My Response to the CityPaper’s Essay on “Notyetworth”

Many people have written me asking my response to the CityPaper’s essay on Petworth from last week’s neighborhoods issue. The essay and “arbitrary rankings” were written by Dave McKenna who bought a house in Petworth in 2002. And it seems as though the article was written about the Petworth of 2002, a beautiful place for sure, but neglects much of the massive development/improvements that have taken place in the subsequent six years. McKenna truly seems to like many aspects about Petworth but I think he omits many other positive aspects. From the essay I gather that he seems to enjoy the abundant parking, location, and people. Unfortunately he spends a good half of the article discussing “the racial dynamics”. I’m not saying there aren’t “racial dynamics” at play here but writing over half the essay on this topic seems a bit excessive. Personally I don’t think the racial dynamics play that big a role at all. But like I said, my biggest gripe is that he doesn’t discuss any development that has taken place. How can you write an article about Petworth and not mention the soon to be completed Park Place Condos?

There is a section called arbitrary rankings which rank kid friendliness, eats, nightlife etc. I think McKenna fails miserably in his rankings. Particularly the rankings for eats. While noting the horrible Chinese options, McKenna neglects almost all of the new dining options that have arrived since 2002. I don’t understand how it is possible to mention the Hitching Post and remain silent about the phenomenal El Limeno located right across the street. I’m not saying that Petworth has the dining options of Columbia Heights or U Street but I am equally dumbfounded that he doesn’t mention Domku, Looking Glass Lounge (formerly Temperance Hall), El Torgoraz, Moroni & Brothers, Flip it Bakery, Abol, Red Derby and Sweet Mango Cafe.

Finally, I think the name is ridiculous. I know the authors had to come up with witty neighborhood names but I just don’t get “Notyetworth”. What does that mean? The houses aren’t worth that much money? It is not yet worth living here? Even in 2002 this was a beautiful neighborhood that was certainly “worth” a lot to the many residents living here at the time. Small point but I felt like I had to make it.

Petworth is a huge neighborhood and it is difficult to summarize. McKenna gets it right when he writes: “In these hoods, it’s about family and friends down the block. None of the bad stuff comes to mind when you’re sitting out on the front porch on a nice night, listening to a Nats game on the radio and waving to neighbors and passersby. Then, it’s hard to imagine a finer place to live.” However, when he writes, “there’s nowhere to eat or shop” he is in for a pleasant surprise. So my advice to Mr. McKenna would be take a walk around the neighborhood. He’ll be amazed at how much has changed since 2002.

(For those thinking of moving to the neighborhood you can check out My tips for newcomers.)

32 Comment

  • I think they were a bit harsh on Columbia Heights/Adams-Morgan/Mt. Pleasant, too. The “Liquorridor”?

  • I thought “Notyetworth” was kind of clever. I live here, and I like it, but it’s not quite yet….[fill in the blank.] It’s a neighborhood that is going through an interesting and sometimes painful transition. But I like the energy that comes with change, with being in a state of “not-yetness.” It’s a contrast to, say, Georgetown, which pretty much is what it is. Many of the massive developments that you speak of, like the Park Plaza Condos, the Jair Lynch project, Yes Organic Market, the new Safeway, the perennial attempts to spruce up Ga. Ave, have not yet come to pass. Some projects have *started*, and I’m looking forward to seeing what they will be, but I can’t applaud them yet without knowing how they will affect the neighborhood. That’s just another example of “not-yetness.”

    And, I have to say that it’s hard to read this blog and believe that racial dynamics in this neighborhood are of minor importance. No, we’re not having black power/white power marches down Georgia Avenue. That’s a good thing. But pretty much any discussion on this blog that is about anything other than gardens or pretty doors (which I enjoy, btw) eventually turns into some kind of race/gentrification discussion. It’s a topic that is on peoples’ minds, for better or for worse. So I think it’s worth spending a significant amount of time on it in an essay about Petworth.

    I do agree are some pretty decent places around here to eat. Basically, I didn’t read too much into the essay; you can’t really tell someone that their opinion is wrong.

