Wednesday, January 20, 2010

How do you define Columbia Heights?

View Columbia Heights Borders in a larger map

I've been in a bit of an argument with a commenter on this post, and it made me think -- how do people see Columbia Heights? The commenter argues that 14th Street is barely in Columbia Heights, and that the neighborhood stretches all the way to North Capitol Street. They base the argument on the fact that the city has a tax assessment district called Columbia Heights that goes that far.

However, my point is the tax assessment districts aren't really neighborhood boundaries. For example, if you live in Shaw or Logan Circle, your tax assessment district is "Old City I" or "Old City II." No one uses those names. And Adams Morgan, for example, isn't listed at all, it's part of some other district.

The map above is how I see the boundaries of Columbia Heights and surrounding neighborhoods -- what do you think of them? You can click them to see which is which.

I touched on this issue before when the Pleasant Plains Neighborhood Association claimed that pretty much everywhere was part of Pleasant Plains and not Columbia Heights.

To me, Columbia Heights goes from 16th Street east to about Georgia, and Spring Road south to U or Florida. Since the neighborhood was named for Columbian College, which was on Meridian Hill (15th to 16th) that would make sense. West of 16th and north of Harvard Street is Mt. Pleasant. West of 16th and south of Harvard is Adams Morgan. On the other side, Pleasant Plains goes from Georgia east to about 4th Street, south of about Columbia or Irving, including Howard U. North of that is Park View.

But that's my impression. Yours?


  1. Here are a couple of other ways to think about defining Columbia Heights boundaries: Are they roughly congruent with ANC boundaries? MPD district/PSA boundaries? Does it make sense to define them that way?

    I've gone through exactly this discussion, twice -- once for a graduate school paper I wrote and once with a community association when I led its strategic planning retreat. It did seem that aligning with service district boundaries like ANC or PSA boundaries made the most sense, so that more organizations' intra-community efforts align better. Any chance of putting those on your map, just to see?

  2. Scary! Almost got my butt kicked on MLK day there in Target. That's what I get for being white - racism is a live and well among the blacks.

  3. So by these definitions, is the Red Derby in Petworth?

    I wonder if we will see ward and ANC boundaries shift as a result of CENSUS 2010 tallies?

  4. I'm not quite sure why Anon. is insisting on relying on the tax database provided by the city in the other post. It's already had several illustrated shortcomings.

    I personally identify Columbia heights as north of Cardozo HS (Clifton-Euclid), West of Sherman-Georgia, South of Monroe-Newton-Otis, and East of 15th-16th.

    Obviously the boundaries are a bit nebulous, but I think that is often the case when attempting to strictly define neighborhoods. Without clear boundaries some blurring is going to happen.

  5. I thought that Park View extended up to Quebec Pl

  6. Neighborhood identification is clearly a difficult topic to discuss. Everyone has their own opinions. I basically agree with Andrew and Cooler's placement of CH (North of U/Florida, South of Spring, East of 16th, West of Georgia)

    In the parking meter post (linked earlier in this post) it would appear that the Anon dissenter defines neighborhoods purely on legal identification. The truth, in my humble opinion, is that neighborhoods, especially in cities, are more a result of self identification or real estate agent jargon. SoHo and TriBeCa are perfect examples. These neighborhoods were originated by groups of residents that wanted to obtain special tax and zoning legislation, so they banded together and created a neighborhood. It was then co-opted by real estate agents looking to differentiate properties in these areas and increase their value. I don't mean to imply this is a bad thing in anyway, but simply to suggest that the Anon poster from the meter article seems a little to stuck on old city planning maps and tax codes. Neighborhoods are constantly shifting with new boundaries being created and destroyed all the time.

    For example, a year or two ago, I would not have pushed the Northern boundary of CH up to Spring Road, but given the recent development in that area, it seems appropriate now. That area just doesn't feel like Petworth to me anymore.

  7. There is no right answer because there's no official designation for any of the neighborhoods. The ones used in the DCRA tax database don't align very well at all with what most people think of, for example, 17th and Euclid (clearly Adams Morgan) is called Mt. Pleasant. Dupont is called "Old City II."

    The generally accepted definitions can be found in Wikipedia. Just search for "DC Neighborhoods" or type in the name of a neighborhood.

    Most people agree that Columbia Heights is bounded by Spring Road to the north, New Hampshire avenue to the east, 16th Street to the west, and Florida Avenue to the south.

    As far as the Red Derby goes, Petworth is bounded by Georgia Avenue to the west.

    The Red Derby is in a neighborhood called 16th Street Heights, though there is much debate about the boundaries there too -- mostly related to the northern boundary. There are two different neighborhood associations that recognize different boundaries.

    But Derby is definitely not Columbia Heights - whatever your belief about boundaries, since Spring Road is the divider of Ward 1 and Ward 4, which is also the divider of the police service areas. It would be a hard sell to say that Columbia Heights is represented by two different city councilmembers.

    A lot of people who live in 16th Street Heights think they live in Petworth, but there's no generally accepted western boundary of Petworth beyond Georgia Avenue to the west.

