by Susan Axleroad
Southwest residents, spearheaded by Southwest DC Action, are stepping up efforts to ensure there is a strong community influence in deciding the fate of the lots at 4th and M Streets SW, aligned with DC Mayor Muriel Bowser’s visit to the Southwest Neighborhood Association’s monthly meeting at Arena Stage. Concerned residents hope to build on the momentum they achieved as a result of last year’s highly successful petition drive, which saw more than 1,000 residents urge the city to purchase the lots and transfer the land to a community land trust.
Since then, community members have continued to press their case by writing to Bowser, Ward 6 Councilmember Charles Allen and other officials and to visit city officials in their offices and during neighborhood events. According to activists, the response of city officials thus far has been that the city lacks the funds and desire to make such a purchase.
Despite this, “we are not going away,” said Pamela McKinney of Southwest DC Action, who describes the issue as a matter of equity. She notes for comparison big-ticket outlays the District has planned or funded elsewhere in the city, including $50 million on parks in the NoMa neighborhood, $14 million to enhance the landscape around Eastern Market Metro Station, $13 million to redesign “Dave Thomas Circle” and a $2 million bid for a dog park in Columbia Heights.
“We see these similar developments in other parts of the city. So why not preserve the heart of Southwest for the community, or at least ensure the voice of the community is heard in the planning process for these vital, irreplaceable spaces?” McKinney said.
Neighborhood concern continues to grow as information about a possible planned “to the curb” development of 4th and M Streets SW has circulated, which would include removal of the space for the farmers’ market, as well as the existing trees, benches, and water fountains in front of Safeway.
The community has become quite vocal in what they want to see at this intersection, including retaining and enlarging the existing are in front of Safeway to accommodate informal meetings as well as child-friendly play areas; enhancing and expanding the space devoted to the Saturday farmers’ market and Friday night markets; guaranteeing any new housing developments include large numbers of deeply affordable units (in light of the 20,000 people that remain on the waitlist for subsidized housing), and open green space to provide relief from the ranks of high-rise developments lining Maine Avenue from The Wharf to Navy Yard.
To ensure these and other ideas are taken seriously, Southwest DC Action and other concerned Southwest residents plan to take them directly to Mayor Bowser on April 3.
“Look for us wearing red and white,” McKinney said, explaining that ”red signifies passion and energy, both of which we see growing exponentially as Southwest residents learn about and seek to preserve the ‘town center’ of Southwest DC.” To learn more, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.