Looking at the neighborhood with different eyes

So at forty *mumble* years old, I’ve become a mommy through the miracle of adoption. Seven years prior I became a spouse, after living in Shaw as a single lady for about ten years*. I, and the Shaw neighborhood, have changed and with those changes I’ve experienced the neighborhood differently.

After only being a parent for a few months, my view of the neighborhood and the city I’ve lived in for over a decade has drastically changed.Eyeglass binky DC bike mapI’ve observed this in parents, typically people who moved to the neighborhood as single people or newlyweds, and in time had kids, and moved. On an intellectual level I understood the desire to protect their children from the hazards and unpleasantness of some aspects of urban life. As a member of the middle class, you know you have an out, you could, by moving to a solidly middle class neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park or out to certain suburbs or exurbs, you nor your children have to tolerate higher crime, smaller houses, chance of the draw schooling, and off street parking. Now as a mom, I have a better understanding and have the desire to protect my Helpless baby.

But no, we’re not moving anytime soon.

Not to go into my personal career goals, but there is one scenario that would send us to PG County and I’ve already mapped out where we’d relocate. I’ve also been applying to positions in DC and those have much fuzzier scenarios of possibly, probably not, moving to the H StreetCapitol HillStadium Armory area. The job search had more to do with getting married, and I’m more dedicated to a great commute than any neighborhood.

The arrival of the Helpless baby has got me thinking more about parenting things I had thoughts about, prior to his arrival, and parenting things I want to research the heck out of. I have thoughts, slightly unchanged, about schools, child care, general safety, and use of transit. I already know what charter schools we will aim for, what charter will be our safety school, and which religious schools we’ll consider if the charters don’t pan out. Recently I have been thinking about how I could replicate my aunts’ and uncles’ success of raising high earning middle class black men, and I wonder how our neighborhood might work for and against that goal. Then there is the minefield of explaining things that he will observe as we walk around. He’s still non-verbal so I have time.

As I walk around, going to and fro the metro or neighborhood businesses, I see the neighborhood differently. I pay attention to other parents or nannies as they push, carry or walk their charges. I observe their strollers, what their kids wear, and where it looks like they’re heading. I take note what places have parents with kids and how welcoming those places are so I know where we might be able to go. The parents I see going about their day help me feel good about being a parent raising my baby in my hood.


*If you’re counting I’ve been in Shaw for a little over 17 years.

A park can be a plus or a minus depending on how it is used and who is using it

So about a week ago the Help (the spouse) was walking around with the Helpless (the baby) and noticed a broken lock on the 1st Street side of the Florida Ave park. I told him to contact 311 and he did not find the response satisfactory, so I tweeted, and got a very satisfactory response.

Keeping the park ‘safe’ is very important.  Because there are a lot of little signs of the return of the neighborhood’s bad old days, I figure I should revisit the days with the Florida Ave park was a liability and not an asset.

Let’s enter the InShaw time machine to 2006 and a post where the Florida Ave park is mentioned in passing. At that time the park was mainly a place where the homeless and addicts (booze & drugs) hung out. The park was open, in that there was nothing stopping anyone from sleeping there or being there at night. The problem at the time was alcoholics would go from Sunset Liquors on 1st and Florida and hang out at the park. Citizens figured if we removed the liquor store that would help clean up the park. The actual solution was making the 1st Ave side an exit only side and renovating the park.

So a decade ago the park was a liability. Kids rarely played on the playground, and maybe played on the courts (depending on if bigger kids and adults allowed it). The playground was the domain of the homeless and the addicts. Parents would try to make a go of it, but finding broken glass or used needles among the wood chips or a passed out adult on the slide was discouraging.

Now the park is an asset. The adults are pushed to the sides at the tables on Florida Ave or the tiny section near the exit on 1st (more on FL Ave because there are electrical outlets over there), and the kids are in the playground area, as it should be. I believe I’ve seen kids from the nearby charter school use the park during the school day. Sundays, when the Bloomingdale Farmers Market is in session, the park is filled with parents and young children. We included the park in our adoption book, as a plus. Now that we are parents, I’d like to make sure the park stays an asset, so when the Helpless is a little less helpless and can walk (or at least sit up) he can play there and expel some little kid energy.

Keeping it a park where little kids can play will require vigilance and positive use. It will have to be kept secure so it won’t get misused by adults and kids will have to use it so there isn’t a vacuum that negative elements will fill. Once it becomes a liability again, it will be another problem residents will have to spend energy fighting, and a blight that will bring down the attractiveness of the neighborhood.

2017 wasn’t as bad as it could have been

View down Florida AvenueSo we’re coming to an end to 2017.

It could have been worse.

I’ve been in Truxton Circle since 2001, sixteen years. Not a new comer, nor native. There have been worse years. There have been worse years with more gun deaths than this years’. There have been worse years with more drug dealers intimidating residents (and bringing those ‘pop’ ‘pop’s in the night). Have there been worse years with ugly a$$ buildings? Maybe.

The bright shining bright spot in 2017, was the ‘Triangle Known As Truxton Circle’ exhibit, I and my neighbors put on at 410 GooDBuddY.

Illustrating the neighborhood changes from 1880-2010
Neighborhood change 1880-2010

I think I was able to show something that logically makes sense, the neighborhood is always changing. There are always threats. Be it middle class flight (white and later black), urban renewal, drugs, the War on Drugs, and so forth. Does the neighborhood overcome those threats? Sure, lets go with that narrative, as it is true in the case of urban renewal.

