Monday, May 28, 2007

Do we/I complain too much?

I was reading DCist and came across this post from their cousin site Gothamist. The post and comments debate "Old Naughty NYC Vs. Current Boring, Safe NYC". The debate seemed truly ridiculous to me. It is almost as though they are debating out of pure boredom. Or, is it a case of being careful what you wish for?

But it hit me that we here in Petworth can easily be having this debate 5 years or so from now. I can see it so clearly. Oh, Petworth was so much better before the new condos and Starbucks etc. Hell, I can even see myself saying some of these things. But it is ridiculous, right? We obviously want to live in a safe and clean community. Or do we if the price to pay is a certain disneyfication of the neighborhood? Can we have a clean and safe community without disneyfication?

Until these questions are definitively answered, rest assured I will continue to complain, no I prefer to say, I will continue to observe...


Anonymous said...

Of course we can have a clean safe community without disneyfication. That's Petworth's past. Ask some of the old timers.

I want my neighborhood without crime, but also without generica encroaching upon us. I want my neighbors to stay and to be part of it, not to sell because they are getting old and need to go to a care facility. I want the people who come in to CARE about the place, not to want to change it all now, but to want to help get rid of the problems while preserving the history and community.

That can happen, if people come here to become part of Petworth, rather than to change everything into suburbia.

And 5 years from now? Hell, I already have this conversation regularly. I do think it was a better place 5, even 10 years ago, before the house prices went crazy and the developers noticed us, and the yuppies started moving in. Don't get me wrong, I love some of the change. But I think there has been too much change for the sake of profit, and not enough change for the sake of community building.

I hate what's happening to Columbia Heights. I fear that happening to Petworth.

Prince of Petworth said...

Anon. I appreciate your sentiment but I ask you how? Specifically, how does one "become part of Petworth, rather than to change everything into suburbia"?

I think most people can agree that they'd like less crime, clean streets, a proper grocery store, restaurants etc. So how does one achieve that balance without disneyfication? Simply becoming Petworth of the past is a fantasy that will not resolve the never ending street violence/gang problem (See previous post). It will not bring all the conveniences of living in a CITY that we seek or can it?

Anonymous said...

What is a city?
It is a living and breathing entity that reacts to change. If cities stayed the same we wouldn't appreciate them as much.
I was born in NYC and raised in the surrounding suburbs. And lemme tell you, even from a distance of 20 miles you can feel the changes. When we were kids, we never went to the Lower East Side or Bushwick or anyplace like that. Those were places you just didn't go. Now they're becoming interesting and liveable places. Hell Williamsburg was mostly abandoned shipping factories....

But with gentrification, NYC's art and music communities were dealt a serious blow. I could go on all day about the legendary venues that have been closed down cuz of rising rents, outrageous tax bills and construction. Of course you should be angry Starbucks and those new condos. They don't offer the community anything. They are symbols of self satisfaction and containment. Isolation, really...

Anyway. There's no point in being nostalgic about a destructive past. And moreover there's no point in trying to re-create the glory that crept out of the misery. As a resident of Petworth, I like the fact that you see a wider variety of folks walking around. Professionals, those hood kids who hang out on the stoop of the Baptist church next to the metro, students. Now, if only everyone could mingle a little bit more...

Anonymous said...

I started typing, trying to answer this: "Specifically, how does one "become part of Petworth, rather than to change everything into suburbia"?" I'm having a hard time cutting enough to make this postable. This is a complicated issue - how do we retain our identity while improving things? This is also a simple issue - "How can we improve without losing our core?"

Petworth is many things. Historically, it has been many things. But one thing it has always been is a city neighborhood.

"City" - Petworth is urban. We should embrace that. It is a bit crowded, a bit noisy, and has too many pigeons. It also has fabulous neighbors, great transportation options, great little houses, and easy access to many other parts of the city.

"Neighborhood" - when we moved here, all the neighbors stopped by to introduce themselves and welcome us to the neighborhood. People talked to us when we walked down the street. Staff in local businesses got to know us and were friendly.

That's what I think we NEED to keep, else we risk losing the very nature of the place. But I see people coming in who don't see it that way, and it makes me sad. A few specific examples:

A flyer from a neighborhood group that came through my mail slot a few years ago: "Neighborhood Clean Up day! Come out and help clean things!" That's great, and I support that. Then I read further. "If you have a neighbor who won't keep their yeard clean, we'll help you report them to the city." Not "we'll help you talk to them about it." Not "We'll see if maybe they're old or ill or otherwise in need of help and offer that help." No, just call on the authorities.

A new neighbor knocks on my door. Not to introduce himself, oh no. To insist that I sign a petition to get speed bumps installed. I don't like speed bumps, and I'm not going to sign. Speed bumps are bad for emergency vehicles and dangerous to motorcycle riders (like me.) Did he say, "Thank you for your time."? No, he got rude and yelled at me about how I would be responsible if his child got hit by a speeding car while playing. (I admit, I probably didn't help matters when my answer to that was, "Perhaps you shouldn't allow your 2 year old to play in the street." But by that point, he WAS already yelling at me.)

We go to have dinner at Domku. We get to talking to the man next to us at the bar. When he finds out how long we've been here, he starts telling us how happy we must be now that the neighborhood is finally improving. When we say we're glad to see some change, but sorry to see longtime neighbors being driven out by tax increases and are worried about the loss of community that comes with so many places changing hands all at once, he goes off on a diatribe about how we should be glad that "those people" are going to have to move out and take their drugs and guns with them. He sees every black face as one of "those people" and sees my white face as an indication that I will agree with him. He's wrong, and all I can think is "I've been slimed."

