DC demystification by Eric Nuzum

Where Vines Once Grew
Photo by PoPville Flickr member Rukasu1

The following was written by PoP contributor Eric Nuzum.

This one is for the interlopers and sojourners in the house. Native sons and daughters can sit this one out, opting instead to monitor the comment thread and shake your heads in mild disgust.

So I’ve been wrestling with something lately and could use some advice: How does one go about explaining our neighborhood life to folks back home?

My wife and I have become increasingly perplexed by the fact that, despite moving into our Petworth home 18 months ago, neither set of parents (mine from rural Ohio; hers from rural Indiana) has come to visit us yet. Seeing that we are the first kids on either side of our families to buy homes, we expected a little more interest.

The answer came during a visit home a few weeks ago. When we pointed out the lack of parental visitation to my folks, they were pretty silent.

“You aren’t frightened of where we live or anything…are you?” I asked.

Long pause.

“Well,” my mother said. “Maybe a little.”

In hindsight, this didn’t surprise my wife at all.

“Think about the stories you tell them,” she said. “It’s all crack addicts and crime and problems and sketchy this and that. If that was all I heard about any place, I’d be frightened too.”

Okay, she’s right. But in fairness, when I’m telling stories, I go for the colorful and entertaining, I’m not shooting for high journalistic objectivity and fairness. However, I admit that the end product does come off a bit askew.

Going solely off my solely-for-entertainment-value stories, the unfamiliar might be left with the impression that Petworth is a place where bullets fly daily, bugs and rodents conduct their own ANC meetings, the Sunday paper contains coupons for local heroin and crack dealers, and residents mope down the street openly weeping (when we all know that only the residents of Chevy Chase walk down the street weeping, come on). You can even see from my own previous guest posts on PoP (spottily chronicled here), I admittedly tend to focus on the less-than-positive, less-than-normal, and less-than-flattering.

My wife issued a decree, right there in the car driving across the Pennsylvania turnpike: No more negative yarns and jokes about DC to family and friends.

To me, that seems to harsh, almost like suppressing elements of life here. She clarified that she wasn’t asking me to censor anything, just realize that by sharing stories and making jokes about one side of life here, I was casting the entirety in false light. I see her point. Continues after the jump.

Though, let’s be frank. Crazy shit actually does happen all the time. The day after returning from my illuminating trip home and conversation with my wife, my neighbor Tony went out to pick some roses from one of his bushes–and discovered it was stolen. That’s right, someone dug up and stole…a rose bush. Where else does this kind of stuff happen?

I guess my real problem is translation. How do I talk about life here in our nation’s capital without over- or under-emphasizing the elements of our life that someone from a small town in Ohio has no way to relate to?

I think it is important to point out another fact, before some butthole chimes in with, “Well, if you hate it so much here, move to Georgetown/Laurel/Gaithersburg/insert-suburban-enclave-here.”

I don’t hate it here.

In fact, I love it here. While this area regularly tests my attitudes, biases, and beliefs–I’m glad I live in a place where there is genuine diversity and I am challenged to act as part of a community. I’m a better person for it. It was in Petworth that I learned how to really be a good neighbor. Honestly, I wouldn’t want to be in any other place at this point in my life.

So help me.

How do I translate all those wonderful complexities to my friends and family back home?

71 Comment

  • Oh wow, I recognize that front yard. I walk by it all the time, its on Emerson near 3rd.

  • I guess you aren’t going to tell your parents about the shooting that just happened on a few nights back less than a block away.

  • i really don’t know much about Petworth except what I read here .. but there have got to be positive things. When I talk about Anacostia, I have the opposite problem: I tend to only talk about its positive characteristics, then leaving people scratching their heads wondering if there’s any truth to the rumors of it being some horrible place. All neighborhoods have their positives and negatives. If you want people to visit, I’d suggest bragging about some of the good things!

  • You don’t have to tell your parents anything. Unless it actually impacts their personal safety.

    Much as we like to argue that the crime isn’t “that bad” here, or the occasional gunfire is “just between drug dealers”, the fact remains that our neighborhood is WAY more dangerous than the average middle-American town.

    Tell it like it is, and let the chips fall where they may. You can’t really fault your parents for not wanting to visit, and you shouldn’t lie (by omission or commission) to lure them out here.

  • My father hates coming here (DC in general) because of the traffic (too much, all the time), the gun laws (same), the prices (“you pay what for THAT?!” is pretty much his response to everything) and the weather (too hot). This has been going on since 1992 or so. He really isn’t a city person. It’s just not his thing. But, he comes to hang out with me, and we usually just stay in because that’s what he wants to do.