I see the change occurring because of the many minor and major decisions of the thousands of residents, property owners, business operators, visitors and others. So I hope 2018 brings more civically minded residents, enlightened visitors, positive businesses, developers with a sense of exterior beauty (seriously some of y’all hit your buildings with an ugly hammer), great landlords and even better tenants, pro-active parents, responsible pet owners, and courteous drivers. I can wish for fewer drug dealers and the gun violence they bring. I can hope for cross cultural exchange across different age, ethnic, racial, religious and non groups, because what is the point of a diverse neighborhood if we’re just going stay in our little silos, you have to interact to really get the depth of what is this neighborhood.

So make peace with neighborhood change and be part of the change for good.

Have a good 2018!

Clever Parlor

Corner Art gallery/ tattoo parlorSo the Help and I have been spending a lot of time in Baltimore, dealing with a rental property. So that’s why we found ourselves in the Washington Village (aka Pigtown) neighborhood on a Friday night. Taking a break from grouting a shower, we wandered out to get some dinner.

There is a mix of commercial and residential buildings on the main strip of Washington Blvd, and I had passed by this shop (pictured) several times. It looked like it was an art gallery that might want to be a low key skate shop.  That night the lights were bright and the art on the wall called out to me. At the time the shop’s operator was hanging out with some skinny art student, sketching a drawing, in the door and invited us to come in.

We came in to take a closer look at the canvases on the wall and the t-shirts in the cubes. My dear spouse, the Help, is a super chatty fellow and began chatting up the operator, who explained that they feature different artists’ work and the owner’s tattoo art.

Holy crap we’ve walked into a tattoo parlor.


Very clever. People tend to object to tattoo parlors in their neighborhoods because, face it many tattoo storefronts have the charm of a low rent pawn shop. However, art galleries are cool and people like art galleries. Tattoo artists are artists and it totally makes sense to have them in an art gallery! And it makes sense to have their art alongside other artists.

I think this, having a gallery/parlor, would make sense in other areas where a tattoo parlor wants to come in and pretty up the neighborhood.

Homelessness close to home and 3000 miles away

Homeless stuffSo this is personal.

We knew my sister-in-law was one kind of homeless. That kind of homeless where the person is couch surfing. Recently we discovered she’s a different kind of homeless (living in a truck) and close to the classic kind of homeless of being on the street.

At this point someone, maybe you, are saying well I and the Help (she’s his sister) should do something. And I respond, it is so friggin complicated and we are doing something, but that something won’t stop her trajectory to the streets.

We’ve concluded that my sister in law has some serious mental health problems (she self medicates), along with the anger management issues (yes, that can fall under mental health), add to that she’s on the other side of the country, we cannot provide or impose the kind of help she needs. Those anger, drug, and mental health problems have irreparably damaged the bridges other family members made available. The ‘something’ we’re doing is trying to salvage the damage left from the last time family helped. She managed to drain her mother’s retirement, leaving my diabetic mother in law destitute with no life savings or assets, so we’re trying to keep the old woman alive from 3000 miles away.

Instead of going on and on, I’ll say eldercare is expensive, unbelievably complicated and oh so emotionally draining. There is not enough left to do anything for the person who caused the eldercare abuse (and there was serious financial and emotional abuse*), except to pray for her.

From where we stand homelessness is complicated and there is no simple long term answers.


*We don’t know if there was physical abuse, mother in law is tight lipped about the whole thing. We do know sister in law has physically abused others.

Death, Taxes and the 60% Senior Citizen Property Tax Discount

I’ve complained about my dead aunt paying property tax before. I’ve even reported it to the DC Office of Tax and Revenue in 2016 and nothing, so I’m going to treat it like a very open secret, and assume DC government doesn’t give a rat’s rear end.

My great Aunt Geraldine died in February of 2012, she was over 100 years old. Prior to her death she was in a nursing home somewhere in Maryland. Her estate, which is a side of family I’m not familiar with, has been paying the property taxes. That’s fine except, they’ve been paying at the hugely reduced Senior Homestead Deduction.

Forgive me, math is not my strength, but without any deduction she’d be paying $2368.09 annually. Her estate and not my dead aunt, because being dead she’s not doing much these days, has been paying $685.82 annually. Roughly that’s a 60% discount.

The Senior Citizen Homestead Deduction is one hell of a discount. So when you encounter someone who 65 years old or older and or disabled who is a homeowner complaining about property taxes being too high, ask if they are receiving the deduction. Of course they could be receiving the deduction and still complain, as old people are wont to do. You could also look their house up on the DC Property Tax Database to check if they are receiving the deduction.

It is such a great deduction that estates, like my Aunt Geraldine’s estate, has no incentive to transfer the property into the names of younger hands. It is also a problem for vacant properties where the owner is dead.

Gentrification seems to bring less High Fructose Corn Syrup

So I spent last week in Baltimore in a neighborhood that isn’t one of the super cool neighborhoods. Washington Village/Pigtown might be gentrifying, and if it is, it is going at a snails pace. So there are corner markets (7-11, Family Dollar, the odd convenience store) and most of them stocked with various drinks, most containing high fructose corn syrup.

Yeah, I read labels. I’m at the age where I’m reading them over my glasses (I need bifocals) and I’m avoiding HFCS and sometimes sugar (cane sugar/ cane juice). Here in Shaw, there is a whole section of fruit and veggie juices at the Giant. I can get some grapefruit juice concoction at Glen’s Market. And then there is is the Whole Foods.

Sometimes, I just need cold, fresh juice.

So in Baltimore, I had a hankering for juice, that wasn’t orange. I went to the Royal Farms, where you can get a box of fried chicken, but no non-orange juice. Monster drinks and Red Bull a plenty, but no Naked. Family Dollar, no dice. Lots of colorful drinks in glass or plastic that mention a fruit that juice may come forth from but alas it is HFCS water with a smattering of juice. 7-11 did come through, but I’m so accustomed to a lot of healthy choices from living in Shaw.