Seeking new neighborhood in the DC area
February 11, 2021 1:51 PM   Subscribe

Seeking advice on neighborhoods in the DMV that are walkable, have good metro access, and have a strong, kind, friendly local community (for youngish people with no kids). Also, advice on how to access/be an active part of said local community. Lots of thoughts inside.

My husband and I (late 20s, no kids) have lived in Washington DC for about five years, give-or-take. For nearly all of that time, we lived in the same apartment, which is in the vicinity of Thomas Circle/Mt. Vernon Square. We love a lot about that area - in particular, we enjoyed the walkability to everywhere (ok, not literally everywhere, but we regularly walked anywhere in the area bounded by Georgetown/Columbia Heights/NoMa/the National Mall, so that's quite a lot), being on every metro line (plus buses!), and generally being in a fairly vibrant (if, perhaps, generic) area.

Then, during the pandemic, we temporarily moved to another state. Our current place is pretty dang different from DC, but also lovely in its own ways - it's a residential neighborhood full of single-family homes & duplexes, but still in a relatively walkable area, with lots of green space and (best of all) a really strong neighborhood community. Even in a pandemic, we met more neighbors here in a week than we did over multiple years in our DC place. The neighborhood listserv is almost disgustingly active - it's not unusual to see someone email out a request to borrow something followed by "thank you all for the numerous offers! I'm all set" within fifteen minutes. People discuss everything from "why not to call the police about 'suspicious activity'" to "how to access resources from neighbors if your family is struggling" with impressive sensitivity. While I haven't been here long enough to see all the nuance, it's the most caring, progressive, diverse local community that I've ever experienced. I wish I could stay, but them's the breaks.

Anyways - my husband and I will be returning to DC by next summer and, in thinking about where we want to live, we've realized we would really like to have a stronger sense of local community - but frankly we don't know how or where to access that. If we're being honest, despite living in DC for most of our post-college lives, we do not feel very "rooted" or connected to a community of people at all. We've certainly visited many neighborhoods in the area, but we don't have experience living in them, and we're wondering if moving somewhere new might help.

Bottom line: I know that there are many mefites in the DMV - is there anywhere you'd recommend we explore where we could still have good walkability & transit access but with a stronger sense of community?

(Also happy to receive other relevant advice, such as how to build that community or tap into existing community better - it's definitely not something we're good at, but we would like to become better!)
posted by mosst to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (15 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I know this is long, but one more thing to add: I recognize that gentrification & race is probably the elephant in the room when it comes to neighborhood communities. I’m white and my husband is South Asian; we are cognizant of the fact that in basically every place we’ve ever lived, we’ve been a part of some stage of gentrification. Which is, we know, not a great way to foster strong relationships with the existing community. It’s something I think we both struggle with - we are open to any & all advice there as well.
posted by mosst at 1:54 PM on February 11, 2021

Capitol Hill or Brookland!
posted by jgirl at 2:18 PM on February 11, 2021

posted by Ideefixe at 2:23 PM on February 11, 2021

I lived in DC from 2000 to 2008. I ended up in Columbia Heights, where I found so much community that it was very hard to leave (to follow my spouse's work to the west coast) and I hope to return one day. I'm still in DC for work routinely and I've been amazed at how strongly those community connections remain, despite the passing time, the extremity of development, and the socially transient attire d the city.

If I have any suggestion to make, it's that a community isn't made by moving into it but rather by participating in it. Wat are the community groups active in your neighborhood? Who are the movers and shakers? Can you get in touch with your Senior Neighborhood Planner or other Ward staff and get involved with what's going on in local government? There are endless series of public hearings where you can meet everyone who's out and about, and it's a great way to find out what kind of participation is needed where. And heck, if you see an unmet need it's a great idea to get a group of collaborators from the neighborhood to come up with ideas. I was one of the small group of people who put together the first Columbia Heights Day—none of us had ever filed permits for events, or applied for city grants, or rented a gigantic portable stage bus, but we did it and it was a hit (and I am seriously amazed at what it's become since).

Whatever you choose, good luck!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 2:52 PM on February 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Mount Pleasant, which was recently featured in the Washington Post for it's "miracle" of resisting gentrification. That is not quite how I would put it, but it does have a lovely sense of neighborhood community. I'm also partial to my own neighborhood of Bloomingdale.
posted by fancypants at 3:10 PM on February 11, 2021

nthing Mount Pleasant; easily the best neighborhood in DC in my opinion. I've been there for ten years now, and in many ways it's exactly the way it was when I first moved in. No big condo developments or construction, no big chains other than a Subway and a 7/11, some great Salvadorian food (and Lao, and pizza, and others), maybe the best little corner liquor/wine store in the city (important in these times), multiple grocery options, a nice-sized branch library around the corner... Plus walkable to many places, very near the Metro, and on several major bus lines. The Post article that fancypants mentions is a really good read.
posted by Gadarene at 3:16 PM on February 11, 2021

Oh, and when the National Zoo opens back up again, it's an eight-minute walk downhill.
posted by Gadarene at 3:17 PM on February 11, 2021

I very much enjoy Shaw, in terms of community and closeness to the metro/bus. I am 40 ("youngish"?) , and love having tons of restaurants and such in walking distance. I arrived in COVID, so I can't speak for community as such, but as a gay, male I know that there used to be a good community and I hope that it will come back once the city opens up.
posted by aggienfo at 7:02 PM on February 11, 2021

If you're willing to give up some centrality, Takoma Park has the kind of feel you're describing, or at least did when I was growing up there—I knew at least one neighbor on every block in a half mile radius and every single person in the houses around mine, and there was a very strong sense of local identity as well as a lot of locally-based activities (4th of July parade, soccer league, etc.). You can't walk to a large grocery store, but you can walk to the food coop and the farmer's market, restaurants and other shops (some useful, some not), and the Metro. (I didn't learn to drive until I left for college because I didn't have to.) I will say it's gotten a lot more expensive than it was when I was a kid, which I'm sure affects the vibe, but my sense from old neighbors is that the People's Republic of Takoma Park is still going pretty strong. Though I'm shocked to see there's a Starbucks now.
posted by babelfish at 9:32 PM on February 11, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hi from DC! We look forward to welcoming you back.

