Letter to the Editor: Urban neighborhoods can’t always resist change

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At its highest point, overlooking Massachusetts Avenue NW's commercial strip, the Ladybird project would stand 88 feet tall including its penthouse level. (rendering courtesy of Valor Development)

This is in response to Deborah Barry’s July 19 letter to the editor, “Superfresh project out of character.”

The “not in my backyard” argument is as old as the hills we built our cities on. I fully respect that citizens must have a voice in their communities, and historical character should not be thoughtlessly wiped away. Indeed, this is the purpose of zoning laws and historical landmarking.

My argument against NIMBYism always is this: Purchasing a piece of property is no guarantee that the area around your property will remain unchanged in perpetuity. Ms. Barry is concerned “that developers seem so intent on building newer, bigger and taller buildings to make every part of the District more densely populated.” In fact, the District is becoming more densely populated anyway, as our city continues to attract newcomers. Those people have to live, work and shop somewhere, and they won’t all be along the U Street corridor.

The relevant unit of governance when it comes to development is the city itself, not one’s neighborhood. Of course, we are all free to make our voices heard to our D.C. Council members, at advisory neighborhood commission meetings and in the voting booth. But the interests of one’s neighborhood do not supersede those of the wider city. If developers have jumped through the hoops set out by our city government — in terms of environmental and traffic impact studies, consideration of neighborhood historic character, et cetera — then they have the right to build.

We Washingtonians all are neighbors, in a sense, and living in relatively close vicinity to each other necessitates occasional compromise. Telling someone to move to another part of the city if they don’t like the supposedly immutable character of their current neighborhood effectively shuts down what could otherwise be a productive conversation about the best ways to change. Our city and our world are constantly changing, and it’s naive to think our neighborhoods won’t, too.

Dan Schiff, Cathedral Heights