During July’s community meeting keynote speaker Marc Weiss explained how a series of community development projects that the Southwest Neighborhood Assembly undertook lead to not only a revitalized Southwest, but also a revitalized city. He reviewed how in 1998, the Assembly gained control of the eminently historic Syphax School. Then in a ground-breaking agreement, created an affordable housing village on a former toxic junkyard and refurbished the school. He discussed what, at the time, was the ground-breaking approach of shuttering an enclosed shopping mall and re-opening a formerly closed street to create Waterfront Station. And, of course, he conveyed how the Assembly set the groundwork for a billion-dollar waterfront rivaling Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. All this in what was then an area that many Washingtonians didn’t know of with the exception of a relative handful who visited Southwest’s hidden gems like the Maine Ave Fish Market or the Market Inn.
Sometimes the solution was found by opening up a dialogue. For example, the Assembly found success in promoting the benefits of Southwest when Arena Stage was planning to decamp to Northwest, rather than doubling-down in Southwest. Other times it was the more heavy-handed tactic of paying a law firm $500 to explore suing the EPA for moving out of Southwest.
It was equally captivating to hear how these strategies were successful at other levels. Marc moved on to develop the Hope IV program at U.S. HUD and take the leading role in city’s economic development office. At the city, he birthed former Mayor Fenty’s residential-based development model and the Anacostia Waterfront Initiative: both of which we’re seeing the fruits of today.
Throughout the evening, he nonetheless provided cautionary advice. Pursued to their ultimate extension without mitigating measures, these development models price out long-standing residents, reduce diversity, and subsume community heritage. He concluded offering pro bono counsel to the Assembly and advice to the community. Noting that few neighborhoods can match Southwest’s rich diversity and heritage, he invited a number of strategies to publicize and promote our unique assets.