State of the ‘hood Address

update: read the lively comments to this post (we’re such passive-aggresionists (sic)–we just need a bar in the ‘hood where we can argue over beers.)

On the heels of Ward 5 Councilman Harry Thomas, Jr’s “2009 State of the Ward Address,” I bring you a report more specific for our neighborhood, Eckington:


The previous 12 months may not have produced a large number of changes and additions to the neighborhood, but in terms of “Before and After” Eckington looks a lot different.

The KFC at the corner of Florida Ave and North Capitol St closed its doors, its bulletproof glass counter, and its vast parking lot after 28 years due to the rising property values. Although the site remains vacant, and while rumors that an independent pizza restaurant may fill the location shortly give pause to the enthusiasm of the neighborhood’s first sit-down restaurant, the significance of this closing cannot be ignored.

New banners were hung from lightposts along a few defining streets. The confusion of visitors to our area probably reaches its apex at the intersection of Florida Ave and North Capitol St where 3 different banners–Eckington, Truxton, Bloomingdale–hang.  More on this issue later.

The Metropolitan Branch Trail began its slow, interrupted by half a decade, movement as the defining characteristic of the east side of Eckington.  Pepco finally signed over its 2-block stretch of land, allowing the awarding of the contract to design and build the stretch of the Trail from Franklin Ave. to New York Ave bridge.  Work began in May at the northern end and must be completed by July 22.mbt

The MBT has received a lot of attention on this blog, due to its transformative potential that many predict will benefit the neighborhood.  It will provide a common route that will promote interaction between residents–particularly those from the northeast and southeast–where regular encounters had been lacking (due to the multitude of paths home via the grid pattern of our streets).  It provides a uninterrupted path across the entire neighborhood and, via a defined path along sidewalks, connects our neighborhood to Catholic University, Union Station, and the National Mall.

With an actual trail in place, rather than a design proposal, efforts to connect the Trail to the Capital Crescent Trail, providing a complete circular path around the western portion of the city, will be provided with new steam. A developer of two office buildings being constructed on the corner of K St have proposed connecting to the elevated section of the Trail, including paying for new connections into the Union Station Metro.  This would most likely provide the District with the impetus to complete, as in the orignial MBT plans, the 1-block elevation of the Trail from L St to K St along the so-called “Burnham Spine.”

Eckingtonians most likely hope that the Trail will highlight the unmoving eyesore east of Harry Thomas Way.  This vacant lot, part of the tract of land Pepco purchased after the initial 1994 MBT plan, and upon which it build its new substation in the southern section, does not garner much attention currently. A scenic trail on one side and new residentual development on the other side will bring new attention to this plot of land that has no hope of being developed for commercial reasons anytime soon.  Very early plans of the MBT envisioned this tract of land as an urban park, but died when the lot was purchased by Pepco.

The notion that a residential development could be financially viable that borders a power substation and a trainyard, sits almost underneath a major overpass, and  entails over $40 million for the purchase of the land alone, is absurd.  Pepco paid over $67 million for the entire lot, of which a tiny portion sits its substation (which is the reason it bought the land),but, as a large utility compaany, could hold this land for over a hundred years if it gets no offers that satisfy its internal rate of return.

A neighborhood without a park

A neighborhood without a park

Granting the District a right-of-way to this lot, in the same way it did for the MBT, would allow Pepco to retain ownership of the land and permit the city to construct a park on otherwise unused, overgrown land. The limited funds that would be required to construct the park would be more than paid back by the increased property values of the neighborhood–especially the new development across the street.

If one was to construct a circle of greatest diameter in the District without including a park, Eckington would fall directly in its center. This should be a large posterboard, which our councilman brings to every meeting regarding development, improvements funding, parks and recreation (oops!).

Whereas once the residents of the western section of Eckington had no reason to venture across North Capitol Street, much less saw any redeeming value in this area that shared the same name, the arrival of the MBT and the rise of NoMa will change both.  This leads into the discussion of NoMa, the business district that begins in the southern tip of Eckington and proceeds south to Union Station.

NoMa had affected most of us Eckingtonians in the past year with the opening of 4 new restaurants.  Five Guys was first, and while its menu is limited, its hours are generous: 11am – 10pm, 7 days a week.  Heidi’s Brooklyn Deli and Sisters Pizza & Mussels followed with a more diverse set of offerings and Au Bon Pain rounded out the quartet this past spring with outdoor seating. Pound has its devoted clientele and is now open on Saturdays.

