Dan Reed’s Speech to CSG’s Smart Growth Social 2019

“Good evening! My name is Dan Reed, and I’m an urban planner at Toole Design Group and writer who’s been active in this community for over a decade. first off, I want to thank all of you for being here, for taking time out of your busy days to support the Coalition for Smarter Growth and all of the hard work they’ve done over the past 20-plus years to make this region a stronger, more sustainable, more equitable place and I’d also like to thank them for having me, and for moving up tonight’s event so you’ll have a chance to watch the big game at 9pm tonight — by which I mean the High Heel Race. 

“At first I was going to make a slideshow but I remembered how restless I get when there’s a speaker at events like this, so instead I’ll tell you what my slides would be about, and I’ll keep it quick. 

“A few months ago I was speaking in Montgomery County and someone in the audience told me that they’re 51 years old and have lived in 34 different places in their life. I was surprised by that, but I stopped to think about it and realized that, at 31, I’ve lived in 15 different houses. 

“I’ve lived in 15 different houses, in DC, in Maryland, in Pennsylvania. I’ve lived in garden apartments and high-rise apartments and a Canada Dry bottling plant converted to condominiums and a rowhouse converted to apartments and dorm rooms and a 1950s group house where we put out bowls to catch the roof leaks.

“The average walkscore is 46. The lowest walkscore was 21, in Suitland, in Prince George’s County, where I came home to after I was born. My mother bought this bright yellow townhouse in 1984 when she was 23, a bank teller with a high school degree who decided to trade in her Trans Am for a Honda Accord and head back to school. The highest was 90, in West Philadelphia, a Victorian rowhouse with a big front porch where I lived when I quit a good job and left everything and everyone I had ever known to live in a new place and go back to school myself.

“A house can be many things. It is a shelter, a container for the people and things you care about, a platform for building a life, a launchpad for hopes and dreams, a fine tether to a better life. A house can be a choice: the choice to take a risk to take a job to leave a job to start a family to step out on your own to try on a new place to return to your home town.

“A house gave my mother’s family a chance in this country when they emigrated here from the Caribbean, as my grandparents sent their thirteen children one by one to a studio apartment in a Columbia Heights still reeling from the 1968 riots. A house gave my dad a chance in this city when he moved here after college from rural North Carolina, led by an article in Black Enterprise magazine saying this was the best place for a young black person to make a life.

“A house gave my cousin a second chance when he got out of jail and put his life back together in the split-level my parents bought in Silver Spring, the same house I moved back to after school, three times, each one unemployed with nowhere to go.

“Every day people in this city in this region pour their blood sweat and tears out just to afford to live here, to build a life or a career or a family. And every day the simple goal of having a container for the people and things you care about gets farther and farther away, as prices skyrocket and as commutes lengthen. 

“The median home price in DC topped $600,000 this summer, and in the surrounding counties it isn’t much better. Home prices are three times what they were in 1990, and the Urban Institute found that nearly a half million households are at risk of displacement. They say we’ll need 374,000 new homes by 2030 to meet the chronic shortage of housing, a majority of which need to be priced for low- and moderate-income households.

“Meanwhile, the obstacles seem numerous. In Maryland, Montgomery County has effectively banned new homes in its most jobs- and transit-rich communities because of schools. In Virginia, real estate speculation in anticipation of Amazon’s HQ2 has raised concerns about displacement from working-class, inside-the-Beltway neighborhoods. And as DC mayor Muriel Bowser announced a plan to place affordable housing in all eight wards, thousands of homes are tied up in lawsuits from wealthy homeowners who care more about their needs than those of the community as a whole.

“Our housing crisis – the intertwined challenges of gentrification and displacement closer in, and disinvestment and sprawl further out – is really a social crisis, an economic crisis, and an environmental crisis. Instead of giving people more choices, we’re taking them away: if you’re on a budget, your choice is to pay an impossible sum to be near friends, family, school, jobs, and all of the things that make life good, or a punishing commute to the edges of the region for something you can afford. 

“And that is nothing short of a tragedy. It shouldn’t be a luxury to have a place to live in a neighborhood where you can walk and bike safely, access your daily needs, send your kids to decent schools, and be near the people you care about. Not that long ago, it wasn’t a luxury here.

“Just as I learned of the stories how my family came to this area, I’ve watched as friends and family leave for places where life just seems easier. Many of my relatives have left the region, or are planning to. Our family friends raised a family in Prince George’s County and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina because their kids couldn’t afford to raise families here, and they didn’t want to miss out on their grandchildren. 

“That’s why the work CSG does is so important. Each day, the hard working staff of this organization fights to make this region a place where people can afford to stay in the communities they care about, where people aren’t trapped in polluting, unhealthy car commutes, where our region can properly be the engine of social and economic opportunity that draws people from around the country and around the world to make their dreams come true. And they have built a community of supporters around this work.

“CSG has supported me throughout my career, going all the way back to 2012 when they graciously gave me a scholarship to travel to California to attend a transit conference. Over the past seven years, I’ve had the pleasure to work with Stewart, Cheryl, Jane, and many other current and former CSG staff who I all count among my friends, fighting for better transit, safer streets, affordable housing, and strong, accessible, diverse neighborhoods that give people – my people, my friends, my family – the chance to stay here.

“Fingers crossed, in three days my partner and I will be closing on house number 16, a townhome in East Silver Spring, where we’ll be close to our jobs (walking distance no less) and to all of the people we care about. For a long time I’d assumed it would never happen, that we would inevitably end up somewhere else, that every neighbor or elected official who railed against new people and new homes was a message that were didn’t belong here anymore, in the place where we grew up. I’m glad that I was wrong. I’m glad that we get to keep up the fight for everyone else who feels they don’t have a place here anymore, and I’m glad that CSG is here to keep up that fight. Thank you again, I hope you have a great night, and go Nats!”