No one magic bullet

The Help came over for dinner, helping me put a dent in the amount of chicken dishes I made over the weekend. As a part of our date I suggested the overly romantic idea of popping into the 5C01 SMD meeting around the block [sarcasm]. Surprisingly he thought it was a great idea, and after dinner we stopped over to the meeting that was already in progress. If you say you didn’t see us, we were in the back, and we didn’t stay long. We stayed long enough to hear about the parking situation and the Catch-22 the car owning residents of Richardson Pl. are in, and interesting things about liquor licensing. Did you know the city limits the number of A & B licenses for the whole city?
Anyway, we left and got to talking about changes in the neighborhood, particularly the drug dealing on the corner. The Help has known me since before I bought the house, and has seen the neighborhood change. Since he knows me and I pledged to be honest with him I gave him my answer and I’ll share that with you. But I don’t think it varies from what I’ve said before.
There is no one thing that I believe has reduced the dealing on the corner, but rather a whole ingredient list of things. First, I think we got better policing and policing got better. The Internet has helped a lot in getting information to the public, as opposed to the few people who show up to community police meetings. It also helped to have more police patrol cars going up and down the streets. Second, politics and city services. This neighborhood is on the ass end of Ward 5 and we were ignored by then Councilman Orange. With more people involved in local level politics, demanding and engaging more of the elected representatives, who then put pressure on city officials to tackle the crime environment. Also city services and servicing got better. Third, and you know I was going to get to it, demographic changes. There are a whole bunch of things wrapped up in that. The drug dealers need an environment and support structure and when there are fewer people who would add to it, it is undermined. There are fewer neighborhood kids to recruit. Fewer people willing to feed and house dealers. Fewer houses and businesses dealers can stand in front of or visit when they need to duck the cops. Fewer walk up customers. More people complaining and calling the cops. More disapproving eyes on the street. More dog walkers. More joggers. More homeowners. Fewer absentee landlords not caring who they put into a house. Fewer vacant houses. Fewer stores to buy MD 20/20 and a 40oz (remember the old Bates Market?). And lastly, time. All things change with time.

My weekend

Well Saturday was the BACA clean up which Caryn over the BACA blog mentions the turnout was low. Well I didn’t help matters by not posting the announcement earlier, though I got it earlier. Also there were supposed to be fliers about it, but of a neighborhood of our size flier distribution takes a while. Yes, it doesn’t seem like it but you never realize how many friggin’ houses are just on one side of the street until you have to place a flier in every single one of those doors. Personally, I don’t care for the stuff the flier in the fence method, as the wind can take those away. I took on the top triangular part of the TC till my bag got ripped. There wasn’t much to do as we have a few neighbors who regularly clean the sidewalks.
Before I picked up my bag I was walking with Brett to 1st & P, where BACA normally starts these things, trying to explain the “Broken Window” theory and why clean ups are important. I’m hoping B. was playing Devil’s advocate when he questioned the effectiveness of a clean up and the ‘broken windows’ theory. Quick summary, trash adds to the perception of crime and disorder.
After the clean up I ran my usual Saturday errands, one being the warehouse area on Florida Ave NE. At US Beef I ran into Ms. Frozen Tropics, Elise, who had a hunk of meat for carnitas. I had a bag full of drumsticks for curry, two pounds of butter, for making ghee, and a frozen boneless lamb. I mentioned that the frozen whole chicken there was rubbery, but the fresh chicken was quite good. Elise mentioned she was going to hit Mexican Fruit next for limes. But there were limes near the register at US Beef and I had already been to Mexican Fruit, whose limes were lackluster that day, so we both picked up bags of lemons and limes. I was going to make marmalade, Elise margaritas. Somewhere in the middle of that a friend of Elise came up with a small tub of tofu from a nearby store. I expressed my confusion with the warehouse area of knowing which stores will sell to you. Apparently there is a tofu place between US Beef and Sam Wang, you go up to the window, you tell the guy you want the white tub, and for $4 you get a small gallonish tub of tofu. Half shopping experience. Half speakeasy.
Sunday, was chicken Sunday. Chicken stock. Chicken Marsala. Chicken Biryani. Buttery Chicken. And chicken curry. Somewhere in there I decided to clean 1/2 of my alley, with some help from a neighbor. The street was busy with open houses. The house that was under contract, is back on the market. Then a new neighbor has decided to move to the west coast and rent out his house so there were people dropping by to check the place out.

Clean up tomorrow

I was meaning to post this earlier:

After our snowiest winter in history, months without street sweepers, and damage from the snow, let’s say goodbye to winter by springing into action! Here are the details for the first 2010 clean-up:

Date – March 27 (rain date – April 1)
Time – 10:00am – 1:00pm
Meeting Location – First and P Sts

We will have brooms, bags, and shovels on hand. You may want to bring gloves as well as some of your own supplies … just in case.

We have made fliers but may not be able to hand them all out door-to-door. Please email me if you are interested in distributing to your block. Also, email me or Anita with ideas for volunteers.

