When I started writing about DC more than ten years ago now, it was a reflex. I had decided that I was going to make the best of my time here, I decided that this was a place to love, and that I should love it here. And so I went out to find all the things I loved about DC. There were many of us at that old site that wrote because this city had made a personal connection with us, that it was a part of our makeup.
As We Love DC came into being, we were doing so at the curl of the wave that was a new DC. Adrian Fenty was Mayor, everyone was talking about how DC was changing, growing, building. The Williams administration, though decidedly unsexy, had made DC a place that could receive investment again, that could build a tax base that could increase services again. DC wasn’t the inner city, DC was just the city.
The last ten years have been a major change for the city – not a change that’s been just for the good, there’s been a lot of DC history that’s been swept out past the boundary stones – and it was exciting to be here and watch it happen. Old vacant storefronts became award-winning bars. Breweries appeared for the first time in almost a century. Industry was possible in a city that was largely focused around political capital, DC has proven, and those are the things that have excited me most about the last ten years. We make things here. We make beer. We make bikes. We even make weed now. We make things. We’re not just an economy of accidental convenience, we’re an economy of industry, of confluence, of vision.
More than that change, the District was on the rise again. In the forty years that followed the 1968 Riots surrounding the death of Martin Luther King Jr., there was a slow decline, as the population fell below 750,000 in 1970, ebbing to under 600,000 in 2000. There was this sprawling suburban life that would give birth to the Arlington/Fairfax corridor and the PG and Montgomery County sprawls, but the District was bleeding people.
There’s been a lot of words written that DC isn’t the Chocolate City it was back in 1970, when the population was 70% African American, and they’re right. There’s a decidedly lighter color on average in DC now. This has its crazy moments – just look at what it costs to rent in the city, look at your grocery bill and see all the organics – but like many cities there are ebbs and flows.
I’ve come to appreciate the District’s immense history. Since we moved to Brookland in 2010, I’ve spent more time than ever appreciating the African American writers who called my neighborhood home, from Pearl Bailey to Sterling Brown. More than just its history past, I am part of its current history. I spend time with my neighbors, who’ve lived here since the 60s in some cases, and I listen to their stories of what Brookland was like back then. When I was living in Arlington, everything felt so isolated. Everyone just wanted their own space, they focused on their own lives, eschewing their neighbors. It was the loneliest I ever felt in a big city.
Since we moved into DC, I’ve realized something important about good cities: good cities make it possible for you to intersect with your neighbors without forcing them into every aspect of your space.
When we lived in Arlington, we hardly ever intersected with our neighbors and our neighborhood. That wasn’t part of the focus of our community; everyone could stay in their own sphere, live in their own life, and never take part in the civic arena. I suppose it’s something that some people want, that suburban life where your home is your castle and the moat keeps everyone out.
We haven’t done that in DC. We’ve met our neighbors, had them over for dinner, participated with them in planning a new middle school, helped issue new liquor licenses, saved a park and some old growth trees, and seen more businesses arrive in our neighborhood. Every time I get homesick for California, I think about all the wonderful people I couldn’t leave behind here. I think about all the opportunities we’ve had here. I can’t leave this place behind. I need my neighbors, my neighborhood, my friends, and this marvelous place we share, together.
3,750 posts and 1,875,000 words later, I still love DC. And I think I always will.