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Friday Question of the Day – Naming Neighborhoods, Is U Street a Neighborhood? (reader request)

by Prince Of Petworth July 21, 2011 at 10:22 pm 103 Comments


Photo by PoPville flickr user ewilfong

“Dear PoP,

What’s your take on this? Has U Street evolved to where it should be called a neighborhood?

If you ask people who live at 13th and T, NW where they live, they’ll probably say near U Street. Same goes from residents at 10th and V. And so on.

How’s this for neighborhood boundaries: Florida Ave. (north); T Street (south); 16th St. (west) 9th Street (east).”

Personally, I think U street is absolutely a distinct neighborhood (and I think your borders are more or less spot on.) There are certain neighborhoods like Shaw (where technically U St resides), Columbia Heights, Capitol Hill even Petworth that are so large that they have very different feels within them. I also think that neighborhood names evolve over time. One of the things I used to use was the closest metro stop name (but obviously some neighborhoods aren’t served by metro.)

We can also look at Capitol Hill which we’ve done many times in the past. The fact that some people call the area by Capitol South metro the same neighborhood name as the H St, NE area is ridiculous to me. Just like I think U Street is a neighborhood, I also think H Street NE (or Atlas District as some people call it, though I prefer H Street) is a distinct and separate neighborhood.

Having said all that – at the end of the day – I’m perfectly fine with people self identifying what neighborhood they live in. I’m not a big fan of fake Realtor names like “East Dupont” but if someone identifies their neighborhood with Ledroit Park but they really live one block from the border in Shaw, I’m not going to lose any sleep over it. I know people who are a lot older than I am and have lived here a lot longer than I have and they say they live in Petworth though they are technically over the border. Well, I have no problem with them saying they live in Petworth.

And as the city continues to change and develop I have no problem with the invention of new names like NoMa as long as the residents like it. But that’s just me.

What do you guys think?

  • Anonymous

    More of a place of mind

    • Anonymous

      *state* of mind

      • Anonymous

        *District* of mind

  • Tres

    Sometimes it a personal call: 16th and R. Is that Shaw, Logan, Dupont, or U? I’d personally say Logan east of 16th, but I can see someone saying U Street — if that’s where they spend most of their time out and about. If you’re at Solly’s or Black Cat all the time, you might casually tell strangers you live on “U Street”. If you hang out at Playbill or Commissary a lot, you’re going to say Logan.

    Really, I think we have to acknowledge there are some “Borderhoods” — areas which give you the best of both/several worlds. If I really get into it with someone, I’ll just lay out the intersection.

    • Mony

      True at the margins though I don’t know anyone who would say the Chastleton is in U Street (I personally consider everything west of 15th st Dupont)

    • nathaniel

      16th and R is clearly not Shaw nor U st. If you asked me if it was Dupont or Logan I would say no to both until I realized that left it being nothing. I would say Dupont becuase of how close it to the commercial strech of 17th which I think is part of Dupont. 16th in partiuclar is a weird border area.

  • davidj

    I think “U Street” has indeed become a neighborhood of its own, distinct from Shaw.

    Tangentially, something similar is happening along H Street NE and distinguishing that area from Capitol Hill. (It’s an odd coincidence that both relatively new neighborhoods extend only about a block south of their name streets and several blocks north to Florida Avenue, which forms a “natural” northern boundary in each case.) The southern boundary of H Street might actually still be the south side of the street, the side streets to the south remaining Capitol Hill according to everyone I’ve known who’s lived there — G Street NE has definitely been as much on the Hill as the Capitol South area (which is where I first lived in this town). As H Street establishes its brand, this may change a little, as it seems to have done across town.

  • Anonymous

    I just say Ust corridor, even though I technically live Columbia Heights. On the edge of it.

  • anon

    My very-unofficial gauge is this: if it’s got its own metro station, it’s a neighborhood. Exceptions are made for stations very close together (Farragut North and West are automatically combined) and neighborhoods without a metro station (Logan Circle).

    • photodork

      So if it has a metro station it is a neighborhood and if it doesn’t have a metro station it is a neighborhood?

      (Sorry I had to)

      I tend to agree though…U street has become its own neighborhood.

  • Anonymous

    It’s part of Shaw.

    No map is perfect, but this is a pretty good one:

    http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/9/93/DC_neighborhoods_map.png

    • Jay’O

      I think pointing to exisiting maps only begs the question – has U st. become it’s own neighborhood????

