Visions of a Future Washington:
From NARPAC's beginnings, we have tried to stimulate interest in looking ahead to see what our nation's capital city should become, and then begin to establish the policies and incentives necessary to realize that collective dream. Our initial description, now dated, is still presented as An Ideal Capital City. In the Mayor's first year in office, he established a City-wide Strategic Plan that contained the initial outline of his strategic vision. Now two new visions have emerged the latter in response to the former:
o Dr. Alice Rivlin, chair of the DC Control Board , has provided her report entitled Envisioning a Future Washington, wirtten in conjunction with her Brookings compatriot Carol O'Cleireacain, author of "The Orphan City". As the Control Board disappears in late 2001, Dr. Rivlin hopes that this report will "stimulate serious debate and discussion about the District's future and its role in the Greater Washington Region".
o NARPAC agrees with much of the "Rivlin Vision", but also finds it a relatively unstable and impractical course. Hence NARPAC, based on its critique of the Rivlin work, as well as its own extensive quantitative work, has produced NARPAC's own vision, projecting more commercial than residential growth, and hoping to raise revenues by about 25%, making tax cuts and bigger infrastructure investments possible.
o At the end of 2001, NARPAC prepared its own assessment of the city's limited progress during 2001, and wistfully compared it to President Bush's single-minded approach to the War Against Evildoers;
Quantitative Measures of City Progress:
There has been a gradually increasing interest in the need to establish qualitative and quantitative criteria for measuring progress in turning DC into an outstanding American core city. This section describes several of these:
o In 1998, NARPAC established its own set of tables of factors in long range solutions in each of the primary areas of governance. These were updated in January, 2002;
o In 1999, the DC Agenda Project drafted a set of "score cards" by which to measure progress by key DC government officials.
o NARPAC suggested the addition of many more qualitative indicators and updated them in January, 2002;
o Also in 1999, NARPAC proposed a set of specific quantitative target values for assessing progress and also updated them in January, 2002;
o In 1999, the Childrens' Rights Council developed a metohd to score various places to raise a kid, and DC ranked very poorly indeed;
o and in late 2000, the Potomac Conference of the Greater Washington Board of Trade put out the inaugural version of a "Potomac Index" by which to measure the development progress of the Greater Washington Metro Area. NARPAC believes it has a ways to go.
In June, 2001, the Brookings Greater Washington Research Program released a report by Alice Rivlin and non-resident Senior Fellow Carol O'Cleireacain intended to "stimulate vigorous debate and discussion about the District's future and its role in the Greater Washington Region". To do this, it presents two different proposals for demographic growth, compares them, and decides on "some of each". NARPAC fully agrees with the need for such dialogue, and is more than willing to enter such a vigorous discussion--it has recommended the need for such a vision since its inception. These two experienced urban affairs specialists believe that the forthcoming dissolution of the Control Board heralds the right moment to begin. Clearly, the intent is to evolve a preferred vision and then recommend various public policies to make that vision come true.
The Rivlin Vision (NARPAC's terminology, not hers) reflects "a successful residential strategy--a substantial increase in DC population, including families with children reflecting "the revitalization of Washington neighborhoods with a central focus on effective schools and neighborhood services". It places residential growth ahead of commercial growth; adding residents rather than changing the present mix; neighborhood revitalization over citywide development, and is silent on questions of local political (or oversight) evolution.
It visualizes an admittedly ambitious population increase of some 100,000 people in 55,000 households, half of which would be singles, childless couples, or empty-nesters, while the other half would involve families with kids. It would add some 25,000 school-age children, all of whom would attend DC public schools, thereby upping enrollment to 104,000 by 2010. The authors envision a downward trend in the African-American share of total households, but not enough to fall below a numerical majority. They project only 20,000 new private sector jobs in DC, 15,000 of which would go to DC residents. They see a (near-miraculous) drop in the poverty rate "from 22% to 14% as a result of more effective schools and training, combined with more available jobs". Their vision projects a markedly increased revenue base (as more middle-income families arrive or stay) sufficient to "support improved services, especially schools, affordable housing, and pay debt service on bonds used to modernize DC's infrastructure."
The vision predicts (without enlargement) that traffic congestion will not worsen because system capacity will increase, and a higher proportion of those working in the city will live here. It proposes to enhance neighborhoods by 'targeting' certain ones for growth, attracting one major "anchor institution" (apparently a tax-exempt non-profit) to each which would assist in neighborhood development (and jobs). Higher density development is seen around Metro stations (a NARPAC cause celebre), and there would be greater use of "community schools" which serve many local neighborhood functions (another NARPAC favorite). Lower racial tensions are foreseen due to a "return of the middle-class". The authors also point up the need for greater cross-jurisdictional cooperation that might include a regional transportation authority with teeth in it; joint efforts for affordable housing, and some federal payment for DC services provided (or the relinquishing of more state-level functions). Again, these are consistent with NARPAC conclusions.
The vision point up the risks of exacerbating racial tensions by selectively targeting only certain neighborhoods for major development, by raising the specter of "gentrification", or by bringing in new residents wealthier than those already here. It recommends that these risks can be minimized through "community-wide dialogue about the economic future of the city", and by reducing the poverty of the next generation through better education. (They do not explicitly address the need for increased home ownership, or the need to share some of DC's poor with its suburbs, to NARPAC's disappointment.)
Perhaps most important, this report accepts the need to look at what NARPAC has called the "net productivity" of its residents. It provides some rough estimates (perhaps no better than NARPAC's) on the comparative revenues generated by, and city costs incurred by, various types of households. It notes at one extreme that a two-earner couple with no kids may provide net income to the District of $13,000, while a single earner with two kids could incur a net cost to the District of $16,600. It is a major step forward to have a published report with the Brookings logo on every page that ventures into this area of fiscal productivity. NARPAC's first pass was based on per-acre productivity from different income levels. The Rivlin/O'Cleireacain work--three years later--assigns average values to different household compositions and estimates the revenues contributed--and costs incurred--by each. Several other approaches are available as well. Accepting the principle is far more important than accepting a particular measure.
