Greener Than Thou

I’m taking a break running errands that got pushed back to today because of the rain, and because I don’t have a car. I haven’t had a car since 1993, and living a car less lifestyle comes with some pluses and minuses. The reason I don’t have a car has more to do with money and the hassles of maintenance and not some Green philosophy. The greenie-ness is more of an added bonus.
My posting regarding the 5 cent tax on paper and the ever hated plastic bags, did raise some ire from some readers. I’m perfectly OK with being in disagreement on this point, as I’ll let time prove me wrong. Also I’m not out to win any greener than thou awards, we all have a multitude of green sins, some known and unknown, some that are easily avoided, others too ingrained in our identity.
When I say our identity, I include the obvious, like cars and the not so obvious, like our jobs, and our recreational activities. The computer was supposed to render the office paperless, instead the volume of paper exploded, and it has become cheaper to produce meeting minutes, handouts, leaflets, menus, fliers and maps that people will look at then toss out. We are horrible water wasters, letting the tap run as we brush our teeth and lather. We shower daily, and flush away gallons of potable water to be rid of a cup of pee. Then there is the electricity we use to stay online, charge our devices, keep our food, light our homes into the night (how much energy would you save if you went to bed at 8:30?), cool in the summer and heat in the winter. Even though I don’t have a car, I’m still dependent on fossil fuels because the bus and the train use diesel. At some points these exercises in examining every single action and choice, seems like asking how many angels can dance on the pin of a needle? You can spend an infinite amount of time and energy on things that in practice may have very little impact and are quickly abandoned.
We should make the effort to be Green, but we should avoid those heavy burdens that would make us turn away, give up, and not bother.


This sort of is related to an earlier post “Is this neighborhood safe?”, but that was about the streets. This is a reflection about home.
My house came with bars on the doors and windows. The front 1st floor window had an AC cage big enough for a monster sized window unit. No air conditioner I’ve ever had ever filled that cage, and it jutted out so far I was constantly in fear of beaning myself on the head when gardening. When I had the big renovation done in 2007 a neighbor inquired if I was going to remove those bars, as others had done after so fix up. Uh, no. Fast forward to a month ago when I had the neighborhood handyman remove the A/C cage, with the idea of replacing the bars with something that was flush with the building. Well he removed the cage and left the bottom half of my window bar-less for 2-3 days. Those were 2-3 anxiety filled days.
Problem was that window did not lock. It gets stuck and you could break your fingers trying to open the damned thing, but it does not lock. Also a few months ago two houses on my block were broken into, and one of the burgled houses had just put new bars on the windows.
So honestly, as much as I would like to not have bars on my windows, I don’t think I’m there yet. I’m not at that place where I would feel at peace having no bars on my front first floor window. I know that our neighborhood would look much more inviting if there were no security gates on the doors or iron work on the windows. But despite the great and wonderful changes there is still that sticky element of crime. Even if the only thing worth stealing is the TV, I still want to keep out thieves (and zombies, but that’s another post). I do entertain the idea of changing, not removing, the iron work to something more aesthetically pleasing.