      I think it has and the realtionship between the U st. neighborhood and the shaw area around 7th and N st. are worlds apart!!!

      • DrewPal

        yep. living in shaw, i don’t identify with U st. unless theres an effort to be there.

    • textdoc

      Who originally came up with that map? It misspells “Sursum Corda” as “Sirsum Corda,” which makes me wonder if there are other errors (like the boundaries of the neighborhoods).

      Overall very interesting, though.

      Also, aren’t there differences between the neighborhood names/boundaries as most people know them and the legal names (like what’s listed as the neighborhood in the D.C. tax records)? On the legal side of things, for instance, I believe all of Park View is considered to be in Columbia Heights.

    • Scott

      That is a ridiculous map for defining Shaw, no Logan or U Street? All in one amorphous blob called Shaw. U Street has a far richer history and present than Shaw and designating it as Shaw is not respectful to that history or future.

    • Anon

      Isn’t that the map of the DC Arts District? Didn’t we pay $200,000 in taxpayer money so that people would say that is where they live?

  • andy

    Part of this is the issue of telling people where it is you live. Both neighborhood and landmarks factor in. If you say you live in/around U Street, people know where you mean and what you get with that.

    Part of it is a general flavor extending across the neighborhood. If you live in Shaw you could be living on the block where St. Ex is, or the block where Old City Green is (if I remember correctly). Not many people think of those as one neighborhood. But Petworth at Rock Creek Church Road and Petworth north of Sherman Circle are pretty similar. Lots of Wardman-style row houses.

    But Shaw might be so amorphous now that as areas become better defined, they might be able to get their own popular names and end up like Logan Circle, an area of their own.

  • crin

    Of course U Street has validity. When you say U Street, no one thinks of U & MacArthur in Palisades, or U & 4th in LeDroit, or U & Summit NE in Eckington, or U & Fendall in Anacostia. Everyone thinks of U between 17th & Georgia. It shouldn’t be ignored either that U Street has had a cultural identification for 75 years. If you said U Street anywhere in the music world in the 30s and 40s, everyone knew you were talking about DC.

    Shaw wasn’t a name until it was assigned by the Urban Planners of the 60s. It referred to a huge part of the city North Capitol to 15th, Massachusetts to Florida. It ignored all the neighborhood names DC residents used, partly because they were going to bulldoze the whole thing and give it the Southwest treatment.

    • Sammy

      The history of U Street is key, I think – it was ‘Black Broadway’ before the Harlem Renaissance! Hell yes, it’s a neighborhood!

      • Anonymous

        history is a grand thing, but the present day is actually more important when talking about neighborhoods.
        neighbors, after all, are people living and breathing next to you today.

        • Veronika

          that is so not true…. neighborhoods have histories that need to be recognized.

          • Anonymous

            you missed the point….history is important, as i said, but it doesn’t determine current boundaries of neighborhoods.

            saying yes, it’s a neighborhood because of it’s history is not a true reflection of a neighborhood.

        • Scott

          The past has relevance as U Street was a community long before there was a Shaw, and it has re-evolved as a neighborhood. The big tipping point was the redevelopment of the Children’s Hospital site which created a base of reseidents north of U street to match the homes south of U street.

      • Veronika

        right on

  • Anonymous

    There are sub neighborhoods within better known established neighborhoods.

    Lanier Heights and Reed-Cooke are distinct sub neighborhoods within the larger more familiar Adams Morgan neighborhood.

    I submit the U Street corridor is a sub neighborhood within Shaw.

    • antillary

      I tell people I live in Lanier Heights because when I say Adams Morgan they always have some comment about how loud it must be or assume I walk around with a double beer can hose hat. Reality is it’s so quiet and even natural tucked up against Rock Creek that it’s a world away from what people think of when they think “Adams Morgan”.

      • Joesep

        I live in Cleveland Park and walk around with a double beer can hose hat. Just goes to show that it can happen in any neighborhood.

    • andy

      Ask a Family Feud – style survey of 100 people in the District of where Lanier Heights or Reed-Cooke are. What would be the results?

      • antillary

        So? All the better. Not my problem if people don’t know their own city.

    • Scott

      When people think Shaw they think 7th & 9th. Making it extend to 16th is a real estate/development trick

  • storyat11

    U Street’s definitely its own neighborhood. For practical purposes, I see Shaw as further east and south. I always thought U Street emerged from Cardozo, but I guess I’m wrong. I think Cardozo is absorbing into U Street. Perhaps the older generation sees it differently.

