By Art Rodgers
When 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.
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.
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.