I used to live in Columbia Heights and moved to Brookland two years ago. Brookland is a much quieter neighborhood that is more car-centric than Columbia Heights, but one by no means needs a car. As far as a “crime problem,” you shouldn’t be too concerned about that because Columbia Heights has far more crime than Brookland. What I will say is that getting groceries and making other purchases is much more of an ordeal in Brookland than Columbia Heights. I lived at 16th and Park in Columbia Heights and it was two blocks to Target, Giant, and just about anything I needed. By contrast, Brookland does not have a true grocery store, although there is a Yes Organic Market (overpriced brands you’ve never heard of) and the Newton Street Market (small selection of very basic groceries). To do serious grocery shopping one has to go to Giant near the Rhode Island Ave Metro or Harris Teeter by the New York Ave (“NoMa”) Metro. Personally, I don’t have a car and typically end up using a Zipcar when I need to do my grocery shopping, but if you do own a car then groceries won’t be much trouble for you. There is a CVS which carries your normal CVS-stuff, but besides that there are few options for picking-up everyday items in the neighborhood.
I wouldn’t describe Brookland as a “happening neighborhood” yet, but it is certainly on its way. Construction has begun on the enormous Monroe Street Market development which will bring some great things to the neighborhood, and within a few months the 901 Monroe development will begin contruction which will eventually bring more retail choices. As far as restaurants are concerned, there is San Antonio which serves acceptable Mexican food and a new pizza place called Menomale which rivals Two Amys on Wisconsin Ave. The rest of the food is delivery pizza places and carry-outs, some of which have decent food and some of which are pretty nasty. If you move very soon, Colonel Brooks Tavern is also an option, but they will be closing any day now to make way for a development.
I do wonder what apartments you are looking at in Brookland. The main apartment complexes that come to mind are Brookland Ridge and The Cloisters, neither of which is easily walkable from the Metro station. Personally, I wouldn’t consider living in either of those complexes unless I had a car or didn’t mind walking a mile to the Metro. I live in a house which I have rented for two years thats two blocks from the Metro station and is affordable by DC standards, but I don’t think there are too many genuine apartment complexes anywhere near the Metro. If access to the Metro is important to you, make sure you do a test-walk from whatever apartment you are considering to the Metro.
Brookland is a neighborhood that is going through some growing-pains much like other neighborhoods in DC. An influx of young professionals in recent years has been distressing to some long-time residents, especially the elderly, and from time to time one will encouter veiled or overt hostility if you appear to be a “gentrifier”. That said, in the two years I have lived here, Brookland has taken some huge steps towards becoming a more walkable and desirable neighborhood, and within a few years the area near the Metro will be virtually unrecognizable from what it looks like today.
In sum, if you like trees and parks and don’t mind treking to make your purchases, then this is a good neighborhood for you… if you thrive on the buzz of the city and enjoy the convenience of being able to buy anything within a few blocks of your home, Brookland is a poor choice.