Something is happening in Washington, DC these days, and it has nothing to do with politics. Well, not completely. It is as if the city is going through one of those TV makeovers where a person’s scruffy looks are dramatically turned into a glamorous, check-me-out kind of look. Neglected city areas are suddenly being converted into smart neighborhoods full of trendy new restaurants and livable urban spaces demanding a second look from those accustomed to fly by at high speeds. In the heart of DC, it is the area referred to as City Center, just off the less glamorous Chinatown neighborhood, that is setting the pace. The place is so glamorous that anyone coming down from New York’s 5th Avenue for the weekend would feel right at home. And it was about time, for in a city where money is literally being printed every day, there appeared to be a serious need for some glamour. Who would’ve known, chic and greasy joints just a few blocks from each other, and both apparently doing quite well. That is a definite sign of a great country.
I roam the streets a lot. I mean roam in the sense that together with my camera I’m always looking for that great moment when the time and effort spent in the search is rewarded by some great photographic scene. This is the case in pretty much every city I visit, but more so than most, in the area where I happen to live, which is a stone throw away from downtown Washington, DC. Looking at the thousands of photos I’ve taken over the past few years, however, has revealed some key information about my photographic taste, but more than that, about the places I seem to prefer when out with my camera. From this data, it appears that photographically speaking, my favorite place in the city is the Georgetown neighborhood. And no, it has nothing to do with the Georgetown Cupcake store, that pilgrimage destination for sugar lovers everywhere. Well, at least not entirely. Let me explain.
Georgetown could be a city in its own right. An expensive one, mind you, but kind of in the way that Rodeo Drive has its own identify that sets it apart from other places in LA. It kind of pulls you in, and for reasons that have nothing to do with the balance on your credit cards. The reason has to do with atmosphere, with je ne sais quoi, and with the undefinable vibe. Charm? Well, there’s plenty of that too. Ok, if you need to know, with endless coffee shops, slick restaurants, plenty of bars, boutiques, and great city views too. It’s all there. Toss in a never-ending parade of beautiful and disheveled people, and the unique neighborhood brew is completed. A photographer’s dream, even if most people there would rather you never photograph them. But if it is your glam side you want to strut in the city, Georgetown, with its swanky shops and riverside promenade is the place to do it. Just watch out for those sneaky photographers trying to take your picture.
They often say that if you want to really get to know a city, that you must first familiarize yourself with its neighborhoods. I kind of agree with that and have made it a point to visit distinct neighborhoods whenever I travel. But sometimes you don’t have to travel very far to see how new neighborhoods transform the cities in which they sprout. As old continues to give way to new, places like The Yards in Washington, DC continue to redefine the city’s urban living landscape. Sure, not everyone is happy to see an old way of life disappear, but shinny, new things also have their attraction. And in a city that has experienced significant population outflows in the past, authorities are quite eager to attract those taxpayers back to the new neighborhoods. The bait: open spaces, shinny new apartment buildings, trendy restaurants, and above all, quick access to the Metro. Oh, and should I mention that a Major League baseball park and a New York Trapeze School are within walking distance too? Well, that surely must help.
This recently-developed, waterside area of Washington, DC is sandwiched between the Navy Yard and the Washington Nationals baseball park. Major construction projects are still going on out there, so the place still has that “work in progress” feeling about it. And if the area has not been totally discovered by locals yet, this probably has more to do with its somewhat off-the-beaten-path location than with anything else. Sure, you can get there via metro, but if you drive, prepare to pay at the few parking facilities there (and even on Sundays when most of DC does not charge for parking). Enough reason to stay away? I don’t think so. The Yards are one of the few places in the city where the lack of crowds, traffic, and noise allow for the perfect evening stroll, or for enough quiet to concentrate on that great book you’ve been meaning to spend some time with. Trendy restaurants, coffee shops, and an all-natural ice cream shop round up the good news about the place. Who knows, this may end up becoming one of the best kept secrets in the city after all.
I’m always fascinated by bookstores. Never mind that long ago I made the transition to e-readers, though, because no matter this surrender to the modern era, I still can’t resist the lingering nostalgia that comes from having been part of the pre-Internet generation. Not that my memory of simpler times leads to any sale during my visits (carrying a camera all day seems enough for me these days), but rather that in the process of transitioning to the digital age, all sorts of things were admittedly lost in the process. The physical sensation that comes from walking between rows and rows of books, the orderly lack of uniformity and topics on the shelves, and the childish satisfaction that accompanied the process of purchasing a book. All great things, but perhaps more relevant to an era when physical access to a whole slew of bookstores was more the norm rather than an exception. Notwithstanding this reality, bookstores out there are not giving up without a fight and seem to have figured something out by concentrating in neighborhoods that do away with the need for anyone to get into a car to reach them. This is good news. But is this a last stand or the wave of the future? Hard to say. What I know is that bookstores are still out there, and that just in case, we must all enjoy them while we can.
Ever heard of NoMa? Don’t blame you, as most people wonder whether the acronym stands for some sort of medical condition. But if there’s a neighborhood that is on its way up (and I mean way up), it is NoMa, or what is otherwise known to non-hipsters as North of Massachusetts Avenue in Washington, DC. The neighborhood is still work in progress, but with its spacious metro stop (NoMa-Gallaudet Station) and proximity to Union Market (the hottest market in town), the area will no doubt have a great future as a place to live and work. Three significant employers are smack in the middle of the neighborhood: the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), National Public Radio (NPR), and the DC facilities of SiriusXM Radio. Add to this a public wi-fi network, clean streets, and a whole slew of small, affordable restaurants, and you can’t help but be impressed with this up-and-coming neighborhood. It won’t remain undiscovered for long.