So, the solution? In my mind, it is simple. (Note, all uses of the word "you" here are generic. I am not talking about any one person, I am talking about people.) Recognize that you are coming into a community. A community that has been battered by many problems, but a community where people live and have been living, and working, and caring about, for many years. There is history here. There are people's lives and families here. This is HOME for us. It's not perfect. No place is perfect. But it is home, and we will work with you on the problems, as we have been working with each other on the problems for many years. We don't want our neihgborhood rooted out and a new generic one put in its place (for a good example of that, look at what has become of Chinatown). We want to be part of Petworth (to be really trite) being all that it can be.

And if we work together, we should end up in a place where we can all be proud and happy of what we have become.

Anonymous said...

It would be easier to become "part of Petworth" if people were a tad more welcoming. My first attempted post was deleted, so here is the short version. I just moved here. I walk my dog a lot, and am often greeted with stares, rudeness, and nasty comments for no reason. Newcomers will not want to be part of the community if the community shuns them. I didn't come here to yuppify this neighborhood. I don't want to bring in a Starbucks and a Gap, I just want to be able to walk my dog without having sunflower seeds spit on me or walking through piles of broken glass. New neighbors aren't all bad, some of us are very nice and do want to join a community. Yeah, you will have to sift through some yuppies, but you will also get some great new neighbors who want Petworth to thrive, just like you.

Prince of Petworth said...

Anon. 4 I think you put it perfectly.

Anon. 5, I'm sorry your post, got deleted, I did not delete it, it must have been an error with blogger. I'm sorry your walks have been less than pleasant. It is definitely a two way street. I have had pleasant experiences walking around town. Hopefully your walks will get better too.

Anonymous said...

Shoot, I meant to sign BOTH of those, and forgot. Anyhow, I posted both #1 and #4. Hi!

As for the other poster - I am really sorry you've had that experience. I've been on the other side too often. That is, trying to say hi to new people and having them stare straight through me, or introducing myself only to get an earful of what a horrid place this is and how mean everyone is. I guess we just both need to keep trying. (When we first moved here, the immediate neighbors were great, but some of the corner boys were frighteningly aggressive. It got better.)


Bill said...

Look at it this way, we're living in an interesting social experiment. Petworth has never been significantly mixed in its history. First mostly white middle (to lower-middle) class, then mostly black middle (to lower-middle) class. Meaning people who didn't have enough money or standing to live in posher parts of town could often get a home in Petworth. I'd say that's still the case. Let's face it, if you're buying in Petworth you're probably what passes for middle-class in this market/economy.

I grew up in the DC area in the 70s-80s-90s, and I am excited that so much of the city is being revitalized so old and new residents can benefit. I mean 16th Street used to be a real demarcation line. Shaw, Petworth, Logan Circle... forget about it. My brother's wife lived in Petworth in the very early 90s, she said it was pretty rough. They were shocked when they heard we bought our first house here, couldn't believe it could have changed so much. Any longtime police officer will tell you how much worse the drug/crime situation was 5-10 years ago.

I had a young police officer tell me he wishes he could afford to live here. But that's a different can of worms...

I can't afford the new condos or to shop in many of the new stores, but I'm happy to see them anyway because it brings more energy, density, diversity, and life to the city. I'm no fan of Target etc but I'm glad I won't have to drive to Virginia to get basic stuff.

In Petworth proper, I think so far we're on a good track to avoid the worst of chain-ification. Domku, Temperance Hall, Yoga House, Hitching Post, El Limeno, El Torogoz, Sweet Mango Cafe, Yes! Natural Market (coming), Mocha Hut (coming)... all indies. Meaning owned by an individual(s) who is making a commitment to the neighborhood, well in advance of any guarantee of success.

With all of that said, I wouldn't want my elderly neighbors to have to move because of rising property taxes. It wouldn't be right. I get along great with them and see them as the anchors around here. So I would hope for some city assistance to help in those cases. On the other hand, some of my long-time neighbors have better cars, better-paying jobs, take better vacations than me. AND their houses are paid off in some cases. So let's be careful with stereotypes.

Anonymous said...

I wonder - I see below the comment about how dangerous Petworth was in the 90s.

I bought my house in early 1990. It wasn't that rough. I felt safer then than I do now.

Perception is everything.


Anonymous said...


I'm a recently Petworth transplant and a dedicated dog walker myself, and I've gotten nothing but smiles and good mornings/evenings on my walks. But maybe it's my part of the neighborhood. And my dog is kinda funny-looking, too.

Anonymous said...

Anon. 5 here.
I know you didn't delete my post PoP - silly computers.
I haven't had all bad experiences, in fact I think that as a whole, DC is a really friendly city. My point was just that I think you have to give a little to get some back. I can't fix property taxes on the rise, or developers with zero sense of creativity, but I can smile to my new neighbors, make sure to clean up after my pup, and get to know what makes Petworth unique. To keep a sense of community here, the existing community has to be willing to open up and befriend the newcomers. Otherwise, 2 groups will begin to coexist and resent each other ("oh the new neighbors are horrible yuppies" "oh that's the mean neighbor who has lived here forever and can't be bothered to say hello") rather than fostering a sense of development while retaining the charm of the area.

I'll be on the lookout for a funny-looking dog on my walks, and I'll be sure to say hello!