    While my neighborhood isn’t as idiosyncratic as some, and I don’t really have very much negative to talk about, I don’t really play that up or down. (Okay, so I didn’t mention the time my place was broken into; but the next time he was down, he noticed the marks on the door jamb, and being a retired cop said, “So, when’d your place get broken into?” So much for leaving that little detail out.) Most people who live in my neighborhood trot their parents over to Eastern Market on a weekend, but my dad’s done that – 15 or so years ago, and he’s good with that. Too many damn people for him now. I will say that he’s gotten lost a lot over the years trying to come visit me, and has seen first hand some of the less desirable neighborhoods in DC, which goes a long way toward him feeling that I (and him, and his car etc.) are quite safe on the Hill.

    My dad’s been coming to DC for a long time, and has come to terms with it not being like home. I’ve never had to lure him here because it’s the closest place I’ve ever lived that wasn’t down the hall from him, so he’s just happy to have me in the same time zone. Even if I didn’t live in the specific neighborhood that I do (parents seem to dig the Hill a whole lot, which must be why I see people from all over the city bringing ’em over here every weekend), he’d still come. He quite liked Petworth the time I took him to visit some friends over there. Y’all have big yards, which is a big plus in his book.

  • I was born and raised in the city. I lived in several different neighborhoods. I love DC. I love the diversity, the restaurants, the sports teams and all the museums. I love visiting DC. I have not lived there in almost 40 years. I have what I think is the best of both worlds. I live two states away and appreciate the family oriented community where I reside. It is the state capitol and provides a little bit of everything but not a whole lot of anything. Life can range from quaint to sophisticated real quick and you are allowed the time to enjoy the differences. It can be provincial at times but I don’t have to pay for it. The cost of living is modest as are the taxes. In fact a national magazine designated my adopted community the number 1 choice for Empty-Nester’s. It is a great place to raise a family. But, I still visit DC every chance I get. It is a great city to visit.

  • I really resent to term interlopers, gentrifiers, etc. as it goes against historical patterns of migration. It’s basically a code word for whites moving into areas that had been dangerous, blighted slums for decades. And improving the areas. And not bringing in crime or drug dealing or disfunctional family life. Because that’s not part of their culture. Anyone see today’s WaPo, with the murder rate significantly down? I guess it’s all those gentrifiers, yuppies, interlopers and their lifestyle. Don’t get me started.

  • Why do people feel the need to defend where they live? You live where you live because that’s what you want now. Most people get tired of where they grew up and leave. Some stay and never leave. Who cares? Cities aren’t for everyone. Neither are suburbs. Both suck in their own, precious, unique ways. For most people, cities will never be cheap or safe enough, in the same way suburbs will never be “vibrant” and pedestrian-friendly enough. Instead of justifying your choice of residence, we need to appreciate how much the other guy sucks and make fun of them at ever opportunity.

  • Well put, monkey.

  • Have your parents travelled much, Eric?

    My mom visited me several times in Harlem without hesitation. My husband’s mom loves DC and was here within 5 months or so of us moving here. She plans to come back for Thanksgiving again this year.

    Maybe it doesn’t have anything really to do with the neighborhood but more your parent’s sense of adventure and travel. I find that people from rural areas tend to get overwhelmed with the idea of large cities.

    Anyway, I don’t tend to focus on crime. I talk about how close we are to the metro, that we have some great restaurants close to our house, and that we are only a short metro ride to some of the best places in the city. I don’t really even have that much crime to talk about it is not like I am getting shot at every time I leave my house. It is just a subset of the neighborhood certainly not what defines it.

  • As the parent of an adult child living in Columbia Heights, I have some empathy for your parents’ concerns. One of the things that has helped me is this blog. The garden-door-mural of the day, the festivals and fund-raisers, the poets and protesters, all show me the real sense of community. If your folks have internet access, this is a safe introduction to the neighborhoods that might pique their interest and make them curious to come visit.

    Another thought that might help them test the waters, if time and resources are available. Edlerhostel has several programs in which seniors can visit DC, are boarded at hotels or universities, take some tours and have some free time. They could visit you, share some meals, do some sightseeing and yet return nightly to a less threatening environment.

    I live in a small rural town a few hours from DC. When my son moved from Georgetown to CH, I was worried, but in hindsight can see that he is less isolated from his neighbors now and has learned a street-sense of urban survival that I could never teach him.

    Cut your folks a little slack: parents worry – that’s what we do best.
    Good Luck!

