NoMa: the fight for retail

More than anything, the modern gentry lusts for shopping opportunities – specifically, national chains within walking distance. For years our community has been told it doesn’t have enough potential customers to support this kind of retail, that we need a better-heeled, denser population. As a result, otherwise sane people instantly rally in support of every oversized condo block that comes along.

Well, guess what? We’re here. Between the Metro station and all the employers NoMa has (or will have) within its boundaries, it looks like these new dwelling boxes will, before too long, become filled with residents who will sleep far more soundly knowing their trusted brand names are merely an arms-length away.

So please, enough bending over for every “mixed-use” development asking for a zoning change or a taxpayer handout. Current land use plans exist for good reasons, one of them being to provide a transition between NoMa and our little pocket of historical rowhouses.

We don’t want to end up as a human terrarium surrounded by condo/office blocks. One of DC’s defining features – and perhaps its best-kept secret – is its neighborhoods, and neighborhood life. Vertical living is inherent less friendly, more anonymous. Yes, up to a point, stacking people can be environmentally responsible – but only as part of a larger effort toward long-term sustainability. Making residential buildings taller is not, in and of itself, inherently greener.

DC has plenty of mid-rise condo/apartment districts, many near Metro stations. Their residents may walk or take public transit during the week, but they hang onto their cars for shopping trips. Not driving to work may be a marginal improvement, but it doesn’t exactly merit awards.

Only when cars become superfluous will there be any serious impact on the environment. If people can fulfill almost every consumer and social need within their own neighborhoods, they may reconsider the expense and hassle of maintaining automobiles.

So instead of having a spontaneous climax every time another humdrum residential project is announced, we need to become alarmed. We need to pursue every legal avenue for increasing the amount of new retail space available – and limiting residential/office space.

We don’t want NoMa to become just another stretch of anonymous residential cubes that are underserved by retail. Besides, if NoMa residents can make the break and go car-free, this could benefit more than just NoMa merchants. Retail in the surrounding neighborhoods might begin to flourish too.

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