    I also like the idea of going back to Swampoodle rather than NoMa. NoMa just feels like it’s trying a little too hard to play off NYC. Plus…. Swampoodle! Come on. Great word.

    • Anonymous

      Cardozo isn’t a neighborhood.

  • 13th and T

    I’ve lived near U St for 22 years and used to say Logan, now I say U Street. I know it is technically Shaw but Shaw is not that well known.

    • Anonymous

      you called it logan 22 years ago? fascinating. i first heard it called that 10 years ago or so. to me, shaw was much more accepted.

      we all have different takes, i guess.

  • Anonymous

    why isn’t there a neighborhood called potomac?

    • photodork

      There is in MD. It’s actually a town.

      • Anonymous

        i’m sorry, i thought it was clear i was talking about dc.

      • Tom

        No it’s not (a town).

    • Tres

      “River East”, if you accept that designation, is prob the closest we have.

      • Anonymous

        or washington harbor, or waterfront.

      • Anonymous

        River east refers to the anacostia not the potomac.

    • 14th St. Heights

      The catfish, snakeheads, sturgeon, herons, and turtles resent that you don’t recognize their river as a real neighborhood.

  • spin212

    This reminds me of when Rockville began to be styled as North Bethesda . . .

    • 11th

      yeah, super lame. north kensington=wheaton, north potomac=gaithersburg.

    • Anonymous

      West Garrett Park?

    • Tim

      MoCo is terrible at defining places. “North Bethesda” bleeds into “Rockville” with “White Flint” and other names meshing together in between. In some places you could say you’re in 3 or 4 different “towns” at once.

  • mark

    You obviously can’t name a neighborhood after a street, though. “I live ON U St” would be linguistically distinct from “I live IN U St”. You would have to find some other name, and what’s the point of that if it isn’t a name people are familiar with?

    • Anonymous

      Don’t tell that to anyone living near the circles. We’ll have to rename everything.

    • er

      Perhaps this is where “in”, “near”, and “around” come in.

    • KT

      I live in U Street, not on U Street.

      No one’s ever been confused about where I meant.

      • Anonymous

        it’s like when people argue about the Navy Yard area. no one actually thinks you live IN the navy yard.

        or eastern market.

      • textdoc

        I’d say “I live in the U Street area” if I lived in the U Street neighborhood.

        • Neighbor

          I more often hear “U St Corridor,” but same idea.

      • mark

        “No one’s ever been confused about where I meant.”

        Um: I am.

  • BF

    Just call it U Street-Shaw

  • NotaHood

    Don’t neighborhoods typically have community associations? Does U Street have such a thing?

    I’m skeptical that U Street is a neighborhood. I agree that it’s a destination and a street (of course), but I also agree that it’s more a subregion of Shaw.

    If U Street is a neighborhood, 14th street is a neighborhood, right?

    On a related note, the suggested boundaries of “U Street neighborhood” don’t include the Howard Theater, which is Shaw and sort of LeDroit. As I understand it (according to my neighbors), the Howard was “the” theater for all the music U Street brags about. Taking U Street out of Shaw and the Howard out of U Street seems small-minded and wrong to me.

    • Shaw Parent

      there are several “u street” associations.

      The suggested boundaries are a touch off. Definitely nailed it north-south with Florida and T, but it should be 17th to 7th/Georgia going east-west.

      I always hated it when Results referred to itself as being in Dupont.

      • Daniel

        This is interesting to me…I live at the corner of 16th/New Hampshire/U Street by the Subway and I’ve always struggled with what neighborhood I identify with. My address is 16th Street.

        Because I’m south of U Street, I can see Dupont, but at the same time, U Street is literally 10 steps away.

        I’ve also heard NoDu (North Dupont), but I refuse to give credence to it.

        Thoughts?

        • Tres

          U Street. North Dupont would be like 19th and Florida. NoDu sounds like another iteration of “Dupont East” — wanting to be something it’s clearly not.

          If I were you, I’d say, “U Street around 16th.” It differentiates your location from the 9th and U area, which is very different.

          • 14th St. Heights

            I’ve always considered T St. to be the boundary of Dupont and Adams Morgan between 16th and 19th. I would never say the U St. Corridor extended to 17th st. even though physically it does. I think of that block between 16th and 18th as Adams Morgan.