If one had not walked down 1st Street NE in a couple of years, the first thing that would be noticed upon the trip today would be the immense amount of shade.  Once a forgotten street of vacant lots and parking lots, the strip has been home to numerous tower cranes as developers have gobbled up these tracts of land. While most projects to-date are office buildings, there are 2 hotels, a residential complex on 2nd, and a Harris Teeter grocery.

The hotels and residential units provide life in the neighborhood in the evening and weekends–a vital component that sometimes gets ignored in rapid developments (such as K Street NW).  The Harris Teeter–slated to open mid-2010–will primarily draw residents from Capitol Hill north to Eckington, many of whom will be pedestrians with their urban collapsible grocery carts.  This also provides another meeting locale for Eckingtonians as we learn each other from such frequent encounters and will offer other residents  a sneak peek into our ‘hood.

NoMa is certainly not done making an impact on our neighborhood.  The development of the new headquarters for NPR just commenced–extending the reach of development up North Capitol Street–and the Florida Ave/New York Ave intersection, infused with grant money to NoMa for its study, should be around the corner.

Yes, there was some unfortune in the past year.  XM was merged with Sirius, and while the now New York-headquartered company states its intention to keep his D.C. facility running, there is no substitution for having the pioneer rooted squarely in our backyard.  The St. Martin’s affordable housing development broke ground dispite years of opposition from neighborhood residents–their efforts to limit the impact, however, will provide some mitigation. I will leave it to commenters to list any other items that were unhelpful to the progression of our neighborhood.

Finally, I will ask that this upcoming year be marked by a renewed enthusiasm in our neighborhood and a reunification of the two sides of North Capitol.

Perhaps there was a time when the west side of Eckington was justified in distancing themselves from the east. But as housing prices of the east have risen–2007 marked the first time a greater number of  $350,00-plus homes were sold in the east than in the west–and as amenities, both in Eckington and NoMa, have begun to crop up in the east, there is reason for the “Bloomingdale” moniker to pass into the distance.  Branding efforts are more effective for a unified Eckington and the whole should be greater than the sum of its parts.  I proposed a tongue-in-cheek campaign to promote branding as well as community pride and hope to followup on the idea.

Map displayed in National Museum of American History

Map displayed in National Museum of American History

We live in an historical area of the nation’s capital–we should be protective of its assets while open to certain changes that may alter the landscape.  Here’s to another productive year in the progression of our neighborhood, Eckington.

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27 thoughts on “State of the ‘hood Address

  1. Note: I purchased several bumper stickers for myself and others and welcome anyone who wants to purchase one at cost to contact me. We need a “gay” humor sticker, and though I have a few ideas, I think it may be wise to get some suggestions from those closer to the spectrum.

  2. If Bloomingdale is really West Eckington, shouldn’t you be referring to the NoMa neighborhood as “Swampoodle”? Neighborhoods and neighborhood names evolve. I think Eckington is a great place, but the two neighborhoods are distinct and separate.

    • The District recognizes the area west of North Capitol St. as Sub-Neighborhood A of Eckington. The Bloomingdale Civic Association represents the area, but the entire neighborhood is Eckington.

      Capitol Hill is comprised of various sub-neighborhoods, such as Barracks Row, and Logan Circle is part of both Dupont Circle and Shaw.

      So the basic question is not whether Bllomingdale can be its own neighborhood–sure, if it wants–but whether it is still part of Eckington. And that answer is, yes.

      • flatland: it’s been pointed out a million times, but i guess a million-and-one will have to do in this case—the “neighborhoods” that you’re referring to (sub-neighborhood A, etc.) only exist in the OTR’s database so that they don’t have too many neighborhoods to refer to.

        go to the taxpayer database and look at an address in bloomingdale. it’ll most likely say bloomingdale under city neighborhood, and eckington under assessment neighborhood.

        those assessment neighborhoods are just bureaucratic shorthand. i don’t know why you have an obsession with wiping our neighborhood off the map, but it’s pretty played out now. seriously.

  3. You don’t seem to have the facts correct.
    Bloomingdale existed before Eckington, it is not a part of Eckington. Bloomingdale deeds and land records do not include “eckington”.

    Bloomingdale originally extended to Lincoln Road. Bloomingdale sits on what was once the Beale Estate. In many front yards you will still see the original rose bushes planted in each yard when the houses were first built in memory of the estate which was referred to as Bloomingdale because of the gardens.