  • My dad and I have an ongoing good-natured competition about quality of life in DC versus small town PA. Whenever something great happens we’ll note it as if it’s a mark in our favor. $40 brunch check for 4 people? One point for small town PA. Caribbean Parade? One point for DC. Each time we notice something like this we have a habit of saying to each other. “Now that’s quality of life.” It’s all in good fun. We’ve been doing this for 10 years now. I think we both have a better appreciation for both places.

  • I’d say this is a normal thing for any parent to do, not just when their kid moves to DC. When I moved from home to go to college in west Philly, my mom was worried sick about me. It ended up strengthening our friendship because I would call her when I was walking through scary parts and walking home from bars, etc. They ended up moving to Missouri from small town PA, and I would still call them! Now that I’m in DC, my mom is slightly acclimated to me having a “city-life”, but I know she still worries a lot. My brother lives in ‘dahn-tahn’ Pittsburgh and she worries about him, too! Most people only see what is big headline news in DC or other cities, so that definitely would hinder any nice thoughts. I think what helped my parents (mom, in particular), is that I would often talk about the nice things… In Philly I would go to the art museum, go to center city shopping, and in DC I jog around the mall and in general it’s just an exciting place to live. Yes, I’ll tell her about the murders/shootings/metrofail, but she also hears a lot about the really cool stuff that DC has to offer.

    sidenote: I sound like a mama’s girl lol. I’m not. My mom is just my best friend and I can tell her anything (and I mean anything)!

  • Interesting how many out-of-towners are checking-in on this topic and read PoP, in general. Quite a testimony to this blog.

  • Whenever I have a friend considering moving to this area, I send them to PoP. I also just got a new roommate, and told her to read up on this blog for a while before committing to the lease. My mom (who’s in New England) and I are seriously considering buying an investment in Petworth, and of course I sent her to this blog so she could see the potential and the growth of this part of the city. It’s a great introduction to the neighborhood.

  • Yeah, my folks are in rural NC. I don’t tell crime stories. Ever. I don’t even imply. If they heard about, say, the recent shooting at CH metro, they would have panic attacks. They rarely come to visit anyway . . . but they’re just not city people. And hell, I would rather go visit them most of the time. They’re better cooks.

  • Petworth —

    Your parents don’t need to know about your sex life, your recreational chemical habits or your neighborhood’s crime rate.

    The urge to tell tales of life on the urban frontier is great. Stifle it, nonetheless.

  • This is an awesome article because its totally accurate. My husband and I also moved to Petworth because of the proximity to everything and the general feel of the neighborhood. However, i too find myself telling funny stories that come off to others totally wrong. But i truly enjoy the chilled out atmosphere and the realness of my surroundings. I used to live in chevy chase, a neighborhood that your parents probably would like, but my neighbors were such tools that i knew i had to get into the city, and fast. Pretty much anything you did would be scrutinized (i.e, making to much noise, not mowing your lawn, etc. Plus, in chevy chase you never see people outside chilling. Everyone’s always inside, and that’s sad. I like the liveliness of a mixed colorful neighborhood, not a superfluous ghost town!

  • Well, I live here and I’m scared of my neighborhood. This part of DC is dangerous. I don’t blame parents from out of town feeling the same way.

  • Anon 9:42, why did you move there if you were scared of the neighborhood?

  • When I first moved to DC my mom (who lived in Erie, PA) always said “I don’t like you living in that Washington DC” in her super-worried voice. THAT Washington, DC, enough said. I also picked to live on the same block in Dupont Circle where my great-aunt lived when she was attacked by a burglar in 1964 (and spent the rest of her life partly paralyzed). Well, over the years she visited a lot, started liking DC more, and when my sister had a baby, she moved here – to Takoma, DC. She’s totally a city person now, rides the metro everywhere, and at 72 must be the oldest client at Bang Salon by a couple decades 🙂

  • …and P.S., my mom says Petworth is her favorite place I’ve lived in DC.

  • I have to agree with Mrs. Eric. One can be colorful and entertaining, without freaking the parents out and without watering down the life here. Stolen rosebush good, gunshots bad. Your parents are going to get enough of the drugs and guns and crime stories from their local news, no matter how far they are. You’re just balancing out the already skewed perspective they have of DC. My poor parents have worried about me for years, what with living in Chicago with “gangsters” (I think they think Al Capone is still alive) and now living in DC with “gangstas.”

  • Have a kid. Then you can talk about every little mundane thing with your folks, and it will be interesting because it involves the little bundle. “We took a picnic to the beautiful cemetery today, and Junior sort of crawled on the grass!” “When we walked to Target today, Junior said “balloon”, then we sat on the patio at Commonwealth and Junior pointed out every dog that walked past”. That sort of thing. It will highlight the nice parts of living around here, under the guise of stories about Junior. I swear it works.

