Snow Day Reading: On Street Life, Hipsters and Brunch

jason grant a place called home

February 14, 2014, Washington, DC: I’m continuously inspired by the writers and thinkers who record their observations about the power of place and our changing cities. Two years ago, I posted a list called, ‘Writing About Place: A Reading List’ on my blog, Neighborhood Nomads. I’ve updated it intermittently in the Comments section since, and invite you to comment with your own recommendations today.

Here are some of the words that have crept up since my last update, now added to the running list. They’re long overdue odds and ends, all worth a read on an icy winter day…

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Awaiting the Thaw

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February 8, 2014, In transit: I wake up ready to write. My old habits have fallen by the wayside, replaced by new ones like decorating the house, sitting still long enough to read good fiction, and making plans. But this morning Washington’s Union Station is serene in the early morning and smells like bacon as I board a train bound for New York City, and as the train begins moving across a soon-to-thaw landscape, I am faced with three-plus hours alone to sip warm coffee, gaze at the blurred, passing scenery, and luxuriate in uninterrupted time to record my surroundings.

Outside the world remains dusted with a crusty coating of salt that thickens as we head north. The trees are bare and houses in suburban developments along the tracks look worse for the wear beneath a neutral brown February morning. We pass a dirty Ford Bronco, a parking lot full of Fed Ex trucks and an empty airstrip on a road parallel to the train tracks before buzzing beneath another overpass and alongside a marsh reflecting nascent sunlight approaching BWI. Here travelers come and go, disembarking one mode of transport and boarding the next, one leg of the journey complete and still not home. As we depart Baltimore, I’m saddened as usual to see row upon row of uninhabitable, half-destroyed housing, realizing it’s now been many years since I started hoping for this neighborhood to turn. Near Wilmington, patchy snow begins spotting the landscape. Winter is longer here. It’s been long enough.

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Vallejo’s Story: A New Breath for Roshanda’s Hometown

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Photo Credit: Roshanda Cummings

This is one in a series featuring cities, neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

January 23, 2013, Washington, DC: “The stigma hangs.”

That’s how Roshanda Cummings described her hometown of Vallejo, California when she first wrote me about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads. She described a city that struggles to project a positive image despite having a lot going for it, despite triumphantly exiting bankruptcy in 2011. She shared links to a project she’s been working on called thisisvallejo.com. It was beautiful — the landscape, her photos, her words, all of it.

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Photo Credit: Roshanda Cummings

When Roshanda and I talked a few days later, the story of the hometown that she grew up in and later returned to quite by accident took on a more meaningful shape. Roshanda never intended to go back, but since her return, she envisions greatness for Vallejo’s future.

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Trudging: A Photo Shoot

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January 21, 2014, Washington, DC: We went trudging today before sunset. Authentic, bundled, Chicago-style trudging. We went trudging to reestablish some sort of connection to the outside world. We went trudging because a glorious long weekend with today’s snow day tacked on for good measure was starting to feel like a waste with coughs, colds and throat lozenges stacked up like a barricade at the front door. We wrestled past the obstacles and trudged out onto the silent street, following a path of green lights and walk signs throughout the neighborhood.

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When we arrived in Lincoln Park, we were pleasantly surprised. Many other people had trudged there too.

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They’d trudged past the beautiful snow-covered apartment buildings and homes lining the park.

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Past the stores with Christmas lights and a firepit smoking outside.

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They had trudged there with their strollers.

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And their footballs.

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And their sleds.

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Some had trudged to Lincoln Park searching for adventure.

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Most, it seemed, came searching for interaction.

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Everyone, it appeared, was seeking connection.

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We trudged here to break the isolation of January.

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If just for a few minutes before turning around, uplifted, and bouncing back home.

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Neighborhood Nomad: Stuart of Broad Ripple

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Photo Credit: Justin Vining

This is one in a series featuring neighborhoods and the people who love them. Would you like to participate? Click here for more information about contributing to Neighborhood Nomads.

January 12, 2013, Washington, DC: “It’s all cyclical, right?” Indianapolis resident Stuart Drake and I are talking about how our choices concerning where to live often mimic those faced by our parents. Stuart’s friends and family constantly ask him when he, his wife, toddler and dog will leave the city and move to the suburbs. And Stuart and his family very well might. But Stuart also feels a tremendous pull towards his urban neighborhood of Broad Ripple– the very same neighborhood in which Stuart’s parents asked themselves these questions decades ago before packing their bags.

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Best & Worst of 2013: The View from the Neighborhood

Supreme Court, DOMA, March 27, 2013, Photo Credit: Kate Barrett Gallery, Neighborhood Nomads

December 31, 2013: It was the year tragedy blanketed Boston and royal baby fervor gripped London, the year Toronto cringed with embarrassment and New York embraced pedal power. It was the year that wrapped with good people like Nelson Mandela and Pope Francis winning the day over less admirable personas like Miley Cyrus and Lance Armstrong. But for all the far-flung ruckus, it was a year in which we didn’t need to look far for national and local headlines. In 2013, the scoop was right here under our noses within a two-mile radius of home.

Inauguration 2013, Washington, DC

The Renewal: Inauguration Day

President Obama was sworn into his second term in office on January 21, 2013. About one million people attended the festivities.

