Monday, July 16, 2012


The District government hasn't had the best track record when it comes to community engagement in Ward 8. I've addressed this before in a previous postAt times there seems to be this divide (either real or imagined) between city agencies and the Ward 8 residents that they serve. 

In my opinion, part of the problem is that there are so few people who live east of the river who work in positions of leadership in District government. It is very telling (and a little demoralizing) to sit in a meeting with organizations (including DC agencies) discussing important Ward 8 issues (like unemployment and economic development) and realizing that not one of them lives in our community.  I think that some of the missteps we have seen in Ward 8 can be tracked back to the lack of representation in the decision making positions. To quote Boyz n the Hood, "Either they don't know, don't show, or don't care about what goes on in the hood."

I don't think it is as malicious as a lack of caring but perhaps a lack of perspective?

Could Metergate have been avoided?
You can't Google the East of the River experience.  My blog may bridge part of the gap but it doesn't come close to filling the void. East of the river engagement is an "on the ground"  and "in the streets" type of operation.  It involves many different perspectives and skill-sets (and maybe a confrontation or two).  The strategies and tools that may be successful in Columbia Heights may not translate in Congress Heights. You can't expect a community that has been disenfranchised for a generation to come running at the first mention of a community meeting. It will take more than free hotdogs to get people excited about the Saint Elizabeths project. And you can not,  for the love of all things holy,  continue to engage people to do community outreach east of the river who do not live or work east of the river.

I can't count how many times I have been asked to advise (for free) paid outreach consultants from outside of Ward 8 (and sometimes the District).  Not only is it impractical (imagine the time that is wasted trying to get up to speed)  but  it's very insensitive to those of us who have invested the time, money, and energy into Ward 8. There are a lot of capable organizations and consultants right here in Ward 7 and Ward 8. As Ward 8 projects get off the ground (like Saint Elizabeths) we should see more genuine (notice I said "genuine") local businesses and consultants being engaged, not less. You need the right tools for the right job and some of those tools should be local. Perhaps with all the issues that are facing East of the River particularly hard (like high rates of  unemployment) it is time to consider a more coordinated East of the River effort like a temporary government agency made up of Ward 7 and Ward 8 consultants. 

Let me be clear, Ward 8 is not perfect and our residents and community leaders can (and do) benefit from outside collaboration but we also have an idea of what works in our community. Where an outside consultant may assume, a local resident has first-hand experience. There is a reason that some Ward 8 residents chuckle when they hear some of the ideas for the Saint Elizabeths project.

Despite this disconnect I do think some DC agencies and their representatives are on the right track when it comes to engaging the community and local resources for East of the River projects. The ability of some agency staff to be proactive, innovative and inclusive sends them to the head of the class when it comes to community engagement. Over the next few weeks I am going to try to highlight some of those instances where thinking outside of the box (or within the Ward) is having a positive impact.

Hopefully this will encourage others to do the same.  Consider this more free (but not really) advice.

Stay tuned.

To submit an article or to inquire about advertising send an email to


Anonymous said...

While I agree for the most part, I think EOTR could benefit from professionals that have experience building rebound communities. I have heard outraged EOTR residents demand chipotle and the likes and it really makes me wonder if we (myself included) arent thinking bigger than our own appetites. As an architect (and coming from my mostly biased perspective as I am also an EOTR resident) I know first hand that sometimes input comes more in the form of a patient telling a doctor what is wrong with them, rather than giving him/her the symptoms.

The Advoc8te said...

I appreciate your comment. As I said in the post I do believe in cooperation (I encourage it all the time). We need a lot of different people at the table but what I have seen is a total lack of professionals from EotR being engaged in the planning and engagement process in EotR projects. I can think of one person who works for OP who is assigned EotR but after that I draw a blank. There is this assumption that there are no "professionals that have experience building rebound communities" that live EotR. I don't think that is accurate at all. I think what has happened is that the people in charge of making connections here are not from here so they don't know what our resources look like. So, when they need to engage support they go where they are most familiar -- either with firms/consultants they have worked with before for other DC projects or they put out an RFP that is not really geared toward engaging local talent (and thus you end up with a firm in California doing the engagement work for Ward 8).

Whatever the reason, there is a real disconnect between those who are supposed to be crafting the message and those that are receiving it. The Saint Es project is perfect example. If this project is supposed to activate the local economy it should start in the planning process by engaging (i.e hiring) talent from within the community. I don't know how effective a community engagement strategy can be with a firm/organization that has 0 experience in Ward 8. Contractors are looking to the district to set an example.

Anonymous said...

I completely agree. All you have to do is look at the numbers. East of the River lags behind the rest of the city in all of the major benchmarks: employment, schools, economic development, transportation. If there is no one in these agencies with substantial ties to communities "over there" how can we be expected them to prosper? And I am not including the same three poverty pimps DC trots out whenever there are calls for more "inclusion."

