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Kojo In Your Community: The Changing Face Of North Capitol Street

The District is a city in flux, and nowhere are the changes more dramatic than North Capitol Street, NE, just blocks from the U.S. Capitol. Luxury condos and trendy restaurants are transforming parking lots and factories and drawing new residents to the area. At the same time, many low income residents who’ve lived here for decades are feeling squeezed out. A panel of guests joins a live studio audience at NPR's headquarters for this "Kojo In Your Community" to discuss how both longtime residents and newcomers see the changes.

10 Highlights From KIYC: The Changing Face Of North Capitol Street

Panelists from D.C. planning, advocacy and business improvement offices, along with audience members, discussed who's moving in to the NoMa neighborhood of Washington, who's moving out and what's next for the fast-changing district.

  1. 1. Who coined the moniker NoMa? Large cities like San Francisco and New York City had invented neighborhood names by abbreviating street boundaries. "It caught on," said Patricia Zingsheim of the D.C. Office of Planning.
  2. 2. NoMa is named for its location North of Massachusetts Avenue in Northeast D.C. It used to refer to a larger area that stretched from Mt. Vernon Square where the Convention Center sits over to Union Station, north of Capitol Hill. Now it's considered the area just north of the U.S. Capitol and Union Station. According to the NoMA BID, it's bounded generally by Massachusetts Avenue to the south, New Jersey and North Capitol Street to the west, and Q and R Streets to the north.
  3. 3. "There was an interest in having a community rather than an office park," said Zingsheim. Developers thought NoMa would be an office district. But the planning office envisioned an area that's 50 percent residential, with retail and cultural uses.
  4. 4. NoMa is an example of developer-driven development, rather than a community-driven approach, Empower DC executive director Parisa Norouzi said. "It's backwards."
  5. 5. Norouzi said development has eliminated the legacy of existing communities. By renaming the area NoMa, we are “literally calling them new communities," which she says is disrespectful.
  6. 6. "NoMa is a stone’s throw from the Capitol and is a playground for capitalists," said Kalfani Ture, a cultural anthropologist.
  7. 7. An audience member who has lived in Rwanda, Dubai and India said he has seen the same conversations about dealing with gentrification everywhere he's lived. He said affordable housing rarely works, or if it does, it's short lived and poorer residents move out after 10 years. He asked the panel if there are any innovative solutions that haven't been put forth yet.
  8. 8. Sursum Corda is an example of a low-income housing neighborhood that works, according to Norouzi. She said it's a great model because a cooperative owns the property, offering stable homes for residents.
  9. 9. “D.C. is becoming more chocolate chip than a chocolate city," said Ture. He noted the economic inequality in NoMa tends to be divided by race.
  10. 10. A listener asked whether encouraging and helping lower-income D.C. residents to vote might help affordable housing ideas come together. Ture said low-income residents came out to vote for President Barack Obama, so he's not convinced disenfranchisement is the problem.

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