Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is Anacostia the Next H St?

Art of War Concept: Generally in war the best policy is to take a state intact; to ruin it is inferior to this.

Is Anacostia the next H Street? I have heard the reference to H Street a couple of times and it makes me ask the question, What is the vision for the greater Anacostia community? What does the future hold?  There are a lot of opinions but no consensus.

To be clear, there is no right answer to the question. There will always be different perspectives from the residents, developers, business owners and the government. There will be differences in opinions from residents who view Anacostia as home versus those who see it as an investment. We need to have a thoughtful conversation among the current stakeholders to ensure there is a shared vision on how to move forward.

Why do I keep hearing talk about H Street? Is it the restaurants, streetcars, streetscape or the demographics that create the envy? Are we not happy with being Anacostia? Don’t get me wrong. I like going to eat and hang out on H Street, but there are some things that I appreciate about living in Anacostia. We have much more to offer and should capitalize on what makes us unique: the historic character of the neighborhood, great views, proximity to the Anacostia River and quick access to I-295/395.

What really sets us apart is the people. If we capitalize on the talent of residents and have a conversation asking for their ideas and energy, we can surpass other neighborhoods of the city. I do not sense that our residents have a true appreciation and faith to move us forward. I wonder if that is the reason why there has not been a candid conversation about how we see the future of our community.

When I heard of my neighbors getting together to promote our “We Are Anacostia” neighborhood campaign, I immediately jumped on board. A significant part of the campaign is to encourage Busboys & Poets to open its fifth location in Anacostia. But it means so much more than that. It is saying that being in Anacostia is okay and there is no need to compare ourselves or want to be like another neighborhood. It means we are a unique community with a ton of talent.

We should plan everything in a way that focuses on families, strengthening families and creating an environment where residents want to raise their families. That means cleaner neighborhoods, community safety, addressing blighted property, refurbishing our parks, planting trees and being able to walk your kids down to the neighborhood school and knowing they are going to receive a quality education.

If you forced me to pick a neighborhood, I would pick Old Town Alexandria as a model. Unfortunately, when DC focuses on building neighborhoods, they focus on the young 20-something’s, who enjoy the late night bar and party scene. Old Town Alexandria is mostly free of bars but provides a family-friendly restaurant and retail environment along its commercial corridor. Even the homes in Anacostia and Alexandria provide a more suburban environment than living in the city.

People who have lived here for some time and those who have recently moved here tell me that the main reason they are here and choose to stay is because of the feel of the neighborhood. That is why it so important for residents help lead the discussion on where we go. If the feel of the neighborhood changes, the people who make this neighborhood so special may choose to move.

Let us have this important conversation. We may find that we all want the same things, although differing on how to get there, but we will realize it is in our best interest.

1 comment:

  1. I like a lot of things about H St., but I bristle when I hear someone refer to H St. as "the new Adams Morgan" or "like Adams Morgan 15 years ago." Maybe it is like that for folks breezing in from NoVa to drink on a weekend night, but I live close enough to feel possessive of H St. and for long enough that I remember a time when suggesting a night out on H would have been met with hysterical laughter. So I just want H St to be H St. And Anacostia should stay Anacostia. I would love to see Anacostia have a future of the cleaner neighborhoods, safer streets, spiffier parks and good schools you talk about without losing its roots and inner-ring suburb vibe in an effort to become more like some other neighborhood. It's not easy to keep "progress" from turning into "homogenization," but its worth it. Know what you want your neighborhood to be and then stick to your guns and make it happen, neighbors... you'll be making Capitol Hill residents jealous in 10 years or under if you do.