As is often the case, NARPAC is caught between the importance of broadening and enlivening this important debate/discussion; and the risks of appearing negative--a particular problem since this web site presents substantial information and analysis which does not support some of the assertions made in the Rivlin Vision. Furthermore, NARPAC--for better or worse--accepts a more analytical role with less emphasis on what might be called societal niceties involving diversity, vibrancy, et al. The Rivlin Vision seems to be caught somewhere between wishful dreams and achievable goals. NARPAC therefore offers its differing views, perhaps overstated for emphasis:
o Too little is made of DC's special role as the American central city in the American metro area that hosts our nation's capital; noting only that the authors believe residents would "speak of the importance of being proud to live and work in Washington";
o Too much is made of the struggle to balance DC's budget over the past few years, and too little is said about the basic problems still facing the city. They say that residents would like to have good services, good schools, and so forth, but there is no suggestion of what is required in additional human or fiscal resources to improve city services;
o The report speaks to the need to "raise the revenues it needs to support quality services and finance modern infrastructure", but it is silent on how much more revenue is required. In several places it says it needs more residents to "grow the tax base" and estimates that 100,000 new childless residents would raise a (paltry) $300 million. But then it settles on a mix of new adults and kids that would be nearly revenue/expenditure neutral, but possibly very revenue negative;
o The report perpetuates the myth that the only way to "grow the tax base" is to increase the number of residents, making dubious assertions about the inability to raise revenues through sales or property taxes or other sources. It blames far too much on limited taxable property, government and non-profit presence, and high costs of servicing these public facilities;
o The implication that the Federal Government presence is a net drain on the city seems particularly specious. Without the federal government DC would likely rank with Camden, NJ. While this device may seem to be useful in shaming the federal government into paying rent to a marginally-resourced inner city, NARPAC believes a more balanced economic impact statement is needed on the value to DC of hosting its nation's capital;
o The report does not specifically mention the opportunities to reduce expenditures as a viable alternative to raising revenues. Although it wisely emphasizes the need to consider both the service costs and revenue benefits of various futures, it applies that reasoning only to adding residents, not to reducing the highest tax-consumers, or to adding tax-paying commercial businesses as an alternative to residents. (See NARPAC's older works on land productivity, the impact of income mixand new study of the relative productivity of the residential and commercial sectors.)
o To its credit, however, the report point out that one more single mom with two school-age kids could cost DC a net of $16,583 in expenditures ($20,491) over revenues ($3908). This assumes that neither child is a crack baby, that few require special ed, and that the parent has a good paying job, well above the level of the "working poor" (to pay taxes of almost $4000). NARPAC believes these estimates are somewhat optimistic: costs may be underestimated by as much 30% and revenues overestimated by about the same. Furthermore, the assumed revenues for various new households seems well above the "mean" and "median" for one and two-earner white households, and almost out of reach for black households. They are certainly somewhat above the earnings of the DC teachers and police the authors would like to bring back as residents. (See NARPAC's new analysis of black and white earning power, and DC statistics of income).
o The report glosses over its prediction that "the poverty rate (will have) fallen from 22% to 14%" ...largely because of effective schools and training, combined with more available jobs". In many cases this could really mean that many DC poor will be shifting from welfare to the ranks of the working poor, thereby costing the city $16,000 per year instead of $25,000. It will be impossible to make meaningful progress in this key area (raising the poor) until the nature of the poor is fully understood. Solutions for an elderly couple with disabilities are very different than for an illiterate single teenage mom (born to an illiterate teenage single mom) with two kids with no assured health care. (See NARPAC's summary of the face of contemporary poverty, and suggestions resulting from its assessment of Section 8 mobility).
o The report also perpetuates the unsupportable myth that between 1970 and 2000, there was a large exodus of taxpayers, "especially heavy among middle-class families with children, both white and African-American" and that this emigration was responsible for a) diminishing the city's tax base, b) exacerbating racial tensions between the extremes of rich (whites) and poor (blacks), and c) somehow easing the housing problems of bringing 100,000 residents back into the city. Review of recent IRS statistics of Income does not support this large emigration. The quantitative record should be set straight: the departing population was primarily children, with lower income, mostly black parent(s) seeking (and finding!) a better life in the suburbs. (See NARPAC's population trends
o Much of the Rivlin Vision for integrating schools into neighborhood planning appears right on target. However, NARPAC is concerned by the growing ground swell to maintain and modernize--a significantly oversized school system. Such a movement is further exacerbated by positing 25,000 new school-aged kids, all bent on attending DC's public schools. This would require a total influx of kids of all ages of well over 35,000, and each with parent(s) not wealthy enough to prefer charter, parochial, or private schools. It is a richer mix of kids per adult (1:35) than the existing DC has now (1.4) and almost up to that of Maryland, Virginia, the US norm (1.3). Higher kids per adult ratios tend nowadays to reflect the demographics of poorer minority family neighborhoods. (See population trends
o The report gives no inkling as to whether there are 65,000 adults and 35,000 kids waiting to come into DC, with or without specific incentives. At the very least, a respectable poll is needed to find out how many families with kids in the metro area would prefer to live in the city with or without their cars, and how many urban parents with school aged kids would prefer to live in the suburbs with one or more cars if they could and under what conditions or incentives.
o But even if that mix should and could be achieved, it would not produce a requirement for a much larger school system. According to NARPAC's analysis of DCPS facility needs, school enrollment is bound to continue to decline for many years due to the distinct downturn in DC births beginning over a decade ago and now reaching only the fourth or fifth grades! We would project that at most, such a new influx of kids could justify decreasing the size of the school system (still near 80,000 kids) to 60,000 rather than 40,000.
