Envisioning a Future Washington

June 1, 2001

This paper sets out a bold overall vision for economic development and fiscal viability in the District of Columbia over the next ten years. We hope this vision will stimulate vigorous debate and discussion about the District’s future and its role in the Greater
Washington region. We also hope that broad-based community dialogue about the future of the city will lead to the emergence of a shared vision—not necessarily the one sketched out here—and to serious public and private actions that will turn this shared vision into reality over the next decade.

The vision offered in this paper will not appeal to everyone and will strike some as overly ambitious. Several points, however, should be borne in mind:

  • First, a mix of strategies will maximize the chances of success. The District needs to attract both adults and families, and to create more job opportunities at the same time. Success in attracting more knowledge-based companies would complement the residential strategy, especially if effectively linked to improving the city’s capacity for technical education.
  • Second, an inclusive planning process is essential. Even changes that appear positive to most people will be perceived as threatening to some. In any neighborhood experiencing an inflow of population and an upgrading of the housing stock there is a potential for tension between new and long-time residents.
  • Third, a shared vision may reduce conflict over targeting resources. Revitalization requires concentrated, visible effort in particular neighborhoods and schools. Spreading resources too thinly, without the critical mass to make a visible difference in any one place, is a recipe for failure.
  • Fourth, cross-jurisdictional cooperation is crucial to healthy regional growth. The economic recovery of the District comes at the right moment for it to participate actively in a dialogue with the rest of the Greater Washington Region over cooperative strategies to benefit the region as a whole.
  • Fifth, the federal government needs to play a new kind of role, both in the District and in the region. The whole country has a stake in Washington being a city they are eager to visit and proud to have as their national capital and the focus of world attention. The federal government should work with the District to ensure its long-run fiscal viability by compensating the District for the narrowing of its tax base attributable to the presence of the federal government. (The authors’ next paper will discuss this in detail.) It should also work with the whole region to encourage cross-jurisdictional solutions to traffic congestion and other impediments to healthy regional development.