The Long View

Faces tell the story

Faces tell the story

First off, I hope nobody got their hopes up.

Over the last week or so, a large portable “Pod” container had been parked in front of our house on Wallach. It wasn’t ours, yet I can’t help but suspect that a few of you faithful readers may have put two and two together, erroneously, and thought we were moving. Sorry to disappoint.

It wasn’t ours, but a neighbor’s just about four houses down. He and his wife and their happy slobbery dog were great neighbors. But they have had enough of the unending late-night street party that our corner of the neighborhood has become. They live elsewhere in the District now, as do several others who have left recently. “It’s just too much, and we’re the ones feeling it most,” said another neighbor as we bumped into each other on the street recently. “Nobody else seems to understand.” She and her husband are also debating a move.

Unlike the recent joint ANC “listening session” – in which hardly anyone, including the ANC commissioners present who already had their minds made up, listened to anyone else – it seems there are several things that can be learned about where the neighborhood is moving, but only if people listen to each other.

I was there, and heard many voices; although to be fair, those speaking seemed less “diverse” as one speaker noted and more homogenous than a walk around any four blocks around here. Regardless, there were generally three types of comments – from liquor moratorium supporters and opponents alike.

First was the appeal to good policy. Impact on crime, jobs created, long-term area growth; appeals to reason, basically. Of course, no serious policy discussion is premised on :90 second time limits, and by and large a lot of those arguments marshaled on both sides seemed rather spurious. That’s OK; it’s really no different than how committed partisans in our larger political contests engage.

Second was the “too blunt” argument, whose theme and variations were essentially “Yes, we can see how some of these things are getting a little out of control, but the moratorium is too blunt an instrument. Let’s just use existing laws to go after the bad actors.” Which would be fine, noted opponents, if it were possible. Personally, I suspect that if anything could have been done in the past under the existing laws, it would have. As in: if only the ANC 1B actually worked and wasn’t a complete mess losing filings and forgetting meetings and just plain making crap up, but alas, we know different. And the truth is that a moratorium is a blunt instrument. Perhaps not a cudgel, but certainly as fine as a hammer.

The third general sentiment seemed to me, at least, the most honest. Namely, that many new residents moved here specifically for a certain kind of urban lifestyle, and that those pushing the moratorium were attacking that life, and as a result, the new residents in turn. In other words: saying you don’t want any new bars is like saying you don’t want me. This candor, it seems, deserves some attention.

The moratorium was never my thing. It was an issue I could have (and did) go back and forth on. The District regulations it’s based on are cumbersome and complicated and, while not as absolute as some worry, just too ponderous for anyone’s good. Thus, winning arguments aren’t really based on policy or facts or convoluted processes, but emotional appeals.

In this case, a large segment – although I’m not convinced a majority, despite the dog-and-pony show – of residents share that emotional sense that the moratorium is somehow an attack on their values, their choices and at some root level, who they are as individuals.

This, I sense, puts this moratorium in a different space than the previous successful efforts in Adams Morgan, Georgetown and Cleveland Park. There, the populations were largely stable, there was little or no new influx of residents, and many of those drinking there and causing problems were from other areas of the region. Here, however, there’s a new building going up every week, and many of the younger, relatively successful newcomers are the ones rushing the tables and bars counters.

I really do get all that, as well as earnestly respecting those who let feelings be their guide on this issue.

Which brings me to what has been lacking – at times shamefully so – in much of the discussion from those vehemently opposed to the moratorium: any attempt at empathy or understanding.

When my partner spoke of the “online jihad” aimed at those proposing the moratorium – and was booed and hissed by those gathered to ‘listen’ – this is what he was speaking of. “Tyrants,” “busybodies,” “old nobodies,” “idiots,” “fascists”; these are just a few of the many more choice terms moratorium opponents have flung at proponents. And save one exception, with the courageous conviction that online anonymity provides.

In fact, it was frequently the anonymous commentors here and elsewhere that publicly singled individuals out by name and address; bravely while remaining cloaked themselves. Truly profiles in courage. Boo and hiss that.

Understanding and community-building work both ways, which is something this neighborhood is in desperate need of. Just as some opponents felt attacked personally by this issue, so, too do many residents who have watched their life choices be disrespected in puddles of vomit, exponentially more trash, drunks arguing and urinating right in resident’s front yards and so on with the explosion of establishments serving liquor.

Those neighbors moving out of the neighborhood aren’t happy to do so; several have commented they feel the neighborhood no longer cares about them and nobody is willing to listen. Successful communities work to build bridges, not burn them down. No individual or group should get everything it wants, and to hell with everyone else, as some seem to believe. We all must live together.

In the end, communities change. They follow at times unpredictable paths of both opportunity and loss. Ultimately, there will come another issue, another debate, where those who find themselves feeling in the superior position today will need those they once disrespected and called terrible names tomorrow.

It’s important to remember that, especially in this town, memories are long. Only fools choose to make enemies they don’t have to.



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7 responses to “The Long View

  1. kob

    The photo is very good; it really captures the scene. The report is one of the best pieces of neighborhood reporting I’ve read.

  2. Kathy

    You know who understands? Those of us who lived in Adams Morgan from 1980-2000. Same thing happened there. Was always a fun and interesting place, but went from a small neighborhood feel to party central.

  3. Katie

    I don’t know the history of what you have tried to do over the years about this problem so forgive me if this question is naive: has your block tried a neighborhood watch to at least keep the drunks from vomiting on your street? Realize that can’t do much about the noise from U Street, but at least the littering/loitering, etc? Are the police willing to patrol your street and the alley behind to try to keep it under control?

    • Doug

      Katie – great question. Yes, in fact, we had a neighborhood “orange vest” or hat brigade for several years. A significant problem was that the worst hours of offenses were midnight to 3 or 4am – not exactly conducive for anyone to volunteer. The police have always been helpful when we can make contact, but there just aren’t nearly enough to patrol the street or alleys. When a fight breaks out or something like that, calling the police, as well-meaning as they are, is ineffective as everything is broken up and gone by the time they arrive. Worst has been several offenders on noise; several establishments blare music and noise. The resident then has to phone a specific agency in the District, they come out with a noise meter, and then contact the police to contact the establishment. The entire process takes more than four or five hours – and guess what, now it’s 4am again. Thanks for the thoughts.

  4. smoking ban

    Thank you for one of the most thoughtful articles I have read on this issue.

    Anyone notice how some of the anti-moratorium rhetoric resembles that of the smoking-ban opponents, circa 2005-06? Remember all those predictions of gloom and doom, only to see business at DC restaurants improve after the smoking ban was enacted?

  5. Pingback: Onward | U Street Dirt

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