Growing up, a meaningful block was a half-mile long. Nobody walked much, so it wasn’t a big deal, but the distances between stuff were actual distances. Walking three blocks was a mile and a half. Distances were covered in miles per hour, thank you very much.
When I first moved to our nation’s capital, these were pre-GPS days–I know, right?, I pulled out the map to see where I was heading. It was on the other side of the beltway. Using my historical point of reference, I figured it would take about 60-70 minutes. It took me less than 20, and that might have included a little bit of time when I was lost.
Geographically, D.C. is a small place.
Today I told The Spouse that drinks were on me at the hip watering hole that just reopened. I decided to hoof it from downtown. The Spouse hit the pavement from The Mall. It’s a sign of the times that we would even consider walking. Five or six years ago, when the development was in planning, I would not walk that corridor. Boarded up shops, drug deals on corners, and no reason to be there. Nope. Seventh Street was a car route.
I walked the dozen blocks, passing the new convention center, spiffy hotels with five-story atriums, rehabbed buildings, shiny new box apartments, a grocery store with wine and a ton of prepared foods, and a few windows still boarded up. For now.
There were still the few blocks of subsidized apartments, but they’re much less notorious. There was still a cop going back and forth with a citizen. They were being observed by a sidewalk full of the neighborhood a few yards away. Nobody was cuffed. The convenience store was surrounded by folks waiting for the bus. The air included the smell of tobacco and weed. But no piss.
The city was always tiny, but now the walk from the FBI building to the burgeoning condo, bike path, coffee shop and restaurant fueled blocks formerly known as the hood and now known by their hip nicknames was much faster than a cab during Friday rush hour. In less than twenty minutes, office commuters can traverse to the land of brown liquor with artisanal ice, biergartens, craft roasted coffee, dog groomers and hipsters.
These thirteen blocks span less than a mile, not the 6½ that I would have expected in my youth. As the city gets closer together, it gets bigger for some people and increasingly inaccessible for others.
The Spouse remarked on our independent walks through what had been a tough area. I noted that there was new paint and landscaping at the public housing complex across from the shiny new grocery store. The rec center that had an awesome makeover was full of little and mid-sized kids that did not live in the new studio and studio +den apartments with the marble counters and stainless steel appliances.
We don’t want the city to lose the people who have raised generations of families here. Both of us, at the same time, said we really hoped that there was enough room for everyone. I better go call the Mayor.