  • My mom is from a small town outside Houston. She always says “I don’t know why you’d want to live in DC, it’s dirty, it’s crowded, the traffic is horrible, the crime, etc” Of course the day she moved into her house a couple years ago down in her idyllic setting, the felons hired by the moving company out of Houston stole about $10k worth of stuff from right under their nose. To date, knock on wood, other than the gun pulled on me back in the early 90’s down in Dupont (thought you’d want to chill), my life has been crime free.

    Being from Boston, DC has the right feel. Just stroll up Connecticut Ave or through Gtown and you get the right kind of urban feel for me. It’s close to the Bay, the mountains, and although a little far from the beach, isn’t too bad. But the reason I like it most of all are two-fold — there are good jobs here for young professionals, and many of the people here, black and white, young and old, are absolutely, incredibly gorgeous (Walmart in her town just doesn’t cut it for me). PoP needs a hottie of the day contest!

  • Sidenote: Mal… Please be careful when calling your mom or others when “walking through scary parts and walking home from bars,” as being on the phone makes you look distracted and vulnerable and more of a target for muggers.

  • WDC – Hilarious and completely accurate. Great comment.

  • Urban Folk, that’s nice, but it doesn’t sound like you’re talking about Petworth. I don’t find Georgetown and Connecticut Avenue to be urban in the same way as Petworth, Shaw or Columbia Heights.

  • My parents came down two weeks before settlement on my condo in Petworth about three years back to see the place. All my mother wanted to know was how much it was going to cost to back out of the contract.

    Over the years, they have grown to like the neighborhood and to appreciate my investment in an area where a lot of positive things are happening. They’ve got a few favorite restaurants in Columbia Heights when they come to visit, but they think Domku is too expensive.

    After throwing tens of thousands of dollars away over the years paying rent in “more upscale” neighborhoods, both they and I appreciate that I was able to afford a place to buy in Petworth, and now I get massive tax refunds and equity that have kept me out of any substantial debt.

    I’m trying to put away enough money to buy a proper house in the neighborhood now, and they want to help with renovations.

    With regard to crime, I’m of the belief that muggers are more likely trolling Georgetown, Foggy Bottom and Dupont for their victims. Yeah, there are sketchy people hanging out around our ‘hood, but no one’s ever messed with me.

    I was walking home from a late night at work around 10:30pm one night, coming down a particularly “sketchy” block near my house, when 3 or 4 guys dressed head-to-toe in black came out of an alley in my direction. I quickly started crossing the street to put as much distance between us as possible (I’ve been mugged before in Foggy Bottom in a very similar situation), when one of the guys shouts out to me, “Don’t worry, man, we know you from the neighborhood, it’s all good.”

  • My parents and my wife’s parents dig where we live (CH) but are also aware that we deal with a higher crime rate than they do back home (CA and OH). We’re honest with them (i.e., we don’t hide shootings and killings from them) but we don’t highlight them at all. There’s only one reason for this — they would otherwise worry their faces off. All parents worry enough about their kids as it is — we don’t feel the need to amplify their worries. Great example was the day of the CH Metro entrance shooting, which happened to occur while my parents were staying with us (my Mom had left Marshalls about an hour before the shooting). We DID NOT mention this particular event to the ‘rents. The next day, my Dad, who had been walking around the ‘hood, asked if we knew why there were news vans clustered near the Target. We pleaded ignorance. In certain instances, ignorance is bliss.

  • Actually, Urban Folk seems to me like the kind of man who might enjoy a good “female carwash.” Did you post those signs up around Catholic University?

  • The second night my mom came to visit & stay with us in the house we just moved into in Petworth, there was a shooting 1 street over in the middle of the night. The next day while eating breakfast she was like “Were those gunshots?” “Yup.” But she’s coming back in a few weeks and it should be noted that she’s totally jealous of our hydrangea plants and the yard and wants a “cute little house” just like ours.

  • Well, there’s probably a lot less meth in Petworth than rural Indiana – you could highlight that fact. Also, there’s probably less drunk driving per capita.

    My dad is 50 years removed from his small-town Indiana roots, and lives in a condo in Adams Morgan, and my in-laws live in Manhattan, so, yeah, I don’t really have any ‘splaining to do.

  • I agree, Ed – meth is to rural areas what crack is to urban areas. What’s the difference? I grew up in rural IN and couldn’t wait to leave. I have no regrets about moving into DC.

