Exclusive Interview with Fredrica “Rikki” Kramer
By Mike Goodman
Fredrica “Rikki” Kramer has lived in Southwest for over 40 years, and has been an activist and advocate for much of that time. On Nov. 18, she was elected in a Special Election as the new Commissioner of SMD 05, winning with 53% of the vote.
She currently serves on the Near SE/SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC), DC Housing Authority’s Greenleaf Advisory Committee, the Wharf Development Advisory Group, and is active in other areas as well.
Commissioner Kramer has worked in federal, state and local government, and research think tanks. She has a master’s degree in urban planning, and master’s and doctorate degrees in public administration.
Why did you decide to run for ANC?
This community’s special mix of age, race, and income deserves notice and nurturing. I have been working for several years with CBCC, whose explicit mission is to maintain social diversity in redevelopment, helping to negotiate for community benefits toward that end. Joining the ANC is the chance to be at the front end when critical decisions are being made, and a logical step toward creating a more effective voice for the work I’ve been doing. This is also a way to bring my national perspective and expertise in urban and social policy down to the local level where I might have a direct impact. And I like to talk to people, hear their perspectives and concerns, find shared goals and figure out ways to achieve them.
What do you hope to accomplish in your first year as a Commissioner? How about over the long term?
I’d like to reach and engage the broadest set of constituents that I can as quickly as I can, and to begin to bridge the interests and perceptions of newcomers in our rapidly growing community with those who have been here for a while. This is the best way to address the potential loss through redevelopment, rapid expansion and gentrification, of real social integration – a hallmark of Southwest. Our Small Area Plan is a clear expression of a shared vision, but was produced before redevelopment had fully taken off and it is probably time to re-engage the community in that vision and try to join forces.
As we move forward, I hope to explore opportunities to create more amenities (e.g., playgrounds, dog parks, community gardens) to accommodate our changing population, preserve open space and improve community facilities that can serve a mix of residents. Neighborhood-serving businesses are still a scarce component of redevelopment plans, and many that are a part of new developments continue to struggle. I hope to explore new mechanisms to develop more such businesses and services, as well as different housing options to support a range of singles, couples and families. I also hope to begin addressing the aggregate effects of redevelopment decisions on, for example, the number of below-market-rate and family-sized housing units and the status of open and common space, so that we might strengthen our ability to advocate for community benefits that effectively support diversity.
I hope we have the multi-modal transportation study the ANC has asked for completed quickly, so that we can deal more effectively with the continued congestion and competition between bikes and cars, and can have adequate surface and underground parking for those who need it. I hope also to see continuous improvement in our local schools so that those families who chose Southwest will stay here for the long term, and to see other accommodations in redevelopment so those Southwesters who have chosen to age in place can also stay here.
What do you see as some of Southwest’s greatest opportunities, moving forward?
Southwest, including Buzzard Point, and Near SE, is undergoing the greatest redevelopment effort in the District. As much of the District struggles with gentrification and the often competing goals of growth and diversity, Southwest can develop models for development that can serve the whole District and other cities experiencing the same struggles. We are lucky to have a very strong and widely respected ANC, with years of knowledge and expertise among its members, and a shared vision for equitable development. But there is work ahead to expand the tools we can use to realize that vision.
Southwest also has a collection of world class architecture from its redevelopment in the 60s, as well as a rich history as home to low-income African Americans from the early 19th c on, and a port of entry for European immigrants. We still have opportunities to preserve some of that legacy, and have work ahead to get community endorsement.
What are some of the neighborhood’s biggest challenges?
As we increase density and overall population, the number of below-market-rate units will become a smaller and smaller portion of the whole. It is also cheaper to build small units than those that may serve the mix of population that the community says it wants. As housing and services become generally more expensive, those of more modest means will be inevitably squeezed out unless the community’s resolve is insistent and we find more ways to support the desired mix. As noted above, as so many new residents move to Southwest, we must find ways to integrate newcomers with longstayers, to create a shared vision for the community and to support redevelopment strategies that will not pit one against the other.
As Southwest becomes a destination rather than just a residential neighborhood, traffic congestion, parking, safe biking, and neighborhood-serving amenities are in increasing competition with strategies to serve visitors. It is easier for developers to create big, and costly, commercial spaces than to provide small, affordable, spaces to support neighborhood-serving businesses. We need to find new mechanisms (e.g., rent supplements, lease arrangements, commercial condos) to provide smaller and less expensive spaces in order to house neighborhood-serving retail and to maintain it for the long haul.
Buzzard Point is on the cusp of massive development and risks becoming an enclave for the more monied without effective advocacy for a mix of housing and services. There has yet to be an adequate plan for emergency services, schools and other amenities that can make this new community more inclusive. It is also geographically isolated by the two rivers on one end and relatively inaccessible without thoughtful traffic and transportation planning that does not put at risk the communities to its north through which most travelers to Buzzard Point must pass.
Tell us something else about yourself that we did not already know!
I have a bucket list full to overflowing with things I fantasize fulfilling if I ever formally retire: I was a violinist from childhood through most of my adult life, and recently inherited a fine instrument that begs to be warmed up; I have a book to finish on the role of religion and faith-based services in the public sphere; I have a kitchen waiting for an upgrade; and I am looking for a minder to make order out of the chaos of several organizational and writing projects that ooze out of my office. That last will probably never happen.