Invisible Bars

For those of you who don't know DC, it is a patchwork of race and class - stately mansions in some areas and rundown rowhouses in others, luxury condos and housing projects, and middleclass, single-family houses.  The conventional wisdom is that you want to live in NW.

For over 3-1/2 years of my DC residency I've lived in Columbia Heights, a NW neighborhood where white up-and-coming hipsters and working class African Americans (and some Latinos) walk warily amongst each other.  The former worried about security and latter worried about being forced out due to gentrification.  It's a strange neighborhood but a convenient one, close to the metro, restaurants and shops, my church, All Souls, and to work.  But when my roommate moved out I realized that rents had risen out of my price range.  I had first moved into Columbia Heights because it was cheaper and now I cannot afford to live there.

So I looked on the metro map and found a neighborhood where both the red and green lines NE.  Upon visiting I was so impressed by the cute little semi-detached houses with well-maintained front lawns that I bought a house.  My new neighborhood is almost entirely African American, many families having lived here for decades, raising families and growing old here.  There's a junior high on the corner and a public library.  Instead of cramped, trash-lined streets, the avenues are broad, sunny, quiet, with the main activity being people gardening.  If I have any complaint about the place it's that it's too quiet. Tongue Out

So I was a little surprised when a visiting friend told me that she couldn't live in my neighborhood because there were bars on the windows.  It's true, there are bars on my basement windows, probably because they're low and tucked away, thus easy to climb through unseen.  There are bars on the basement windows of my neighbors' houses for the same reason.  As they are a pretty scroll work and let in plenty of light, I did not find them oppressive.  But I respected that she objected to such barriers.

At least I did until I went to visit this same friend in her new home tonight.  I drove into her ritzy neighborhood in NW, one that's not metro accessible, and I signed in with the guard stationed at the entrance to the gated community.  After parking, I found the front lobby of the luxury condo building, rang the buzzer to be let in, checked in with the concierge at the front desk... by my count that's at least three layers of barred windows.  Invisible bars but bars nonetheless.  The truth is, I couldn't live in her neighborhood.

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Acknowledgments is made possible in part by generous support from the Fahs Collaborative