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Flashback: February 17, 2011

by Prince Of Petworth April 14, 2017 at 1:00 pm 13 Comments

11th and Lamont St, NW

In Defense of Columbia Heights, the Real Columbia Heights

Room 11 wine bar, 11th and Lamont St, NW

Lately some Twitter users and especially Washington City Paper contributor @jasoncherkis have been kicking around Columbia Heights. Cherkis tweets:

“Columbia Heights has got to be the ugliest gentrified neighborhood in D.C.”

“What’s the difference between Columbia Heights and Silver Spring? Silver Spring has two movie theaters. CH just has the chain stores.”

“w/ Panera, IHOP, and Panda Express, Columbia Heights is turning into a food court or an airport.”

While I don’t even live in Columbia Heights I will not deny the fact that I love it – warts and all. I found the above tweets emblematic of how some people misjudge Columbia Heights.

At the risk of being oversensitive and since it’s Friday, please indulge me and allow me to address a few of the above claims.

Number 1: Columbia Heights is not DC USA. It is commonly accepted that Columbia Heights’ boundaries are 16th Street to the west; Spring Road to the north; Georgia Avenue to the east; and Florida Avenue to the south. DC USA is the mall that is located on 14th St, NW between Irving and Park Rd. And the fact that a mall has chain stores – I know is shocking and appalling to some – but it is a freaking mall. Stunning, stunning revelation.

Number 2: Mr. Cherkis – if you actually walk around Columbia Heights you will find some beautiful architecture, sculptures, parks and even independent shops, bars and restaurants (particularly on 11th St, NW). Looks are of course in the eye of the beholder but to call the neighborhood ugly, well as Bob Marley sang – “in the abundance of water the fool is thirsty.”

Number 3: Columbia Heights is not filled with only chain stores and the chain stores it does have are not evil. Oh all you super cool guys and girls who scoff at IHOP and Chipotle… You who purport to be advocates of the disenfranchised, well, the fact that you can’t see how a Chipotle and IHOP serve the residents of Columbia Heights is obnoxious and condescending to say the least. I dare you to walk by either space and not see the most diverse of clienteles representing the entire neighborhood.

Number 4: In the last 10-15 years Columbia Heights (like many of DC’s neighborhoods) has become a more beautiful and perhaps more importantly a much safer place to live and visit.

Number 5: I like Silver Spring.

Number 6: DC USA and its shops have made Columbia Heights a more convenient and livable neighborhood.

Number 7: Of course many who live in and visit Columbia Heights would like an independent bookstore and movie theater. But since those stores are failing all over the city, unless a philanthropic angel who doesn’t care about profit – comes to Columbia Heights it ain’t gonna happen.

Number 8: Columbia Heights is still defining itself and getting better and better. Like all neighborhoods it will continue to evolve over the coming years. I already alluded to the many great businesses of 11th St, NW. Well many many more are en route. For just one example – the new endeavor from the folks behind Tryst and the Diner chose Columbia Heights for a reason – because they were looking for a real community. And it didn’t take them long to realize that had found just that in Columbia Heights.

  • SF

    I used to live in Columbia Heights and moved when the DC USA development turned the core into a wanna-be suburb clone. Yes the neighborhood is bigger than that area but it was a real missed opportunity, and over the years every time I’ve returned I’ve found the area less and less appealing. U Street, Shaw, H Street and Petworth are all more appealing that CH at this point. Upper 14th Street has never really turned into much and it’s far too auto-centric for one of the best metro-served locations in the city. A real missed opportunity in my opinion.

    • former CH resident

      Eh, I wouldn’t want to live at 14th and Irving, but it’s good to have the amenities offered at DCUSA in the city and across the street from Metro. I find the residential side streets of Columbia Heights much more appealing than those of H Street or Petworth, not least because they’re more central to everything. To each their own.

    • MHillPark

      Admittedly I have only lived in Columbia Heights in the post-DC USA era, but I have to say that as a resident of Columbia Heights, DC USA doesn’t really figure in to my daily life except when I need to make a Target, BBB, or Marshall’s trip, in which case it is an unqualified positive since it’s so easy to get to from my house. But on an average day, I don’t even see that part of the neighborhood. What I do see is my charming side street, my neighbors who know my name (or at least my dog’s name :-)), my convenient bus and Metro stop, and my ability to walk downtown if I want to or opt out and enjoy my local neighborhood instead. The good stuff is all still here in spades. DC USA may be “auto-centric,” but most of my friends in Columbia Heights gave up our cars years ago. I’m sorry you don’t like Columbia Heights anymore, but it is anything but a “wanna-be suburb clone.”

      • MadMax

        “What I do see is my charming side street, my neighbors who know my name (or at least my dog’s name :-)), my convenient bus and Metro stop, and my ability to walk downtown if I want to or opt out and enjoy my local neighborhood instead.”

        FWIW, this sentence could really be about almost any neighborhood in the city.

    • So you lived here when the “core” that is now DC USA was an empty lot behind a half-empty row of ramshackle one-story buildings, where the major store was a Woolworths? Or are you 90 years old? Because, yes, the Arcade was pretty cool in 1927! http://www.streetsofwashington.com/2014/04/the-arcade-in-columbia-heights.html

  • Rich

    Having lived nearby in the 90s, I remember when CH was only slightly changed from the ’68 riots. I used to dread trips to the Irving Street post office with its Soviet service and ambiance. It’s nice having a Target and some other big boxes that don’t require a trip to NoVA, Rockville, etc. There are plenty of supposedly hipper neighborhoods that have plenty of chains and often less in the way of useful places to shop.

    BTW, Silver Spring is tiresome because of its seemingly endless rebirth, its neglect of small business areas (many just bulldozed) and until recently, the poor integration of housing and other uses.

    • MadMax

      Silver Spring also seems to have the worst amassing of drivers of anywhere in this area.

      • MadMax

        I should say, seems to have amassed the worst drivers of anywhere in this area.

  • Anon H St

    Any neighborhood with Wonderland Ballroom in it is a-ok with me. Love that place, The whole 11th street strip is pretty great (RIP KBC). DC USA is not charming, but it is useful and there is room for both.

    All the neighborhoods that CH was compared negatively to in that article now have chain stores to some degree.

  • John B.

    I live on Irving St. 3 blocks from DCUSA, just on the other side of 16th St. in Mt. Pleasant, since 2000. I don’t love everything about it, but the development at and around that intersection has mostly been a huge improvement over what was there before. (One thing I don’t love is the way they bottlenecked Irving at 14th, making it narrower at the same time the new development produced a lot more traffic.)

  • Kwatz

    # 5 – I like Silver Spring
    hahahhaha me too.

    I live just north of Columbia Heights, I like Columbia Heights. Dense, diverse, and yes a mall. But I use that Target. ALL. THE. TIME.

    • revitalizer

      I would characterize DC USA as a shopping center, not a mall. There is a difference when most of the retail stores have entrances on the street.

  • James

    There is a movie theater next door in Mt Pleasant! (Suns Cinema)


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