o There is no discussion of what the citywide institutional focus should be. Too much emphasis is placed on the ability to solve the city's problems by improving individual neighborhood viability, and too little is placed on citywide improvements to make America's capital city a national and international magnet. NARPAC finds the notion of a capital city built around a federation of independent, happily "diverse", economically self-sufficient communities to be not only unrealistic but undesirable. We believe the city needs more residents with a strong allegiance to their county's national capital, and less with parochial paranoia about preserving their own backyards.
o There is no consideration of the need for requiring neighborhood productivity, or of the need to redefine neighborhoods into entities large enough to prepare a meaningful local balance sheet on revenues provided vs costs incurred. The smaller the decision-making neighborhood, the smaller the amount of change it will accept, and the less likely it is to welcome a citywide necessity be it a ballpark , a major parking facility, an expanding university, or a trash transfer station.
o There is precious little discussion of the importance of a meaningful regional (or even citywide) transportation plan -- in all its multifaceted ramifications--and little acknowledgment of the Metrorail system as the best engine for city and regional economic growth. The dismissal of traffic congestion problems seems particularly naive.
o NARPAC is also disappointed in the lack of focus on economic development East of the Anacostia beyond the banks of the river itself. The assumption that residential upgrading would spark racial unrest seems particularly condemning to the city's most impoverished quarter.
o The report notes that limitations on residential growth may be imposed by housing availability. In fact, however, these could be major obstacles. In the mid '90s, DC had less than 100,000 single family homes (96,000 to be exact), and about 27,000 condos. It is cursed with about 150,000 apartments, many of them substandard. There are well under 50,000 single family homes (the American family dream) in DC assessed between $100- and $200,000, and they are concentrated in a few wards. There are about 50,000 single family units assessed below $100,000. These homes are not attractive to aspiring 2- earner couples earning over $100,000, and upgrading them substantially will be considered "gentrification". Scarce housing is almost certain to run up DC's cost of living for families.
o The lack of focus on the metro area as the smallest basic economic entity leads to a failure to evolve a regional plan for sensible fiscal, societal, and political growth. There is a strong need to overtly decide--in conjunction with all relevant jurisdictions--just who is going to focus on what segments of the socioeconomic spectrum, and what are the real preferences of the real indivisible neighborhood i.e., the Greater Washington Metro area. Does DC really want more than its share of public school kids? Do upwardly mobile two-earner families with young kids really prefer higher density urban living? Should the center city really shift towards more families and less businesses (and government)? What region-wide facilities really belong in the inner city? Should the central city have several times its share of welfare cases? Where do the natural advantages lie between central city, inner and outer suburbs Where is uninhibited freedom of choice leading the metro area? NARPAC does not believe DC or GWMA can plan their interdependent futures without bellying up to these often-awkward questions.
o The illustrative residential options hold the total population increment constant at 100,000 (or 80,000), not the number of earners or households. This way the net revenue change goes from +$550M for all-childless households, to -$550M for two-child, one earner households. If the number of housing unit (or households) is kept constant, then the spread is from +$430M to - $825M a much riskier balance. Either way, small changes in the actual demographic change could have substantial impact on the revenue balance a very risky posture in NARPAC's view.
o The report realizes that encouraging even inducing?--the return of families (that do not pay their way) must be balanced by encouraging and also inducing--the immigration of non-family households willing to pay a good part of those families' public service bills. It recognizes that too many new kids per new empty nester could bring the city substantial budget deficits. How exactly would the DC government regulate this influx or even the subsequent family planning efforts of those households suitably enticed? Can home buyers and sellers be regulated? Can residential developers be told how many bedrooms to include, particularly if it runs counter to evident market trends? Can immigration rules keep out the too rich and the too poor, legislate birth rates, or establish racial quotas for those either coming or going? NARPAC finds particularly unconvincing the argument that DC needs 15-20,000 new parents to "fight for better schools". In fact, NARPAC believes that an urban economy founded primarily on residential financing will inevitably be very risky due to uncertainties in evolving demographics.
o Finally, and by no means limited to this particular report, some of the politically convenient ambiguity should be stripped from the terminology of the debate. Three terms are so conveniently obscure as to make meaningful discussion almost impossible:
o First, the term "middle class" appears to include everyone from just above the working poor to just below the top 5%. It is applied willy-nilly to individuals and households regardless of the number of earners or dependents, whether they own homes or rent substandard apartments. Using mean or median values to represent the costs or benefits for so large a group is meaningless. (See the difference between mean and median income). The assumption that this solid middle class always pays its way or contributes more to than it demands from its city is dangerously incorrect. At best that is an attribute of DC's "upper class". The RV makes a stab a defining groups by demographic composition instead of income class, rather than in addition to income class.
o Second, the term "neighborhood" is developing an almost irrational sanctity whether it refers to a signficiant section of the city (like Georgetown, or Capitol Hill). or some tiny almost indistinguishable few blocks (like Trinidad/Ivy City). Some city activists are currently trying to find out how many more little enclaves they can find with different names. NARPAC is convinced the trend should be in the opposite direction; consolidating such tiny identities into more meaningful, functional, and politically mature entities, generally clustered about metro stations. By so doing, all those larger, but fewer, neighborhoods can be revitalized. See NARPAC's own vision.
o Third, the term "gentrification" continues to be classified as a Class I crime. It is part of the battle cry of racial activists. The notion that anyone might be obliged to give up their inalienable right to a below standard dwelling--or a below-cost rental--for the greater good of the community is treated as inhumane, un-democratic and un-American. NARPAC lacks a good feel for just how many households are seriously threatened by "gentrification", how many of those will succumb to normal attrition, and how many would accept some financial settlement and other forms of assistance to move. But some amount of "reluctant relocation" due to upgrading is an absolutely normal consequence of our democratic market economy system. Most Americans devote their lives to improving and upgrading themselves and move several times in the process.
The concept of economic development without pain, change, winners or losers belongs to the now fully discredited political philosophy of socialism--certainly not to the democratic market economy that America stands for. The American solution is not to resist change but to make change acceptable (if not appealing)--generally through financial incentives. It seems ironic to NARPAC that DC politicos are willing to conjure up dubious financial incentives to attract more residents into the city (which is ill-prepared to receive them), but none for moving residents out of their evidently squalid areas (which the city is ill-prepared to eliminate). Yet it is these depressed areas which in large measure, directly or indirectly, increase the reluctance of many to adopt or retain the elusive idyll of city life.