    Heres is additional history:
    http://www.bloomingdaledc.net/history

    All in all its a silly argument, since we are all neighbors. But don’t misrepresent fact. Do research if it matters to you. Based on your conclusions you haven’t looked very deep. If in our sense of our neighborhood name, we garner a greater sense of community and pride and caring, don’t attempt to erase that from us. It’s quite rude.
    If you must co opt names or let names fade into the distances, consider the more parallel development of Edgewood and Eckington. In both timeline and in architecture as well as zip code and quadrant, they are more identical. Perhaps we should call it all Edgewood since really your concern is branding and more opportunities would arise with that larger and more properly zoned area.

    • Deeds in the early 1800’s are not going to list a “neighborhood.” And someone giving their home a name does make a neighborhood. Yes, the former mayor of Washington named his estate, “Eckington” but, in turn, the city referred to the area as Eckington (do a search for “Eckington” and “Bloomingdale” in the Records of Columbia Historical Society and see which term is absent), people who bought tracts of land referred to their area as Eckington. The city recognizes the area as “Eckington.”

      Why is the Gage-Eckington school on the west side of North Capitol St? Would a neighborhood really name their school after their next-door neighbor?

      The area continued to be considered “Eckington” into the early 1900’s–please see the large map displayed in the National Museum of American History.

      Bottom line, a neighborhood is defined by its residents, so if the people who reside west of North Capitol St want to be a distinct neighborhood, that is their prerogative. That does not mean there is anything inaccurate about stating that Eckington extends west, past North Capitol St.

      R ST NW created its own banners, but does that mean it is its own neighborhood, separate from Bloomingdale?

      There is nothing, in my view, beneficial to having two separate neighborhoods. The city erected a large barrier–North Capitol Street–through the heart of our community, but we should not continue to reinforce this divide.

      I would like to hear the views from North Capitol Main Street, Inc. concerning the issue of trying to revitalize and brand an area that insists on having 2 distinct names.

      • flatland: your arguments have holes so big you can drive a truck through. maybe one of those trucks that rumble down the streets of eckington and bother the neighbors so much. but i digress….

        first, let’s tackle that museum map you show. look where the mount pleasant label is on that map. would you argue that mt. pleasant is centered on 13th and 14th streets? because that’s what that map shows. or would you say that georgetown doesn’t go down to the waterfront? because the label doesn’t on that map.

        second, it’s clear that you haven’t researched your history with the gage-eckington elementary argument. there WAS an eckington elementary school on the east side of north capitol. look at the building on the southeast corner of 1st street NE and quincy place. when that school was shuttered, it was merged with gage elementary (which was located on 2nd street NW in bloomingdale and is now also condos) and the combined campus was built in ledroit park where the school is now (which is going to be torn down and turned into a park). this happened long, long, long after both neighborhoods (bloomindgdale and eckington) had been definitively established.

        clearly, your mind isn’t going to be changed. you don’t think bloomingdale really exists. fine. just make sure you tell people that’s your opinion in your blog posts. don’t try to sell it as fact.

      • Georgetown is shaded all the way to the waterfront, so I do not know why you would use the label issue there. And I would say that the placement of the label for Mount Pleasant is quite accurate for a map of such age–the streetcar went up 14th St to serve the residents and visitors to Mount Pleasant (note: if you zoom in, you can see the solid black line in the middle of 14th St–this is the streetcar line).

        As far as “fact” goes, what makes the name of a neighborhood “fact.” The city designation (oops)? A group of residents who form an association? Blogs? I have never used the term, “fact”, in my postings. I simply point out that Bloomingdale was at one point a part of Eckington in the view of its inhabitants, that the city views it as part of Eckington, and that there is nothing preventing the area from becoming part of the neighborhood again.

        Here’s your main problem: If I wake up tomorrow and state that I live in Bloomingdale, there is nothing to back up my claim, no matter how much I wanted it to be true.

        If someone on the west side of North Capitol St wakes up and states that they live in Eckington, there is nothing to refute their claim.

        I am not looking for some official “wiping out” of the Bloomingdale name. My hope is that the area east of North Capitol St experiences improvements of such value over the course of the years that residents west of North Capitol St. “wish” to be called Eckingtonians again.

        If this happened, would that not be a good sign?

