to be filled; and
• an engaged, friendly community.
We have a lot going for us in Van Ness already, despite the abundant concrete, dated architecture and commuter traffic. Van Ness is open for business, and we look forward to creating a stronger and more vibrant community together.
Mary Beth Ray is an advisory neighborhood commissioner (single-member district 3F03) and chair of the Van Ness Vision Committee. Marlene Berlin is a member of the Van Ness Vision Committee and founder and editor-in-chief of the Forest Hills Connection, a neighborhood e-magazine.