Do We Need a Reeves Center in Ward 8?

The Reeves Center is a symbol of neighborhood revitalization. Then Mayor Marion S. Barry's decision to relocate government offices to the corner of a blighted neighborhood suffering the aftereffects of the riots of the Sixties is credited with sparking the revival of the booming U Street corridor. Now there is talk of the Reeves Center coming to downtown Anacostia. The conversation assumes that a similar strategy will have a similar impact. 

Anacostia and other neighborhoods in Ward 8 need more than just another government office building. Rather than pursue this 'copycat' approach to economic revitalization, the city should focus instead on how it can make neighborhoods special in their own right. What is needed is a shared vision and a well-thought-out plan. 

A plan, a shared vision? Is that possible? In emerging communities, stakeholders often have different ideas.  Through conversations led by the people who live in the neighborhood, all can get on the same page. After all, the people who live there should know what is best for their own community, right? Yet where is the dialogue?

In Wards 1 and 6, the city held public hearings to discuss the soccer stadium and the replacement of the current Reeves Center. Why were there no such meetings in Ward 8? Residents should be asked to weigh in on whether location of a major government facility in their midst is a good idea. They should be consulted on its location. After all, they live here! With all attention on the mechanics of the soccer deal, maximizing the potential of redeveloping governmental infrastructure to Anacostia remains an afterthought.

Actually, I think a Reeves Center type facility will have a positive impact on Ward 8. Daytime foot traffic generated by its office dwellers should attract needed retail. However, the proposed location on Good Hope Rd. SE is not in the best interest of the community. Moving the project closer to the Anacostia Metro Station is preferable. Downtown Anacostia has very few thoroughfares. A location next to Metro ensures government workers can use public transportation for their commutes.

Moreover, there has been no discussion about how the design of a new Reeves Center will relate to historic fabric of Downtown Anacostia. Will it look like the ugly DC Lottery buildings fronted by massive parking lots? Will it resemble the sterile architecture of the DC Dept. of Housing and Economic Development? Large buildings of this caliber that have no reference to the architectural fabric of the surrounding historic neighborhood threaten to undermine its integrity and beauty. 

I and many of my neighbors choose to live in Anacostia precisely because of the beauty and charm of its built environment as well as its history. Any new development should be respectful of our choice.

Charles E. Wilson is a former candidate for the Ward 8 City Council seat. He is currently the Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner for 8A05 as well as president and co-founder of the Historic Anacostia Block Association and River East Emerging Leaders. You can read his blog: The Art of WARd8 at www.