The article on H Street NE (“The Merchants of H Street,” 9/29) presents the dilemma on revitalizing what was once a treasure of Washington. I have lived along the H Street corridor for nearly eight out of the last 12 years, and have witnessed lost opportunities as neighbors fight to remake (or keep) the street in their own image. The Washington City Paper did an excellent job in presenting the dialogue (or lack thereof) that has taken place regarding H Street for the past 30 years.
The current debate over BP/Amoco and the never-ending controversy surrounding the roller rink proposal are simply old divisions fought with different players. Ten years ago, it was Pathfinders and the disco parties run by them with just one exit and entrance in the run-down building at the corner of 12th and H. As so often happens in our good city, when the actors reach a stalemate, race becomes the issue. And when it does, no one wins, black or white. Well, maybe the drug dealers and the pickpockets win.
A good example of the potential of H Street is the northern Flatbush Avenue corridor in Brooklyn, N.Y., where trendy cafes and old-line ethnic restaurants and stores exist side by side. Flatbush Avenue serves as the dividing line between the rather upscale Park Slope and the modest mature neighborhoods around it. Every day, it is a mixing bowl and seems happy to take this role. There are no Starbucks, Fresh Fields, or Home Depots (thank God). But there are luncheonettes, hair-braiding salons, Afro-centric arts stores, Jewish delis, nightclubs, brunch places, herbal shops, and people of all types looking to eat and buy.
I have heard a lot of talk about development on H Street over the years from the city and what I call the H Street Community Undevelopment Corp. I have even jokingly suggested that H Street be turned over to the National Park Service as the nation’s National Historic Missed Opportunity Site. What did we get? Self-storage. Not that self-storage isn’t a useful service; but what was the advisory neighborhood commission thinking (other than how nice it would be to have new offices)?
I hope that somewhere, somehow, sometime H Street achieves its potential to bring people together, not apart. We all have to give a little (maybe gourmet coffee at the Amoco rather than Brothers), and we all have to listen a lot more (maybe the roller rink in the old Hechinger’s and the art space at the Atlas). And if we do, maybejust maybewe win.