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The saloons of C-SPANistan have got to be the only saloons in this great nation that tune their TVs to their nabe’s titular channel during the workday. Visit a bar on Pennsylvania Avenue SE while Congress is in session and behold the drunken staffers and lobbyists playing hooky from work, peering up through beer goggles at televised action on the House floor.
All kinds of people live in C-SPANistan, not just pols and their hangers-on. Demographics are well-mixed, but, as a rule, whiteness and wealth increase with proximity to the Capitol. Near the dome, fabulous townhouses and stately trees line attractive brick sidewalks trod by friendly neighbors with dogs and strollers. Community newspapers are loaded with ads for tuck-pointing, and you can see why—there is some damn fine masonry on display. Houses typically assess for more than a million dollars.
Thank the efforts of preservation-minded neighbors for C-SPANistan’s historic beauty. The guardians of the massive Capitol Hill Historic District are not afraid to dash a young couple’s dreams of an addition, say, if it bears the slightest whiff of historic zoning-code noncompliance. In March 2003, after a neighbor complained to city preservation agents of an illegally sloped roof on a family’s home on 9th Street NE, a crack team of D.C. police officers and regulatory officials raided the abode and seized documents pertaining to the construction. Government agents rifled through belongings, entering bedrooms and terrifying the couple’s children. (In 2007, a federal judge deemed the raid a violation of the family’s constitutional rights.)
Over the last several years, the gentrified core of C-SPANistan has rapidly expanded to the north, south, and east toward the Anacostia River. Superb commercial strips have sprung up along H Street NE and 8th Street SE, corridors respectively rechristened “The Atlas District” and “Barracks Row.” C-SPANistan’s yuppie surge is fueling these new economies, boosting the local schools, and improving the parks and libraries, but it’s also raising rents and making for some fantastic gentrification battles.
On the southeast side, a Harris Teeter opened in May only a stone’s throw from the Potomac Gardens public housing complex, just as tensions over a spate of kids-on-adults assaults were pushing some neighbors to the boiling point on a community Listserv. Blaming the Gardens for generating all the rotten youth roaming the streets, a handful of neighbors actually proposed an anti-crime march on the projects. Calmer heads prevailed—the area’s D.C. Council rep, Ward 6’s Tommy Wells, organized a series community potlucks at the complex.
Not long ago, H Street NE was a blighted, riot-ruined wasteland. Now it’s a hip destination for partying. Improvement isn’t happening just by accident—in some ways it’s happening by force. As new neighbors populate the hood, the local government has pushed regulations to impede new fast-food restaurants, to institute a ban on selling single cans of beer and small liquor bottles, and to tighten noise regulations to hush sidewalk preachers, all in the nebulous name of “quality of life.” (If the area’s revitalization were guided by a Declaration of Gentrification document, you’d find pursuit of QOL in the preamble.)
In 2007, the American Planning Association named Eastern Market one of the nation’s 10 best neighborhoods. The preponderance of “civic activism”—or hardcore NIMBYism, if you like—endeared the area to planning wonks. C-SPANistanis in recent years, with tenacity bordering on ferocity, have coalesced to defeat high-rise development, a boarding home for troubled youth (the would-be site of which is now the Harris Teeter), and most recently, to try to stop a preschool from opening near Lincoln Park. In the late ’90s, community efforts to control the fate of the Eastern Market building were rewarded with a neighborhood advisory committee to which the city is statutorily required to listen.
Despite the APA’s accolades, Eastern Market is not actually a neighborhood. It’s a building—one hell of a building! When it caught fire in the early hours of April 30, 2007, dozens of neighbors came out of their houses and stood in collective awe of the destruction. Everybody understood the magnitude of what was at stake—the history of the building, the livelihoods of vendors, the convenience of fresh produce. People were crying. Reconstruction is assured.
C-SPANistan could prove the city’s leader in next-gen city living. Wells campaigned in 2006 on the promise of a “Livable & Walkable Community.” Everyone assumed this meant pleasant sidewalks, but it turns out to mean more. Wells quit driving when he joined the council and wants his neighbors to do the same. With the pretense of preventing a stadium-related parking nightmare during baseball season, the councilmember pushed legislation that revolutionizes the way C-SPANistan accommodates cars. Meter fees for parking along commercial strips now follow “market rates,” meaning they’re high enough to make parking totally unpalatable, and on some residential streets out-of-ward neighbors require special permission to park at all. The “dinner guest issue,” as it is called, has prompted several red-faced residents to declare, in total seriousness, that the fabric of their lives is being torn apart.
• C-SPANistan’s got some of D.C.’s most excellent neighborhood parks. Standouts Lincoln Park and Stanton Park are never empty during the day. Each park is cherished as two of the precious few places for dogs to run unleashed (even though it’s illegal). Around dinnertime, Lincoln Park is utterly swamped with humans and canines. It’s a see-it-to-believe-it orgy of neighborliness. The parks are owned by the federal government; neighbors’ attempts to create official dog parks have so far been thwarted by bureaucracy.
• The feds have a significant physical presence in the neighborhood. Mostly, that takes the form of really nice buildings, such as the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, which all make for attractive neighbors. They’re fabulous. But over the years, the U.S. Capitol Police have stretched their tentacles farther and farther, unilaterally closing side streets and erecting barriers, checkpoints, and surveillance cameras in residential areas near the Capitol campus. It’s worth wondering how far the security measures might someday go.
• C-SPANistan is home to the site of D.C.’s official dinosaur, T-Rex relative Capitalsaurus, whose bones were accidentally dug up during sewer work near First and F Streets SE. The intersection was renamed Capitalsaurus Court in 1998.