Recently, Harry Thomas Jr. posted, in response to this blog about vision for redevelopment, all of the things that he has brought to the Ward in the form of development. What that proved was that he failed to see the point of what vision really is.
Bringing something to the Ward is not what people want, well, not the only thing. The residents want to know that their leaders have the foresight to set the stage before something actually comes. A good example is the proposed Wal-Mart on NY Ave. I have stated over and over again that a Wal-Mart is fine for that location but the design and ability to control traffic mitigation was abysmal. Nearly every Council member I spoke with said they “wished they had some leverage over Wal-Mart” to make them pay for improvements on traffic and the impacts to noise, light pollution, local businesses, wages, etc it would cause. In fact, I even sent legislation from a couple of other jurisdictions from around the country that did just that from cities in exactly the same predicament. None of them acted on it. Instead, they threw up their hands and kept saying “there’s nothing we can do”. So now, the Wal-Mart on NY Ave will absolutely destroy the traffic flow of that area and the City (correction, all of us) will have to pay to improve the roads so they can exist.
That is a failure in leadership and vision.
At the recent PCDC meeting, Vincent Orange and Thomas kept pointing to the great achievement of bringing the Home Depot and Giant to the Brentwood Shopping Center. The need for this retail was there, true. But the Council failed the public in thinking about the long term vision of the community. Having these two anchor stores face each other with a sea of parking lot between them is absolutely poor planning, especially next to the Metro (and I won’t even get started on the entry and exit roads from this shopping center).
Again, failure of vision.
What our leaders don’t seem to understand is that leadership and vision is not providing us a list of what is coming to the Ward under his or their watch. That just shows that you know how to put a list together of what private developers are taking advantage of in a market economy (i.e. Rhode Island Row was the result of a very knowledgeable and talented Steve Golden, WMATA director of Real Estate who saw this potential and with whom I have worked with on a similar NJ transit oriented development). True leadership is preparing the area through legislation and proper zoning to ensure that the right kind of development comes that is cohesive for the short and long term plans of the area.
Recently, Harry Thomas has posted on various list serves about a Rhode Island Ave Task Force meeting that occurred this past Tuesday evening. He claimed that he made the announcement at the last PCDC meeting, which I and several other attendees who were there and stayed longer than Thomas did, don’t recall him ever announcing the meeting date or time. In fact, even the Friends of RIA, who represent one of the largest resident groups in the area, was not invited to the Task Force meeting, even after being assured by the Thomas that they would be. Councilmember Thomas refuses to respond to my emails asking about the details of the meeting, I guess, because he assumes he is above responding to his constituents directly.
People in Ward 5 need to stop nodding their heads and passively letting Thomas and other elected officials get away with touting that they helped bring this or that to the Ward and instead start shaking their head in acknowledgement that it is their failure of vision and leadership that is bringing us strip clubs, nearly every pot cultivation and dispensary, badly planned developments, and traffic nightmares, just to name a few.
I hope that Harry Thomas Jr. finally gains the impression of what having true vision and leadership for redevelopment means. I really do. There are great things happening with residents finally recognizing that they need to organize and be their own voice. I have worked across this country on development and redevelopment projects, from California to New England to Florida to Canada, and I have consulted with residents on taking control of their community because of their elected leadership’s failure to be legislatively brave and plan for the kind of community their constituents want.
I am encouraged by the organization of residents and their ideas. Old and new residents are coming together across this Ward to make things better. I look forward to Harry Thomas Jr. joining them in this journey. So far, he is failing.
By the way, in regards to questions on a local list serve about the RIA Task Force meeting that Harry Thomas Jr organized and failed to let any real residents groups know about, Stephanie Rones, Executive Director of PCDC, had a simple answer (which I can hardly argue wasn’t the real intent):
If they wanted you to be there, you would hae been invited.
Yep. That’s what we thought.