The Best Three Blocks in DC: Columbia Road, NW

By Art Rodgers

Cropped version_A Rodgers_Best 3 blocks mapWhen it comes to hyperbole, “it’s got it all” might be the most overused, but with regards to describing what makes Columbia Road, NW from 19th to 18th Streets a successful urban street, it’s dead on.  Ok, so it doesn’t have a zip line into Rock Creek Park, but with the slope and the trees it could be fabulous.

There are three core elements to the best three blocks in DC and they start with Kalorama Park, which has huge shade trees, two playgrounds, a community garden, a basketball court and a beautiful westward facing slope for catching the sunsets.  It is the community’s center and without it, these three blocks would be far more ordinary.

Next it’s got people living in anywhere from six to eight story buildings, to row houses, to even a few single-family detached homes.  Through tools like rent control, limited-equity coops, and a few nearby subsidized buildings, all kinds of people live in the neighborhood including fixed-income retirees, a few low-income families and of course the ubiquitous young professionals.  That said, I wouldn’t disagree that some more affordable housing, so lower income families could be in boundary and send their kids to one of the District’s best public school at Oyster, would be a good idea.

A Rodgers 3 blocks blog post_Kalorama Park & surrounding apt bldgs at sunset

Kalorama Park and surrounding apartment buildings at sunset (Photo: Art Rodgers)

The final core element is handy daily shopping including two local grocers, three competitive dry cleaners, a liquor store, a gallery/frame shop and an athletic shoe store. Not far away there is a hardware store, an electronics store, a post office, and several import stores.  The stores keep the sidewalks active with people running errands, picking up a carton of milk or other sundries or going out for a tasty frozen treat on a hot summer night. Did I mention the range of restaurants from fabulously affordable Mediterranean and Peruvian Chicken to Brazilian, French and Sushi and how they are adapting to the growing population of toddlers? No? Well I have now.

Note: The delicous new restaurant Mintwood Place almost made it into this graphic, but its too new to be a neighborhood institution, however a recent siting of President Obama builds a really strong case!

Note: The delicous new restaurant Mintwood Place almost made it into this graphic, but its too new to be a neighborhood institution, however a recent siting of President Obama builds a really strong case! (Graphic: Art Rodgers)

I must admit the rest of what makes the best three blocks in DC are an accident of location.  It’s bracketed by Rock Creek to the west, Walter Pierce Park to the north, 18th Street’s entertainment strip and Marie Reed’s comfortably dog eared, but shaded and cool kiddy pool to the east.  Beyond the three blocks in the immediate neighborhood are two more supermarkets, and farther are the adjacent destinations of Woodley Park (Red Line Metro) across the fabulous Duke Ellington Bridge, Columbia Heights (Green Line Metro) connected by the DC Circulator and Dupont Circle (Red Line Metro) with all that they offer.

Others may wish to point out how the assets of their neighborhood make them such wonderful places to live, and that’s actually the point.  Let’s identify what are the elements of urban areas we love and make sure that all the neighborhoods of DC are provided the same opportunity for relatively sane (but never boring), if not high quality urban living.

 

8 thoughts on “The Best Three Blocks in DC: Columbia Road, NW

  1. I really like the stretch of retail along the 1800 block of Columbia Road, where each store has some neon in the window, from Napoleon to Bedrock Billiards, to Yes! natural foods. It’s very heart-warming to be riding up to Mt. Pleasant on the 42 on a cold, dark winter’s evening and peek out the window to see all those bright, colorful lights.

    • Agreed Michael. Note the 42′s prominence in the graphic. The 42 is a well loved (aka crowded) and important part of the neighborhood. Cheers!

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  5. Couldn’t agree with you more, neighbor. Particularly interesting to me is the 1930′s apartment building that has Fleet Feet and Napoleon’s in it. It’s about 8 stories, but with the combination of the strong retail presence, the open court setbacks, and the quality of the stone and brick, the large building doesn’t overwhelm the street. Just shows that with good design and a mix of uses, density and 90 foot buildings can be good neighbors to 3 story row houses.

  6. Your blog post is a great counterpoint to a recent study by urban scholar Christoper Leinberger. As reported in the Post, he had this say about Adams Morgan:

    “Adams Morgan emerged early as a go-to entertainment place and has made little progress since. ‘The result is relatively declining retail and office rents, no market support for an expanded strategy, and neighbors who are suffering from drinks and noise,’ Leinberger says. “Adams Morgan needs to broaden its place strategy, or it will continue to be lapped by U Street, Logan Circle and H Street.”

    I live in Adams Morgan, which makes me bias, but still will argue that this study uses too narrow a measure in assessing neighborhood. Compared to the massive amounts of development going on U Street, Logan Circle and H Street, Adams Morgan is in slow-motion.

    What Leinberger’s assessment didn’t capture is perfectly explained by this blog post.

    Adams Morgan strength is its relative maturity. It’s business community is calibrated to neighborhood needs. It’s more settled and livable, despite a cluster of bars on 18th.

    There is no cause to worry about Adams Morgan. It has a relatively high housing density, and many people with ample discretionary income. That’s not changing.

    There are other many other areas in DC that, in my view, are equally strong. One in particular is Capitol Hill in the area of Penn Ave./Eastern Market. I love that section.

    Adams Morgan is unlikely to re-emerge anytime soon as a place with explosive business growth, and I think that’s just fine with the neighborhood.

  7. I appreciate this blog post. In particular, “Through tools like rent control, limited-equity coops, and a few nearby subsidized buildings, all kinds of people live in the neighborhood including fixed-income retirees, a few low-income families and of course the ubiquitous young professionals” shows some sens of planning tools to help keep some affordability in the neighborhood.

    The question then is how did the Office of Planning ignore all of these “tools” when looking at how the proposed Adams Morgan hotel project will put serious pressure on what’s left of the small businesses on Columbia Road east of 18th Street and what remains of market-units which are still relatively affordable on Champlain Street directly impacted by the proposed hotel. Why weren’t these tools examined and used for this proposed hotel development to retain these diverse families and businesses?!?

    http://www.facebook.com/noadmohotel

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