  • When I lived in an apartment in Dupont about nine years ago my mom came to visit one day after the apartment managers had found rotting corpse leaking from a second floor apartment into the main entrance of the apartment building (apparently death via auto-erotic asphyxiation).

    Man-oh-man did I work hard to ensure she didn’t know what the people in the elevator were trying to talk about. Bloomingale has its quirks, but fortunately nothing like that.

  • Well, it’s not like crazy stuff, anti-social crap doesn’t happen out in the hinterland. For every crackhead or surly black man your parents could point to, how about the redneck on welfare and the meth lab down the road near the VFW hall.

    I rest my case…

  • I don’t see the point in pulling punches. My parents have lived the past 40 years of their lives in small Southern cities. It’s apples-and-oranges to compare my life to theirs, and they get that. They never dealt with the crime that I’ve dealt with, but they also never got paid my big-city wages and know that it’s a trade-off for me: if I want the job that pays well, I have to live where the job is. Bottom line, it IS totally absurd that people in this neighborhood steal planted vegetation and holiday decorations (both happened to me) and do much worse. We live around some crappy peopple who do crappy things. No sense in pulling punches about that. But we also are a short Metro ride to the Smithsonian, all the monuments, and 1000 other things that bring people here from around the world. You take the good with the bad.

    Plus, parents worry. Hell, family worries. I lived in CH for several years before a recent exodus to the ‘burbs, but since my little sister relocated to CH recently, I constantly find myself reminding her to be sensible and steer clear of certain known (to me) problem blocks.

  • You can always have your parents stay in a hotel out in Arlington or Alexandria when they come to visit so they don’t have to deal with the traffic as much and about securing parking spots and visitor passes, or down closer to Foggy Bottom, GT and other tourist friendly places.

    Having gone to GW, I imagine my parents’ dominant image of DC is of rich college kids, the relative safety of Foggy Bottom, and graduations on the Mall. I moved from Arlington to the Hill about a year ago and they haven’t come visit me yet, but I imagine they perceive DC to be pretty safe, or at least no more dangerous than any other city.

  • Could we please put the meth-epidemic-in-rural areas myth to bed? Has anyone looked at the actual stats? (plenty available at SAHMSA or NIDA websites) Or do we just accept sensationalist headlines as facts?

  • When I first moved to Park View from Adams-Morgan my dad wasn’t too happy w/ the neighborhood. That was 6 yrs ago, he now comes most weekends to help me renovate my house. He now says he loves where I live, the neighbors call him “poppy”, and say hello when he is around, and now the fam comes over for bbqs and other events.

    I think it just takes time for them to become comfortable w/ the place. My dad said once “when I first started to come here the area didn’t look good, but over time your eyes get used to it and the difference from the suburbs and you realize this is a real nice area.”

  • Never forget that a selection bias is at work with this blog. People who write here have had generally positive experiences in the city and neighborhood. Hence they still live here (or still follow what goes on after having recently left with fond memories).

    Who isn’t represented here is the person who had a terrible experience and wants to forget it forever. The person knocked unconscious during a mugging, the person whose house was broken into repeatedly, the person who dealt with blatant racism, etc, etc. We no longer hear from these people.

  • saf

    Anon 12:19 – I disagree a bit. Our house has been broken into 4 times. But that’s only ONE part of the whole picture. And the whole picture is such a grand mural that the bad parts cannot, for us, overcome the good parts.

    Alos, Neener is still here, despite apparently hating everything about the place.

    So while there is a bit of a selection bias here, I don’t think that the negative isn’t represented. As a matter of fact, a lot of the time I think it is too well represented.

  • It’s all perspective. I grew up mostly in blue collar neighborhoods and my mother is perfectly comfortable visiting Petworth. Her main complaint is all the stairs up to and inside the house (she’s old). Considering my mother was barricaded in the beauty shop she worked at when Akron went up in flames in ’68 while the rioters set fire and looted all the shops up and down the Wooster/Hawkins commercial strip, she’s experienced a lot worse than the tree-lined and quiet streets of a fancy neighborhood like Petworth.

    A lot of this boils down to class. While the demographics of this city in particular obscure class with race, most of this apprehension comes from parents and relatives that haven’t any experience with how the other half lives and their “frightening” behavior. Which can mean anything from impromptu screaming matches in the middle of the street at 2AM, painting the house aqua, raising chickens in the backyard, having 75 cousins over for BBQ, conducting long-term car repairs in the front yard, to just plain indelicate behavior. While some people are apparently betting on the come with regard to “demographic” changes in the neighborhood, don’t be so sure I won’t buy any chickens and play the Derailers at unreasonable volume even if the “old timers” leave or die off.

