Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Primer on DC Neighborhoods for Young Progressive Folks

People thinking of moving to DC often ask me (and many others) for an overview of neighborhoods they could live in and so I figured I should put something up based on the e-mail I've been using.

There are several neighborhoods to consider living in, each with some perks and potential drawbacks.

I spent my first three years in DC living in Mount Pleasant which is a mix of residential and commercial. My street there was quiet but a few blocks away from the commercial strip which is peppered with central american papusarias and bodegas while having the requisite liquor store, convenience joints, grommet pizza place, and yuppie progressive bar. MtP is mostly populated by Latinos and young non-profit workers of various sorts. It's a great place and I highly recommend it. Rent for one bedrooms tend to run $900-1200 a month for most places. There are lots of English basement apartments around (small windows, mostly below ground). A room in a group house generally runs $700-$900 but can be cheaper if it is extremely small or the house is not well maintained.

I currently live in Columbia Heights which is a much bigger neighborhood than MtP. It is closer to a Metro station and is more block-to-block, meaning some are gorgeous, safe and cheap while other blocks are less safe or gorgeous and that there is substantial economic diversity, moreso than other neighborhoods. There are beautiful renovations, dilapidated houses, and assitted housing all on the same blocks sometimes. CH is east of Mount Pleasant. Lots of people are moving in here and it just got a big box development strip with Target, Best Buy, a slew of great restaurants, etc. Some parts are gentrified and others and the racial mix is mostly White and Black with few Latinos. Rent is cheaper than MtP but the scales overlap. This also comes highly recomended but care should be used and all houses should be looked at in person.

other choices include:
  • DuPont Cirlce is snazzier, and significantly more expensive than MtP/CH, and has a very large gay community (especially known for gay men with small dogs). DuPont is south of Mount Pleasant. Rooms are about 50% more expensive than MtP.
  • Adams Morgan is where the clubs are. its quite diverse and full of excitement. Its between Dupont and MtP. There are tons of coffeshops, restaurants (Ethiopian, West African, Pizza, Italian, gourmet California-style, etc). Costs are similar to Mount Pleasant, maybe 10-20% more.
  • Cleveland Park and Woodley Park are quieter and more suburban feeling but very solid places to live, if not as racially diverse. They are both within the city. I am not sure how prices run. They have a reputation for being safer than MtP and Columbia Heights but I am not sure how much of that has to do with aesthetic factors and how much has to do with actual statistics. I feel quite safe in CH and did in MtP and never had any incidents that gave me pause to reconsider in either place. These neighborhoods (along with Dupont) are on the Red Line of the Metro which makes them east for many commuters.
  • Capitol Hill is cool but i don't much about it because its kinda far away from Dupont/Columbia Heights/MtP/Adams Morgan which are all pretty close to each other. Like Columbia Heights there are great values to be found here but it is also very block-by-block.
  • U Street took off as a spot where Black intellectuals and musicians thrived during the Renaissance. It still features a half-dozen live Jazz joints, Ben's Chili Bowl, a bunch of Ethiopian places, and some great bars. It is just south of Columbia Heights and East of Adams Morgan. The prices are somewhat but not much higher than Columbia Heights. It is majorly gentrifying, perhaps at the fastest rate of any neighborhood in the city. It is very close to where most people work and extremely well-served by transit.
  • Takoma Park is suburban but has coops and stuff. Some progressive folks live here but is in a different social loop and I don't know much about it.
There are lots of good choices. I love MtP/CH for its reasonable prices, neat people, unpretentiousness, and mix of quiet and commercial.

I highly recommend getting involved with various activities upon becoming a DC person. It will create some welcomed diversity in your social life and keep you meeting new folks. For me, playing ultimate frisbee in the Washington Area Frisbee Club has been very useful.

The free culture, great restaurants, wonderful neighborhoods, and un-apathetic vibes make DC a sweet spot to sojourn for a while. I am sure since my experience is limited, many will have useful additional information and perspectives please comment to fill out the picture.


At 12/23/2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Where is the Jewish community and shuls/minyanim located?

At 12/23/2008 , Blogger ZT said...

There are many prayer options in DC which I will hopefully post on sometime down the road. The quick version:
Tikkun Leil Shabbat (where I daven), i think, is currently working on a long-term relationship with All Souls at 16th/Harvard (MtP/CH).
DC Minyan (separate seating) meets at 16th/Q (Dupont).
Adas Israel is the big conservative synagogue and is located in Cleveland Park.
Zoo Minyan mostly moves between Adams Morgan, Woodley Park, and MtP.
Kesher Israel, the ortho synagogue, is in Georgetown.

At 12/23/2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

What's the best place to look for decent apartments in these areas?

At 12/23/2008 , Blogger ZT said...

Most people with group house openings post of craigslist. It's also useful to e-mail all your acquaintances to see if they know of any upcoming vacancies.

At 12/31/2008 , Anonymous Anonymous said...

isn't capitol hill rather than capital hill? i believe that it refers to the building rather than the city, i could be wrong tho...

At 1/03/2009 , Blogger ZT said...

you are quite right on capitol v. capital. the mispelling has been corrected.


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