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“Gentrification and Its Discontents” (2/4) might be better termed “The War of the Motorized Implements,” in which folks are judged by their autos, their prized parking spaces, their leaf and snow blowers, their power mowers, and their hedge clippers, but primarily their sacred autos. If only these folks in Columbia Heights would walk and mingle instead of searching and fighting for a parking spot; if only they would use push mowers and rake their leaves; if only the streetlights weren’t so damn bright (to thwart threatened burglaries and robberies) that kids can’t play hide-and-seek in the soft lighting of their neighborhood. If only there were fewer parked autos!
A throwaway society ensues when homeowners stack their garbage along stationary or movable vehicles to “stake out territory.” And why not? We’ve made driving our private autos the most subsidized and wasteful activity in the country, with our low fuel pricing and encouraged early junking. There is little wonder at the rat and vermin infestation.
But of the 30 or so individual testimonials from Columbia Heights, James Huber’s should be corrected. He lamented “displacing a rat” from his back yard, “bigger than my 12-lb dog.” Most likely the creature was a possum—a shy, reclusive, nocturnal rodent that was definitely not a threat.
Small but significant measures can be taken in Columbia Heights and elsewhere in the District to address gentrification: more and larger speed bumps to thwart speed-through drivers, a single-car limit per household with adequate parking fees, a dog park and required owner cleanup. Along with less intense street lighting, neighbors can realize that there is safety in numbers when folks meld and slowly evolve into a workable neighborhood. Washington is blessed with moderate weather conditions, which would nurture the mingling of people who are commuting on foot, not searching for a goddamn parking spot.