Staff Editorial: Van Ness visionaries are helping breathe new life into their neighborhood

The Park Van Ness development brought apartments over retail space to 4455 Connecticut Ave. NW. (Brady Holt/The Current/April 2016)

Less than five years ago, The Current wrote that Van Ness was “the least-loved stretch of Connecticut Avenue.” We were covering a walking tour of the neighborhood led by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, which was using the Ward 3 neighborhood as an example of “bad urban design and planning decisions.”

But even then, there was optimism that Van Ness could improve. Community leaders hoped that planned new development projects would beautify and enliven unappealing portions of the neighborhood: barren expanses of sidewalk, parking lots and empty retail storefronts. “I feel that we have an opportunity here, with all this movement that’s happening, if we get our act together to have some impact on getting what we want,” local activist Marlene Berlin told The Current in 2012.

It wasn’t empty talk. The new Park Van Ness mixed-use building replaced an old shopping center, and the University of the District of Columbia’s student center filled in the prominent corner of Connecticut Avenue and Van Ness Street. Other local properties are also being eyed for development, and Van Ness now has a Main Street group that spurs interest in the neighborhood from businesses and residents alike. That group also oversaw a slew of arts activities that raise the neighborhood’s profile and attract potential customers to local businesses.

Furthermore, several notable new businesses have recently opened in Van Ness — including Bread Furst, whose owner Mark Furstenberg was just named America’s best baker by the James Beard Foundation.

Van Ness Main Street recently honored Ms. Berlin, chair of its organizing committee, with a “Visionary Award.” We’d also like to commend her efforts, along with the many other residents and community leaders who have worked to begin transforming Van Ness. Not only have their efforts benefited this particular neighborhood, but their work can also serve as an example to other visionaries in the city who seek to realize their own communities’ potential.