Pete and Anita

Going down and taking everyone with it

A neighbor on my block must really love this neighborhood. Mainly because his (and his wife’s) house is under construction for the 2nd… 3rd time? I lost count, but they’ve must have put in more money than the house is worth. The previous fixes have been mainly minor and one major thing. There was something dealing with poor drainage that plagued them for the longest. Well the current venture has them gutting the house. They didn’t intend to gut the house, but when you start to pull up floors and knock away old plaster you discover fresh heart sinking, bank busting horrors, like I did when I had my house renovated.
One of the horrors discovered was a combo pack of a poor electrical, mixed with bad brick, which under the right conditions could take out 1/3 of the block in a house fire collapse situation. Okay maybe 1/8th of the block trusting that at least one connecting house was renovated well enough to block disaster. Yes. There are supposed to be fire blocks between these old row houses, but ‘supposed to be’ and ‘actually is’ aren’t the same thing. Pulling away the drywall and plaster revealed failing brick load bearing walls, party and exterior walls with failed (questionable if brick was there in the 1st place) portions. Add these failed portions to an electrical system that came in contact with a leak and lint filled jerry rigged dryer vent, and we have the higher risk for fire. If the fire didn’t come then the failing brick wall, if it fell, would definitely have taken the neighboring house with it.
A former TC resident once told me that you never really know what you have until you get down to the brick and the joists.

When the Invisible Hand smites the stupid

Sitting on Top
Originally uploaded by In Shaw

I can’t remember actually seeing anyone living here, but I was told by neighbors that 1522 3rd St NW had a handyman guy trying to fix it up for rent. According to the DC property tax records is US BANK NATIONAL ASSOCIATION TRUSTEE took possession of this property 1/27/2010 for $224,336. Pretty cheap. I smell a foreclosure.
As far as I can tell, and if anyone knows more they are more than welcomed to correct me (please initial your comments), but this house never sold to a actual person with the will to move in or the smarts/ability to rent it out to people who would pay money to live there.
Now I figure the reason why stupid people with money, or access to credit, throw these ugly things on top is to increase the square footage to get a higher price. But here is the problem and the smiting of the Invisible Hand, say you take a 1,000 sqft house and add a 500 sq ft pop up. On paper this would logically put the house in the 1,500 group getting 1,500 sq ft prices. However, a buyer, provided they aren’t legally blind, will judge this ugly 1,500 sq ft house against 1,500 sq ft houses that were either built as 1,500 sq ft houses or had more timeless aesthetically pleasing additions. So there would be a discount for the ugly. This discount would make the “improvements” a negative investment.

Please don’t mention Historic Districts because the adding of the ugly happens everywhere, in the TC with townhomes and Hyattsville with bungalows (one such on East-West Hwy comes to mind). Besides, I hate history being prostituted for aesthetics.

Boundary Stone Tavern/Pub

Hidden tin ceiling
Originally uploaded by In Shaw

Well Scott Roberts has a much better description of the proposed pub for Bloomingdale because the man knows what questions to ask. All I asked about was noise, because the rear of the location backs up to several residential bedrooms. I was told that they expect to keep the noise on Rhode Island Ave., not a quiet street mind you.
You can ask what the heck is this photo I have attached here. Well, it is the cool looking tin ceiling that is hidden behind the dropped ceiling at 116 Rhode Island Avenue NW/Boundary Stone. What the owners would like to do (provided they get approved for the liquor license) is put in a mezzanine as there is about 10-11 extra feet in some spots. The building housing this proposed pub is in the former Sylvan Theater and the landlord for this building seems to be amenable to improving and adding value to his property (as opposed to some other commercial landowners who are crazy).
The pub owners are hopeful about when they may be able to make this come to life. But before any of that there is the ABC liquor dance between the ANC, the neighbors and the owners. The ANC will (regardless of support) protest the license, the owners will agree to a voluntary agreement, someone will go on and on about how there will be drunkards in the streets and that we don’t need more liquor in our neighborhood.
PoP also has a post on this too.

I really need to get my garden in gear

Patio tomato
Originally uploaded by In Shaw

Last year I was chomping at the bit for Spring to come so I could start planting seeds and planning my garden. This year with various things going on, such as the short notice roommate, bf, and some stuff I’ll just shove under ‘financial’ the desire is not at the same level. Also I mentioned to friends and neighbors that I’m not going to plant as many tomatoes as I did last year. At the end of the season I had a several tomatoes that rotted on the vine simply because I didn’t know they were there. I was concentrating too much on the tomatoes the squirrels ran off with.
I know I’m going to do arugula, alpine strawberries, tarragon, sage, thyme, onions, and cilantro. Mainly because those items have either re-sprouted or reseeded themselves without any help from me. And I still have some leftover seed from last year and it seems tomato seed lasts a year or more. I’ll have to see if the same can be said about cucumber and hot pepper. I collected seed from my beets and will give those a go. So the only new seed I may buy is basil and parsley.
I also decided on a different use for the garden, as a supplement rather than a main source. I love puttering in my garden but last year I overdid it. Also I want to support the local farms and buy their produce, so that is another reason to cut back. Yet I do love having food growing in the back yard so I can quickly grab a little thyme for this or a few beans for that. I can’t wait till the BFM opens up again, anyone heard anything about it?
Still, I need to get rid of some pots, take some cuttings from the bay laurel and sell off the main tree, and start some seedlings.