        • liz

          Hey neighbor! We seem to live on the same block, and I know the pain of trying to define exactly what to call it. I tend to describe it as U Street, myself, but I think the Craig’s List posting advertising my apartment listed, like, 4 neighborhoods…

        • 7r3y3r

          You actually live in Striver’s Section (Swann to Florida, Florida/19th to 16th), though very few people know about this historic district. So colloquially, I’d say you live in the U Street neighborhood.

          I live on U St at the intersection of U and Florida and I used to bumble as to what neighborhood I live in (Adams Morgan? Dupont? U Street?)…At time I debate saying Striver’s Section and having to explain it to people so generally I just say i live “at 18th, U, and Florida”.

    • Scott

      There is a U Street Neighborhood Association its boundaries are 16th to 8th and S to Florida.

      http://www.u-streetdc.org

  • Anonymous

    Side question… When (if) McMillan redevelopment happens, will it be it’s own neighborhood too, maybe with the hospitals included? Seems like a bit of a hole in the donut right now. Of course, I am fairly new (less than 2 years) to DC, so I’d love some learned opinions on this.

    • Anonymous

      “its,” not “it’s.” My apologies to the grammar fairy before she gets here.

    • Prince Of Petworth

      I’m not 100% sure but I think I’ve heard folks refer to that area as Bloomingdale.

      • Anonymous

        That was really the reason for my question. I actually live in Bloomingdale, and my understanding has always been that the neighborhood ends at Bryant St to the North (at least between NC and First Streets).

        Are you thinking that people will refer to the new area as Bloomingdale or there will be an actual change in the “official” neighborhood boundaries. Add to the intrigue that Bryant Street is also the boundary of Wards 1 and 5, with the entirety of Bloomingdale currently being in Ward 5.

        • Anonymous

          Oops. Did a quick fact check. Ward 5 does appear to extend up to the redevelopment area. Thanks.

        • Prince Of Petworth

          It’s a good question. I think it’ll be called Bloomingdale but who knows how long it will take for the construction to actually finish!

      • Anonymous

        It adjoins the Stronghold neighborhood, but bloomingdale will work better for selling real-estate.

        also, isn’t U Street already a neighborhood name? Maybe not on a map but in common parlance where it matters.

        • Anonymous

          also, because it’s on the same side of north capitol as bloomingdale.

          i’m betting it will just be called mcmillan though.

          • andy

            Call it Bloomingdale North, or BloNo.

          • Anonymous

            we already have a north and south bloomingdale. at least we that live here think of it that way, though to others we just call it bloomingdale.

          • NotaHood

            Responding to Andy, why not call it “NoBlo” and have it double as an anti-drug and anti-prostitution campaign?

            We NoBlo.

  • I think neighborhood names are really just a way to describe the feel of an area and to give others an understanding of where you live – thus, they’re nebulous.
    Another multi-named area? The LeDroit/Bloomingdale/Eckington/Gallaudet/NY Ave Area…lots of crossover.

  • thomasrufus

    I say I live in U St/ South Columbia Heights/Meridian Hill—just in case to confuse people.

    I live on Belmont, one block above Florida and while it is technically Columbia Heights, I don’t feel like apart of Columbia Heights. I hang out in both neighborhoods but my apartment feels more U St than anything else.

  • Andy(2)

    Perhaps if DC Gov’t got its crap together and helped sponsor (provide police, road closures, grants…) neighborhood festivals all year this would help define neighborhoods, encourage development and bring new life to the city.
    Chicago does this really well with a festival or event every weekend during the spring/summer.

    DC isn’t just monuments and museums and the Mayor should help spur this on.

    Then the definition of a neighborhood could be if it has a street fair/festival the its a neighborhood.

    • antillary

      Do you have any idea how many street festivals happen in this city every year? Most are in the fall. Fine if they’re funded voluntarily, but I don’t think having an endless string of street parties is a wise use of my tax dollars.

      • Anonymous

        Yeah, if you scheduled festivals every weekend during the spring/summer, the first half would be rained out and the second half would result in heat-related fatalities.

        The fall really is the only time the weather is consistently pleasant enough to hold a big outdoor event… and it does seem like there’s at least one every weekend during September/October.

        • antillary

          I’m pretty sure Andy(2) just moved here from Chicago and spoke out of naivete. I’m struggling to think of a neighborhood that doesn’t have some sort of annual event.

