So this came as somewhat of surprise to me. Apparently, I have a great love of my adopted hometown. After many years of living in this fascinating city, with all of its complexities and contradictions, I find myself falling in love all over again.
Of course, I’ve enjoyed much of what the city has to offer, the very things that first attracted me – the beauty of the architecture, the diversity of the population, the multicultural, global aspects, the arts, the parks, restaurants and entertainment, the walkability, relative affordability, and the history. But over time I started to take it for granted, unless of course I had visitors from out of town (or the burbs). It’s true that I’ve always enjoyed showing people around, or guiding them on their way to explore the typical tourist attractions and local neighborhoods, but I hadn’t played the urban explorer myself in quite a while, until I started riding my bike, commuting to work in Georgetown, to meetings across town by Union Station, to visit friends on The Hill or Columbia Heights, Shaw or Southwest.
It seems that I’ve always been tuned in to architecture, design and the physical environment and know intuitively that our physical environments affect our behavior, the way we feel, interact with one another, maybe even the way we think. I chose the area I live in because it reflects my values – and I got really lucky being at the intersection of a couple of amazing neighborhoods, brimming with character and in having amazing neighbors that give my world a small town feel within our larger city. We’ve seen gradual change, but nothing like what I’ve seen in other neighborhoods, like Chinatown, Georgetown Waterfront, Anacostia, 14th Street NW, H Street NE, NoMa, Chinatown, Navy Yard and now the Wharf. We’re talking transformative, with a “Capitol T.” In some cases, areas of the city that never recovered from the 1960’s riots have finally seen some love; and in others, communities and parks have sprung up where only warehouses and parking lots existed before.
There is so much to take in and one has to wonder how this all came about so fast. Well, of course it wasn’t all fast and took visionaries and planners and risk takers and community makers; government and business and commerce – all collaborating through tough decisions and formidable obstacles to make this happen. It’s beautiful and complex and it’s not complete, but what we have is a city that is becoming united, where many of the gaps have been filled with human-centric places — new schools and libraries, parks and entertainment venues, public squares, grocery stores, fresh markets, retail and office space. Design and scale, multi-use concepts, community building and inclusion are key. D.C. has offered opportunity to so many through the years and will continue to navigate that path to keep long-time residents in place and open doors for newcomers too.
While each facet of the city has its own personality and reflects the people who live there, you can’t help noticing many of the common elements. Not surprisingly, food is often at the heart of it, with developers taking great care to incorporate a mix of national brands and local restaurants to create a sustainable combination and attract residents and tourists alike. There is a kaleidoscope of ethnic and health-conscious options in fast food, white tablecloth and the ever-growing “fast casual” dining. In some sectors there are also food trucks and food halls where entertainment and family fun are encouraged. The communal table is making it big and residential and office spaces alike are incorporating it in their common areas to help build community and offer that feeling of the third space, so successfully marketed by Starbucks so many years ago.
All of this change has broadened my view and opened up a multitude of options to explore. These communities are linked by their location within the borders of D.C. and by their offering a sense of community, of belonging and identity – and yes, for me pride of place and more chances to explore our nation’s capital and my home. I’m often asked why I’ve stayed in D.C. so long, I simply respond with much of what I’ve said here – and the fact that I don’t need to move to have change, the city has changed around me.
watJennifer Bolick is a D.C. resident and project manager at Van Eperen, a PR, marketing and advertising firm in the region. Reach her at Jennifer@VanEperen.com.