Having been somewhat critical of the "Rivlin Vision" for the nation's capital city over the next ten years, it is only appropriate that NARPAC offer up its own version, satisfying the criticisms it raised. In contrast to the Rivlin Vision, NARPAC postulates political evolution, conscious role-sharing with its suburbs, growth favoring commercial expansion over residential expansion, citywide development over neighborhood parochialism, and changing the current mix of residents over simply adding more. In somewhat telegraph form, then, here is an alternate view of DC's near-term future. NARPAC hopefully envisions that:
Congressional Oversight of DC will have been significantly changed, the four anachronistic subcommittees and their conflicts of interest replaced with a single joint committee of the Congress focused on the evolution of large US metro areas--including DC. The Washington region has been selected to lead the way in developing the Model American 21st Century metro area--in the post-industrial, post-sprawl era.
The Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) will have been elevated in importance and authority (mainly through Congressional, not State, initiatives) with major planning functions and at least two tax-levying regional authorities:
a) a regional transportation authority responsible for expanding roads, airports, public transport, multimodal parking facilities, regional trash transfer stations, and maintenance of all regional railroad rights of way; and
b) a regional poverty alleviation authority responsible for affordable housing, job skill generation, relocation grants, and the availability of indigent health care;
The DC Legislative Branch will have been overhauled into a bicameral institution:
a) the City Senate will consist of 8 elected senators, 4 citywide, and one from each of the 4 "superwards" now used by the school system. The senate's role will be to focus on citywide issues. The citywide members will have committee assignments with the MWCOG;
b) the City House will be composed of 24 "townsmen", one representing each of the newly established 24 townships which replace the current proliferation of neighborhoods, communities, ANCs, etc. Those townships have become the smallest political entities recognized by the City Government.
Each township will have a small professional staff, designated representatives in city agencies, and full statistics on its demographics, poverty levels, crime rates, revenues base and city services costs, etc. Each will have some modest taxing authority.
The DC Executive Branch will now have a City Manager rather than a City Administrator. Its civil service system will have been thoroughly overhauled to be performance- based. Union representation of the city work force will be limited to five bargaining units; and the mayor will have the authority to "contract out" up to 30% of the personal services budget;
A regional slogan will have been adopted for the metro area highlighting its unique role hosting the national's capital: it will be known officially as the National Capital Metro Area (NCMA) with the goal of "leading American economic growth in the 21st Century";
A DC city slogan will have been adopted also reinforcing its close-in role to the nation's capital, something like "living, working, and growing within the aura of the nation's capitol";
The region will have adopted "relative advantage guidelines" for its major participating jurisdictions related to topography, geography, demography--and history. In essence these guidelines will present general agreements as to where certain groups are more likely to work and live, how common regional facilities are shared, etc.;
The District will agree to emphasize its unique disadvantage: limited space, and make a virtue and attraction of living, working, learning, visiting, and sharing within close community of the US Government, its functions, and its unparalleled parks, museums, etc.;
DC will have adopted a serious focus on fiscal productivity from both its taxable base and its untaxable base, through laws, regulations, incentives, and federal coaxing:
a) the federal government will have a larger presence, but will have turned over for DC use, much of its surplus land and facilities to include such tracts as Bolling Air Force Base, keeping only those with highly productive uses creating substantial net revenues for DC;
b) domestic non-profit businesses will be obliged to limit their under-used spaces and to develop improved means to generate city revenues through tourism, education, or integral revenue-generating facilities (Brookings will operate a commercial saloon called "The Think Tank"!);
c) other non-profit service institutions such as colleges and hospitals will be required to provide either "payments in lieu of taxes" (PILOTS) or "services In lieu of taxes" (SILOTS) whereby they treat disadvantaged patients or educate disadvantaged students--to some agreed level without charge to DC;
d) foreign governments will be encouraged to open their facilities to tourists, and to provide other amenities from housing for students to world's fair-like pavilions touting their county's virtues. (NARPAC elsewhere suggests that the Park Service develop an "International Mall" to compliment our National Mall--perhaps across the Anacostia River);
e) the tax rolls will be scrubbed of so-called tax-free facilities not meeting tax-free status;
DC will have reversed its dubious preference for residential over commercial productivity. It will have successfully encouraged new taxpaying businesses to enter DC, revised zoning around metro stations for higher density use, and raised real estate valuations for all properties within walking distance of metro stations;
DC will have discouraged low-density residential living by adjusting the balance between land taxes and property improvement taxes; eliminated the backlog of vacant and uninhabitable premises; and gradually removed rent controls which have perverse effects on residential upgrading;
DC will be in the midst of a major metro rail expansion, adding some 10 new stations (6 East of the Anacostia) and perhaps another 30 miles of new underground or elevated segments. The intent will be to eliminate downtown bottlenecks, and encourage multiple high density develop areas within the city;
The net result of these changes will be:
The federal work force will have reversed its decline and increased by 20,000 workers, most still living in the suburbs, while DC government workers will have declined by 5000;
The value of commercial real property will have increased by 20% with associated increases in net revenues to the city, and increased the at-place employment by another 50,000, perhaps half of whom will chose to live in DC. Commuter, visitor, and tourist traffic will all be up significantly.
