Friday, October 12, 2007

The Mugging of City Neighborhoods

Madame M's post on DCBlogs, Muggin About (, hit a chord with me. I've been thinking about these very things a lot lately.

I think we're on the same Yahoo Group list serve. And while I've never been mugged, either, (although assaulted, yes), I have to agree with her. The common threads on the list serve: too much crime, and how to keep out new development (i.e., condos on 15th St. SE, taverns on PA Avenue SE).

Are these two issues related?

Jane Jacobs, the patron saint of all urban souls, would say yes: busy streets are safe streets. How do you make busy streets? 1. More density (i.e., more than 50 units per acre, which is what a row-house neighborhood averages) and 2. mixed uses, as in stores, cafes, print shops, offices, schools, churches, clubs, and yes, bars.

An urban neighborhood is not a suburban neighborhood and shouldn't be treated as such. A cut-off suburban neighborhood of single family homes can afford to have no commercial development because no one can get to it very easily. A city neighborhood, wedged in between other city neighborhoods, with mixes of socio-economic classes, races, cultures, and easily accessable by foot, metro, car, bus, taxi, bicycle, etc, can't afford to NOT have commercial development.

All the scariest, most unsafe areas of DC are residential neighborhoods. The lower the density, the less safe they are: east of the river, the density is lower than around RFK, there is no decent commercial development, and the crime rate is much higher. (I don't include upper-NW, which, for all intents and purposes, is suburban.)

These things are all related. My neighborhood (U Street, Adams Morgan, Dupont Circle, Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant) has much the same demographic as East Capitol Hill, but is INFINITELY safer. The reason: 150 - 250 housing units per acre and tons of mixed use development.

If you don't want to have any commercial development around you, and you want to live in a house, you have two choices: live in the suburbs, or live in an unsafe city neighborhood. There are lots of quiet streets full of beautiful rowhouses in my neighborhood, but they are all within a block of the businesses on U and 17th and 18th and Florida and 14th and P and Q and R, etc., probably too close for the complainers on the Yahoo Groups list serve.

To be safer, areas like Capitol Hill East need more density and more commercial development. 15th Street SE between East Capitol and PA Ave used to have lots of businesses. Most have been turned into housing or remain boarded up. 14th Street also had businesses, most of which are gone. Neighbors should show up at ANC meetings and encourage development, not try to stop it. Worrying about the historic architectural character of a neighborhood when people are scared to walk outside to enjoy that historic character is ludicrous.

I moved from Hill East about a year and half ago partly because I realized that the anti-development attitude and the NIMBYism expressed on the list serve meant many long years of stagnation and of crime. And boredom. However, I didn't move, strangely enough, because of the crime.

1 comment:

Madame M. said...

Wow, great post and very informative! Thanks for referencing my post!