Development or just gentrification?

Like so many people in DC, I moved over Labor Day weekend.

While I didn’t shed any tears for my old apartment (thanks to memories of bedbugs, shootings, and cockroaches) I missed watching the rapid development on the right arm of the Red Line.

For two years, I commuted downtown on the Red Line. Half of it was aboveground, a perk to living in the northern part of the District. I now travel from Eastern Market, which means that while my commute is shorter, it is also now entirely underground.

The perks of an aboveground commute go beyond exposure to sunlight and cell service–you get to watch the city grow around you.

Here’s some of the development I saw between Union Station and Fort Totten in just two years:

NoMa/Gallaudet University

NoMa has undergone such rapid development in the past few years that many of its high-rise apartments are still vacant. The station opened in 2004 amid warehouses and industrial parks. Then named New York Avenue, it didn’t take long for high-profile tenants like the Justice Department, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Securities and Exchange Commission, CNN, and NPR to draw development to the area, and the neighborhood’s eventual rebranding to NoMa – “North of Massachusetts Ave.” According to The Washington Post, as of March 2014 NoMa was 50 percent built out, with “16 million feet of office space, two hotels, almost 5,000 residential units and 200,000 square feet of retail space.”

I’m unsurprised by NoMa’s boom because opening new transportation options to previously less-accessible areas creates the kind of demand that leads to widespread development. Check out a brief history of NoMa’s development in Smart Growth America and the Urban Land Institute for more.

Rhode Island Ave. (I moved to DC in 2012, but don’t forget about the big construction project in 2011 to build Rhode Island Row, a new set of shops and apartment buildings adjacent to the Metro.)

Watching the Carlos Rosario International Public Charter School go up was a staple of my morning commute. The building went up so quickly that even Google Maps still shows anempty, overgrown lot.

carlos rosario before

Now it’s this cool, modern building overlooking the Metro Branch Trail.

Carlos Rosario 2014

Today you can watch construction start on a long-awaited pedestrian bridge that givescommuters on the west side of the station safe, easy access to the platform.

Ped Bridge


Brookland’s trumpeted development project, Monroe Street Market, surged to life last year. The mixed-use development was intended to create a “college main street experience,” according to UrbanTurf. Within the last year, several boutique shops have opened and a large Barnes & Noble now draws CUA students shopping for textbooks.

Last month, MRP won a bid to develop nearly 300 additional apartment units and a new Kiss & Ride lot just east of the Metro. This has some, including the president of the local civic association, up in arms, accusing Metro of being more concerned with their bottom line than the health of the community. Construction will begin in 2016.

Fort Totten

Speaking with long-time neighborhood residents, development in Fort Totten was stalled in the talking phase. While the luxury apartment complex that now surrounds the station was completed in 2012, the neighborhood is still a food desert — grocery stores had been promised for decades without being delivered. My cheap rent on the other side of the tracks made sense.

Fort Totten, 2014

However, recent reports say my former neighborhood is becoming a hot item for developers. Construction has finally begun on Art Place, a $116 million mixed-use complex with 500 residential units and a children’s museum. Fort Totten Square is another planned development, a four-story apartment complex anchored by a Walmart on the first floor.

The Walmart has obvious benefits (jobs, no more driving to Maryland for groceries) and the children’s museum would hopefully provide cultural benefit or fun activities for the many young immigrant families in the neighborhood. But will the “market rate yet competitive” apartment rents promised by Totten Square be affordable for the people pushed farther and farther from downtown DC to find places to live?

From Columbia Heights, Brookland, and Petworth, development approaches Fort Totten from all angles. What that means for the current residents is unclear.

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