Finally -- a neighborhood in Washington DC that doesn't suck: Dupont Circle.
Metro center, where I work (near the new convention center), barely even caters to the business/office crowd. My coworkers are actively praying for a Starbucks to move into the neighborhood. Georgetown, which I thought was going to be cool, turns out to be the city that Ann Arbor wishes it was: a main drag (M St) of 2 and 3-story buildings that house the crappiest mix of gift shops, upscale clothing stores, and hair-and-nail salons since...ever, I guess. I'd say it was worse than Main St. in Ann Arbor, but at least Main St. has Espresso Royale. It took me a good hour of wandering to find a cafe with free wireless internet access. Jesus. I've since found this
guide, along with this
one, but it seems like nearly ever frigging corner should have a coffee shop and that coffee shop should have wireless internet, if my experience in Portland and Ann Arbor is any guide.
Larry Kestenbaum's enthusiasm for DC density
is way off the mark. While it has some great housing stock (literally every house here is about $50,000 of renovation away from being the most beautiful row house since...the one next door), the modest heights are contributing to sprawl in the surrounding counties. As soon as you cross the Key Bridge into Virginia, the buildings shoot up from the 2-story jobs of Georgetown to 15 or 20-story buildings that economics dictates. Nearly everyone I work with is priced out of the city and lives in Maryland or Virginia -- and these are professionals making 80-100k a year, frequently with spouses doing the same. Throw in the need for federal approval of the city's budget and you have a good old fashioned clusterf**k.
So anyway, I'm living in some hellhole in Alexandria Virginia, but only temporarily. The hour-each-way commute isn't doing it for me, so I'm looking for a place in the city starting June 1 or thereabouts. God, I hate the suburbs.
This summer I'm working on a study of a huge apartment complex in Greenbelt, Maryland. Greenbelt, you might recall, was the brainchild of Rexford Tugwell, an econ professor at Columbia who became part of FDR's Brains Trust. Tugwell conceived of the Resettlement Administration, part of the Farm Security Administration, as a means of moving farmers off of unproductive land and moving low income urbanites into planned suburban communities. Tugwell was really a visionary of the value of planning (favoring Garden City ideas) and also strongly espoused cooperation as a means of helping the poor help themselves.
Greenbelt was originally about an 880 unit community of modernist row houses, opened in 1937. It was a make-work program to give people construction jobs during the Depression, as well. After the Lanham Act was passed in 1940, another 1000 units of row houses were built by the Federal Works Agency and housed war workers. The term "Old Greenbelt" refers either to the original 880 homes or the combination of the Depression homes and the war homes as distinct from everything that came afterwards (it's a decent-sized community, its own city east of DC and College Park, MD). The original development was purchased by a cooperative formed for that purchase and continues today as Greenbelt Homes, Inc. I'm studying Springhill Lake apartments, a private garden apartment development of 5000 units. It's slated for demolition in favor of a community designed by Duany Plater-Zyberk. The demolition is unnecessary, as the buildings are in good shape and home to a surprisingly diverse
population that will be displaced -- first by the demolition and construction; second by the exclusion of the poor
inherent in a name-brand development.
My job for the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS, a New Deal make-work program for architects) is to document the history of this community over the next 12 weeks and write a series of reports that will eventually be accessioned to the Library of Congress.
For more background, check out the Greenbelt Museum,
ably curated by Jill St. John, a fellow Michigander.