Since early 2021, a broad cross-section of business and property owners have been exploring the opportunities offered by a place management organization that would provide services in the Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County, MD, sides of the Friendship Heights neighborhood.
The Friendship Heights Alliance formed as a nonprofit in fall of 2021 and has been funded by grants from the D.C. Department of Small and Local Business Development and Montgomery County, MD, along with voluntary contributions from major property owners. Over the past year, the organization has initiated an array of community-building, placemaking and marketing activities to enhance vibrancy and improve coordination among community, business and government stakeholders.
In its first year, the Friendship Heights Alliance focused on listening and community building. Through focus groups, 1,150 responses to an online survey, community presentations and dozens of one-on-one interviews, the Alliance asked what the stakeholders wanted first; they then used those hopes and goals to inform placemaking initiatives, a vibrant visual identity, creative community events and research efforts.
The Alliance team heard loud and clear that Friendship Heights has enormous strengths: incredible transit connectivity, wide sidewalks and nearby amenities, as well as residents and business owners that truly care for the place and want it to be vibrant and thriving. Though the retail landscape is shifting, it maintains a range of beloved restaurants and retail amenities.
The team also heard about inward-looking retail, hard edges, the impact of Wisconsin Avenue on walkability, a sense of stagnation and a lack of diversity across age, race and ethnicity. Stakeholders talked about the lack of social gathering places or venues for local culture and connectivity. People expressed a desire for more care and focus on the quality of public space and on creating a sense of neighborhood identity. Yet, at the same time, many people — including residents, business owners and visitors — expressed deep appreciation for the neighborhood. Limited neighborhood promotions also rose to the top, as many stakeholders noted the lack of a marketing platform or business directory.
Using this input, the Alliance initiated a range of projects — including a pop-up art gallery, makers markets and placemaking installations — to demonstrate what is possible in place-focused community building. Residents flocked to three events at a pop-up art gallery in Chevy Chase Pavilion. Pallavi Chandra of the Chevy Chase Farmers Market curated two Makers Markets in June and September along Wisconsin Avenue, bringing over 2,000 people to purchase from dozens of local vendors, artisans and makers. A new, colorful website includes a regularly-updated business directory, with social media platforms to promote what’s going on in the neighborhood. The Alliance also worked with the District Department of Transportation and Tenleytown Main Street on Ward 3’s first Open Streets, which closed Wisconsin Avenue to traffic for over a mile; between 8,000 and 10,000 people attended. In November, more than 40 planters and five seating arrangements along Wisconsin Avenue created comfortable, inviting spaces to sit; additional items for the Maryland side are in the works. Two new exhibits have been displayed at the Pepco Harrison Street Substation Window Gallery.
To build on this foundation, the organization is working on long-term funding strategies, collaborating with business owners, community stakeholders, property owners, and county and district leaders. The boundaries of the Friendship Heights Alliance include the commercial Wisconsin Avenue corridor from Oliver Street in Montgomery County, MD, to Fessenden Street NW in Washington, D.C.
To learn more about the Alliance, visit friendshipheights.com and sign up for the newsletter or follow the Alliance on social media @friendshipheightsalliance.