If You Build It They Will Come

March 5, 2013

Below you will find the final winning entry for the Housing For All writing contest. The short essay by Marcia Cole outlines her vision for housing in DC “as quality housing …where people of different races, ages, educational backgrounds and income levels can coexist and benefit from each other”.


If You Build It They Will Come: A Vision for Affordable Housing

The Housing For All Campaign’s vision of decent, quality and affordable housing for everyone in DC is not only praiseworthy but possible. But let us first look at each adjective in turn. In the strict sense of the word, ‘decent’ simply means adequate or tolerable. Or put another way, something that is “barely satisfactory” or “endurable.” I think we want to strive for something more exciting than that. Next we come to the term “quality” meaning excellence; that is something we can all embrace. Lastly we have “affordable” or having the financial means necessary to meet all expenses. Perhaps that one should come first for it is key. Affordable, however, does not need to mean cheesy and poorly built structures

made from inferior materials. Nor does it have to mean people living chock-a-block in row upon row of uninteresting multi-unit buildings and not much else in the area. It is possible to offer sound and556471_521600644527104_1385243353_n architecturally interesting homes in a variety of price ranges at the same time. How might it look? Let’s start with the concept of community, community where people of different races, ages, educational backgrounds and income levels can coexist and benefit from each other’s presence. There would be green spaces like small parks for relief and enjoyment . Let there be sufficient residential parking and pedestrian-friendly walkways with good visibility that are well-lit at night. Let there be access to public transportation to accommodate those who are unable or choose not to drive. Cyclists are welcomed. Where they are required, street signals should be timed for maximum traffic flow to prevent long periods of idling which causes exhaust fumes cause pollution. Air quality is a concern.

And amenities — by all means let there be amenities. A community needs places of commerce –banks, grocery stores, coffee shops, pharmacies, barbershops, beauty salons and the like. Where these appear there should also be sufficient numbers of trash receptacles and regularly scheduled pickups. Locale schools at walking distance or a short ride from home for children. A recreation center would be nice. Why not offer studio space for artists to work? After all, the arts are so civilizing! Local artists could spearhead a community mural arts project that would bring people together add color and be a source. This is an ambitious and achievable vision if a vibrant economic base supported by livable wages– wages that never sink to depths where the term ‘working poor’ is used. Otherwise it is likely to fall short of the desired mark. As a closing thought, it takes more than money to make a community: it takes community mindedness. All residents have to see themselves as connected and having a stake in the condition of their surroundings and treat it with the respect it deserves. It’s the decent thing to do.

There is no price tag on that.

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