The fourth in a series of updates on a campaign to save The Flea Market at Eastern Market from redevelopment, this will be the final report summarizing testimony of consultants, hired by flea market owner Diverse Markets Management, LLC (DMM), before the D.C. Zoning Commission recently.
The testimony was in support of opposition to the developers' "planned unit development," which would cut "by two-thirds the space for vendors and customers, eliminating 38,000 square feet of market space from the current configuration," of the Flea Market at the Hine Junior High School site at 7th and C Streets, SE, where it has operated for 20 years, according to DMM President Michael Berman in introductory remarks.
"Right here in D.C. Eastern Market district is the textbook example of the right way to create rich urban public space," testified Consultant James Pepper, "a practitioner of place-making, or the development of great public spaces from cultural sites."
Pepper, in summarizing DMM testimony, wrote: "Here in DC we have the Flea Market as the great connector, linkage to the city. It draws you to other great things to see and do. The Flea Market does not compete with the local retail, it is a magnet bringing people to the local stores and the linkage between the Eastern Market itself and neighborhood. National studies funded by the Ford Foundation reveal that the greatest attraction of flea markets to shoppers is the fun of being with people. Without essential changes, this electricity would be lost in the applicant's proposal.
"The project as proposed would shrink the space to provide for as little as 1/3 the level of activity you have today. It is axiomatic that when creating great public spaces you build from the strength of your existing assets: use it, don't drain it to move to the next level. The Flea Market evolved to the place it is almost as a natural process, driven by the energy of the vendors, the energy of the public and the entrepreneurial attention and care of the managers. This too is the ideal way for these things to become rooted in the community."
Claiming "the value of the Flea Market was made unforgettable during the days after the Eastern Market fire in 2007, when the Flea market proved its effectiveness as a sustaining engine of the liveliness of the neighborhood," Pepper continued, defining "the components that make the Flea Market so important to the success of Capitol Hill.
"As we all know, but somehow sometimes seem to forget the obvious, it is the vitality of people plus a great space with the sense of character, meaning and continuity that brings historic sites and neighborhoods to life. There is a difference between "dead space" and the "place" of cultural sites. Place is Public Space, Living Space.
"How space is used," Pepper continued, "is an important part of the cultural and social experience. The District has allowed the Flea Market to assume an ideal configuration, just the right amount of room with up to 150 vendors, enough diversity to attract a wide and exciting audience of all kinds of people. This excitement is the historic significance of urban markets, an experience that is documented to go back thousands of years. This does not and could not happen in a Market building alone. The Flea Market with the activities it sponsors injects the entertainment, the sense of joy in urban living that cannot be experienced in a suburban mall or even urban retail streetscape.
"With the encouragement of the Zoning Commission, a Hine redevelopment could be animated by the synergy of the Flea Market," he concluded. "People choosing to live at Hine will quickly become part of the neighborhood, not walled off. New residents choose to live here because they are drawn by the life of the city; ironically the project as proposed would be deprived of the great sense of celebration of the city."
Citing a scheduled September 10 meeting as the projected date the Zoning Commission will issue recommendations on the redevelopment, DMM President Berman said, "We worked hard in compiling our presentations to the commission, as did many neighbors and neighborhood groups dissatisfied with the proposals. We're hoping for rulings that we can view as positive."