Residential real property value will have increased 10%, though household size will continue to decline. Total households and households per acre will be up perhaps 10%, most with well above median household income;
A multi-pronged, multi-effort to rehabilitate the victims of decades of debilitating poverty will have been developed as the single most important program to assure the future development of the American metro area way of life. (See endnote);
The numbers of poor/disadvantaged/mentally-ill, be they kids, single parents, or the elderly, will be down significantly, and the net costs of the remainder will be shared with the suburbs under MWCOG-specified intra-regional transfers;
The campaign to lower the rates of unwed and teenage pregnancies will be continued and strengthened, particularly within the DC public school system. By 2010, such pregnancies will be down to only three times the US metro area average;
School enrollment will still be declining as a result of declining school-age population started in the mid'90s, and continuing indefinitely. School modernization plans will be limited to a future enrollment of 50,000--including a greatly increased number of mandatory adult "second chance" students. But additional functions as township community centers will have been added to the 100 remaining schools;
The number of DC households will have increased by about 30,000, the population will be up by perhaps 25,000, virtually all taxpaying adults, but there will be 15,000 less kids, 5,000 less low income parents, and 5,000 less welfare recipients, most replaced by upper income adults. This is believed to be the "natural" trend without immigration or emigration inducements, but with less kids and more seniors than the gross national norm.
At current revenue and expenditure rates, residential services costs will be down $250M, residential revenues will be up $275M, and commercial revenues will be up $125M. PILOTs will bring in $25M from non-profits, while SILOTs will reduce city costs by $25M. The Federal Government will be making a token payment of $45M to DC for its services, and the metro area outside DC will be transferring 1% of its $5.5Billion in tax revenues for regional poverty-sharing ($55M).
This will have produced a 25% increase in local revenues ($800M in '02$), providing greater funding for infrastructure and better services, and permitting DC tax rates to decline until they are fully comparable to those throughout the NCMA.
Endnote: The most difficult challenge facing American inner cities is solving the problem of "recycling", "re-calling", or "re-vitalizing" the many wasted and damaged lives that perpetuate themselves in squalid despair. Even the proper terminology does not exist. The huge amount of effort mobilized to protect the environment and clean up toxic wastes is grotesquely out of balance with the paltry efforts to salvage human lives. The growing fervor to prevent urban sprawl is out of proportion to the passivity expressed towards the urban blight that causes it. NARPAC believes that a concerted regional effort of public, private, and "faith-based" institutions could be mobilized to eliminate the DC area's urban blight. This web site is not the right venue, terminology, (or organization!) to spell out the details. But such an effort will surely involve the gradual re-processing of destitute urban families by: a) reassembling them into small self-supporting groups; b) re-locating them throughout the region to some sort of family hostels near public schools and centers of low-skill employment (offering each family both a "sign-up bonus" and a larger "graduation bonus"); c) then spending two to three years teaching, training, and familiarizing both the parents and their kids with the demands of independent life, from child care to writing resume's and developing marketable job skills; and d) "graduating" them to affordable housing throughout the region. It will require public funds, institutional cooperation, and patient volunteer assistance.
Once fully operational, such a regional program should be able to re-cycle 3-5000 families per year. While the "Rivlin Vision" suggests bringing "anchor institutions" into needy neighborhoods within DC, NARPAC suggests taking the needy in manageable groups to "anchor communities" throughout the region to get a fresh start and a broader perspective on job--and living--opportunities. Such a program clearly need not become all things to all poor people: the single most important group to reach are the very poorly educated single moms with one or more impoverished kids, poor health, and very little hope. The region sorely needs to assemble a group of civic experts willing and able to devise and implement such a program. These issues of the face of poverty and achieving greater affordable housing mobilityare discussed in greater detail elsewhere on this web site.
(a full-length version of January, 2002's editorial)
Meanwhile, back in the nation's capital city, home to some 575,000 partially disenfranchised citizens, DC's mayor continued to pursue his urban revitalization efforts with little Federal or White House support, marginal regional cooperation, and a petty--often partisan--Council. The mayor has no license to ignore human rights, innocent bystanders or partisan critics. He faces an economy fallen victim to homeland insecurity, threatening the first budget deficit in five years. With little Executive charisma, a fumbling bureaucracy and no Legislative statesmen, Mayor Williams continued his domestic wars on nine fronts, making limited progress at best on a few of them. The War on Evildoers did not cause his failings, but surely provided no substantive aid.
The War Against Colonialism made symbolic, but fruitless progress: DC's Control Board, a source of much local indignance, faded away without leaving any major improvements in DC governance. The DC Council agreed to add the almost illegible slogan "Taxation without Representation" to DC license plates, relaxed term limits, and approved redistricting. But tinkering in DC's budget and internal affairs continued by four Congressional subcommittees, and the Bush Administration failed to grasp the significance of, and reconstitute, the Federal DC Interagency Task Force -- a serious strategic setback for DC. On the plus side, the mayoral prestige is enhanced by a return to the historic Wilson Building, and the provision of a well- justified mayoral "mansion".
The War Against Crime barely held its ground statistically.(blamed by some on pre- occupation with Homeland Defense) and the Police Department is reorganizing once again to try to solve crimes. Confidence in city security was compromised by excessive overtime bills, vulgar e-mail, student strip-searches, car-towing abuses, and high forensic backlogs. The Fire Department stands accused of stealing expensive emergency equipment from the scene of the Pentagon attack, and ambulances still have trouble finding the correct addresses. But the underlying problem the War Between the High School Drop-outs has few ready peacetime solutions.
The War Against Poverty lifted only a very few hardcore unemployed off welfare. 13,000 homeless still invest the streets. Given the reduction in tourism and business visits to DC, the War Against Evildoers is almost certain to exacerbate Williams' local problems at a time when Federal relief is due to expire. Scandals involving foster care and the mentally retarded persist. Little progress is being made towards the primary root causes: substance abuse; teenage births; fatherless families, and adult illiteracy. The failure to achieve "poverty-sharing" with DC's suburban jurisdictions (such as available Section 8 housing) is a serious Congressionally- sanctioned deterrent to leveling the regional socioeconomic battlefield.
The War Against Bad Health continues to show little basic advancement. While the closing of the hopelessly inefficient DC General Hospital was an essential tactical victory, basic health care for DC's large uninsured population remains marginal. By all usual indicators, DC's level of drug and alcohol abuse, sexually-transmitted diseases, infant mortality, immunization rates, and even firearm-related death rates are embarrassingly bad, and clearly related to both poverty and ignorance, well beyond the scope of the Department of Health and Human Services. There is little hard evidence that local ministers, often the focus of political activism in poor communities, have had any influence on teenage pregnancy, out of wedlock births, or school dropouts.
