Robin-Eve Jasper is one of the few in her family who did not choose art and design as a profession. But as the head of the NoMa Business Improvement District (NoMa BID), she’s done a tremendous amount to bring public art and unique public spaces to a neighborhood that used to have neither.
NoMa is unique among the city’s BIDs. Most exist in already-built areas and focus on keeping their streets clean and safe. NoMa, as an idea (and even a name), was created only in the late 1990s. The Citizen’s Plan for the Economic Resurgence of Washington DC charted out an economic development plan, centered around a new NoMa Metro station, in a place that had little existing economic activity or even buildings. There would be a special taxing district to fund development of the Metro station and also a BID that would help steer the direction of the development. The NoMa BID would have a big job: It had to plan out how the neighborhood would be built and designed.
Robin-Eve worked with a group of property owners and launched the NoMa BID in 2007. Up until then, her career had taken many twists and turns, focusing all the while on law, public policy and real estate development. She started as a corporate lawyer before getting into affordable housing development and even DC education policy. In the mix was a stint working for an early NoMa real estate developer, which gave her a sense of the lay of the land. After assisting with the NoMa BID’s launch, Robin-Eve worked for the Fenty Administration for several years, returning in 2011 to lead the organization. She was a natural fit for the role and brought to the NoMa BID a deep appreciation for art and design. She made sure to carve out space for public art and greenery.
Robin-Eve aspires to “create that moment that takes you out of the rush from one appointment to the next and that makes you aware—of your surroundings, your neighbors and the beauty of things. Nature can do that, and art can do that.”
The challenge was finding where to create those moments. Without much space to work with, the NoMa BID was forced to be creative. Through a partnership with the DC government, it was able to obtain the financial and policy partnerships needed to buy land and deliver one-of-a-kind projects for the park-starved area.
The NoMA BID started with murals, bringing alive blank walls. Next, it flipped a children’s playground vertically in the award-winning Swampoodle Park. Then it brightened dark Amtrak bridge underpasses with artistic light installations. On a small triangle median along New York Ave, it recently installed a giant magenta chicken that gazes across the road to its 9-foot-tall multicolored egg companion, an homage to the conundrum of which comes first. More art is in the works at NoMa gateway points, and construction is underway on the 2.5 acre Tanner Park with groves of trees and a great, green event lawn.
In a city full of solemn memorials and statues of Civil War generals on horses, NoMa’s public art and spaces strike a very different tone. They are playful, thoughtful and bursting with color, while still giving a nod to NoMa’s history. Meanwhile, more buildings are going up, more businesses and restaurants are opening and more residents are moving in.
With Robin-Eve’s leadership, NoMa has become a real neighborhood, not just an idea of one.