Life on RIA series part 2

Continuing our series of contributing bloggers telling their story of life on Rhode Island Avenue and the trials and tribulations they have faced, here is T. Dach, a resident who lives off of Rhode Island Avenue near the metro….

In September, 2007, I moved to the District of Columbia as a permanent resident. I had previously lived in our Nation’s Capital as a temporary intern in 2002. When I moved to the District as a permanent resident in September, 2007, I had been living in the suburbs (Silver Spring) for 4 months, and had spent very little time in DC proper in the time between December, 2002 – when my internship ended – and fall, 2007, and barely realized how much the District had changed. After looking at several apartments, I reluctantly went to look at a place near 4th and Constitution NE. I knew the reputation of NE from 2002, but, it turned out that the area was a beautiful, walkable, friendly neighborhood that I was happy to live in for 2 years.

Living in the city suited me well, but I did notice that in living so close to my neighbors, walking almost everywhere, and experiencing the rebirth of a city, issues that had never particularly impassioned me previously began to become important. When everything from traffic to weeds to rental conditions impacts your life day-in and day-out, you start to notice. But, by and large, my neighbors on the Hill had a great sense of community that banded together strangers to fight for the common good, and made them friends in the process. Most of the problems we experienced were from people outside the community – such as speeding, traffic, and parking violations; obnoxious bar patrons (I lived FAR away from the nearest bar); and property crime, certainly not committed by the neighborhood residents.

In the summer of last year, I had had just about enough from my slum – I mean “land” – lord, and the end result was purchasing a condo in Brentwood. I was surprised to visit the area and see manicured lawns and friendly people saying “hi” to me from their front porch. Surely, I recognized the fact that this was a developing area that had its issues, but the good was readily apparent.

Since living here for a while, the good still remains. Friendly people still say hi when we’re walking around the neighborhood and sitting outside our house. Well-behaved and obviously well-parented children are friendly and polite to us. Neighbors have apologized for doing nothing wrong (like, one day, one pulled into our parking area to back into hers, and apologized when she spotted me on the patio – like I told her, hey, if no one’s parked there, it’s no big deal). But the bad is also more apparent.

While a number of problems in our community also come from outsiders, many are caused by residents of the area, and it’s a little surprising to me, since many of these residents are otherwise decent people. I think we all know that crime and blight beget crime and blight, but I think it’s worth it to stress that the blight doesn’t have to come in the form of an abandoned home or open-air drug market to give the impression that an area is one in which “anything goes.”

One of the main problems that we’ve faced in the area is people not properly dealing with their bulk household trash or hoarding items on their property. I was happy to see, a few months ago, a group of supervised children playing in our neighbor’s back yard. They were regularly disciplined, well-behaved – in short, the product of good, solid parents and parenting. I was dismayed a few weeks later to see a household worth of furniture and fixtures sitting out behind the same house for weeks until we finally called 311 to request DPW cleanup. Little things like these can make or break the decision for someone looking to move into the area. They can also give the impression that people don’t care, and won’t turn in real criminals – those drug dealers we have left in the area, or the burglars and robbers who think that no one will see them either committing their crime or selling the proceeds.

There are many paths to dealing with these issues. While people often decry DC’s high taxes and fees, I’ve never lived in an area with more responsive city services. First of all, I need to give a big, loud “THANK YOU” to MPD. They have been great both on major crime issues as well as what is known as “community-based policing.” They not only chase burglars and robbers down, but also stop and lecture kids riding motorbikes the wrong way up our one-way street, talk to residents of the area, and make it clear that people need to behave as they wish others to. I’m so happy to see, with the warmer weather, bike, foot, and Segway patrols in the neighborhood. DPW also deserves a shout-out for quickly responding to complaints. Through some of the issues we have reported, we have come to know that DPW typically responds within 48 hours to complaints, issues a warning to the resident (giving them the opportunity to remedy the situation themselves, so don’t think you’re piling up fines on your neighbors by reporting issues), and then follows up in 15-30 days, depending on the violation (at which time a well-deserved fine will be issued). While I don’t think you’ll find much appreciation for parking enforcement among DC residents, they have also been helpful in remedying more serious situations such as abandoned vehicles and people blocking the right-of-way.

But there are other issues that are going to require a different tact. It’s quite clear that many of the business owners and managers in the area don’t respect the community. During the various snowpocalypses, a number of businesses in the area did not clear their sidewalks, AT ALL. Certain business owners do little to nothing about individuals panhandling, harassing, or otherwise causing a hostile environment on their premises. It’s really a tough nut to crack in an area such as this. Obviously, there’s nothing I can do to BET about their sidewalks covered in 3 feet of snow (while their parking lot was 100% clean, so nice of them) other than report them to the city…I already don’t do any business with them. The same goes for many of the other businesses that reside in the area. On the other side of the coin, businesses that I do want to be here are similarly difficult to express my displeasure with. Obviously, I don’t want Giant or Home Depot going out of business. That’s a massive negative for the community and detrimental to its future prospects. So I’m not sure I feel comfortable boycotting them over these issues. By the same token, I feel as if many of my complaints have gone unheard and unheeded. In short, I’m not comfortable with the “scraps” that many businesses throw us, and some really are trying to step it up a notch, but they’re still not fully listening to the community.

Another issue that we can do something about are the NIMBYs in the neighborhood who are against many things that will be very, very good for the community. I am very pleased to note that my ANC and the others seem to have a good sense of what will be good for the community and vote accordingly, despite the loud protestations of a few citizens opposed to any kind of change. Please, please attend your ANC, SMD, and other meetings and let your voice be heard. There are a very few, but very loud and very active people in the community who are opposed to just about anything new or different.

Developing a sense of community with the standards we desire is going to be a hard, involved process for everyone. I think the current residents of the community will find that the inconvenience of having to call 311 promptly to have their bulk items picked up, or make their friend knock on their door instead of beeping incessantly outside will be far outweighed by having the ability to walk down quiet, safe, beautiful streets. New residents and businesses will be attracted by a community that clearly values itself. And we all win when businesses step it up, realize they are a part of the community, and provide the services we deserve, both in having a high level of service and value provided by the existing businesses, and having new businesses move into the area seeing that there’s a whole community here that wants, needs, and will value what they have to offer.

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