Why my block is cool

I am just now chilling out having been at a neighbor’s party for the past 3 hours. A lot of my other neighbors were there, and their kids. The toddlers used their cuteness to get picked up and held by random adults. The 3 to 7 year olds ran in bubble blowing screaming packs. The grown ups drank, ate and conversed. New neighbors were introduced (three new households moved on to our block in the last month). A good time was had by all.
Besides the odd party, a number of us do come together over various things. Just this morning the homeowners of the two houses on the end of the block were cleaning up trash from the sidewalks and gutters. We give advice, exchange information, share garden plants, and lend a hand as well as tools. There are parents who get the kids together. And being so physically close to each other, because our houses are only 12 to 18 feet wide and attached, we are constantly interacting with each other.
Most neighbors, provided they haven’t been completely shunned, do get a wave and a nod. And that makes the block pleasant. But what I think makes it cool are these deeper relationships that go beyond exchanging pleasantries. Yesterday I sat in my neighbor’s backyard, joining them for dinner, talking about anything from Justice Souter, LEED building, to what exactly is growing in that pot?
I thought of the party that was to come and the previous evening’s dinner when I read this morning’s Post’s “From Nod and Wave to Know and Share: How to Spark A Neighborly Connection. It got me thinking about my introduction to the block. It began with two of my neighbors serving as the block’s welcome wagon who encouraged me to go the BACA meetings. I met some neighborhood people there. Several people moved in around about the same time I did, so the general curiosity of asking about work being done (our houses were fixer uppers, some more than others) led to introductions. Oh, and the blog helped too. As well as puttering around in the front yard, having roommates who made connections, and seeing familiar faces in places other than the immediate neighborhood (Hey, don’t you live a few houses down from me?). And it builds, neighbors who you already know introduce you to other neighbors, breaking the ice and giving you a chance to find common interests.
Also, as noted in the article, there are people who are more private. Then there are those whose lifestyles are such getting to know the neighbors is hard. Or worse someone could get stuck in the middle of a bunch of private, superbusy, or reclusive neighbors.
I was chatting with one of the new people at the party, and he was telling me how he’d asked his Realtor about bars and restaurants in the area to get a sense of the place. Well we don’t have any bars and the nicest place to sit down is a coffee shop in the next neighborhood over. But what we do have, few real estate agents would know about and if they did know, they probably couldn’t tell you legally.
If you’re a friendly sort of person, couple, or family with really young kids and you want want to settle down on my block, and happen to have between $400-$500K to spend on a townhouse, email me. We have an opening, and I can tell you as much as I can that your Realtor can’t.

Small Spaces

When looking at the house at 1708 4th Street NW, which has an open house this weekend, I remarked how small space design requires talent. That idea was strenthened when I was reading the comments on the Tumbleweed Tiny House website when someone wondered why something so small could cost so much to design. An answer was that there was not as much wiggle room with measurements. You have to take in acccount how things fit together.
I love Apartment Therapy’s annual Small Cool Contests. I am really digging the Teeny-tiny (0-300 sf), Tiny (300-600sf), and Little (600-900sf) categories. The submissions in this contest prove you can live big in a small space, and the good life can be lived in less than 1,000 sf. Too bad the guy who designed the house on 4th Street didn’t study sites like AT.

Beggar at the door

This weekend I attended a service at a local church with friends and as we were exiting a woman AfAm about 5’3″ short hair and 250ish lbs was begging us for money at the steps. She said she was hungry and wanted to get something to eat. I said I didn’t have any money (totally true) but stood for a moment trying to catalog what in central Shaw served food to the homeless on a weekend night. She asked again, and I told her I was trying to figure out what services could help her because I didn’t have any money, but I had information. She didn’t want that, she said those places were closed. Why the frak am I supposed give to the Can’t Get My S* Together Fund?
In the Shaw neighborhood (NCPC borders) there are a dozen non-profits and churches that have some sort of outreach or feeding program for the homeless that I can think of. One church may do a free breakfast once or a few times a week, a non-profit a daily dinner, and the like. Then along the southern borders of Shaw, in the more downtown areas of town are the food van stops by the Salvation Army’s Grate Patrol and the odd church.
When my group had walked on down the street, one member of our party mentioned that he had already given her money at the beginning of the service. And even after he handed her a few bucks she was still bugging him. Just then I remembered I’d seen her before begging at that church, on several other occasions. It’s the perfect place to throw on the guilt trip.
Also this weekend I spotted a fellow on the 1500 block of New Jersey with a sign and a basket. I was traveling to the Giant, had forgotten my wallet, and traveled back along that same route so I noticed him. When there was someone stopped at the light he’d trundle over and ask for money. I couldn’t read the sign as he must have used a fine point marker.
Lastly, at my own door a woman, slightly frazzled knocked on my door about over a month ago. I’d never laid eyes on her before. She had some story that her aunt or niece died and a whole bunch of them (whomever they are) were trying to get up to somewhere in PG County and she needed a few dollars. A few days earlier I found a Smarttrip card laying on the sidewalk, okay in the gutter. I pick stuff up. It had 2 or 3 dollars on it when I checked. So I reached in my coat pocket and gave it to her. I try not to give money, but totally okay with giving away stuff, food, found objects.
Do I believe the story about the dead relative? No. Do I believe the beggar at church door? Answer- insert cruel fat joke here. Not really.
It seems that dealing with people begging you for something is part of living and working in the city. Be it people on the street or social service organizations that keep sending you mailers for more money than what you’re already donating them.

