For the past year and a half I wrote the Where We Live feature for We Love DC. Every edition would take me to another neighborhood in the city, where I’d talk to residents and find out what makes that neighborhood a great place to live. And while every neighborhood was different, and there were some unique characteristics of particular neighborhoods (like the neighborhood rooster in Takoma), there were a lot of similarities too. After a while, I’d hear the same things over and over again as the main things that people love about their neighborhoods. Here are some of the elements common to our favorite neighborhoods in the District.
Number 5: Parades, Street Festivals, or Farmers Markets
Regular community events were a major part of what people love about where they live. Whether it was the ridiculous number of parades and street festivals in Takoma, weekly outdoor concerts in Rockville, or annual neighborhood festivals like Adams Morgan Day or Cheverly Day, people love community gatherings. Farmers’ markets were big too– having an opportunity to stock up and local produce without leaving the neighborhood is something that is universally appreciated.
Number 4: Access, but Separation
One of the elements that kept coming up when I’d talk to residents is that they loved that their neighborhood was close to all the action downtown, but it was a little removed from all the action and had a sense of common identity. Because their neighborhoods are a little harder to get to, residents of Brightwood loved their small town character, residents of Southwest Waterfront have created a great co-op-focused community, and residents of Palisades feel like they live in a leafy suburb.
Number 3: Neighborhood Restaurants & Bars
It’s easy to love your neighborhood when you don’t have to leave it for a great meal. And when you become a regular at your favorite restaurant, it’s easy to feel like you’re part of a community. While not every neighborhood can have the variety in restaurants of Dupont Circle or Penn Quarter, just about every neighborhood resident I spoke to had a favorite bar or restaurant hangout in their ‘hood. There are some nights when you just don’t feel like venturing more than a few blocks for dinner, and having a selection of neighborhood bars and restaurants is key.
Number 2: Community Parks
Any neighborhood needs a nice leafy place for residents to bring their kids and dogs. All you need is a bench, a cup of coffee, and a free afternoon to get to know your neighbors. District residents are lucky to have lots of parkland to enjoy, including an array of fantastic neighborhood parks like circles, triangles, and squares. Some neighborhoods with great parks include River East and its 20-mile Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, Columbia Pike and its many great parks, and Chevy Chase & Tenleytown with access to Rock Creek Park, several fantastic smaller parks, and the best pool in the city.
Number 1: Front Porches and Stoops
Even with a neighborhood with scheduled community events and lots of great restaurants and parks, you still have to leave the house to be social. This is why front stoops are awesome– they’re perfect for people-watching, bumping into neighbors, and enjoying the outdoors. And the best part is that you don’t even have to leave your property! Petworth has a fantastic “porch culture” and a resident of Bloomingdale told me that walking down her block would sometimes take an hour because she’d stop to talk to all her neighbors on their porches. Even those of us without big front porches can take part– a friend of mine in Adams Morgan regularly brings out lawn chairs to her front yard for people-watching on summer nights, creating her own front stoop.
The things that make neighborhoods great are the things that bring neighbors together. We spend so much time cooped up in our houses (especially this time of year) that getting to know that cute guy down the block who is always walking his Lab, or the older resident who has probably lived on your block for decades, is the best way to feel like you’re part of a community. DC has a reputation as a transient city where no one takes the time to get to know their neighbors, even though that’s really not the case. So the stoops, parks, and community events that bring people together aren’t just nice things to have, they’re your opportunity to make DC feel like home.