Sorry to say I would not call Burleith metro-accessible, having lived in nearby Glover Park for over 4 years -- it's a couple of miles to the nearest metro, and served by an inconsistent bus (D2) to Dupont or the 30-line buses to Foggy Bottom, which are also often inconsistent and/or crowded (at least in pre-COVID times).

I live in McLean Gardens as a single person in my late 30s with no kids. The neighborhood was established as housing for WW2 contractors. It's quiet, very walkable, lots of green space, one mile from the Cleveland Park and Tenleytown metro stations, and is well-connected with nearby neighborhoods. It's on multiple bus lines. There are a lot of older people, families, single people, a good neighborhood grocery store (Giant), local restaurants, super dog friendly, and a good mix of people who've lived here a long time and people who are newer to the area (I moved to my current place in 2014). I live across the street from my community garden plot and love that (though I did have to wait 3 years to get a plot, and my fellow gardeners are... not always super exciting).

I'd call the neighborhood upper middle class; it definitely heavily skews white, and happily ever less so. (My six-unit building is 50% people of color.) I don't perceive gentrification to be an issue here, likely because it has historically been a white, working-class neighborhood that got a little fancier over time. My friends who live a few blocks away in nearby Cathedral Court (across from the National Cathedral, so a little farther from the metro and the grocery store) are very involved in their condo community. I tend to be more engaged in forms of community that aren't based on my residence, such as volunteering with Casey Trees, which is DC-centric but not neighborhood-centric.

I hope this helps! Also, if you're looking to buy a place, my real estate agent was great, so I can recommend him. If you have any questions, please feel free to memail me. Good luck!
posted by wicked_sassy at 7:44 AM on February 12, 2021

Community can be found in the unlikeliest of places. We moved into a boutique condo building (<8 units) near Dupont Circle and we weren't expecting community but boy did we find one. Everyone in the building looks out for one another. One of our neighbors dropped off a few cinnamon rolls this morning "just because." Another neighbor hardly keeps his door locked. I've never experienced anything like it in DC.
posted by lecorbeau at 2:24 PM on February 13, 2021

Counterpoint: Mount Pleasant has changed, it's just changed on a slower time scale than, say, Columbia Heights or the 14th & U corridor or H St NE (which honestly feels to me like it had a bunch of development dropped on it all at once, but perhaps that's just a function of my own familiarity with NW and infrequent trips to NE). My sister in law is currently trying to move out of Mount Pleasant, partly because of how much it's changed since she moved in 20+ years ago. That's not to say it's not still lovely, but it certainly does feel more gentrified now than it used to.

Are you looking to buy or rent? Your answer may change what neighborhoods are better for you. We're older than you but also childless, and we really like Petworth, where we bought a house. We have friends in Brookland, Capitol Hill, Edgewood, Glover Park, Shaw, Takoma Park, Trinidad, and probably lots more neighborhoods I'm forgetting. I find Petworth to be more neighborly than Columbia Heights was, a fact I attribute to the porches (ten years ago in my part of Columbia Heights, people didn't hang out on their tiny stoops the way people use their big porches in Petworth). When I first moved to DC in my 20s there were lots of people in that age group on the Hill, because that's where all the cheap apartments and group houses were. Back then Dupont Circle was also pretty popular, but I can't think of many people we know in Dupont now. I ended up in Columbia Heights because the Metro had just opened and the market hadn't caught up yet. Columbia Heights is very different now.

Wherever you end up, join the neighborhood listserv and hang out on your porch, if you have one, and you'll meet a lot of people that way. And if you have a dog you'll meet lots of people at the dog park.
posted by fedward at 9:09 AM on February 14, 2021

Response by poster: Thanks, all! This definitely gives us a lot to chew on - really appreciate it.

To answer a few points:
-Yes, we absolutely realize that community is something that you have to participate in/build, not something that just happens. Looking forward to putting in that work, especially if (fingers crossed) it becomes safe to socialize in person again.
-We are hoping to buy, but as we'd be first-time homebuyers in a super competitive market, it's not a sure thing. Still weighing that one out. But yeah, if a rough price range helps narrow things down, ideally we'd be in a neighborhood that had a decent stock of 2BDs in the <$650k range.
posted by mosst at 4:01 PM on February 15, 2021

It may be difficult to find houses in that price range that are also close to a Metro station. In more convenient neighborhoods, for that kind of money, you might be able to find a condo in a converted row house. Have you been looking on Redfin or Trulia to get a feel for properties in your price range?
posted by fedward at 6:25 PM on February 16, 2021

Response by poster: At the risk of veering off-course - hah, no, definitely not expecting a house in that price range. It would be a condo.

And frankly, we'd rather rent somewhere we want to be than buy somewhere we don't love - and we're pretty good at finding quirky, affordable rentals in more expensive areas - so price isn't the biggest motivating factor in picking a neighborhood. We've always lived in high-cost-of-living places, and we're accustomed to making some trade-offs in order to make that work.
posted by mosst at 5:34 AM on February 17, 2021

« Older Our internet 'promo discount' expires in 2 months....   |   Should I give up my pre-paid plan Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.