Friday, April 2, 2010

Is Mount Pleasant Clybourne Park?

This is a continuation of yesterday's post: Clybourne Park Deals With Familiar Issues.

Mount Pleasant the neighborhood is an organic and fluid entity. Even the buildings aren't permanent. Transients, lifers, townies, passers through; we all share the same space and want our immediate surrounds to conform to our comfort zone, be it wide or narrow. Speaking to present day issues, sure, any one persons experience can resemble those in Clybourne Park. But in total, we are what we are, and Clybourne Park is what it is.

Speaking to the second act of the play, my impression of Mount Pleasant, from my first visit almost a decade ago to view the apartment I'd eventually move into, was that it was a multi racial, left leaning but diverse politically, and a mostly laid back neighborhood. Not sure the laid back part played out as expected, but for the most part everything else has seemed to stick. Are there class and race issues? Yes, and they are played out in various ways. I can only speak to my own experiences, which have been mostly positive.

We deal with historic preservation and regulatory issues very much like the characters in Clybourne Park do. In an historic district like Mount Pleasant, homeowners who value a certain aesthetic, for whatever reason, are sometimes at odds with those who may value an entirely different aesthetic. And of course there are economic issues as well.

Preserving local traditions was the hot topic of the neighborhood not long after I arrived. A rather tense, sometimes petty, but real issue of music in restaurants persisted for years until just recently. For me, that's not a life or death issue, but opposing live music in a restaurant seemed too small minded to be backed by genuine motivations, another theme explored in the play. The underlying issues of race, language and culture collided with community boards (ANCs and other groups) and quality of life to extend a simple subject (music!) into a year's long battle.

Another comparison involves not only Mount Pleasant, but Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan and many other areas of the District. As a high schooler I was warned about attending shows in DC, parking near the (then) new 9:30 Club, or later, walking home after hours on Mt Pleasant Street. "14th Street is where the crime happens, so avoid downtown if you can." To hear it told by some, I was frequenting the most undesirable parts of the city as a way of life. Fast forward a few years and 9:30 Club rubs shoulders with a couple of new condo towers, Mount Pleasant Street is actually still alive after hours, and the city is about to help Marriott construct a mega-convention center hotel with 1,000+ rooms blocks away from an area in which only parking lots were the only operating businesses.

All this goes to say that while Clybourne Park changed, so did Mount Pleasant. But we changed differently. And still are changing in our own unique way. We are drastically different from even our two CLOSEST neighbors, Columbia Heights and Adams Morgan. And we like it that way. It's uncomfortable. You might not want to step on toes or offend someone. Or some of us don't mind doing that, either. Most want to be able to make a living and leave the next lady or fellow to do the same happily. If they want to listen to a live band while you eat dinner? Go bananas! I've never even been to that restaurant and live blocks away from Mount Pleasant Street. Want to install storm windows to keep out the cold? OK, sounds economical to me! What about that festival that attracts 40,000 visitors each fall? We'll host, but please, let's work together to make sure the event is safe and fun for everyone involved.

See, change is inevitable. We just need to make sure whatever is presented to us, that we make a conscious effort to think of the impact on people. Ourselves, yes, but also our neighbors, even the one's we might not know as well or even like. They live here, too and deserve to enjoy a quality of life at the very least, equal to that of your own. As long as we keep that in mind, the decisions we make will keep Mount Pleasant, well, pleasant. We're not Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan or Clybourne Park.