    I’m planning my new fence right now and it’s going to be bright and shiny chain link. Just thinking about how beautiful it’s gonna be makes me smile.

  • Saf, you’re missing the point. You have had negative experiences, but you obviously find that the good outweighs the bad since you’re still here. What a selection bias weeds out are the people who have found that the bad outweighs the good. Those are the people whose voice is missing, not yours.

  • When we bought a house in South Manor Park (just north of Petworth, but close to Kennedy Street!), we were looking for a house with a basement that we could move my mother into. My mother was born and raised as a white woman in a small southern town. Now, imagine picking her up and putting her down in DC where she is a minority for the first time in her life. We had high hopes – she could go to the museums, enjoy the ease of the metro, not have to drive half an hour regardless of where you are going, etc. Turns out she’s too afraid to try the bus by herself, won’t take the metro because she might get tired, and at some point is going to say something about “those black people” that is going to get her shot. Perhaps its true that you can’t teach and old dog new tricks.

    But last time I stayed with her when I was home visiting from college, there was a shootout with the police and some guy who set himself and his house on fire in protest. There are fewer people in small towns, so less frequent reports of crimes like this, but they are certainly there. That’s the only time in my life I’ve had to hit the deck for fear of being shot.

  • Our neighborhoods are in the middle of a gang war that results in frequent murders. How is that not frightening, especially to outsiders that haven’t rationalized it away or become accustomed to it and changed their standards?

  • Anon @ 11:31: Actually, the BJS and other federal stat-heads consistently show that meth is typically a rural problem that has a much broader geographic spead than any other controlled substance. In fact, specific studies have shown that more counties have problems with meth than any other controlled substance.


  • Anon 11:31 – No, we cannot put the rural meth epidemic to bed. Reports from the SAHMSA or NIDA report mild but increasing risk to the surrounding rural areas over the past few years. In addition, these site admit up front that data received regarding meth use is dependent on voluntary data and data gleaned from individuals in the legal/rehab system. The Shenandoah and New River Valleys of Virginia saw steady increases in discovered meth labs until just recently and anyone in those areas can speak to the effect of that drug on the community. Thanks.

  • I didn’t realize there were so many ex-rural Hoosiers on this blog- I’m one too.

    When I talk to my parents I don’t sugar coat what happens in my neighborhood (Mt. Vernon Sq/Shaw border), but I also never hesitate to tell them all the things I love about DC. They know that if I truly ever felt serious concern for my safety I would move to a new neighborhood, which is true. My mom still continues to give me pepper spray every year for Christmas. It’s kind of a running joke now.

  • Anon @ 12:39–stick around, or go back and read the past discussions on what to do about crime, and you will see that the regular commentators on this blog are [I]not[/I] biased positively about CH or Petworth.

  • Neener is here because Neener’s a CO-OWNER of a house, not the sole owner.

    I do not “hate everything about the place,” but the negatives outweighed the positives for me in 2007 and they’re never going back.

    When I lived in an apartment building and when we first bought our house everything was great. We could go out to the clubs and try new restaurants every weekend night. We could go see all the best art films in Dupont Circle. We could find exotic Asian restaurants. All my friends moved to our neighborhood.

    Now I spend $10,000 per year to repair my house and I have no money to go to any restaurants at all. I spend at least an hour per week dealing with police issues and some weeks much more. I wake up when I hear screams at night. I wake up when I hear gunshots. I no longer walk the streets in a t-shirt and jeans straight from the gym which makes me more prone to be hassled. I always thought that people didn’t bother me because I was “cool.” Now I realize that it was how I looked.

    My friends moved out. The restaurants moved out. The troublesome kids on the block turned into gun-toting adults with multiple arrests. The bars that were fun started catering to people 15 years younger than us. when I go out to eat, more often than not I go to the suburbs where the quality vs cost is cheaper- better Indian food, better Chinese food. And I’m not trying to get dates, so I don’t care if the wait staff is hot or the crowd is um, crowded.

    I had a long talk with a mentor last year about the city crime vs suburban crime thing and he made a strong case:
    Crime is not natural and not something we have to live with. The argument that one either has African-American crews in DC or MS-13 in Arlington or some redneck loon in Howard County ignores the fact that in Bethesda, Fairfax and upper NW there are whole swaths of real estate where crime is virtually nonexistant. In my parents neighborhood there hasn’t been a stranger murder since the houses were built and as far as anyone knows there hasn’t been a domestic murder since the 1970s. There haven’t been any reported muggings or stranger rapes in 20 years. Burglaries happen and drunk driving happens and domestic assaults happen, but nothing else happens. They have the best schools, much better parks and better community teams. And the starting prices for houses in that area are $700k- hardly different from many NW neighborhoods and cheaper than Ward 3.

