On August 21, 2012, I attended a community information meeting about an environmental justice case rooted in the Ivy City neighborhood in Washington, D.C. The meeting was sponsored by Empower DC, a grassroots organization committed to enhancing self-advocacy of low and moderate income DC residents on issues such as public education, affordable housing, child care and property rights. During the session, a dynamic young organizer with Empower DC and lifelong resident of Ivy City, Andria Swanson, presented a video on how her community has been treated as a dumping ground by the city government and private companies. She talked about an old school building, the Alexander Crummell School that has been a cherished and historic landmark in the neighborhood for many years but has long been neglected by the city, despite repeated promises that the building would be reopened for job training, community gatherings and recreation. She talked about her experiences growing up in Ivy City and her vision for how the community can be improved. Two things were immediately clear about Ms. Swanson: 1) she loves her neighborhood and 2) she is determined to fight for her community.
She went on to describe an alarming situation that has compelled members of the Ivy City community to file a lawsuit against the Union Station Redevelopment Corporation (USRC) and Mayor Vincent Gray. On May 12, 2012, without any warning or meaningful engagement of the Ivy City residents, the Mayor and USRC entered into a License Agreement to construct a bus depot on the grounds of the Crummell School (which has been assigned historical site designation) while Union Station undergoes renovation. The License Agreement calls for the parking of 65 large motor coaches at that location over the course of five to ten years. This action was taken without any environmental impact assessment, without proper notice to the community’s Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC), without giving due consideration to the opinion of the ANC and without reasonable consideration of alternatives. Further, the Mayor and USRC precipitously executed this License Agreement despite prior assurances to the Ivy City neighborhood that the Crummell School would be revamped for purposes that would revitalize the community.
The negative impact of this proposed bus depot cannot be overstated. The excessive traffic and air pollution caused by 65 large, diesel-fuel combustion tour buses would lead to increased respiratory illnesses in the children and adults living nearby. Also, the constant movement of these buses will yield significant noise, disturbing the quality of life for area residents. This would only compound the difficulty and hardship the community has by being relegated to “sacrifice zone” status and repository for the things that no one else wants. Such abusive and neglectful treatment is exhausting and depressing and leaves many environmental justice communities across the country in a state of despair.
Many people would simply pack up and leave after having been treated this way, but not the Ivy City community. They are staying. They are fighting back. They are defending their homes and their children. Also, they are calling on the rest of the city to support them.
One important theme that resonated throughout the community meeting that Ms. Swanson facilitated was that the proposed bus depot at Crummell School does not only affect the residents of Ivy City, it impacts all of DC. It affects job training non-profits looking to expand their outreach in a city that is facing significant unemployment. From an environmental standpoint, it affects the air quality of the city. It reduces recreational activity options for families. Also, it undermines general efforts to preserve historical landmarks. Because of that, the battle of Ivy City is truly a battle for Washington, DC, a battle that will require a multitude of supportive voices from various sectors: environmental advocacy groups, housing advocates, job training programs, parks and recreation groups, historical landmark preservation groups and civic associations.
When he was running for Mayor, Vincent Gray emphasized a theme of “One City.” Unfortunately, his decision to use the Crummell School grounds as a bus depot is a contradiction of this theme. Despite the challenges, the Ivy City case presents a prime opportunity for DC residents to live out that “One City” theme and proclaim that unjust treatment of Ivy City is a threat to justice and fairness in all parts of the District. Thank you, Andria Swanson and Empower DC, for reminding us of that.
If you would like to show support, sign a petition and add your voice to this work, visit www.empowerdc.org
photo credit: victoriansecrets.net/