10 March 2007

Girder your loins, Columbia Heights...

SO HERE'S THE SCENE, as of 9march07: The DCUSA building site, corner of 14th and Irving Streets, Washington DC. Already, the only identifiable facades on this block are the Tivoli Theater and the old Riggs bank building.

High within the site, workers are securing last of the I-beams which will establish the building's final shape against the street. Now we can begin to see what this will look like. With its promise of Starbucks, Target, Best Buy, Staples, Bed Bath and Beyond (and others), DCUSA has become the icon of DC's latest wave of gentrification.

Those of us who live here and enjoy the unique flavor of this historic DC neighborhood are eyeing the project with caution. Presumably the new retail business will benefit the Ward One economy, but will it rob Columbia Heights of its soul? Will the employment opportunities stay local, or will the chain stores ship in a fresh workforce from the suburbs?

Either way, it's clear that 14th and Irving will become a fishbowl to study a particularly extreme example of forced urban development. Certainly, these businesses are a strange fit for the neighborhood.

For me, it'll be interesting to see what DCUSA is like long after the shiny new patina has worn off and it settles into an older skin... because I expect it'll have a nasty sting when it's unveiled, like an invading virus. But then, the 'Heights survived the riots of '68, and it'll survive this. I hope.

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