A few months ago I moved from a 17 to a 92. That isn’t the probability of my going to the gym every day, or the ratio of museum trips to preservation-related movies watched. It’s my neighborhood walk score.
It wasn’t an entirely unexpected change, or even an unconscious decision. After talking the talk for over five years, this was an opportunity for me to (no pun intended) walk the walk. Also unsurprising is that I love it.
While living further out from the city, I did try to be sustainable - I would drive my car to a commuter lot to travel via carpool (the slug line, if anyone is familiar with it), or drive to the Metro (Washington, DC’s subway system). If I could, I would make sure to time all my shopping and socializing in the same area, so that once I parked I limited my driving time. And as much as I could control it I shopped local, and attempted to eat local.
But this - this is different. For five days of the week everything I need is steps away from my new home. I take public transportation 95% of the time, exercise, and get my hair cut without having to get into my car. There are restaurants galore - including my favorite socially-conscious coffee shop - and a few (semi-affordable) independent retail stores owned and operated by small business owners. Not to mention a branch of the public library system. Moving from a 17 to a 92 has made my life, in some ways, less complicated.
Last week I reflected a little on the materiality (or immateriality, rather) of historic preservation. In the post, I cited four elements that connect the physicality of preservation to the more ephemeral, meaningful pieces of what we do: Place-History-Memories-Character.
These four characteristics played heavily in my choice to live in my new neighborhood:
Place: This is my first home away from the place where I grew up with my parents. It was a big step for me, and I knew that when choosing the neighborhood it had to reflect what I wanted to be, where I wanted to spend my time, and a sense of place that reflected some of what I believed in.
History: The direct neighborhood in which I live is not historic in the usual sense of the word - although a large portion of the retail/foodie area was built in 1944. However it does lie adjacent to a National Register district that was once a part of the DC boundaries, and then developed by Defense Homes Corporation during World War II.
Memories: Having lived in the region already, I came to my new neighborhood with a visceral connection to it. My friends and I gather for monthly book clubs at my coffee shop, and I’ve celebrated birthdays at many of the restaurants.
Character: I think, above all else, this area has character. When leaving my apartment building I can run in one direction to see the amazing World War II area housing that still remains, and I am often immersed in green space that lines the sidewalks. While my building is of the 1970s variety, I can look outside my window and see the cityscape of DC arrayed in lights (including the Washington Monument). That feature alone is inspiring.
Going from a 17 to a 92 doesn’t mean I don’t miss my old haunts, my childhood parks/playgrounds, and favorite local restaurants that I still visit when I’m in the area. But I can say that it’s made me an even bigger proponent as a historic preservationist to protecting places that just like this for the future.
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