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Giving Tuesday: Staff Picks

Today is Giving Tuesday. Each member of Nspiregreen staff selected an organization for us to donate money. Below are the organization that each staff selected for Giving Tuesday.

Veronica: The organization I selected is N Street Women’s Village. They provide services, housing, and advocacy for women who are housing insecure and without a place to call home. Many of the women they serve are over 50 years old. I serve meals at the N Street NW location and teach yoga at the Rhode Island Ave NW location.

Chanceé: The National Society of Black Engineers is an organization near and dear to my heart. With black engineers making up less than 5% of the engineering population in the USA, NSBE’s mission to “increase the number of culturally responsible black engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally and positively impact the community,” is more important now than ever. Veronica and I met as student leaders in NSBE and it is where we developed the idea for Nspiregreen. With STEM programming and support for pre-college, collegiate and professional members NSBE is the premiere organization to address disparities in engineering.

Jimena: Giving back is something that it’s very important for me. I choose Rebuilding Together Alexandria. They provide safe and healthy homes, parks, and schools create stability and strong communities. As a volunteer, I have seen multiple people come together to help low-income families, seniors, and veterans living in Alexandria, Virginia to have a better quality of life. 

Stacy: My pick is Conservation International, because they work to fight climate change at the source of the problem – how communities, government, businesses, and society in general approach environmental sustainability. Plus, every donation today is matched by one of their partners, so double benefit!

Christine: I select City Blossoms because it is an organization that I admire, but is also similar to one that I’ve worked with in the past. I love their focus on creating green spaces that also feed people, allowing kids and youth to be more connected with fruits and vegetables, and take ownership of a piece of their communities. I admire their Mighty Greens initiative to teach youth business, professional, and craft skills that they can carry forward in their lives. There’s a matching grant today so every donation is doubled up to their $10,000 goal.

Mei: I’m selecting to NRDC because they fight climate change with us. They are one of the nation’s most powerful environmental charity. The first time I heard about this organization was on the TV show, “How I Met Your Mother”.  It was the dream organization of one of the characters, and I totally agree with him to build a better environmental friendly world.

Sarah: I select the Breastfeeding Center for Greater Washington, which provides critical health, educational and community support for both expectant and new families across the dc area—many of their services at a free and reduced cost for low income parents. Healthy, vibrant communities are only possible with access to fundamental healthcare and new-parent education for all infants, mothers, fathers and caregivers, and the breastfeeding center provides these services while also prioritizing transit accessibility and broad community outreach across the dc metro area.

 

 

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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 Manor Park. (I’ve since learned that my specific neighborhood is Manor Park)

Did we get what we want?

In my last post, I talked about what was important to us as we started the homebuying 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, 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 won’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.





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