  • At least you don’t live in Bloomingale, which they “ranked” lower than Deanwood and Anacostia as a place to live. The whole thing makes me pissed off. Typical City Paper snark without the insight.

  • Thanks for the analysis PoP. I’m sure this issue is the one they’ll get the most letters about – maybe that’s the real point. Spurring discussion.
    Anyway, my main beef with Notyetworth is a little more selfish – I live in Park View and couldn’t believe that we weren’t lumped in with Notyetworth OR Liquorridor. I think most residents feel like they’re part of Petworth, while the city considers us part of Columbia Heights (at least in terms of police districts). But instead CityPaper put us in with Bloomingdale, LeDroit, and Eckington. I really don’t get that – Park View feels really disconnected from those other 3 neighborhoods.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Christina, I was just giving my opinion of the essay. Is that wrong?

  • Petworth proper (maybe the part closer to North Cap is like Eckington/Bloomingdale) is nothing like Eckington and Bloomingdale. I live in Eckington (hopefully not much longer) and I can safely say Petworth is nothing like it. We don’t have a Yes Organic Market or a new condo project coming. We don’t have anything. We also don’t have good delivery options. I also think that the drug problem is more pronounced in my hood. At any rate, I would much rather live in Petworth.

  • PoP, I had a similar take on the article…sounds like he wrote it in 2002 and put it in a box, and didn’t pay attention to anything since then. But the reviews of other neighborhoods were just as bad. It seemed like housing was ranked on affordability only, and even neighborhoods where you can walk to everything and the blocks are lined with beautiful homes were summarily dismissed (e.g., Dupont, Cleveland Park).

    It’s hard to take any of it very seriously.

    Still, I liked the way they collected all the articles related to the neighborhood going WAY back and put them all online in one place….that was good.

  • The City Paper piece is not a serious or definitive sociological study; it’s a profile, light, and especially humorous. Yeah, my hood was a little dumped on, the comments perhaps dated and incomplete. But I agree with Christina’s thoughtful insights on race in Petworth. It’s on people’s minds and rightly so. Some of the names were hysterical.

  • Since the lede of the piece was all about how neighborhood boundaries are meaningless in DC, it set the tone that all the analysis that follows is utter bullshit, and the comical names support that. So I read the piece expecting 80% tongue-in-cheek-ism, and 20% predictable utility journalism. So, no real outrage here.

    Still, they missed the mark on nailing the character of my humble hood (turrets syndrome, evidently). If I didn’t know any better, I’d think Big Bear Cafe was the only business for miles around.

    But the owners of the BBCafe must’ve been quite pleased, with a number of mentions in a small capsule essay. Trying to drive some business over there, it seems?

  • Arguing with a half-assed, non-fact-checked, City Paper article as if it was thoughtfully written is the READER’S mistake and not the mistake of the City Paper. When you realize that the writers themselves do not care what the heck they write, then the whole paper starts to make a lot more sense and you enjoy it more. When you think that they think they are real journalists responsible for serious reporting then you get wrapped up in their insanity. They aren’t real journalists so take what they write with a grain of salt.

  • But y’all gotta admit the articles are hysterical. Upper Caucasia? Episcopalia? Turretts Syndrome? But seriously, looking at the racial breakdowns of the first two I just mentioned, I’m sorry, but I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that’s 90% or more white, no matter how liberal, smart, educated and Volvo-driving my neighbors might be. So I find myself in Petworth, Allthatworth, not Notyetworth.

  • I didn’t get offended at all when I read the article. Maybe my expectations weren’t too high, but with the obvious whiff on the food options, the article itself seemed pretty on-point.

    The truth is that most new homes are being bought by white people and that there is a legitimate demographic change going on in Petworth. I think that’s newsworthy.

    I think the essence of “Not Yet” is all of these changes are still going on. We aren’t a static community at this point.

    I have two thoughts about the omission of Park Place and other developments.

    1. It could have been the editor who did that.
    2. The Petworth article was written in a different style than the other pieces, I thought. Maybe it’s b/c McKenna usually writes thoughtful sports columns that are often focused on old-school DC stuff, but the Notyetworth section definitely strayed from the formula that almost all of the other reviews follwed. Whereas the others hit each neighborhood within the neighborhood, the Notyet section focused on the good ol (even pre 2002) days.