Can I boycott a place I’d probably never get to

Some of ya’ll are aware of the kerfuffle regarding U Street Girl and the owner of a wine bar threatened legal action. She has recommended that others join her in not patronizing or promoting the 14th Street business. Okay.
I totally agree on principle, but honestly I haven’t even gotten to the wine bars I actually want to go to, like Cork, so I don’t know what use that would be. Also as a fan of redemption and forgiveness I hope that the owner of Du Vin Osteria, David Shott, will make an honest effort to undo the damage done.

Hopefully, we’ll have none of that in nearby (to me) Bloomingdale. Tonight there is going to be an open house Q&A for a proposed bar/pub/wateringhole at 116 Rhode Island Ave NW between 6 and 8pm. I guess it would be a good place to unwind after some yoga ’round the corner. Seriously, I’m looking forward to the development, growth and appearances of all the small businesses in the Bloomingdale and eastern Shaw area.

It’s time to go

This weekend one of the neighbors was out doing some minor painting, reminding me I have to do some minor painting to my fence and security gate. Ah, home ownership. When asked about the sprucing up she was doing she confirmed that she is indeed planning on selling the house and moving back to her homecountry. “It’s time,” she said.
She’d been on the block a little bit longer than I have, by some months to 1/2 a year. In that time she’d done some home improvement, so at least 1/3 of the house is new. She’s also been a good neighbor in that she’d taken on the alley cat issue, trying to catch cats to get them spayed and neutered and the kittens adopted. Hopefully someone can fill that role when she does sell the house, and provided it isn’t listed at some super high price, it should sell. And hopefully, whomever buys it will integrate themselves into the fabric of our block.
And so another person makes an individual decision that can change the block adding to the dynamic nature of neighborhoods and neighborhood change. Which reminds me of the various reasons people I have known have given for moving, job relocation, family pressures, marriage, house too much of a burden/downsizing, etc. For renters, sometimes the decision is not theirs and is more financial when the owners choose to cash out or fail to keep up with their mortgage. No organized effort here, just individuals, with a tiny sliver of land, doing what they think is best for them.

Gentrification and Theatre

This weekend I and the Help were invited to see the play Clybourne Park at the Woolly Mammoth Theater down in Penn Quarter. According to the theater’s website on the drama and the promotional information:

Clybourne Park explores the evolution of racism and gentrification over the past half-century in America by imagining the conflicts surrounding the purchase of a house in a white neighborhood in the 1950s by an African American family, and then the re-design of that house in “post-racial” 2009. While Clybourne Park is a Chicago neighborhood, the play makes no direct reference to its geography. Woolly believes Clybourne Park is highly reflective of the changes happening to neighborhoods throughout DC and across the metropolitan area (and urban America).

And it is a riff off of Raisin in the Sun with the first half of the play taking place in the home of the family selling the home (that we assume) the RITS’ Af-Am Younger family. I thought that first half started a little slow.
I really appreciated the director’s commentary after the performance at a reception. On one point as urban DC people living in 2010 we know how to judge the characters of 1959 in the first half of the play, saying with confidence Mr. Lindner, from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, is wrong in arguing against selling to the Black family. However in the second half, taking place in what I gather to be 2009, that moral surety is not there and issues of race and gentrification are tied up in arguments about ‘history’ and architecture.
Since the Help and I are both in the History field, we pondered the ‘history’ part for a while. We also pondered the racial and chronological make up of the audience at that performance. History is messy and we found it interesting that one of the Af-Am characters was pushing the idea that the desired preserved history started with the integration of the neighborhood, not its establishment or previous ethnic makeup. Also when the Help (the whitest white guy who was ever white) pointed out the demographics of the audience which had a smattering of Afro-Americans, I mentioned audiences like my Aunt and her friends tend to favor Tyler Perryish morality plays over at the Warner Theatre.
The second half of the play does try to press a lot of gentrification topics into 6 characters. Two topics did ring a bell in relation to stories and events witnessed in the Shaw neighborhood, history and racial defensiveness. The Shaw historical narrative isn’t wrong, it just leaves a whole lot out that isn’t particularly marketable in the larger “Heritage” theme. And one character reminded me so much of a former neighbor who was one of those isolated* white families who moved to Shaw, who tried to be a good neighbor but had to walk on eggshells every time they interacted with their Black neighbors because even the banal issues were hidden roadside bombs of pent up racial anger.

UPDATE- Theater Discount

Readers of this blog can see any performance of Clybourne Park for only $15. Use this numeric code 789 when arranging tickets. Reservations can be made online (, over the phone (202-393-3939), or in person (641 D Street NW, Washington, DC). Clybourne Park runs March 15 – April 11, 2010. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm. Questions? Visit woollymammoth-dot-net or email Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director,

*Isolated in that they were the only white people on the whole block.