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Born of Transit, a Young D.C. Neighborhood in Full Bloom

Seven years after a celebrated public-private partnership, NoMa proves a smart growth success, write Rachel MacCleery and Jonathan Tarr.
March 7, 2012, 5am PST | Ryan Lue
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When we reported on the completion of a new transit station in Washington, D.C.'s languishing North of Massachusetts neighborhood some seven-odd years ago, stakeholders already recognized its massive development potential. Just blocks north of Capitol Hill and the bustling Union Station Railway Hub, the neighborhood was dotted with empty warehouses and vacant lots at a time when the federal government was looking to move out of Downtown in search of lower rents. Now, the neighborhood is coming into its own.

But NoMa's bright future wasn't always so clear. Early development depended on the collaboration of federal and local decisionmakers, as well as private landowners. Urban Land Institute trustee James Curtis said the project required a "leap of faith" for all involved. "No one, I think, could have foreseen at the time what NoMa would become." According to MacCleery and Tarr, even the local transit authority "initially was not enthusiastic about the project."

With the help of a nonprofit corporation formed "to organize and leverage private investment," stakeholders raised $120 million to build the station, which was the critical first step in moving federal offices into the area. Now, five years after the formation of a local business improvement district, NoMa is home to 40,000 jobs and $7 billion in private investments.

"For a long time, no one was sure if anyone would live in NoMa's new buildings," said BID President Robin-Eve Jasper. "But now we know who is here, and it's at just the right time to think about things like parks and the public realm."

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Published on Wednesday, February 29, 2012 in Urban Land
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