Thursday, October 9, 2008

The reputation of Columbia Heights

I've been thinking about the reputation of Columbia Heights lately. It was spurred by this: Washingtonian magazine, which is sort of a society/upscale magazine, is having a reader happy hour in CH at the Highland Park at 14th and Irving. In their blurb, it says "Not familiar with the Columbia Heights neighborhood? It's a vibrant neighborhood north of the U Street area, filled with new development—and not to mention some of our favorite spots!"

It kind of made me think, huh, how could you not be familiar with this neighborhood? There's a Target, Best Buy, good restaurants, etc etc. It's been in the news a lot. The neighborhood used to have a pretty bad reputation for crime and such - at least to outsiders. Do you think it still does? Maybe that's why folks don't know about the neighborhood?

A few times in the past week I've been asked by folks if it's true what they say about Columbia Heights. I'm usually confused by this - what, there's a Target? But they're referring to crime, thinking it's a dangerous neighborhood that you shouldn't go to. To me, that's crazy. I've only had one incident with crime here, and that was before I even lived here. Since then, nothing at all, other than the occasional weird guy in the alley, but that happens everywhere.

I feel like most of the crime would never really affect me - it seems to be drug-related or from various "crews" against each other. Of course, there's some random muggings and such, and obviously that's terrible if it's happened to you, but to me those seem fairly rare.

So what do you think? Is the danger overblown? Is a supposed dangerous reputation warranted?


  1. i agree that any "dangerous" rep is overblown.

    and i find that, when talking to people from ward 3 (and often the georgetown-to-dupont section of ward 2) that you find a lack of knowledge of the rest of the city. those of us who live in some other neighborhood most likely know the city better. some of those people just never need to/want to leave the cocoon that is the upper-class part of the city.

  2. That's a good point, I bet folks who don't live in the fancy parts of town travel around a lot more.

  3. While crime has been decreasing, it is still a problem. We're definitely far from the most dangerous, but it's there. I've had shootings in front of both CH apartments I've lived in in the past 10 months. There were muggings in broad daylight. The first week I moved to Columbia Heights there was a carjacking at 10:00 AM on a Wednesday at the corner of 14th and Irving. We have our own police crime video camera in addition to the constant presence of the DCPD. Don't get me wrong, I love Columbia Heights (I really wouldn't live anywhere else in DC), but I don't think our reputation is blown out of proportion. It's a big city, crime happens... just a little bit more in Columbia Heights than Dupont Circle.

  4. I have coworkers who live in Virginia who have been asking me about the shootings on 14th Street in recent weeks, and how I could live in a neighborhood where people are randomly gunned down just about every Saturday. This seems a pretty common conception of Columbia Heights amongst the non-NW-DC residents. They're not impressed by the addition of a Target, there's one at every major intersection where they live.

    I personally love the neighborhood, and I don't feel unsafe here (I live north of the Metro), but the neighborhood isn't winning the battle for public perception just yet.

  5. I live in Southeast, not far from the Potomac Ave. or Stadium-Armory metro stops. I find that this area has the same sort of reputation with people who live elsewhere in the city or, even worse, live in northern Virginia or Maryland. I think it takes a lot of time for public perception to change about neighborhoods like these because so few of the inhabitants of the "safer," "fancier" parts of the city are willing to venture out of their comfort zones. So these people continue espousing these negative views of areas they have never even seen. They're really missing out on the vibrancy of our neighborhoods. So often, too, I think people confuse diversity with danger, which is really unfortunate. I love where I live! I love Columbia Heights! I wouldn't trade in my house in Southeast for a posh apartment in Georgetown under any circumstances.

  6. I told someone where I lived the other day -- a couple blocks away from the Target -- and the guy proceeded to tell me that's where he got the head.

    But it was a few years back. I've never felt unsafe, but then again, I bike a lot so maybe I'm just outrunning, or outbiking rather, would-be criminals.

