D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser recently toured a District neighborhood known as “The Soul of the City.”
Bowser (D), along with D.C. Councilmember Trayon White (D-Ward 8), local government agency leaders, and staff as well as advisory neighborhood commissioners, on July 17, strolled along Alabama Avenue in Southeast and feeder streets in the Congress Heights neighborhood to hear the concerns of residents and examine the neighborhood’s infrastructure.
“Every month, I conduct these walks in neighborhoods to identify and address issues,” Bowser said. “I have done these walks in all eight wards. All neighborhoods need something.”
Until 20 years ago, Congress Heights had a reputation as a residential neighborhood plagued with criminal activity and abandoned housing. Positive economic activity started when the Congress Heights Metro Station opened in 2001 on the Green Line, next to the St. Elizabeth’s East campus.
With support of the mayoral administrations of Anthony Williams, Adrian Fenty, Vincent Gray and Bowser, the neighborhood has seen substantive growth and development.
The Shops at Park Village — a strip mall along Alabama Avenue – offers Giant as the ward’s only full-service supermarket, as well as a collection of clothing stores, barbershops, sit-down and carryout eateries that include Chipotle.
Last year, the Entertainment & Sports Arena opened at St. Elizabeth’s East, steps away from the western side of the Congress Heights Metro. The R.I.S.E. Demonstration Center, also on the St. Elizabeth’s East campus along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, has served several years as a meeting space for community groups.
There are plans for a new mixed development by Redbrick LMD, which will include residential, office and retail space to the extent that residents won’t have to leave the St. Elizabeth’s campus to live, eat, work, shop and play.
Despite the progress, Bowser and her entourage saw places where governmental intervention could make a difference. She walked from Turner Elementary School on Stanton Road, across the street to the sidewalk that rests on the eastern part of Alabama Avenue.
Bowser briefly engaged residents waiting at the bus stop in front of The Shops before proceeding south to the shopping center’s entrance.
Meanwhile, a group of protesters carrying a sign “No New Jails,” walked in front of her but didn’t get close because of the mayor’s security.
Bowser and her team walked into the small, cramped Turner-Parklands branch of the D.C. Public Library to talk to patrons. After that, they moved south on Alabama Avenue, walking past abandoned properties under the jurisdiction of the D.C. Department of Housing and Community Development.
Bowser asked Polly Donaldson, director of the housing department, about plans for the properties, with Donaldson responding that her department has active plans for its development into productive space.
Upon reaching the Pop -Up Opportunity Center on Malcolm X Avenue, Bowser entered the gymnasium where she observed residents drawing and painting as a part of the center’s activities.
Afterward, Bowser walked to Congress Park Plaza where she spoke at length with resident Alice Peak.
“I told her that something had to be done about crime in the neighborhood,” Peak said. “These young people need jobs, and when they have jobs, they will act better.”
Peak also alluded to criminal activity in her area, saying, “the crimes aren’t solved,” and suggested that a new playground and water park might make a difference in the safety of her neighborhood.
Bowser’s walk included going to the back of Congress Parks Plaza where she heard residents’ complaints about rats. However, administrators at the D.C. Department of Public Works had already received information about the problem and pledged to work with the residents to bring about a resolution.
As the entourage left the Plaza, the wind started to blow hard and rain came down quickly. Bowser briskly walked back to the Pop-Up Center and postponed the rest of the tour that would have ended at Rita’s Italian Ice & Frozen Custard on MLK Avenue.
When she reached the gymnasium, Bowser conducted her wrap-up, imploring her staff to tackle the rat problem at the Plaza, as well as graffiti at Turner Elementary and the eyesore of abandoned property on Alabama Avenue.
Despite the last-minute inclement weather, Bowser seemed pleased with the walk.
“The walk went great,” she said with a smile.