  • Agree with Christina. You cannot discuss Petworth without discussing race. As I have said before…you need to address racism, talk about it openly and have honest discussions about race, then you will see real change in people’s attitudes and perceptions.

  • Probably goes without saying, but this is an essay, not a matter of truth, just one guy’s opinion of a neighborhood that is on the rise, but I guess not fast enough for him. Perhaps he thought that everything would change in an instant, that new projects would seemingly get built over nigth and that a new small buisness owner would get their permits from the great bureaucracy that is DC, in just a few short days. Revitalization takes time, a lot of time. And Mr. McKenna needs to realize that or move!

  • Overall this is the kind of tepid and slanted thing that I have come to expect from CityPaper so it’s no surprise. Weakly researched, it is an out-of-date and incomplete assessment. In the heart of Petworth, I live across from basketball courts with nets and state of the art night lighting to boot. They have become a destination for ball players of all types and ages from other neighborhoods. The spray park is on every night when I get home from work and draws a wonderfully diverse group of young families. Some of the best ranked Chinese food is right around the corner and makes it to my doorstep in about 12 minutes. McKenna built the “essay” around a catchy clever (he thought) title. The term “hood” should be left in the past. When is the last time you heard someone say that in conversation where it didn’t sound cliche and patronizing to those who coined it.

  • I’m sorry, but I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that’s 90% or more white

    Have you SEEN Petworth in 2025 when gas is $8.50 per gallon?

  • i just want to point out that statement ‘I’m sorry, but I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that’s 90% or more white’ … did that jump out at anyone else? is this a stupid statement from a white person who is helping to bring about the ‘neighborhood’ that they dont want to live in, or a non-white racist?

  • I don’t like my comments called stupid when they are heart-felt. I have been in Petworth, as a person trying to work and live a non-racist life, for almost two decades. I should have posted annonymously because I don’t like the mud-slinging. And I repeat, I don’t want to live in a neighborhood that is mostly white, in my commitment to a currently unused word, integration. That is why we moved to Petworth. Cleveland Park, Glover Park, Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, AU Park, etc. are all areas that have a huge white population. That is not for me, as a white person still believing that a racially mixed area is where I feel most comfortable and where I choose to raise a family.

  • “Christina, I was just giving my opinion of the essay. Is that wrong?”

    As was I — is that wrong? Exactly *what* did I say that would make you ask that question, or that implied in any way that I thought your opinion was incorrect or not worth sharing?

  • Didn’t anyone else notice that the entire article was ACTUALLY FROM 1997 ? That’s why it seems outdated.

    If you look on page 12 of the City Paper, it says: “Editor’s Note – the following story was originally published in the Washington City Paper on Dec. 26, 1997. It attests to the timelessness of DC’s own brand of urban parochialism.”

  • I wonder if we talking about the same essay. I don’t have a paper copy in front of me, but how can it have been written in 1997 if it starts with a reference to the author buying a house in 2002?

  • toby, i dont care if you want to live all white, all black, all samoan…it has nothing to do with me. i just wanted to point out that your comment was insensitive, or whatever the kids want to call it these days. i dont get why youre TRYING to work and live a non-racist reminds me of my fraternity days when we were encouraged to find black brothers, indian brothers, any non white brothers.. youre going to make friends with the people you naturally align with, so why force it? if youre comfortable in an integrated neighborhood, congratulations…i just thought it was silly to phrase your comment the way you did. how would you feel if a non white person said that same thing on this post, and was talking about you, me and anyone else moving into his home neighborhood of petworth?

  • @Lindsey: I checked and I think we’re talking about two different articles. You’re referring to this one:

    and PoP and the rest of us are talking about this one:

    I understand where you’re coming from about natural alignments, but sometimes you might not know that you “naturally align” with people of a different background if you live your life never interacting with them. I think that, in general, life is better if we don’t see people different from us as Scary “Others.”