  • @Nita – I’m constantly aware of what’s going on around me and my mom knows that I am too, so it’s not extensive conversations it’s just the chit chat that lets you look around (and behind) you. I’m aware of the fact that it makes you look vulnerable, but I don’t know anyone down here that I can walk places with! Sad, I know, as I’ve lived here over a year, but I’m terrible at making new friends (shy, etc.).

    re: meth in rural areas… There’s a neighborhood in St. Joseph, MO that had a house blow up last summer because it was a meth lab, and all that was left was a small pile of rubble. A lot of the car washes out there are fronts for drug businesses (there’s a car wash like every 100 yards!)… I see more signs of drugs out there than I do in DC. All I see in DC are empty crack bags and sometimes drugged out homeless guys. I guess that’s the difference – you see permanent structures / signs of drug use in rural areas and temporary drug paraphernalia in cities. I honestly don’t know what could ever change that.

  • Flipflop, you’re simply wrong (and you obviously didn’t check SAMHSA or NIDA sites).



  • 12:46 is really right on target. I ask myself this question all the time. I have a few neighbors who want to believe that the 4th shooting incident this kid has been involved in will be the last.

  • Not Telling — you’re another one missing the point. The point is *not*, I repeat *not*, that people do not write bad things about the neighborhood here.

    It’s that those who post here are a lot more favorably disposed towards the neighborhood than the people that hated it and moved away. I didn’t think this was such a difficult concept to grasp.

    Let me try to put it another way. Let’s say that there are currently 25 negative comments posted about the neighborhood per week here. If we could somehow get the opinions of the people who packed up and left maybe it would jump to 50, 75, or 100. See, just because there are already negative comments doesn’t mean that the commentariat here is unbiased.

  • saf

    Sorry Neener – I meant, still here posting on PoP, as opposed to still in the neighborhood. I was thinking strictly of the blog selection bias issue, not of larger neighborhood choices.

  • I could try to shelter my parents from Georgia Ave drunks or prostitutes, but it’s not so different from Church Ave, Brooklyn, which was pretty much the equivalent in the 1970’s.

    I believe it’s valuable to experience the urban, rural, suburban, northern, southern, and midwestern ways of life…

  • Neener: To certain extent you find what you are looking for. But I do agree that the schools are a huge f’ing problem. Until they turn around a lot of good families will continue to leave DC. DC’s future is pretty bleak if it only is attractive to the flip-flop and ironic Pabst set and not smarter and better-looking old guys like us.

  • I gotta hand it to you, Neener — that’s a blunt point, well put, and honest of you. And no matter how much crap you take from subsequent posters, you’ve captured more than a kernel of truth in what you have to say. I am increasingly of the mind that city-living is a younger man’s game.

  • I read through all the comments and here’s what I have to say to some of you:
    1. If you bought a rehabbed, flipped house, how will you feel when the 6th disaster strikes? How will you feel when you put your foot through the floorboards or the water destroys your property in the basement or some work that the flipper did breaks in a big way. I was accepting of several problems but now it’s major 4-digit repairs every year for me.
    2. There will come a time where you aren’t as resilient, aren’t as athletic and have too much work to do at your office to miss work and do you want to be dealing with some lazy loser mugging you and your neighbors who you trusted, just not caring. The last time a friend got mugged our neighbors were out in force, but there were a few people who visibly hid when there were problems. I won’t forgive them even if she did. How will you feel when there’s a shooting and your neighbors lie to the police to protect a drug dealer?
    3. How will you feel when you have $100 left to spend for the month and the city gives you an unfair ticket for $50 because it’s trying to make up revenue after Harriette Walters stole your tax money?

  • Odentex, yes I agree that if I set out to look for crime I see crime. I absolutely believe that argument to be true. The problem I’ve had is that since 2007 the crime has been out finding me. Which is to say that I’ve been hanging around with my family and then someone comes up and deals drugs within 10 feet of me. What??? Then I walk down the sidewalk and there are baggies of weed sitting in the curb. Then the main drug dealer starts cursing every night for hours at a time and I can’t sit out front anymore. And my neighbors can’t sit out front on their porches either. Then shots are fired while I’m on the sidewalk. Then someone sells green cards in front of me.

    Now I’m here.

  • Maybe it’s just me, but Neener, it seems like your beef is more with the way your life turned out than the way the neighborhood is. I’m just saying…

    One thing that really dismays me is that people park on the street and dump the trash from their car onto the easement and sidewalks.

