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I bought a fixer upper in Brightwood

Homebuying in the District is not easy given the rising home prices, but it is also not impossible. After four months of searching and putting in an offer on three houses, we finally closed on a single family attached (duplex) in Brightwood.

Did we get what we want?

In my last post, I talked about what was important to us as we started the home buying process. Fortunately, we got most of what we wanted.

  • Affordability: The home was within our budget. We crunched the numbers and determined that we could pay the mortgage on the home and the condo with one person’s salary.
  • Location: As a co-owner of a DC Certified Business Enterprise, staying in the District was important to maintaining our status as a District-owned business, which meaning the business’ owners are residents of the DC. The baseline criteria for the CBE is being District-based business, but we get additional points for being District-owned as well. We have a slightly longer commute to work than from our apartment in Navy Yard. Our previous commute was each 25 minutes and now I have a 35-minute one seat ride on the 63 Metrobus. My boyfriend’s commute is 45 minutes via walking and Metrorail.
  • Low Maintenance Green Space: We have two small patches in the front, a small side yard/walkway, and a small rear yard. Since the house sat vacant for two years, the weeds were taller than me. It took us two weekends, a machete, a chainsaw, and weed killer to remove all of the weeds. We mulched the front yard and decided to use the rear for parking. Needless to say, we don’t have to cut grass.
  • Schools: Our boundary schools are Whittier Education Campus and Coolidge High School. The Whittier Education Campus had a boost in test scores this past school year and Coolidge is in the middle of a renovation. There are also plenty of good charter schools in walking distance.
  • Walkability: We are within walking distance to recreation centers, the public library, mom and pop restaurants, and grocery stores. Admittedly, we did buy a used car, after being carfree for over five years, to accommodate the multiple trips to the hardware store to fix up the house.
  • Size: Our home has three bedrooms, two full bathrooms, and a finished basement. It’s a perfect size for us now and as we grow our family. The main floor is semi-open, which is great for entertaining.

Trade-Offs

To get everything we wanted, including affordability, the compromise was the condition of the home. We viewed a few “flipped” homes that were move in ready. However, I had concerns about the quality of the renovations after the experience of my friends and WAMU’s reporting a few years ago about how developers sometimes cut corners to quickly flip homes.  The house we purchased was a rental property for a decade, then sat vacant for over two years. It took us about a month to get the house in move in ready condition, including upgrading the electrical and plumbing systems, deep cleaning, and putting on a new roof.

Over the next year we will completely gut and rebuild the kitchen and basement. During the basement reconstruction, we will remove all the remaining galvanized steel pipes in the house. The downside is having to live in the house during construction. However, we will have the peace of mind knowing everything was built to our specifications and standards.

Veronica O. Davis, PE is a transportation guru who uses her knowledge to spark progressive social change. As Co-owner and Principal of Nspiregreen, she is also responsible for the management of the major urban planning functions such as transportation planning, policy development, master planning, sustainability analysis, and long range planning. In July 2012, Veronica was recognized as a Champion of Change by the White House for her professional accomplishments and community advocacy, which includes co-founding Black Women Bike.

 

 

 

Image from Teamster.org of a horse and buggy and a motorized jitney bus

A Horse of a Different Character

A Horse of a Different Character

I’m a big fan of history. In planning we have to draw on our history as a nation and from human civilization to reflect on where we come from to know where we are going. Recently, I went to a symposium of sorts about autonomous vehicles and heard from experts about how soon these vehicles will hit our streets and the expected changes that will come with them, depending on the reception. In an ideal world, these vehicles are like carshares that can be collectively owned and shared between people, or a fleet owned by rideshare giants like Uber, Lyft, Via, etc. Think personal rapid transit that gives door-to-door service using roads.

One of the most interesting conversations at the meeting is how these vehicles and the idea of a shared fleet will impact current land and right of way uses. Being the fan of history that I am, I look back to think forward. The last big revolution of vehicular movement for individual transportation was probably the transition from horse to the car. Unfortunately, but also fortunately, (I was excited to roll up my sleeves and do some research/ glad that someone else was thinking about this too) for me someone had already looked into the relics from our horse-reliant past. This mental floss article explains each of these in detail, but essentially these urban relics are:

  • Stables
  • Carriage Houses
  • Horse walks (horse staircases)
  • Troughs
  • Fountains
  • Auction Houses
  • Horse blocks (to give us short people a much-needed boost)
  • Hitching posts and tethering rings
  • Horsecar tracks

Then there are the indirect impacts that are needed to feed the horses and deal with their waste like barns or grain silos to house their feed. As these are living creatures, waste collection and ways of dealing with manure and urine became important as well. Each animal produced 22 pounds of manure a day on average, I mean just imagine the… puns!! And the sanitary conditions, that’s important too! Y’all (I) thought snow is an issue when clearing streets, but imagine the equine alternative. I digress, but there were whole initiatives to deal with this including inviting farmers to come and collect the manure for free or would collect and sell the manure on their own. Then there are the jobs related to horse care like blacksmiths, stable people, veterinarians, trainers, carriage drivers, etc. The horse flu epidemic (the Great Epizootic) in the 1870’s left many horses dead in the streets. Cities didn’t have the capacity to deal with the carcasses so they were just left to rot. It sure puts those special parking arrangements into perspective, doesn’t it?

Modern Parallels

Many of these items have direct parallels in our modern world. Stables = our parking garages, Carriage Houses = car ports/ home garages, horse walks = car elevators, troughs and fountains= gas stations, auction houses are pretty much the same but require way more impervious surface. Horse blocks have been built into our current vehicles. Hitching posts and tethering rings= on-street parking. Horsecar tracks are actually quite useful nowadays as many cities are reviving streetcar systems and make an easier transition from current status to autonomous vehicles for transit.

