Friday, October 05, 2012

Populist Real Estate: Crowdfunding and Planning in DC

District Architecture Center, photo courtesy AIA, DC chapter

With DC growing by nearly 1,100 residents per month, according to the Office of Planning (OP), some residents might feel swept up in change.  But one OP initiative aims to frame DC residents as more than just "passive recipients" of planning and urban development.  The city is not alone; several groups - even a young DC company - are headed in that direction.

A "Citizen Planner Forum" was held Thursday night at the District Architecture Center, which opened last year at 421 7th St. NW.  The event marked the culmination in a months-long joint initiative of the DC Office of Planning (OP) and the Washington, DC chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) to get input on place-making from people other than experts.

Real Estate and Crowdfunding

Before: Fundrise 1351 H St. NE, image courtesy Fundrise
Another example of projects built on the concept of collaborating with neighbors on development: Fundrise.  The new project in DC is based on using crowd-funding to buy properties, and the message "build the city you want to live in." Through Fundrise, the entity 1351 H Street has already gotten $215,000 in local investments to renovate a property on H Street, according to its web site.  The architect for the renovation is Michael Francis at Queue, LLC.

Daniel Miller is a principal at WestMill Capital Partners real estate development company and co-founder of Fundrise.  He spoke to the group Thursday.  Miller said Fundrise, which Launched just six weeks ago, is based on the concept that any resident of DC or Virginia can buy a $100 stake in a property and help jump-start a small business.  Miller said investors could also get returns.

Fundrise follows on the heels of WestMill's web site Popularise, a crowd-sourcing web site that allows property owners to survey citizens about what they want a property to become.  WestMill has used it to crowdsource ideas for its own property, but other real estate groups have used Popularise too.

Residents Re-framing Development Discourse

Offering another example of the way residents DC are already re-framing the discourse, Anacostia resident Veronica Davis talked about her experience as a co-founder of "Black Women Bike DC"
Davis noted that growth can trigger tensions surrounding race and fears of being "priced out". An unexpected symbol of that tension, panelists said: bike lanes.

After: 1351 H St. NE.  Rendering courtesy Fundrise
Davis explained that for some residents of DC, bike lanes seem like harbingers of change, even omens of higher rent.  "We founded Black Women Bike to say – we do bike," Davis told the group. "And we needed infrastructure. Part of that is being visible."
That kind of citizen action is what the OP wants to encourage.  The aim is to "work together and not just talk at each other," OP director Harriet Tregoning told DCMud. "Our neighborhoods are going to be better-functioning if people feel they have a stake in their neighborhoods."

Carolyn Sponza of AIA DC, also an architect at Gensler, said the main themes that emerged from four earlier focus groups were: a desire for more education about the way planning works, an idea for a planning network that would connect neighbors across wards,  the need for public spaces and "somewhere to sit", and a need for new modes of participation in planning. 

Washington D.C. real estate development news


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