This past Saturday, several dozen Brightwood area residents, community leaders, agency officials and local business people convened the first Upper Georgia Avenue Visioning Summit at the Emery Recreation Center. Sponsored by the Emory Beacon of Light Community Development Corporation and the Beacon Brightwood Business Alliance, the summit was a phenomenal opportunity for residents to meet, share ideas and visualize what the community wants from the redevelopment of the Upper Georgia Avenue Corridor.
Upper Georgia Avenue Development Projects
City planning documents mark the south end of the Upper Georgia Avenue corridor at Decatur St NW. The zone continues north to Eastern Avenue NW on the city’s border. This area represents one of the longest business districts in the entire city. It is anchored by pending commercial and residential development projects both large and small. Local business leaders such as Victoria Davis from the Parks at Walter Reed and Hazel Broadnax from the Beacon Center project highlighted a panel discussion that delved into the community impacts of these large-scale projects.
DC Government Programs
Afterwards, representatives from several DC Government agencies shared information about how their programs effect the neighborhood. Erkin Ozberk from the Neighborhood Planning Division of the DC Office of Planning gave a very informative presentation on his office’s activities. He stated, “The central issue for the District right now is to be equitable in how we’re planning. Making sure that the progress that is taking place is seen across the entire city and is shared.”
Randall Clarke, Director of the Walter Reed Local Redevelopment Authority, gave a brief synopsis of the history of the city’s acquisition of the property from the U.S. Army and gave a run-down of what residents should expect over the next several years, including in a few short weeks when 900 students will begin attending the new DC International Public Charter School on the campus. He reiterated how important it is to connect the existing small businesses along Georgia Avenue with users who are going to be on the site. He said, “There have been about 200 guys on the site every day building that school. We asked the question, ‘Where are they eating lunch?’ There are businesses on Georgia Avenue that can benefit from that. “
The audience had many insightful questions for the assembled experts. One question that stood out came from a young woman who asked, “Can there be a cap placed on the number of residents who move into the city?” Though the question drew knowing laughs from the audience, its essence perfectly encapsulated many people’s anxiety about traffic, congestion, parking and simply being priced-out of the neighborhood due to the impending development. Representatives gave pro-forma answers, but the weight of the question lay on the floor like a rug.
Keynote – “Embracing Change”
After a tasty lunch provide by owners of WAPA Café, Councilmember Brandon Todd’s capable Deputy Chief of Staff Dolly Turner delivered the keynote address. The main theme of her speech was Embracing Change and Moving Forward with the Times. She noted:
There are a lot of small businesses that have been around here for a long time. As the demographics of the neighborhood change, we’re going to have to change with it. Existing residents have experienced a void in services and newer neighbors have different expectations. People are increasingly using the internet and mobile apps to shape their shopping experience.
In this new world, a lot of our business are going to have to update themselves, otherwise they will probably be left behind. Having a website, an active social media presence and collecting customers’ email addresses is going to be critical. It is incumbent upon us to help our small business owners embrace change and position themselves for success.
She then outlined several ways that the Councilmembers’ office helps our local small businesses get up to date with their marketing, support services and other needs.
The afternoon ended with very productive Breakout groups that discussed issues ranging from Arts and Education to Retail Business Development. Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners Stacey Lincoln (ANC4A), Karrye Braxton (ANC4A), Scot Knickerbocker (ANC4B) also participated.
Overall, this was an excellent forum to exchange ideas and meet other stakeholders in Upper Georgia Avenue’s resurgence. We are going to need everyone’s input if the community is going to share in the progress to come.