'Taxation without representation' comes to mind.

Anonymous said...

I agree. I have lived and worshiped in Ward 8 for 13 years. I have two terminial degrees and licensed in 2 different disciplines. I have attempted to work in DC government to no avial. Unless you are politically connected it seems you can't get work in DC government. I travel 100 miles roundtrip to a professional position in Baltimore with the state of Maryland. Go figure.

Anonymous said...

Has there been an audit of how many agency heads and their leadership staff live east of the river? It sounds like it would be eye opening to say the least.

The Advoc8te said...

The only agency head that I am aware of that lives EotR is DLSBD Director Harold Pettigrew. It makes sense -- he is awesome.

Anonymous said...

The concept of community outreach needs to catch up with the times. Asking working people to come to meetings where everyone around the table BUT THEM is getting paid is coo-koo for cocoa puffs. And, I don't want to get paid in turkeys either. Thank you, very much. So, the next default is to have the meeting at 6 p.m. I just got off, gotta feed my tribe, do homework, and have some sense of family time. The internet is free and has all kinds of fixins, bells, and whistles to connect people and ideas. Let's catch up. Unless, the real is, it's just more convenient to say "those folk" don't want to participate and "we" know what's best for them. Fave line: "Where an outside consultant may assume, a local resident has first-hand experience."

Anonymous said...

I am a returning resident to Ward 8 after serving in the Navy. I would like to become more involved in our community and help to give an additional voice to the community needs. Can anyone point me in the right direction please? I am shocked at how the community is treated in whole by the rest of the city. I also dont like how they schedule the ANC meetings in the middle of the week during the evening. Why not move them to the first Sat so that more people will be able to attend?

Blackworkingclass said...

I think this post begins to hit at the heart of the contradictions happening East of the River. It is not just that professionals aren't being hired to plan redevelopment efforts but the whole community East of the River is being shut out from this economic development. Literally billions of dollars are invested East of the River but none is going to the community. How can anyone justify they way they are spending this money and Ward 8 still has the highest unemployment rate in the country. Ultimately, the truth is that this development is not for residents East of the River it is for those who will gentrify these communities.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:43pm: "The concept of community outreach needs to catch up with the times. Asking working people to come to meetings where everyone around the table BUT THEM is getting paid is coo-koo for cocoa puffs."

AMEN! There is this believe that the community is made up of inexperience, uneducated, and defenseless sheep that need to be herded. There is a lot of talent in these communities, a lot of educated, experienced, and focused professionals who could not only provide a valuable service to the organizations and agencies working east of the river but could say them a ton in tax payer dollars.

I am tired of sitting in meetings where DC officials promise that the Saint Elizabeths project is going to jump start this renaissance of economic development in Ward 8. If you notice they only talk about the "new" people and businesses that are going to come to Ward 8 -- not the incorporation of what is already here. The result is you have a lot of big businesses and companies positioning themselves with faux office space in Ward 8 and applying for the contracts designated for local and small businesses. You truly local and small businesses can't compete. The CBE process is cumbersome to the point of being nearly impossible for a truly small business and the ones giving the contracts are not looking for local talent that resides in Ward 7 and Ward 8.

As Anonymous so eloquently said, everyone around the table is getting paid BUT US.

The Advoc8te said...

I want to clarify one of my earlier comments. I am aware of one planner, Stephen Rice, of Office of Planning who is assigned EotR AND who lives East of the River.

OP has 3 staff members assigned EotR.

P.S. Stephen Rice is another great find. He is sharp, informed, and very community conscious. I first met him when we were on the River East Emerging Leaders steering committee.

Southeast Jerome (still here) said...

Our neighborhood heroine is being pretty gentle here in calling out these humpty-dumpty folks who operate in our hood like crash dummies with expense accounts and per diems.

Call it for what it muthaphuckin is... straight dog excrement.

The fact that low-level Stephen Rice, Pettigrew, DC Fire Chief Ellerbie, S. "crankles" Bunn, and maybe a couple others in live across the water is great but means nothing here for this matter at hand.

These consultants are not just white imperialists, there are black cultural imperialists, too. All they do is take from our hood and give not a damn thing back. Meanwhile they're getting paid and me and mines hustle just to get bus fare.

This is and has been a problems for years. But now folks are giving a sh*t about Anacostia.

Keep banging at 'em Eratha Kitt. On Chicago Street we know what it is.

The Advoc8te said...

"Guilty as charged" in terms of being gentle.

As much as I may want to "tell it like it is" a sista has to work in this town!

But seriously, this is something that really needs to be addressed. I have some serious concerns and if the comments are any indication I am not the only one.