    But I spend my day cooped up in an office, and the nice thing is that all the trash lying around gives me an opportunity to spend a little while each beautiful evening outside picking up trash and making things pretty again. In some ways, I feel guilty that I get a small degree of self-satisfaction over it.

    In my experience, the more negative energy you put out there, the more comes back to you. At a certain point, it just becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  • What I learned was that despite my good intentions and despite my rosy outlook, long about 2007 the criminals went and found me.

    What hit me was that because I have a good relationship with people on my block of all shapes and sizes as it were, some had no problem telling me that they thought the drug dealers were innocent and that the yuppies were responsible for making a fuss over nothing.

    There were shootings on our block. I was making a fuss about a shooting.

    I’m not saying I’m not putting out negative energy now, but I sure wasn’t in 2006 and the “proof” is in how I was treated like an insider by my long-term neighbors who let their guard down around me.

  • Anonymous at 12:46 pm
    “Our neighborhoods are in the middle of a gang war that results in frequent murders.”

    What “frequent” murders are you talking about? How “frequently” are people in CH or Petworth getting killed? Yes, even one murder is unacceptable. But the way some of these posts read, you would think that bodies were turning up every day. And however “frequent” murders may be in CH and/or Petworth, there is no question that they are much less frequent than in areas of SouthEast. I’m not saying that either CH or Petworth is a paradise, but they are not the hellhole that some posters proclaim them to be.

  • Bodies are turning up about two or three times a month, that’s not enough for you?

  • I’ve actually been watching, and grooving on, lots of parental units walk down Irving St. from the metro this week – accompanied by the grown kids and often a stroller, visiting for 4th of July I assume. It was like that for Inauguration & Christmas too, and I simply love to watch these sweet little parades. Maybe you can just rent some parents like they do in Japan (only opposite – the oldsters rent kids. . .)

    I moved my own old dad down here to live with me in 2002 and he loved it. (Then again, he had been running numbers as a kid in the Bronx in 1930s.) He talked to everyone. He knew the rough of my years here, but he also knew the rough of the world.

    Anyway, dad is gone now, I miss him. learn to recognize what matters and treasure it.

  • I wish I could reply to so much of the above, but since it is 1:30 am, will keep it short: the illustrations of life can be hard anywhere. Mom (in Texas) worries about me, but then I hear her say:

    “J— and T– (next door neighbors/brothers who had an argument a couple weeks ago where one shot the other in the foot), are now back to living next door again.”

    “Oh, we’ve had another tornado hit the farm today.” (five have hit their property that I know of)

    Believe me – rural life ain’t all that safe. It’s just boring for someone who likes a vibrant, diverse culture. I love Petworth.

  • I admire all you folks making a home in urban DC. The city needs you to be successful. You need the city to be successful for you. When I last lived in DC, on Nst between 13th & 14st, forty years ago we heard gun shots, we were panhandled, mugged and you did not stop for a red light at 14th and Ust if you happened to be driving through that intersection during the late night (obviously you would avoid that and other similar intersections). The city has improved tremendously. If you are comfortable with your situation more power to you. DC is a great place to live on a lot of levels if you enjoy the urban enviorment.

  • Remember that there are neighborhoods right here in DC or in the suburbs where no murders have taken place in the last 5 years.

  • Anonymous @ 1:17 pm:
    Remember that there are neighborhoods right here in DC or in the suburbs where no murders have taken place in the last 5 years.

    -Right. And there are neighborhoods right here in DC where there are far more murders than in CH or Petworth. Like I said, one murder is too much. But let’s stop making the neighborhood out to be Beirut. Many of the complaints in this forum are about incomplete or stalled gentrification – “Too bad that the influx of new residents with higher incomes pushing the poor people out has stopped.” But there are neighborhoods where is no influx of new residents with higher incomes (and the businesses catering to them). Instead, the influx is the poor people getting pushed out of the gentrifying neighborhoods. Things could be a lot worse.

  • I also think it is an important point to be made that in a lot of these shootings the victim and the shooter knew each other. This is not to say bystanders are safe from harm – we’ve certainly seen cases where that is not true. But I also think stories are blown out of proportion, making it seem like CH and Petworth are war zones when they really aren’t.

    Instead of focusing on the one problem house on the block, I prefer to think about the houses on the block where our neighbors say hello to us every morning and are always willing to help us.

    No matter where you live, if you focus on the negatives all the time, chances are you’re not going to be happy. This is not meant to be a “think positive and you’ll shit rainbows” comment but if you are looking for some utopia where there is no crime and free Starbucks on every corner you will never be happy.

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