Is this neighborhood safe

A few months ago whilst shopping at Timor, I got to chatting with a fellow (cause , people hang out and chat @ the Timor) about a question. He was saying he was talking with a guy about become a roommate and the guy had asked if the neighborhood was safe. I get that question too when looking for roommates. I hate that question.
I feel safe, but I don’t know about you
Most of the time when I’m walking back from the metro after work, I feel safe enough. But I’m aware. I’m aware that muggings and other street crimes occur. And I remain somewhat aware of my surroundings, though Jimbo and I disagree on if I’m still aware with one earphone in my ear. Most of the time I feel safe enough, within reason.
However, when I get the question, “Do you feel safe around here?” I tend to dissect the question. I still have a reference textbook from library school with a section on questions. The problem is some questions that people ask are not the right questions to get to the information they want to know. So the question I think they are really asking is if they would feel safe around here. And I really can’t answer that well.
I can’t answer it because, typically I don’t know the person well enough. I don’t know what risks they take. Do they walk home after 10PM, at 1AM? Sober, buzzed or drunk? Do they constantly walk and yabber on their cell phone or zone out with their ipod? Do they have a car? How well do they lock their bike? But I do answer the question, and depending on my mood determines the answer I give. And really the neighborhood is as safe as you are.

Petitions, neighbors, and the long view

I’m supposed to be collecting signatures to try to open the Dunbar High School track to residents. Our Dear Mayor Fenty gets to run on the track in the mornings, it would be nice if residents had the option to do so as well. In a brief shot of energy, as I’m still recovering from a cold, I grabbed the petition forms and hit the block. The first group of people were some neighbors who several months ago had collected signatures for speed humps for our block. It’s been a while since anyone has heard anything about the progress of the humps. So that tempers/ clouds my perception of how useful the Dunbar petition will be. While collecting I was able to reconnect with neighbors I haven’t seen for a while because in Winter we all hide out, so this was an opportunity to catch up.
So far everyone is still employed! Woot!
However, with the few warm days we’ve had we’ve noticed our friendly neighborhood drug dealers (who I thought had left) back scoping out the corners. Looking at it from with a long view, things have gotten better. But not so much better that the block is drug free. It depresses me that there is still something about neighborhood that makes it an environment that the dealers think they can still profit around here.
As a neighborhood we’ve chipped away at the things that would make it too easy for the dealers. We’ve gotten residential parking for many of the blocks, which is annoying when you have long term guests and short term roommates. We call the cops. We clean up and eliminated most of the opportunities for dumping, as huge piles of trash make for good drug stashes. We work with the city’s elected officials and its agencies. We voted and contributed to campaigns. We turned on our front porch lights to brighten the block and reported street lights that were out so dealers would have less dark to hide in.
Not a credit to the neighbors but a change that makes the neighborhood less welcoming to dealers is there are fewer vacant houses and shells. Despite the slow down in housing, there has been a slight increase in owner occupied housing on my block, with a promise of more owner occupiers to come. More people to fight the good fight, or at least not be part of the problem. Though not so great for affordable housing, the amount of market rate rentals have outnumbered the “Section 8” houses. I hate to say that some of our drug fighting problems can be linked to a few of the “Section 8” houses. There is probably now only one or two houses on the block where the boyz may find safe harbor. It will be a brighter day when that number is 0.
A friend of mine who visits occasionally tell me how the neighborhood gets better and better in little increments. A new paint job here, a cleaned up yard there and fewer dealers on the corner.
Maybe in the near future we’ll have our street humps and access to the Dunbar track, and when the dealers come around to scope out the block they’ll decide it’s no good and move on.

