The Neighborhood as Home

Estimated read time 5 min read

Originally published May 13, 2014

Walking and watching the city of Washington evolve is enjoyable. No matter what I feel about gentrification, and I do have feelings about it, there is an undeniable energy in the air as I walk through various commercial areas and communities. One of the things I notice immediately is the “identity” of the communities I visit as marked by its signage. Just about every community I’ve seen has some kind of signage that lets you know where you are and invariably, what that means. This is most evident in the neighborhoods that have the heritage trail markers. Let’s call it a neighborhood “home.”

I’ve visited Eastern Market, the Southwest Waterfront, DC Yards, Shaw, Ledroit Park, Petworth, U Street, Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant, to name a few. I’ve learned a bit about these neighborhoods by following the information offered on the DC Cultural Tourism website.

Today, I returned to Mount Pleasant. As a child in elementary school, my family lived in the 1700 block of Park Road in N.W. It was a beautiful block, as I remember it. It still is a beautiful block today, almost as though time has stood still. The stores on the main street that I remember include Samber’s Market, which is no longer a grocery store, and Heller’s Bakery, where you can still get cupcakes, but also sandwiches now. Even a visit to the Mount Pleasant Branch Library, I was delighted to see that the circus mural in the children’s room still existed.

My best childhood memories were of running up and down Park Road, chasing an ice cream truck or playing in the alley (still clean and walkable).

Leaving Mount Pleasant, I ventured downtown past the City Center project on 9th Street. Even though the city seems to be growing glass buildings at a quick pace, I still enjoyed the view uptown as I was walking. Moving on to 7th street and China Town, I noted the things that made this historic area both distinctive and lively. It was the integration of culture and commerce, the keeping of things old, while building in the new, and the celebration of colors. Color was everywhere as were establishments for everything – drinks, food, candy, museum, theater, sports, clothes, art, and living.

I read that the community did suffer after the 1968 riots, as did most of the city, but I was pleased to see that the elegantly tree-lined streets still maintain their beauty and the small park we used to play in remained. I walked past two heritage trail markers and one historic district marker in my visit. It would be easy for a tourist to enjoy the same.

Still, I can’t help but note the one constant in the District as I walk about. It is the obvious plight of the homeless amidst the increasing wealth. Have versus have not – as is much discussed. Some call it the result of “income inequality.” For me, I don’t know how different that is from plain old “inequality”. Either way, the result is the same. You can’t miss its presence.

How do you make a community that is identifiable, sustainable, and that works for most of its businesses and residents? I don’t have the answers, but I do know what I like as I’ve seen in the historic neighborhoods I visit. I particularly like it when I hear how the businesses work with civic groups and government. I like hearing how social services and religious institutions combine to provide assistance when and where it’s needed. I absolutely love reading about meetings where people come together because all recognize they have a vested interest in positive solutions.

I look at my neighborhood and I can’t tell you what identifies this community. If there is anything historic about it, it has not been saved, not even the Capital Center building (now the Boulevard shopping center). There is no one commercial area that serves as the business marketplace where the community gathers to spend its money and to communicate with each other. There is no welcome center or reason for out-of-town tourists to make its way to Largo Town Center as part of any tourism-related destination. In my immediate area, there is not even a recreation center to attend meetings to discuss such issues. It is not walkable. It is a must-drive community of urban sprawl.

Still, it is a beautiful tree-lined community, much like Mount Pleasant and I am hopeful that the winds of positive change are in the near future. I am hoping that the transformation of the Boulevard at Capital Center and the location new hospital in Largo will help generate a vibrant community. I am hoping it will identify Largo with a greater sense of place.

Over the winter and spring, I have walked all of the places I have visited, and I have enjoyed the distinctiveness of each of those areas. While no community is without its problems, I must say that whatever those problems are, at least those communities look like “home.”

I understand why the Millennials want to live in the city. In the city, when you get off of work, you’re close to home. And once you get settled after a long day, you don’t have to be inside the house. You can hang out in your immediate neighborhood. Kind of reminds me of how people used to live back in the day. People moving into the city want to call it home, and “home” is always where the heart is. It is identifiable.

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