Rhode Island Avenue Has Organized Friends

by Shilpi Paul

Rhode Island Avenue Has Organized Friends: Figure 1
Stephanie Atkinson speaking with other FoRIA members.

Last night, Friends of Rhode Island Avenue (FoRIA), a community group concerned with revitalizing the northeast stretch of Rhode Island Avenue, met for a strategic planning meeting. The goal? “We want the avenue to look more like Cleveland Park and less like a haven for storefront churches and autoparts,” FoRIA president Stephanie Liotta Atkinson told UrbanTurf.

The meeting took place at Art Enables at 2204 Rhode Island Avenue NE (map), a studio and gallery on a strip of the avenue that runs through the Woodridge neighborhood. Right now, the stretch is depressed and dark, with a number of vacant storefronts and little in the way of street traffic. FoRIA is hoping to help turn it into a Main Street.

The meeting was organized into small groups that focused on four areas: business development, the streetscape, events and community service. There were a diverse group of attendees — black and white, old and young, long-time and brand-new residents — and the atmosphere was cautiously optimistic and willing.

While a number ideas put forth at the meeting were conventional and practical (reach out to owners of vacant storefronts to help them bring in tenants, organize groups to clean up the avenue), a few emerged that UrbanTurf thought were quite creative:

  • Take a ‘Rhode Trip.’ FoRIA members would choose a business they like somewhere in DC, like a bakery or restaurant, and go there en masse, flash-mob style, to convince them to open up on Rhode Island Avenue. Matching t-shirts were mentioned.
  • Create a map of vacant properties with square footage, to better determine which businesses might realistically fit in empty spaces.
  • Have a festival with food trucks, artists, music and other amusements to generate a sense of community.
  • Start advocating for bicycle lanes, buried power lines, and better lighting.

The meeting adjourned with several of these plans in motion.

“We have to be the squeaky wheel,” said one attendee. “If you make a lot of noise and you’re organized, things will happen.”

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This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/rhode_island_avenue_has_organized_friends/4977


  1. ben said at 5:11 pm on Tuesday January 24, 2012:
    @Chris, I don't think this was true of Barrack's Row, Capitol Hill, or Brookland. From what I've seen most of the density on Rhode Island Avenue is around the metro. So, there's no reason a BID can't be established to cover the whole Avenue. My girl friend's cousin used to work at the Family Dollar near the Post Office on Rhode Island Avenue and told me that they even had a green team that would weekly clean the streets and sidewalks, and remove posters and grafitti. This is an important component of BIDs. Looks like these folks have just taken the components of BIDs and Mainstreet programs to organize this effort. It might save time and effort to just apply for a BID.
  1. ben said at 2:54 pm on Tuesday January 24, 2012:
    NoMa is very successful and well-organized. Groups like this should follow the lead NoMa is taking. I live in NoMa and like it very much. We even have a business improvement district.
  1. Chris in Eckington said at 3:39 pm on Tuesday January 24, 2012:
    The difference is both Cleveland Park and NOMA have much more density than Rhode Island Avenue, especially the section in Woodridge, which tends to be single family homes. By contrast, Cleveland Park has a lot of condos and apartments on Connecticut Avenue, and in NOMA are concentrating on apartment building construction. In order to increase the ammenities, they need to increase the number of residents by increasing housing density.
  1. xmal said at 5:19 pm on Tuesday January 24, 2012:
    @Chris---Right, but at one point, that low density was sufficient to support the businesses on Rhode Island. Is automobility the culprit? Are there other solutions besides density, such as adding an attraction or increasing connectivity?
  1. Chris in Eckington said at 6:31 pm on Tuesday January 24, 2012:
    Cars may be part of the problem, but an investor willing to sink money into an ammenity wants to see that there is the customer base to buy the goods or service they have to offer, so you either need density or high disposible income. As another article about Woodridge pointed out, there are a lot of federal retirees in the neighborhood, and they tend to have less disposable income. Another issue is access. Cleveland Park, NOMA, and Barracks Row are all at or next to a Metro Station (and Capitol Hill, with it’s row houses, is much denser than Woodridge). Rhode Island Ave/Brentwood station is a hike from the Woodridge section of Rhode Island Ave that we’re talking about here. The part of DC that this most closely resembles is Palisades: low density and further away from a Metro Station. The big difference is that Palisades has a much higher level of disposable income that can support the dozen or so restaurants/cafes located there.
  1. PleasantPlainer said at 10:07 pm on Tuesday January 24, 2012:
    IS RI Ave on the Street Car plans? A Street Car out to College Park would get things moving. Meantime, in addition to these economic-activist residents, RI Ave gets a ton of commuter traffic. Getting them to stop and smell the roses (or croissants, or whatever) may be the challenge. But every time I drive up or down that stretch it just oozes potential with local character and style that frankly is lacking in our fair city... And, while RI ave metro is a hike, West Hyatsville on the green line is a bit less...
  1. Wendy Leibowitz said at 10:54 pm on Tuesday January 24, 2012:
    Just to note that Cleveland Park has struggled of late. There are quite a few vacanies and the area is fairly dead during the day. So even Cleveland Park isn't Cleveland Park nowadays. I hope the Rhode Island folks can liven up a part of town that should be livelier than it is. I wish them well.
  1. PleasantPlainer said at 12:57 am on Wednesday January 25, 2012:
    How about deploying the PopUpHood model, FoRIA? Seems it would mesh well with the Rhode Trip concept... http://www.fastcoexist.com/1679178/popuphood-how-to-revitalize-a-struggling-neighborhood-in-six-months
  1. DC Joe said at 5:12 am on Monday January 30, 2012:
    "...and little in the way of street traffic". Who wrote this? Are they smoking the pipe? Rhode Island Ave traffic is horrible! I also take issue with....."haven for storefront churches". I think this is simply racist. Storefronts churches exist because post-slavery blacks did not have the financial means to build Cathedrals. And to that point no one says this about the many white Catholic or Korean Presbyterian churches that are adjacent to major roads. I'm not sure what storefront church is supposed to mean. Let's not kid ourselves....at the end of the day these are people who to increase their property values....plain and simple. They could have rats behind about the community. Who edits this stuff???

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