By Cynthia Bosnian
From (a)pples to (Z)ipcars, the Washington, DC metro area has been experiencing a “green” transformation. With the upcoming DC Green Festival, now in its eighth year, what better time to reflect on the evolution of its host city – and metro area – over the past few years? Let’s look at two key topics affecting the everyday lives of citizens – food and transportation.
As many area residents (especially those in the District of Columbia) ditch their cars in favor of sharing options such as Zipcar and Car2Go, others are opting for bikes – especially the ubiquitous red ones with the yellow Capital Bikeshare moniker. In August 2008, the city became the first in the country to launch a bike sharing program, SmartBikeDC, which offered 120 bikes at 10 stations. In May 2010, the District partnered with Arlington County,VA to establish Capital Bikeshare, which currently has more than 175 stations and 1,670 bikes serving 24,000 members in DC, Arlington and now, Alexandria, VA. With merely three miles of bike lanes in 2000, the District boasts 56 miles today.
Although bikes may not be for everyone, streetcars might. The revival of this mode of transportation is more than just a nod to nostalgia. It’s a sustainable way to spur economic development – especially in neglected neighborhoods. While the first DC Streetcar line (seven more are proposed) is scheduled to begin service in summer 2013, neighboring jurisdictions are also hopping on board. In July, the Arlington County Board approved several measures to advance the development of a streetcar line along a busy corridor of Northern VA.
Over the past several years, the area’s food scene has evolved tremendously too. While local supermarket chain Fresh Fields – now Whole Foods – can be largely credited with introducing the concept of fresh, locally grown, and organic food to the masses, the proliferation of farmers markets has made the message a reality for many. Of course, it has been around on a small scale for years – think MOM’s and Yes! Organic markets.
When the first FRESHFARM Market (the largest farmers market network in the area) opened in Dupont Circle (DC) in 1997, it started with 14 stands and drew 21,000 people; by 2011, the market had grown to 42 stands and almost 200,000 people. Farmers markets have been expanding into lower income areas as well, where the scarcity of healthy food options has always been a concern. To help residents afford the produce, many markets are now accepting the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) vouchers.
Not everyone is shopping at farmers markets, though. Many residents are choosing to grow their own food to maintain control over what they eat (and how it’s produced) and save money. The number of community and school gardens has skyrocketed, although definitive numbers are hard to find prior to the first community garden census.
Working with these markets are a host of cooperative organizations such as the Field to Fork Network and the DC Farm to School Network. Bringing together citizens, farmers, food banks, local governments, schools, cooks, and others, these groups are changing the way the region approaches food and health.
Interestingly enough, DC’s new “green” is really rather old. Bikes, streetcars, and farms have been around a long time. Still, it’s nice to see that sense of community that often seems scarce in our time-pressed and stressed society. Maybe it’s somewhat of a backlash against the excess of technology in our lives. Whatever it is, let’s hope it stays.
The Washington DC Green Festival runs Sept. 29-30 at the Washington Convention Center and will feature more than 125 visionary speakers, 300 green businesses, yoga classes, eco-fashion and shopping, local and organic food & drink, DIY sessions on everything from backyard chickens to bike repairs, and so much more. For more info: www.greenfestivals.org/
A self-proclaimed ECOmmunicator, Cynthia Bosnian is a marketing communications specialist/writer and a staunch advocate for sustainability education. After leaving the corporate world, she started an eco-blog on issues affecting the metro DC area, later becoming co-editor of Sustainable Solutions (the Sustainable Business Network of Washington e-newsletter). She holds a BA from Villanova University and an MBA from the University of Maryland, and currently serves on the host committee for the Washington DC Green Festival.