The War Against Ignorance is one of the few battles in which progress is being made, at least within the school system. The fundamentally redesigned School Board; the expanding choice for Charter Schools; a substantially new DCPS management team; many new principals; a smaller central bureaucracy; more certified teachers; the designation of 9 worst-performing schools for special treatment; innovative first-time plans to integrate community services into 24 remodeled schools; and a major new school construction program, are all major steps in the right direction. Remaining targets that require precision attack both within and beyond the school system include a thoroughly out of control special ed program; an unacceptable school drop-out rate; and the absence of a campaign to "recycle" the past 30-years worth of functionally illiterate drop-outs. The public school system lacks the weapons to overcome neighborhood socioeconomic failure.
The War Against Urban Blight is the second area where considerable advances are being made. The rehabilitation of the city's extensive public housing is nearly complete. Attacks against vacant and abandoned buildings are gaining strength; Hope VI grants are flowing in which will reorient neighborhoods towards mixed-income residents rather than isolating the poor; and the first "brownfield" remediation grants are arriving to wipe out past commercial/industrial "collateral damage" and replace it with new mixed-used income-producing property. The National Capital Revitalization Corporation has at last taken over $600M worth of derelict sites and begun major redevelopments. The major effort to rebuild both banks of the Anacostia River is gaining momentum and may be one of the major victories of the first Williams Administration.
The War Against Environmental Pollution is marked by an historic treaty between DC and Maryland to clean up the Anacostia River (upstream), and an astounding $50M charitable grant to rehabilitate the city's trees. Less progress has been made in conquering the inescapable urban problem of garbage removal, (code-named trash transfer), and air quality is threatened by the persistent unwillingness to address major aspects of private and commercial transportation on either a local or regional basis.
The War Against Urban Sprawl still seems to be a losing game. It can only be fought and won by a determined regional coalition. DC's favorite lament that it was being deserted by "the middle class" turned out to be fictional, but there is a growing imbalance between wealthier suburbs and their poorer inner city. Neither the Mayor, the Council, nor the regional jurisdictions have diplayed a clear strategy to deter this segregation. There is no city plan to favor urban life characteristics significantly different than those of the suburbs (such as less young families and more older empty-nesters). Higher density living and working within the city's limited space is resisted, and a false belief persists that residents per force create more net revenues than businesses per acre. Though the final planned section of the Green Line opened (and was immediately overwhelmed), there is indifference to fully exploiting the existing Metro system, and no driving force to expand it. There is no meaningful long-range local or regional transportation plan taking into account all aspects from parking to biking. Unlike President Bush who visualizes a World Without Evildoers, the Mayor and the Council are not sure what DC should become.
The War Against Local Bureaucracy proves to be one of the most intractable. Despite revised civil service rules and new accountability standards, the run-of-the-mill bureaucracy, stiffened by scores of separate union bargaining units, still practices an administrative culture foreign to most American local governments. Treating a government pay check is a birthright, a ticket to the middle class, and a license to exert racial biases, rather than a contract to perform public service, there is great resistance to accepting common business ethics and even common courtesy. The mayor's objective to demonstrate that the nation's capital can be well run by predominantly black administrators appears to be a liability when the available pool of senior minority talent is in such great demand in the private sector. The new independent Chief Financial Office has brought in much needed competence, rounded up tax cheats, and been authorized to make annual property assessments. But equivalent improvements are not evident in many other departments, the vast majority of which are involved in ministering to the city's large underprivileged minority population. Incompetence in such key areas as federal grant applications and administration has a strong negative impact on city finances.
Could Mayor Williams win these wars with bureaucrats as well trained and disciplined as the US military? Could he be more effective against universally certified "enemies" with popular backing approaching patriotic fervor? Could he benefit by suppressing civil rights and challenging his suburban "allies" to either contribute or be classified hostile? Could he move faster by ignoring the federal government, Congress, and special interest activists? Could he do better if Americans realized that the real threats to the fabric of their future life come from inside our borders and inside our cities? Could most big US city mayors benefit from a display of heroics from the White House? Does Homeland Security involve a great deal more than myopic focus on international terrorism? NARPAC firmly believes so.
DC's widely supported new mayor, Tony Williams, elected to place his early priorities on doing a lot of short term things that could show results within six months. This was an eminently sensible (and successful) way to build not only his own stature, but to awaken optimism and enthusiasm for making over the nation's capital city. Eventually, however, these short term efforts (fill the potholes) must give way to longer range, more time consuming and costly, projects (rebuild the roadbeds). Only when these long range solutions are also implemented will it be possible to gain confidence in the long term future of DC as the prosperous hub of America's premiere metro area. NARPAC, Inc. has therefore begun the assembly of a check list, if you will, of longer range solutions required to restore pride in America's capital perrmanently. At this time, these tabular lists are preliminary, sketchy, and clearly incomplete. They are based on a combination of NARPAC's own analyses and the recommendations of others far more expert. They do not include the final recommendations of Mayor William's extensive transition teams, nor the inputs of many other newly-enthusiastic groups. The tables are consistent with NARPAC's major topical categories also used for grouping daily headlines, and are the final entries in each of the appropriate sections. They can be reached directly from here:
tables of Proposed Long Range Solutions:
TARGET VALUES FOR QUANTITATIVE INDICATORS
It seems to be generally agreed by the present Chairman of the Control Board and the new Mayor that it will eventually be necessary to develop some criteria by which to measure progress towards the objective of becoming a model city and metro area. NARPAC, Inc. strongly agrees with this need to set forth some quantitative indicators and the target values that will constitute success. It really is not sufficient to deal only in progress from some totally unacceptable starting point. A drowning man can take little solace from knowing that he has moved from water sixty feet deep to fifty feet deep--unless, of course, he is 51 feet tall.