          • Anonymous

            eckington
            trindidad
            barnaby woods
            burlieth
            foxhall
            near north east
            le droit park

          • antillary

            I was speaking of neighborhoods with central business districts, Anon. There are dozens upon dozens of neighborhoods if you want to get technical.

    • Kyle W

      I don’t really want more festivals in Petworth at least. I am still reeling from the chaos and violence that was the last one.

  • yum

    Get to work people. This thread is weak.

    “Give me Ernie or give me death”.

  • Anonymous

    Most of us live in Mr. Robinson’s neighborhood these days.

    • Anonymous

      hello from the past!
      seriously, you been to dc recently?

      • Anonymous

        very funny. have you not noticed the multitude of violent crime posts over the past several days, weeks, months, years around here?

        • Anonymous

          oh please. shits always been going on here. now, we actually get to here about everything AND people are more likely to report it.

          but you keep with the good exaggerations. it’s entertaining.

  • Anon

    It is its own neighborhood.

    I call it Arlingtons Morgan.

  • MichelleRD

    When I lived at 12th and S, we called it Shaw. But my roommate and I thought the whole area should be renamed Ellington, to pay homage to the neighborhood’s most famous resident and also to U Street’s history as the “Black Broadway.”

    Much more fitting–and melodious–than Shaw.

    Unfortunately most people only know U Street, so that’s what it will stay.

  • twt

    I always thought NoU and SoU would be clever as general neighborhood names….

  • Neighbor

    How about Meridian Hill?

  • Shai

    I’ve lived off of U for about 10 years now and my block between 10th and W has been called Shaw, U St., Logan, and Greater Howard (campus). Personally my favorite name is the one that legally defines most of the area: “Old City #2”

    We are old, we came later, and as it almost always happens what was an afterthought of a place has now become where people want to be.

    I am proud to be an Old City #2 resident, by any other name it still smells sweet.

  • elcal

    I call it AfAmCiWaM.

  • Eli

    I live on Belmont and identify more with U St. than Columbia Heights. So I say “near U St.” on most occasions.

  • Hah

    I agre with earlier posts which called for more community events, and listed some neighborhoods without any event at all – how about starting a Foxhall – Barnaby Woods polo match?

  • Scott

    There is also the Greater U Street Historic District which roughly follows the Boundaries of the Neighborhood Association, with the exception of a few areas that were not included because of a variety of factors.

  • anon

    Don’t forget the F.R.I.N.J.! The epicenter of everything cool in DC (where Florida, Rhode Island, and New Jersey meet)

  • Anonymous

    I always tell people I live at U Street. It certainly feels like a neighborhood to me, and I view Shaw as south and east of here.

  • dolly

    I’ve always called it U Street. My parents (who also grew up here) have always called it U Street.

    I’ve lived in what I consider Shaw (6th & R) and U St and each neighborhood has a completely different feel.

    I do think of more blurring between the Logan Circle/U Street neighborhoods. They’re in different wards, but really, is living on R or S so different than T?

  • bryandc

    Definitely a neighborhood, as its been known as a destination neighborhood for decades now.

    There’s a great book all about the history of the Greater U Street neighborhood “Images of America – Greater U Street” as well >> http://ustreet-dc.org/index.php/neighborhood-history

    A good read by a local author if you want to learn more.

    (and heck, “U Street” is even listed as neighborhood option on the PoP navigation menu…)

  • Bloomingdale William

    F.R.I.N.J. is the BEST neighborhood name EVER! And so apt!

    I think that Shaw is a distinct, if large, neighborhood (bound by New Jersey Avenue, U Street, 14th Street and Massachusetts Avenue) with sub-neighborhoods within it: Logan Circle, U Street, Little Ethiopia. Columbia Heights is similar with it’s Park View and Pleasant Plains subsections.

    But new neighborhoods can be invented, as was the case of Adams Morgan. That neighborhood is an amalgam of the previous existing neighborhoods of Kalorama Triangle, Reede-Cook, and Lanier Heights. In fact, those three neighborhoods look NOTHING like each other and nothing at all like what most people picture when they picture AdMo: 18th Street.

    Alternatively, some neighborhoods can be forgotten about completely, as is the case with Stronghold/Metropolitan View south of Catholic University. Most people just lump it into Brookland.

    As to NoMa, I can’t even deal. I’d like it to revert to it’s previous name of Swampoodle, an homage to when the area held the headwaters of Tiber Creek.

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