The waste problem also has parallels. Instead of physical manure, the effects have been much less tangible over the past decades. Our environment has still suffered, but at a different cost to air quality and climate change versus piles of excrement. Jobs related to driving- especially specialized drivers with commercial driver’s licenses such as bus drivers and operators, freight truck drivers, streetcar operators (especially for heritage lines) and associated car care employment may soon have to adapt to the new trends or be retrained entirely. Dealing with abandoned cars in the streets is an issue that we’ve learned to deal with through towing companies, but what will happen when an AV vehicle fails and breaks down in the street? Tow trucks will likely still exist, but what will they look like as the vehicle designs change?

The Future is Now…

How I see it, our future can be predicted this way as well. Our concept for garages will need to change. There may not be a use for personal garages in the future, so we’ll likely absorb them as part of our living spaces. This is happening now. Watch HGTV for a hot second and there they are converting a garage to a ‘man-cave’ or a “she-cave”. Gas stations will die out for charging stations as we go electric, and they should adapt to become entertainment centers or community gathering spaces that do more than just gas up your vehicle. On-street parking can be traded for more green space or space allocated to alternative modes of transportation, or both (pervious bike lanes) to accomplish environmental goals. Our car stables (parking garages) will also need some rethinking and I have some ideas… which I’ll share in a future post, but it serves to be our biggest opportunity. The spaces are unfit for housing, but have other uses that they could easily transition to in order for cities to meet their goals and accommodate growth.

With the average age of a personal car hitting over 10 years old, it may be a while until we see a wholesale overhaul of our surface transportation system. The road ahead is not going to be easy, it will involve tradeoffs and lessons learned, but if we take a cue from the past, we can avoid and make up for some of the mistakes we made with the horseless carriage.

 

Christine E. Mayeur, AICP is an urban planner with a unique set of skills and hobbies, interested in all things creative and challenging. Christine uses her history of working with communities through grassroots organizations along with her planning skills to help plan transportation systems and environmental solutions that meet the needs of all users.

Japanese hotel

The Culture That Influenced Cities Townscape

In the book, The Aesthetic Townscape, by Japanese architect Yoshinobu Ashihara, the writer expresses the cross-culture perspective in urban design and urban spaces. Based on his experiences in Japan, North America, and Europe, he provides a very unique insight. This blog post will summarize some of his discoveries.

Home Layout

In his book, Ashihara suggests that if Western European buildings are “wall buildings”, then Japanese buildings would be “floor buildings”. Although open-floor concepts are becoming more popular, most European-style homes are often separated by into distinct, fixed rooms.  Combining rooms is a major home improvement project requiring tearing down walls.  the Japanese do not have a strong concept of walls. The Japanese, on the other hand, tend to separate rooms with bamboo curtains, wood sliding doors, or a picture screen. As a result, it is easy to combine or split space, depending on what is needed for that moment.

Japanese hotel

Typical Japanese Living Room

https://www.spinjapan.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/10-Useful-Japanese-Expressions-to-Book-a-Hotel-in-Japan-e1453888074426.jpg

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A common walled living room

https://i.pinimg.com/originals/21/63/b1/2163b1bedb6272016a419404f90bc22d.jpg

Inside vs. Outside

In traditional Japanese families, people tend to take off their shoes before coming into the house. This habit is shaped by Japanese culture, which strongly separates “inside” (formal) from “outside” (informal). Shoes should only be worn “outside” and once you’re “inside”, they should always be removed. Home is a place where one should feel comfortable and relaxed, and should therefore be distinguished from the harshness of being outside in a public space. On the other hand, in Europe, people often leave their shoes on when coming into their home. Those who practice this don’t view it as bringing the outside in with them and do this out of convenience.

The Japanese even take their shoes off from the moment they walk in the hotel. They can wear their robes to walk around or just with socks. Basically, wearing a tie or shoes walking around inside would be awkward. In the West, hotel patrons wouldn’t even think about taking off their shoes until they get in their hotel room.

Japanese have a very clear line to isolate “inside” (shoes off) and “outside” (shoes on):

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http://onemileatatime.img.boardingarea.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/IMG_4602.jpg

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(Do not enter a Japanese temple or home with the shoes on)

http://www.thetravelmagazine.net/wp-content/uploads/shoes-in-front-of-Japanese-temple.jpg

 

City Aesthetics

Based on this Japanese culture, people are usually indifferent about the beautification of public space. As we can see from pictures, most of Japanese streets tend to look uniform without much decoration or landscaping. Moreover, sometimes they built a wall between the house and street. In contrast, Western cities usually pay careful attention to urban design and take pride in making their communities aesthetically pleasing.

In Japan:

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https://i.pinimg.com/originals/61/72/06/617206e17c5678aab94c7264c964e356.jpg

Japan streetscape1http://i0.wp.com/japanese-museum.com/main/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/hiroshima_2.jpg?fit=900%2C506

In Europe:colorful_apartment_building_in_burano_venice_italy_0https://www.zicasso.com/sites/default/files/styles/original_scaled_down/public/photos/tour/colorful_apartment_building_in_burano_venice_italy_0.jpg

piazza-san-marco-long

http://www.reidsitaly.com/images/veneto/venice/sights/piazza-san-marco-long.jpg

After all, it is hard to see decorations like status or fountains in Japan, whereas Europe already have their catholic and Rococo style, full of decoration on buildings. I think this is a great example of the cities built based on “internal” and “external” culture.  Every design in the city somehow got influenced by the culture, that’s why we should pay attention to the way a city design/plan when we travel, you will find interesting stories.

 

Mei Fang, is an urban planner with a strong passion in urban and landscape design, she also enjoy looking for the variety culture inside of the city.





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