In the two tables which follow, NARPAC has identified some 75 indicators to show progress in turning DC around, and has established target values that are only slightly better than the average of 15 mid-sized American cities today. In fact, DC would eventually have to do better than these norms to lay claim to the "best" of anything.
A second caution is appropriate. Objectives cannot be met by only reaching some of these goals, while letting others lag behind, or get worse. For instance, the FBI serious crime index for Pittsburgh is 53, compared to 118 for DC. It would be revolutionary if DC could lower its crime rate to that level. But Pittsburgh limits its crime rate with only 3.4 police personnel per thousand residents. In DC there are currently 8.1 police personnel per thousand residents--meaning that DC's budget for safety and justice is well over twice that of Pittsburgh. Progress needs to be made in both criteria before success can be claimed.
In many instances below, NARPAC, Inc. has not been able to find consistent data to represent conditions "now" in DC (as opposed, say, to 1997, or 1999). In other cases, we have no hard and fast rule for, say, how many emergency vehicles should be deadlined for maintenance at any one time. In those cases, we have made "best guesses", and would be delighted to receive better figures from the experts that have them. In fact, we would appreciate suggestions for improving all aspects of these preliminary strawmen:
TARGET VALUES FOR QUANTITATIVE INDICATORS
Revised Estimates -- January, 2002
TARGET VALUES FOR QUANTITATIVE INDICATORS (Cont)
Revised Estimates -- January, 2002
o All values are approximate and come from a variety of different sources;
o All dollar values, "now" and for 2010, should be assumed to be FY00 dollars;
o Values with "?'s" are NARPAC, Inc. "best guesses": better values sought;
o "NARPAC targets" are shown as goals--either fractions or multiples of current values, or simply "a lot better than they are now";
o The 15 cities whose data are tabulated and averaged include: Atlanta, Baltimore, Boston, Charlotte, NC., Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Memphis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, DC.
Based on its own interests in performance measures, NARPAC, Inc. is obviously delighted that such a process has been developed, and that city management has embraced it. As seems quite regularly to be the case, NARPAC would have gone considerably further--even in view of the constraints and objectives listed above.
The table below presents DC Scorecard's indicators in the left columns, and NARPAC, Inc.'s add-on items in the right column. It should be noted, however, that NARPAC's criteria are somewhat broader and include the following:
* NARPAC believes all indicators should be provided for DC; US National Average; Range of Typical US Cities (not metro areas); Surrounding Jurisdictions in DC Metro Area; and by DC Ward--or Zip Code--if available)
This item has been 'archived'
DC ranks worse than the average US state by a factor of:
The Potomac Conference is a project of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, and makes use of some of the finest business talent in the region. In 1999, the Conference members decided to develop quantitative measures of success "toward becoming `a world-class connected community", and in November of 2000, produced their glossy, 40-page, prototype version of the "Potomac Index".
The "inaugural index" was produced under the guidance of the co-chairs of the Conference, Dr. Mote, President of the University of Maryland, College Park, and Michael Daniels, a senior vie-president of the Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC). It was sponsored by firms such as Sonnenschein (Attorneys at Law); the Washington Post, Arthur Andersen, and the Morino Institute.
Twenty-nine "progress measures" were selected "in consultation with a diverse advisory group" to represent "regional capacity and vitality". Each is to reflect repeatedly measurable progress towards reaching five "strategic commitments". Data were collected from`some 37 different sources, including the Urban Institute (UI); the National League of Cities (NLC); the National Low Income Housing Coalition (NLIHC); the Metro Washington Council of Governments (MWCOG); the Consortium of Universities (CUWMA); and so forth. Perhaps the most unique is a survey of 1000 adults (900 random phone interviews plus 100 Hispanics) in the Greater Washington Region Adult Population Survey, July 2000, taken by Potomac Incorporated. A second poll, by the MWCOG, involves an "intergovernmental cooperation survey" taken at the same among local jurisdiction workers.
Perhaps the most surprising innovation in this effort is the definition of the "Greater Washington Region" as the member jurisdictions of the marketing affiliate of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. This consists of an inner ring--essentially "inside the Beltway"; a middle ring--essentially the accepted Washington Metro Area; and an outer ring--including the next ring of counties, such as Frederick to the North, Anne Arundel to the East; St. Mary's, MD, and Spotsylvania, VA, to the South; and Fauquier to the West. While sensible from a local business viewpoint, it makes standard comparisons with other metro areas somewhat shaky.
The five "strategic commitments" are listed below, along with the performance measures used for each. It should be noted that some of the measures are compared versus time, some vs. subgroups--or the rings--within the region, and some with other regions. These anomalies may be worked out in later editions.
I. Innovation and Entrepreneurship
The introductory letter to this inaugural Potomac Index asserts that it is intended as an "expression of values and measures of the Greater Washington region's progress toward becoming a world-class connected community......requiring long-term commitments" to goals which the index will measure. This initial version is viewed as a starting point to be updated annually and to evolve over time, even though "our shared values will remain unchanged".
NARPAC, which prides itself on its own analytical bent, surely has no quarrel with the overall aims of the Potomac Index. We agree that quantitative measures are highly desirable and that comparisons with other jurisdictions are essential since success and progress are surely relative things. It would also be unrealistic to expect the first version of this effort to be fully formed at birth. We certainly endorse the continuation of an effort such as this. That said, however, we cannot hide our disappointment at several of what appear to be basic tenets of this effort. Surely they could not have gone unchallenged during the formulative stages--which apparently involved a cast of thousands. Here then, are NARPAC's reservations:
The amorphous definition of the area in question:
The notion of using regions and subregions ("rings") that are not used by other metro areas, or by other highly accepted data sources for this metro area, seriously weakens the credibility of comparisons--which are essential to the purpose of the index. The US carefully, if somewhat belatedly, differentiates between urban, suburban, and rural living and indicates the very real differences in many parameters such as crime rates and household income. Arbitrary mixes make comparisons useless, and regions too large tend to hide the defining characteristics within (see below).
