July 8, 2012, Washington, DC: The neighborhood chugged along slowly during those last heavy days of June and the swelter of early July. Greens wilted at the outdoor market. Thick heat rose off cement streets. A musician played a slow, sad song above the Metro platform in the midday heat. We moved deliberately, careful not to make a single unnecessary move in the onslaught of Washington’s summer.
Not to say the place was uneventful, just intense: In the heat of late June, our neighborhood hosted a slew of reporters who came to witness a monumental health care law deemed constitutional down the street at the Supreme Court. Twenty-four hours later, a foreign storm called a derecho downed trees and crushed cars throughout these city blocks. The hum of satellite trucks dissipated as the buzz of chain saws ascended. We stayed inside, irritable yet grateful to have ice, air and power. Much of the region did not.
May 31, 2012, Washington, DC: From the liveaboard community at Gangplank Marina to the mid-century modern architecture of the Tiber Island and River Park cooperative homes, Southwest DC has its own thing going on. And it’s the perfect place for Cecille Chen, a lover of history, architecture, design and modernism. Judging from her explosive involvement in the neighborhood from the moment she moved it, this is clearly what it means to find a natural and built environment that brings out the best in you.
“We shall solve the city problem by leaving the city. Get the people into the country, get them into communities where a man knows his neighbor, where there is a commonality of interest, where life is not artificial, and you have solved the city problem. You have solved it by eliminating the city. City life was always artificial and cannot be made anything else. An artificial form of life breeds its own disorders, and these cannot be ‘solved.’ There is nothing to do but abandon the course that gives rise to them.”
April 27, 2012, Washington, DC: How differently things are shaking out, huh? So much for eliminating the cities that the founder of Ford Motor Company declared the root of our troubles. Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in cities and projections show nearly three quarters of people on Earth will be urbanites by 2050. Despite Ford’s declaration, it seems people — most people — have not abandoned our cities. Perhaps today’s cities are neither isolating nor fake nor problematic, but rather full of solutions.
Washington’s city leaders certainly think so. Earlier this week, D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray and his team laid out a vision for making D.C. the most livable and sustainable city in the country. Goals include cutting citywide energy consumption by 50 percent, increasing the number of jobs devoted to green goods and services by five-fold, and guaranteeing that 75 percent of all trips are walkable, bikeable or accessible by public transit. Imagine 1.5 million square feet of green roofs on city buildings. And swimming and fishing in the Anacostia and Potomac rivers. And knowing that a quarter of all food consumed in the District is grown within a 100-mile radius of the city. It’s all part of the plan.
April 4, 2012, Washington, DC: I love this photo my friend Marjorie took at what was then Pac Bell Park during a San Francisco Giants game back in 2003. I love how the light hits the grass, casting long shadows onto the field. I love how just out of frame, kayakers paddled behind our seats in the outfield, hoping to pluck a home run ball out of McCovey Cove. In that moment, as the sign there says, there was no place else I could imagine I’d rather be.
But can ballparks evoke that feeling from enough people to help jumpstart a neighborhood? With the Wrigleys and the Fenways wedged tightly into well-established neighborhoods now the rarity, can newer, bigger ballparks in different areas of their cities help revitalize their surroundings? Last night after work, I biked down to Nationals Park, a mile from home, to take a look.
March 5, 2012, Washington, DC: There are neighbors who love where they live and then there are neighbors who love it enough to roll up their sleeves and get things done. David Garber is among the latter. In his fast-growing Washington neighborhood known as Navy Yard, Garber can be found installing signs reminding neighbors to clean up after their dogs, advocating for a new school, or encouraging members of his community to frequent local businesses during construction.
What does Garber love about Navy Yard? What drives him to participate? Read on for an interview with David Garber of Navy Yard.
Metro Theater, Union St., San Francisco, February 2012
February 25, 2012, Washington, DC: As celebrities prepare to pile into the Kodak Theater for tomorrow night’s Oscars, it seems like a good time to pay tribute to our tiny old neighborhood movie theaters — local joints that kept us close to home, burrowed into a cramped seat surrounded by fantastic ornamental decor, for a Sunday afternoon film. Places like old theaters once anchored their neighborhoods in a small but meaningful way, and too many of them have since closed their doors. I’m rooting for those of them still going strong.
I have a view of one such shuttered movie theater just outside my apartment window. The blue lighted sign still flickers on at sunset, showcasing the old art deco building even though the theater hasn’t shown a film in decades. I’d give anything to walk out my front door, meander around the corner and go to a movie. I imagine someone who lived here years before must have enjoyed such an outing quite often.