To be honest, I have lived in my neighborhood for about six years and I have never been to an ANC or UNC meeting. In fact, I wasn’t clear on the distinction between the ANC and the Park View UNC (the Advisory Neighborhood Commission is a non-partisan, neighborhood body made up of locally elected representatives and the United Neighborhood Coalition is a neighborhood association). There is so much happening via local politics that’s important on a macro level to understand, but also important on the micro level.
Every month I get updated on the happenings “around the way” via the monthly Park View News, a newsletter distributed by ANC 1A Commissioner and Chair Kent Boese. Although, I don’t attend the ANC meetings, I know who Kent is because of his newsletter. While you can read up on Kent’s record on the ANC website, his blog, or check out his social media feeds to get to know who he is as a local politician, I thought it would be good for neighbors to get to know the guy who’s so very much involved and respected in the Park View neighborhood, and who takes the time to deliver newsletters each month, despite the weather.
Kent is from a small town in Illinois of about 5,000 people. The town has grown since, but when he was growing up it was definitely a small town. After graduating from college he lived in Arizona for about six years where he went to grad school. Then the economy took a turn and he came to DC in 1994. He made this decision on a whim really “on a wing and a prayer,” as he describes it.
No plan in place, no job waiting, he packed up a moving truck and made his way to the DC area. A librarian by trade, he fairly quickly landed a gig at the Hirschhorn Museum once he settled in. Not long after that he tested the waters out at the Smithsonian, then was lured away by a law firm. Through a series of moves, he and his partner Brian kept getting closer and closer to DC, and finally, they found a home in Park View and were sold. It needed work, but they both had some skills and were up for the challenge and spent most of 2007 working on it. It was their own personal “camping experience,” and they loved the house and were happy to call Park View home.
During their first year in Park View they didn’t really get a chance to get out and meet neighbors as much as they had hoped to. But when they did, they knew that they had made the right decision. “Park View was the first place that felt like home,” Kent said.
Taking it slow initially, Kent definitely wasn’t looking to come to the neighborhood and start changing things. It took some time for Kent to get involved in politics, first participating on the Park View UNC board from 2009-2010 as his first taste of local politics.
As he and Brian began to get to know their neighbors more, they began to really get to know the people. After not finding a local blog that met his needs, Kent started his own, a short run city wide blog called DC Kaleidoscope, where he mixed neighborhood happenings with his love of history. His blog included short history profiles on neighborhood building and photos of classic automobile sightings. It grew. People were into it.
From that Kent then pulled back from the citywide blog and began a blog more focused on the Park View neighborhood, covering what “wasn’t being covered” as he started going to the sparingly attended ANC and UNC meetings. He posted meeting notes on his blog and started attending other community meetings and neighborhood functions, reporting on them on the blog.
He joined the UNC as a Board member. From there, in early 2010 he became the president of the UNC. By the end of 2010, he decided to run for the open ANC 1A commissioner seat. “When I think something can be better and no one is stepping up to make it better, I will.”
Kent quickly realized that the ANC position, while unpaid, takes up a lot of time, but he was committed. “There is no right way to do it other than to be responsive,” he says. It’s all a delicate balance of working with developers, business, owners and residents. Kent is always looking for ways to offset or mitigate what can be competing priorities for people.
Often times, people’s priorities don’t include engaging in local politics, so attendance is still sometimes low at ANC and UNC meetings. To help, Kent reports on the meeting happenings in his monthly newsletter. On a light month, it takes about six hours to produce and four hours to distribute paper newsletters to each dwelling in his Single Member District (1A08) of Park View.
“Even if we don’t want to acknowledge it, there is still a digital divide,” Kent said. “There are some people, particularly the aging community, that don’t have access to the internet.”
While distributing his newsletter, Kent gets a first-hand look at the neighborhood. Graffiti tagging, overflowing dumpsters, abandoned mattress… are all reported to the city and it gives him an opportunity to answer questions from folks he runs in to.
Kent and I happened to have met up on a day when he had distributed the newsletter and lead a historic tour of Park View. He had already logged 20,000 steps – 9.4 miles or 169 flights of stairs – and it was only 2pm. (I’ll give you a moment to take mental note and “step” up your game accordingly.)
“I like that people are attracted to the area, but I also think that one of the things we are failing at as far as policy or even with some of the [smaller] developers is that we seem to be shoe-horning every single resident into the neighborhood without thinking of the big picture implications of always converting a row house into condos simply because people are flocking to the city.”
"Things have gotten off-kilter, and we’ve lost sight of family-sized housing, kid-friendly neighborhoods,” said Kent, talking about the trickle-down effects these things have on decisions. “This puts stresses that don’t need to be here on the neighborhoods, and takes away opportunities from other parts of the city.”
A theme during our conversation was his love of engaging with people. At his core Kent likes people and likes helping people. “A lot of things people bring to me are often things they could do themselves, but government can be confusing.”
Not only is Kent happy to do his part to help make things less confusing and owning things until they are done, he’s good at it. One thing Kent quickly learned was the importance of porch culture, getting to know neighbors. Maybe it’s his small town roots that helped him understand the power of a conversation.
“Don’t underestimate the value of sitting on someone’s porch and getting to know them,” he said. “You learn a lot about your community and a lot about yourself.”
There are several things that come to the ANC that Kent isn’t personally excited about, but he makes the effort to always put the needs of the community first and be a good steward of his responsibilities as commissioner.
We walked through a simple scenario of dedicated handicapped parking spaces and how he stays abreast of home sales and deaths to ensure that if the dedicated space is no longer needed, it’s put back into common parking. While that may seem like not so big of a deal to most, it is one of the things that is highly valued by his constituents, especially as parking becomes more limited.
Kent described himself as “hyper-sensitive” to how growth and change impacts people. He said he works “extremely hard to ensure that all of the change benefits the people that live in the community now. Change shouldn’t be the thing that causes or forces people to move.” He said he wants to ensure that decisions are not “setting precedence that will have negative or limiting impacts into the future.”
A big part of Kent’s job is zoning. “Zoning at best is not, you know, the really detailed plan. Its bigger picture, its big blocks of what they think should be where, but that doesn’t mean other things can’t be there, it just has to make sense and has to be something the community would be agreeable to.”
With all the growth and change that is happening and will likely continue to happen, a quote from a colleague also helps guide him: “The future is longer than the past.”
“We want healthy communities, we want inclusive communities,” Kent said. “Everything you are willing to put into your neighborhood will be repaid. Be respectful. Be kind. And if you are willing to put in the effort, you will be rewarded significantly.”