The paucity of comparisons with essentially "competitive" jurisdictions:
Less that a third of the indicators, in this first version, were compared to other equivalent jurisdictions, and over half of those were compared to overall US norms, not other metro areas. In no cases were the weighted average (or the trickier device 'median') used to set a "norm". For instance, for the purposes of this effort, it would almost certainly be satisfactory to limit the comparisons to, say, 25 large American metro areas, and, say, ten primarily European metro areas--if, in truth, the objective is to measure the Greater Washington area's progress toward "becoming a world-class connected community" (and if, in truth, other countries keep comparable statistics!).
The failure to acknowledge the stark differential gradients within the metro area:
While NARPAC strongly agrees that the 'metro area' is the correct level of aggregation for making comparisons nationally and internationally, such comparisons must include some indications of the homogeneity--or heterogeneity--within the region itself. In fact, in other areas, the Greater Washington Board of Trade makes a point that the entire region can only succeed if every major part of the metro area succeeds. Surely the metro area cannot be considered a booming success if it's core city is allowed to become a dumping grounds for a permanent underclass, or an area with terrifying crime rates, poor health, or 3rd world schools, for that matter.
Core cities generally have different statistics than their suburbs, but to ignore the gradient between the two is to miss (perhaps intentionally?) the greatest risk to socioeconomic progress in the developed world. Some measure needs to be adopted that compares the norm of the metro area's well-defined subdivisions to its extremes. (For instance, in the GWMSA, DC has about 2.3 taxpayers per welfare recipient, while some counties have better than 15 taxpayers per welfare recipient: the average is about 12.)
The seemingly impersonal definitions of the region's 'quality of life':
With due respect for the fact that this effort was undertaken by the business community, not the Urban League or the ACLU, the definition of a metro area's 'quality of life' in terms of ozone-alerts, tree cover, open spaces, traffic delays, violent crimes, and attendance at art fairs (in that order) appears to seriously ignore the real human equation--and imbalances--in urban and suburban life. This author did not find the words health; welfare; teenage pregnancy; poverty; pubic housing; illiteracy; or unemployment within the 40-page report. And there are no indicators for the availability and cost of both public and private transportation (to include public parking facilities, and, say, car insurance)
The total absence of quantitative measures for 'connectedness':
NARPAC was particularly disappointed by the Index's rather superficial treatment of "regional thinking and action", measuring it through rather limited polls and surveys, and essentially claiming that it is primarily a "state of mind". This important concept, another commonly-espoused tenet of the Board of Trade, deserves more quantitative treatment, and this shortcoming surely could not have been ignored during the formulation of this index.
While sharing the Index's view that "regional cooperation is not regional government", neither is it simply an article of faith. It involves evident personnel, organizational, and financial sharing of resources across local jurisdictional boundaries. All of these can be measured, no matter how imperfectly, from the trans-jurisdictional sharing of transportation funding, to the percentage of each local jurisdiction's procurement that is commonly administered, to the existence of regional bodies to consider such specific items as worker retraining, and public housing availability. Even the sharing of data on comparative costs of local government would be welcome.
The absence of credible American--or 'world-class'--"norms":
Having opted to recommend quantitative measures for assessing progress towards some qualitative goal, both NARPAC and the Potomac Index are obliged to decide just what grades the metro area must earn to make the "dean's list". Neither has done so. NARPAC regularly refers to trying to make the nation's capital metro area a "model", "premiere", "leading" or "outstanding" American metro area. The Potomac Index seems to have settled on becoming a "world-class connected community". It would be virtually impossible to settle for a standing of "the average" or "the median": a "passing grade" is clearly not enough.
. NARPAC has identified at least 75 quantitative indicators, (above) and the Index offers at least 29, several of which have more than one "score". There is an additional quandary, then, as to how to merge these highly different numerical scores into a single "term grade". Are they all of equal value? Is there a need to assign relative weighting factors to each term, or to each collection of terms? How many more gazelle firms does it take to offset one more 8-hour ozone-alert day? Are there any terms so important that a failing or "below average" grade offsets perfect marks elsewhere? NARPAC believes that virtually every score should be above the average grade of a carefully selected sample. If a term is not that important, then perhaps it should not be scored separately, but rather as part of some composite set of terms.
Lastly, it is difficult to assign "norms" to polls and surveys--particularly if they are not consistently applied across the candidate spectrum, and over a significant period of time . One- or two-year changes are generally inadequate to determine meaningful trends--particularly if the sample size is small enough to contain errors larger than the annualized long-term trends being sought. For instance, the 900-person adult population survey bears an uncertainty of plus/minus 3.3%--according to the Index report. A 20% change in any of these parameters over ten years equates to less than 2% annually (compounded), less than the error in the sample to a 95% confidence level. In general, polling will not satisfy the needed standards for quantitative trends.
The absence of any mention of the impact of governance:
Equally important from NARPAC's point of view, is the absence of any references to the relative effectiveness or efficiency of governance. On the one hand, there are no measures for the extent of democratic institutions, from numbers of elected officials to voter registration and turn-out levels. On the other, there are no indications of the cost of local/regional governance in terms of taxation levels, revenue allocations, numbers of government workers, and so forth. Governmental participation, and governmental burdens are either part of 'quality of life' or a separate indicator of 'quality of governance'.
No reference to "connecting scorecards":
There is a tendency to undertake projects such as this Potomac Index in a vacuum, or at least independent of other similar projects, or stated objectives. In this specific case, it has been widely publicized that the DC Government under Mayor Williams hopes to establish meaningful scorecards for the performance of its various government agencies. There is a clear opportunity for The Potomac Index--as well as other organizations such as the Greater Washington Research Center, the Urban League, or the MWCOG-- to cooperate in the gathering and normalizing of data that would be useful to other organizations. NARPAC would particularly like to encourage the Potomac Conference to seek out and work with those developing performance measures for the DC government--at the center of this unique metro area.
This page was updated on Sept 5, 2002
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