      • ok, you said “period.” at the end of your comment initially, which i thought meant that you wanted to cut off debate on this, but i see you’ve edited it out, so let’s continue for a bit. i’m not going to give a long reply so you can’t answer some parts and ignore others.

        why the scare quotes around bloomingdale in your article? if you’re going to use them for one neighborhood, and you’re going to declare that all neighborhood names change over time, then use scare quotes for eckington too. fair?

      • Because I am referring to the word, and not the location. (see use-mention distinction, and not signaling unusual usage rule).

        Perhaps I have not properly quoted “Eckington” in all instances (but see in my earlier comment, how I did), so if you want to check for other violations, please do and let me know.

        Ok, now can I get your response to my last post? Our discussion may be heading into a philosophical debate, for which I am unsure my honors introductory course at the University of Alabama properly prepared me.

      • what does the university of alabama have to do with this?

        to answer your question—wiping out anything historical (espeically names) makes us all a little poorer in the long run, because when we let our memories go, we lose a part of ourselves, our identities.

        so no, i will not agree that it would be a good thing if bloomingdale was to disappear into the mists of time.

      • Think it a good thing there is no longer a “East” or “West” Germany? How about the “Soviet Union”? What about “Dixie” or the “Confederate States of America”? Should they hold on to such monikers to avoid losing a part of their identities?

        The colloquial use of “Capitol Hill” refers to more area than it did even just a decade ago. And the term “H Street” is being applied to a greater swath of land every year. Think more people refer to living in “Barracks Row” than in 2000?

        So, if some residents west of North Capitol St begin referring to their home as “Eckington” (especially to others outside of our area) because of the upswing of the area east of North Capitol St (which is how I couched the proposition in the comment), how is that not a good sign?

      • since bloomingdale is experiencing an upswing, and house values are already higher over here, you might as well just call yourself bloomingdale—by your logic.

        get on the bandwagon while you can! bloomingdale—the neighborhood that extends from 2nd street NW east to the railroad tracks!

      • That would be great, except for this little sticking point (the portions in boldface).

        And haven’t you learned from Dr. Seuss’ wise tale, “The Sneetches?” If we started calling ourselves “Bloomingdale” then I am sure the residents over on the west side would be aghast and instantly start calling themselves “Eckingtonians.”

        I’ve been waiting to use this analogy for some time…I owe ya IMGoph for the setup.

  4. Hey,
    Lets just play nice. I love both of your blogs and utilize them both as ways of updating myself about my neighborhood, because lets be honest anything that affects ‘the area many agree to call Bloomingdale’ also has an impact on Eckington and visa versa. Instead of creating a division where there does not need to be one, lets work on having a sibling relationship where we work towards common goals without assigning names that may not be wanted. I mean hell as a newcomer to this area -I’ve been here almost a year now – I think it would be great if there could be some kind of Bloomingdale/Eckington bonding get together.

    Well heres to hoping we can work towards improving both our neighborhoods instead of bickering over semantics. How bout a joint neighborhood(s) walk together?

    -Toren

  5. This discussion serves to highlight the fractured nature of DC’s neighborhoods. This city is “block by block” in terms of crime and safety, and thus property values and overall quality of life. The immediate area east of North Capital Street is leading the immediate area to the west in terms of homicides and shootings this year. Last year, a corpse was laying in a brown 70’s era van on a beautiful spring day on in the northbound lanes of North Cap St. I was standing next to it, looking at the bullet holes in the steel and at the spent shell casings on the ground. The driver was coming from NE. The shooters fled into NE. I waved the first police officer on the scene over to the scene of the murder. Four more were shot on the NE side of the same intersection this year. Lincoln Rd. NE is bad news.

    That leads to another point; the problems in this city are inter-generational. They begin with abject poverty and all that it brings. Flatland cites all the ‘positive’ changes to the Eckington area. But those changes are only physical in nature. They don’t reflect the ongoing, multi-generation plight of the area residents. Eckington, (using either Flatland’s or IMGOPH’s definition) is plagued with poverty, ignorance, violence, poor physical and mental health, and many other aspects of human nature that aren’t reflected in the construction of office buildings.

    NOMA is a brand name for a formerly blighted area, but that area didn’t have much in terms of a residential population. It was mostly just empty lots. That is why the “NOMA” area was able to transform so rapidly. Will ATF, DOJ, NPR, and Harris Teeter employees want to pay $500,000 or more to live in Eckington and walk to work? My experience with government workers in DC says “no”. But that is just my subjective opinion. I work with someone who commutes from Pennsylvania to downtown DC and back, every working day. In a downtown agency full of thousands of people, I’ve met just one other DC resident. She’s a native, and she’s been afraid of our neighborhood since she was a little girl. She’s still afraid to come over here.

