Saturday, October 20, 2012

Community Matters!

Q&A with Susan Stine of Redteam Strategies
By Beth Herman

As owner of interior design and strategic planning firm Redteam Strategies, Susan Stine is a long time resident of D.C. landmark The Westchester, 4000 Cathedral Avenue NW. She has served and continues to serve on many of the building’s committees, including as former chairman of the house committee that oversaw the comprehensive redesign of the building’s public spaces, completed in 2010. DCMud spoke with her about old vs. new and her traditional outlook on what it means to live in the District.

DCMud: In the last five years, D.C. has had this huge push to build new apartment buildings—part of the urban planning concept known as Smart Growth America. It’s building around public transportation - building up urban areas so it’s a work/live/play scenario. There’s now a lot of new product on the market, largely for rent, but what about people who want a different kind of lifestyle and wish to buy?

Stine: Washington has some very significant older apartment or condominium buildings that are beautiful, and The Westchester has the lowest fees and biggest apartments per square foot–and it’s on 11 acres—it’s a real, established community.

DCMud: In what sense?

Stine: People say that you buy here because of the square footage but stay because of the community. We have people at the Westchester who have moved around within the (five building-) campus four and five times. They purchase up or they purchase down. It’s a real community within Washington, D.C., and there’s something to be said about buying into that.

DCMud: In 2010, we reported on a kind of democracy in action major Westchester renovation, where residents were given a voice and got to vote for their favorites.

Stine: Unlike many newer buildings, a few older communities and particularly The Westchester are more likely to involve its member-owners in processes such as major renovation decisions. We embrace transparency because we think that makes the community better and stronger. In 2008 we began a major redesign executed through surveys, workshops and focus groups, with each household getting to vote on key components of the project. You generally don’t find that in newer properties.

DCMud: So there are opportunities for involvement on many levels.

Stine: You’re living in history, you’re living in a community, and you’re getting a lot of square footage—plus you’re still convenient to downtown. When you go into a new apartment building, you’re right smack downtown and your community is outside of your building—it’s on the street. Do you meet your neighbors? You might meet them on the treadmill, but that’s it. People buy into older, established communities like this because of the history, and they become a part of it.

DCMUD: Speaking of history and design, do you have a favorite venue in the District?

Stine: It has to be the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum, which underwent the most beautiful restoration about 10 years ago. Then five years ago, a canopy was created there to join two buildings together. I go all the time to restore myself because it’s filled with art and feeds my soul.

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