  • I know Dave McKenna and think he is getting a bad rap here. He does care about the neighborhood, and does live in the ‘hood, and gets around. He’s not a bad music review journo, either. Incidentally, I am the person/half the household across the alley that was referenced as the ‘how you says’. (That made me chuckle.)

    I suspect that the CP gave the authors a word limit. Under which, you can’t talk about everything, but most focus on some particular aspect or theme. Obviously, DM chose the people and history of the ‘hood, which is apparently important for him. I would find it hard for people to disagree that the people in Petworth are more important than the development – many of us were here before all that began, and would remain even if it wasn’t happening.

    Yes, the arbitary summary of the ‘hood is way off mark. But that’s the bad part, and based on what I read online, I can’t attribute that to McKenna. Perhaps I’m wrong. But taken as a whole, the article does a good job characterizing our neighborhood and tries to envision the past as prolouge to the future.

  • I think we do need to have conversations about race. First, let me say I don’t think I am a racist, though I am sure some will disagree with me. I read and participate in many disucssions on the PoPmiester’s blog that have definite racial undertones. Note I did not say racist. Is discussing the fact that many of the problems our community has surrounds those members of the community are black? Seems most of the discussions of crime, drugs, school issues, littering, etc, tend to focus on african americans. Does that make us racist? I would like to think not? With more gentrification that is sure to some with Park Place and other devolopment such as the AFRA project it is going to become more of a topic.

  • Oh DCer! All articles are indeed factchecked by a staff of OCD reporters who tend to cry, whimper, and feel miserable for a week when they make a mistake.

    And yeah, McKenna’s piece did stick out because it was one of the most thoughtful things I’ve read in a long time. He wrote a piece on gentrification without taking the easy way out–his piece was neither full of self-inflicted white guilt nor the usual things-were-so-much-better-20-years-ago-remember-when rant.

  • I’d like to review the fact checking on McKenna’s references to “crappy chinese food”, “the schools blow”, “you need a car to reach real shopping” and homes with”’70s-ize the rooms, walking into one is like walking into your grandmother’s”. An essay, while generally a personal view, normally contains analytical presentation of specific facts to support the assertions of the author. This is cutesy, flimsy journalism at best, referring to groups of people as “whitey”, “paleface gentrifiers”. To be fair, there is present in the piece some census data which is refreshing, but he follows with “The next census should show a cultural balance for the neighborhood that would indicate the human race is progressing. But how long will that hold up?”. Honestly, what in the world does he mean by that question? I have no problem doing “real shopping” via the Metro stop which is conveniently situated on Georgia and New Hampshire Avenue in the heart of Petworth. And as we progress, I hope, to a less automobile centered society I will find public transportation a very good reason to be on these streets at night. With all of his racial baggage though, McFadden may want to stay off of them.

  • McKenna I mean, not McFadden.

  • Steve, to answer your question(s): no, I don’t it does either. But I guess there is a very fine line in _stating_ a statistical or circumstancial fact like “x% of men of Y ethnicity have a criminal record and are imprisoned” or “the bank robber was of Z ethnicity” and _implying_ that the fact is _because of_ Y or Z ethnicity. The line get’s even finer when one starts talking about to what extent the said fact is due to e.g. current culture of Y or Z ethnicity – or a subgroup of it. Add the (probably more relevant) usual socio-economic factors into the soup and you are very rapidly left with “PC land” as your last (unfortunate) resort…

  • test race

  • i love my neighborhood, but McKenna’s right–food/entertainment options here boil down to 3-4 places, at best.

    i agree El Limeno is awesome, and admit i have not been to Flip It yet, but i think anyone would be hard pressed to honestly name a half dozen decent places to eat in Petworth proper (restaurants actually located in Columbia Heights or Takoma Park do NOT count). LGL (the venue former known as Temperance Hall) seems to be undergoing some sort of identity crisis, and Domku is interesting but hit-and-miss from visit to visit. and to the writer who claimed otherwise, i’d love to know where there is any authentic, good Chinese food in Petworth. (again, restaurants in Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights, Dupont or Woodley Park do not qualify.)

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