    Eckington is full of troubled residents who aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Further, Eckington has been dissected by suburban commuter corridors. The incisions are North Cap St, NY Ave, and FL Ave. The Met Branch Trail is going to see its share of muggings once it opens. Mckinley High School students are likely to acquire a sense of ownership of the trail once it opens. A Mckinley High student threatened me for my winter jacket a couple years ago. A child no more than 10 years old spat on me as we passed each other on a sidewalk on North Capital Street just last week.

    The Ward 5 Councilman is clearly in favor of maintaining the status quo, just like his father before him. He likely fears that a demographic shift will mean the end of an era for his family name. He fought for the construction of St. Martin’s Apartments. He can count on hundreds of votes from its residents once it is completed.

    Nothing is going to change in the near term except for mortgage interest rates. They will rise to combat the coming inflationary cycle, and that will further depress housing prices in “Eckington” and all of Ward 5. Re branding isn’t going to help, unless you’re willing to wait until about 2019.

  6. I think it is hilarious that everyone thinks there is a BIG difference between the few blocks West of North Cap and the few blocks East of North Cap!

    The only real tangible difference between the East and West is there is a portion of East Eckington that is closer to a new Metro stop and millions of dollars of development.

    Other than that no one can tell the difference.

  7. Actually, anyone who gets around on foot can discern a subtle yet distinct difference in the architecture and upkeep of homes on the east side vs. the west side of North Capital street.

    The upkeep on both sides tends toward ‘shabby’, in any case. There are gems that stand out on both sides, as well. I talked with someone who lives on a unit block in NE. He’s been there for decades, and he thinks it is nicer on the NW side. But ‘nicer’ is subjective.

    Also, until recently, crime and the criminals who perpetrate them were divided by North Capital Street. Before Flatland moved in, the police department used to draw a line between PSAs straight down the middle of North Cap. Commit a crime on a unit block in NW, run across North Cap, and you’ve just changed police jurisdictions. That scenario was altered only in the past few years.

    Regardless, check out the poverty and other dismal stats that pervade the entire area. Here is a link to census stats by Zip Code. (which, not coincidentally, use North Capital as a dividing line)

    http://www.neighborhoodinfodc.org/zip/zip.html

  8. Columbia Heights is a decade or more ahead of Eckington in terms of development. Here is a recent post article titled “Crime Still Has a Grip on D.C.’s Columbia Heights”.

    http://tinyurl.com/mbouq9

    But don’t worry, that Five Guys on the other side of the deadly, swirling vortex of commuter traffic on NY and FL Aves will drive Eckington’s property values through the roof!

    • Columbia Heights and Eckington are apples and oranges.

      For one, look at the demographics:

      The 2000 census figures estimated Columbia Heights with a 58 percent African American population; 34 percent Hispanic population; 5.4 percent white population; and 3.1 percent other.

      • Who is doing all the shooting in Columbia Heights? The “other’?

        And does Eckinton’s homogeneity mean we can expect less crime and violence here; as opposed to the more diverse neighborhood of Columbia Heights?

        P.S. You’re right; comparing the degree and extent of CH’s economic revitalization to that of Eckington’s is indeed an apples to oranges comparison.

  9. Entertaining and provocative. I think we’re all still on the same general side here..continued improvement, less crime, more things like Timor Bodega, Big Bear, Pound, Heidi’s, and that farmer’s market over in West Eckington run by the guy from East Eckington.

    As an homeowner in Eckington (east side!), I certainly hope that the great location in the city center in a time of rising energy costs, proximity to metro & increasing retail options, and beautiful historic housing stock outweigh all of Realist’s depressing but potentially true prognostications.

    The history of Bloomingdale link (http://www.BloomingdaleDC.net/history) seems a little alone in the world wide web. Is there anything else to corroborate it? Also, it simply states that this rich dude, Beale, bought the Bloomingdale estate from this rich dude, Bradley. Who named it Bloomingdale? Why?

  10. We have a bar in the hood. The beers are $8 there at the Marriott. They can charge that because they don’t have to compete, and guests there likely are not the most comfortable venturing far from the hotel/metro area.

  11. What ever happened to Edgewood? Why do eckingtonians fell the need to disown bloomingdale and edgewood.. Are they that much better than us?

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