Related Posts:
Miles from Monday: Inauguration Day (January 21, 2013)
Inauguration Through the Eyes of a DC Neighbor (January 19, 2013)

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Supreme Court, DOMA, March 27, 2013, Photo Credit: Kate Barrett Gallery

The High Point: Supreme Court Gay Marriage Arguments

In March, two watershed gay marriage cases were argued back-to-back before the Supreme Court. I snapped this photo of plaintiff Edie Windsor, the woman challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, leaving the Court on March 27, 2013. The gay marriage victory came down in June; in December, Windsor was named TIME’s #3 Person of the Year behind Pope Francis and Edward Snowden.

Related Posts:
Two Moments, One Movement (March 27, 2013)
Big News in the Neighborhood (March 26, 2013)

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The Fire: Beloved Local Business Goes Up in Flames

A massive fire at Frager’s Hardware, a 93-year-old Capitol Hill institution, devastated the neighborhood on June 5, 2013, just as I was exiting a nearby Metro station. The store has since set up shop on the empty lot at Eastern Market, the same lot that became a temporary home to the market after its own fire in 2007.

Related Posts:
Rallying Around Frager’s (June 8, 2013)

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The Water: Kayak Rental Opens on the Anacostia River

While the Nationals didn’t provide the Navy Yard with any welcome headlines this summer, investments in the adjacent Anacostia River most certainly did. In late July, Ballpark Boathouse began offering the river’s first kayak rentals, a highlight among many commitments to DC’s other river.

Related Posts:
A Warm Welcome to Ballpark Boathouse (July 20, 2013)
This is Our Anacostia River (May 24, 2013)

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The Tragedy: Navy Yard Shooting

On September 16, 2013, a gunman killed twelve people at the Washington Navy Yard. Neighborhood schools and businesses were locked down as the tragedy was unfolding, giving the local community its own brush with the workplace and school shootings that have hurt far too many in recent years.

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Glimmers of Hope on the Hill (October 4, 2013)

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The Dysfunction: Government Shutdown

Plagued by an inability to compromise, the US government shut down from October 1st through October 16th, 2013. The shutdown furloughed approximately 800,000 people and cost an estimated $24 billion. It also left neighbors growing beards and looking for drinks, and drew attention to DC’s lack of autonomy from the federal government.

Related Posts:
Shutdown in the City: District Blues (October 8, 2013)
Shutdown in the City: An Ugly Sight (October 1, 2013)
Same Old Song and Dance (September 26, 2013)

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The Projects: VA Ave. Tunnel

Construction projects in fast-growing Washington, DC packed local headlines in 2013. Among them is community concern over the reconstruction of the CSX Virginia Avenue Tunnel that runs nine blocks between the neighborhoods of Capitol Hill and Navy Yard. Health and safety worries about carrying hazardous materials through an open trench, as well as concerns about a potential lack of access to the neighborhood during construction, brought neighbors together for a notable meeting in late November 2013.

On tap for 2014: Far more conversations about neighborhood health and safety, drama and milestones, development and density, connectivity and public space, including projects at Eastern Market Metro Plaza, Hine School, 11th St. Bridge Park and more… 

On Common Ground: Nomads and Neighbors of 2013

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December 30, 2013, Washington, DC: What do the people interviewed this year on Neighborhood Nomads have in common? They share an admirable commitment to their homes, neighborhoods and cities, and use their professions as a springboard from which to connect to their communities. This year, I interviewed several formidable nomads and neighbors whose work has enabled them to plug into their surroundings. Whether architects, writers, artists or other creative and engaging professionals, they reflect on their environs close to home and close to their hearts, and it was a pleasure to learn from them on Neighborhood Nomads.

Follow the links to their stories below:

From Bozeman, Montana… Backcountry Lessons in Living
An interview with Campbell Gerrish of sustainable housing company Yeshaus

“We take impressions from our surroundings. It makes a difference for me to live in a space that reflects how I want to be.”

From Detroit, Michigan… Thoughts on a Struggling City
An interview with author Kerri Schlottmann

“I wanted to engage with the city as a backdrop. The parts about Detroit that are in the novel are very much personal to me, just the way that the characters process the city.”

From Washington DC… Documenting Chinatown
An interview with filmmaker Yi Chen

“I feel more connected to the Chinese American community, to the larger Asian American community in DC. That was something I didn’t expect, but that came out of [the project]. It’s a sense of finding my own community in the city that I didn’t have before.”

From the streets of our neighborhoods… Gaia’s Artistic Contributions
An interview with mural artist Gaia

“My favorite place to work in is Baltimore because there is a freedom that exists in that city’s streets.”

From Washington, DC… A Tour Guide’s Outlook
An interview with historian and tour guide Canden Schwantes

“I love the city and I love the country and I love the suburbs. Ideally, I’d want to live in a Civil War-era Main Street town that has an awesome plantation, but also has a Metro stop.”

From Phnom Penh, Cambodia… Settling In Abroad
An interview with expat Bill 

“Right away I was amazed at how easy it is to live in Phnom Penh as an expat.”

From New York… Designing the Third Place
An interview with architects Tim and Robert

“The design is industrial which is appropriate in the neighborhood, especially given its unique history and evolution, which — almost remarkably — hasn’t been built up by developers.”

Do you love where you live? Would you like to be featured on Neighborhood Nomads? Click here for more information about participating.

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