Slum dwellers and eco-lifestyle types

As I write this I’ll admit I’m have a little trouble putting the idea in my head in any sort of format that makes sense in written form. So bear with me or skip it entirely.
Both have things in common. As I look over the early and mid twentieth century Washington Post articles descriptions of life in slums there are some small similarities with the eco-friendly low energy use folks I admire.
The modern American uses a lot of clean water. If you leave the tap going while you brush your teeth, that’s probably a gallon going down the drain there. Flushing the toilet, that uses a couple or 3 gallons, more if not everything goes down. And we can do this because of indoor plumbing, wonderful, wonderful indoor plumbing. Tucked away in some eco-media zines and sites are compostable toilets and other contraptions to help reduce water usage. If you don’t have indoor plumbing it is a pretty good guess that’s you’re not going to be using a lot of water if you have to trudge out to a common source to grab it.
Mother gave me a decent description of a rural outhouse’s workings. However, I’m still baffled by an urban outhouse, such as the ones in historical Shaw. Is it hooked up to the sewer system? Is it a regular toilet in essentially a tool shed?
Another aspect of slum life was lack of electricity in some homes and the strong use of kerosene. In an article*, a slum dwelling wood and ice man was lamenting in 1954 how he was going to be put out of a job because people were going to refrigerators. Before you had the ice box, where you would have a huge block of ice, in a box, to keep food cold. Think of it as a cooler with a door. So not every place was hooked up with enough electricity to support a fridge and I noticed a lot of kerosene usage. Kerosene to light lamps. Kerosene to heat the homes. Kerosene to use for cooking heat. Kerosene is one energy alternative, but seems like a sure way to burn your house down. Wood was still in use as a cooking and heating fuel, as well. Kerosene isn’t eco-friendly, like water, if you have to haul it home, and you’re probably more conscious of its use.
Wen asking mom about heat she said the house was heated with the stove and at night the stove was off or out, so they bundled up at night. You had several layers and a blanket and a sibling sharing the bed to keep warm.
Why am I trying to tie slum dwellers and eco-living together? Well it was some small similarities such as the low energy and water usage that I kept noticing. However the big difference in that area is that one uses less because of economics and the other uses less because of choice, which then impacts other areas of ones’ quality of life. And with the passage of time and enforcement of building codes, indoor plumbing and electricity help, however the other scourges of slum life, crime, poor education, overcrowding, unemployment, remain.

*No. 2 Leads City in :WASHINGTON’S WICKEDEST, THE SECOND PRECINCT by S.L. Fishbein Post Reporter March 14 1954. The Washington Post.

I’m aware, now what

I and others have harped that you need to be aware of your surroundings. Well walking to a 6PM mass, I was struck by how dark the 400 block of Q Street was. There may have been one street lamp out and the trees, still leafy, blocked out the light from the other street lamps. So, I’m in the middle of the block when I achieve the awareness that this is not the best of conditions to be walking in. Once past the block and on lighter streets, I tried to figure out which route back from N & 8th would be the best. Luckily, I ran into a family from my street who drove me back home, so problem solved.
So what do you do when you become aware that the conditions are, or appear to be, less than safe? Thinking of my options, I tend not to like any of them. Turning back around is one. That option adds time to my trip. Crossing the street to avoid the crowd of teenagers, must be done at the top of the block, crossing in the middle is too obvious. So not just being aware but thinking a few steps ahead seem to be required.

City Sponsored Murals

Ken’s Carryout Mural
Originally uploaded by In Shaw

Shiloh Baptist has one on it’s child care center buildings, and there are a few more I’ve spotted around the hood. This is one on the corner of 4th and Florida Ave. It replaces faded mural that advertised Coca-Cola. Off on the side is a statement one can read whilst relieving oneself in the alley, about how it was a city sponsored project.