  7. i agree with anon#1. I have family that lives in crystal city and old town and when I told them I was moving to columbia heights/mt pleasant area they were completely shocked. It is hard to turn around years and years of negative news. There definitely is still crime, but what city doesn't have it? My sister lived in Chicago and would hear gun shots, but never had one problem. I am thankful that I haven't been at the wrong place at the wrong time yet, but there definitely is a stigma still with the area, as well as other areas like in SE. I'm fine with living in a hidden gem :)

  8. my bff's brother has lived in crystal city for 6 years, about as long as i've lived in mt pleasant. he has never been to mt p or ch and constantly questions why i'd throw such caution to the wind by living in such a dangerous place.

    we're both from the suburbs of the same hometown, but sadly don't agree on this issue at all.

    but andrew, benerally, i don't think it's that odd for a resident of other neighborhoods to have not visited ch. years went by before i got to burlieth, or au park, or deanwood, or palisades.

  9. That's true Tim, but I'd think you'd be more likely to visit CH than those places, with all the new stores and restaurants here.

  10. I've had my bike stolen here, been moderately accosted, and hear sirens all day long from my apartment. But, I'd have my girlfriend's car broken into while living in Takoma Park losing all of my cds and her cd player. It's a win/lose situation in any part in the city; just how you deal with it.

  11. I love CH. It's the best place to poop in an alley!

  12. Readers of the washingtonian might not be familiar with CH because it's not all white and there are very few 2 car garages. The washingtonian really tries to 'discover' something hip or new and to be creative. Which never works, as evident by the endless regurgitation of "Best of" lists each month.

  13. I live 3.5 blocks from all the new stuff and personally I haven't felt unsafe recently, except at 3AM outside. I do carry pepper spray and a blade at all times though when I'm alone.

    There have been several shootings within a few block radius of my home since I moved to the neighborhood 4 years ago. As recent as a month or two ago a kid was shot in the leg at the elementary school at Irving and Georgia. So, although I would certainly say I feel safer now than I did when I first moved in for the fact that the (obvious) drug dealers are gone from our block and new neighbors, crime is far from gone in the area. It takes more than a few new businesses and extra flair to turn the area around. I think we are well on our way to becoming a great community though.

  14. I was one of the folks mugged at the Metro when the Target opened, and even I don't think CH is violent or crime-ridden. The benefits far outweigh the drawbacks.

  15. As a 12 year resident of DC, I've lived in a few neighborhoods and Columbia Heights is not the most dangerous. However, from U St to CH to Mount Pleasant to Howard and further up Georgia, there is violent crime daily. I have a friend who was mugged at 13th & Euclid two weeks ago. Another buddy had his cell stolen in a mugging 4 months ago on 15th and Girard.

    Gentrification takes time (see Logan Circle), so I am going to agree with Sooka. Crime rates for the city have continually declined for years since 1993 due primarily to economic development. However, because this process is so slow, rates for violent crime in Columbia Heights are up 43% since October 2006 (

    The crime stats report for just 1000 feet of my address on Park Rd shows that crime type "Robbery Excluding Gun went from 26 incidents to 47 between 10/14/2007 and 10/13/2008 (81% increase)! Add to that, this past Sunday night was filled with non-stop sirens. Am I living in our beautiful neighborhood in fear? No but look around and see the section 8/public housing buildings and you can see that Target shopping center is just one large building block (no pun intended) in this transformation.

    That facility does not change the history or rep of an entire neighborhood nor does it provide cover. Like many newbies to DC, surprise over the reality of the city is just another ahistorical assumption. I feel for the victims of crime but your first precaution should be to know that CH IS not a warzone but definitely cannot be considered without danger. Some people don't want to deal with all that and I can thank them for rent control in my building.

    Finally, don't most Northern Virginians think ill of the entire city (save Georgetown and maybe downtown). That is usually why they live in VA and work/party/use resources in DC? As Jill noted, bad rep or not, we live in a 'hidden gem' that I would add is still a little rough around the edges.

  16. Well said afrosamurai.

  17. Another note,

    A teenage boy was shot and killed right across the street from my house the other night.

    My boyfriend and I were watching a movie and heard 7 gunshots. When there were no sirens for several minutes, I figured it was just fireworks and would be safe to take my dog out, since it was time and we don't have a yard that we can just let him out in.

    So I get to the corner and I'm telling my dog to "go poop", when all these cops and emergency vehicles come around the corner. I look up the street towards my house and lo and behold, this teenager is laying in the street dying.

    It was a rude awakening, for sure.


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