  8. All good points-- there definitely aren't strict lines. I kind of forgot about 16th Street Heights, to me it's one of those smaller hoods that gets forgotten, like Lanier Heights and Reed-Cooke, which are often lumped into Adams Morgan.

    Eclisham, shoot me an email - newcolumbiaheights(at)gmail

  9. Since the tax records are the only legal definition, then the discussion is really about whether or not the tax records should be changed.

    I agree with the Anon poster. Borders should be 14th Street on the West, North Cap on the East, Florida on the South.

  10. Chris in EckingtonJanuary 20, 2010 at 8:53 PM

    Tax records have no bearing on what a neighborhood is known as. Neighborhoods are defined by the residents and by tradition. I lived in Mt. Pleasant from 1996 to 2002 and your boundries of Columbia Heights (16th Street, Spring, Georgia, Florida) were those generally accepted at that time, and to my mind, still are. Sure, you have neighborhood associations that claim overlaping jurisdiction (North Columbia Heights, Meridian Hill Park, Pleasant Plains, etc), but ultimatly, it's what the residents think of as their neighborhood.

  11. Nobody who knows anything about this neighborhood would claim it extends to North Cap.

  12. Um, Florida & North Cap the southeastern boundary? Seriously? So, Children's Hospital, Howard University, and the Old Soldier's Home are all in Columbia Heights now? Not to mention most of Shaw.

    And I suppose the area between 14th and 16th Streets is now Mt. Pleasant.

    Congratulations - you just annexed Shaw, Parkview and Pleasant Plains.

    Obviously, you are a Realtor.

  13. Look at your tax bill. That's what determines the name of where you live. If you don't like the name then put your home on the market and move.

    My tax bill says Columbia Heights. Let's take a poll here.

  14. Well, according to DCRA, Dupont Circle, Woodley Park, Van Ness, and even Shaw don't exist.

    But "Old City," "Wakefield," "Garfield," and a bunch of other random classifications that were used before a single house was built, do.

    These are absolutely not a definitive neighborhood names or boundaries.

    If you think you're right, you better start lobbying Metro to change the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan stop to "Garfield," since neither Woodley Park nor Adams Morgan exist.

    And if you're heading out for some night life on 18th Street, it'll be in Mt. Pleasant or Kalorama, which is how all of Adams Morgan is classified.

    You will also have a hell of a job getting every map and neighborhood association to change their names to match DCRA's archaic classifications.

    Seriously dude. These are not neighborhood boundaries. They are tax classifications that are very old and have very little to do with the generally accepted boundaries of the neighborhood you live in.

    You are free to say whatever you want, of course, but that doesn't make it true, and it certainly doesn't mean that it will make any sense to the rest of the world.

  15. Isn't the point here that most people that have commented on this post believe that tax boundaries are not reliable measurements of a neighborhood? Just because your tax bill says something, you may self identify with a different neighborhood, either outside your official (i.e. tax coded neighborhood) or a new neighborhood within that existing area.

  16. Jamie,

    You can call your neighborhood whatever you want. But without any official designation, the only official names are the ones on the tax records.

    Are you just mad because your tax record indicates that you don't actually live in Columbia Heights?

  17. Actually, unlike you I actually do live in Columbia Heights. Which is completely unimportant to me for any reasons of "cachet" or whatever as it seems to be for you. It's important to me only so that when I say I live in Columbia Heights, people know what I am talking about.

    The tax records also indicate that my house is worth $150K more than I paid for it a year ago.

    Since you believe everything in that database, I'll sell it to you for 50K less than the DC tax assessment. Awesome deal!

    You still haven't explained how such fantasies as Dupont Circle, Adams Morgan, and Woodley Park fit into your DC world view, if we should go by the DC tax database for neighborhood classifications.

  18. Jamie,

    Actually I do live in Columbia Heights (it says so on my tax record) and my tax value of my house went up over $275,000 than what I paid for it a year ago. I will sell it to you for $4,000,000 because I don't like you.

    The neighborhood names that people use for Dupont, Adams Morgan, etc. are real-estate terms and have nothing to do with the actual tax records. However, there is an actual Columbia Heights for tax records. So there is a legal definition.

    The names of the Metro stops are not related to the neighborhoods they are adjacent to. Their is no Archives neighborhood for example.

    Show me a legal basis for the names you want to throw out other than the tax records and I will believe you. But since you can't.....

  19. Since you believe that the tax records constitute a legal definition for some (but not all) neighborhood names, please cite the law.

    Or, possibly, it could be that there's no legal definition for ANY neighborhoods, hence the use of "generally accepted" definitions.

  20. I agree on Spring Road being the northern boundary and 16th. St. and Georgia Ave. being the west and east boundaries, but the "Heights" can't extend all the way DOWN the hill to Florida avenue...maybe Fairmont...

  21. As I said. You can believe whatever you want. But if most other people, as well as every map and resource known to man does not agree, then I am really not sure what good it does you to just "not agree" that a place is called what everyone else calls it.

  22. Jamie,

    You seem to think that everyone agrees with you.

    That is incorrect.

    There are many people that believe that the tax records are the basis for city neighborhood names.

    But then you probably won't believe that either. Maybe you are the only one living in Columbia Heights? It's a one house neighborhood after all that can't possible have any basis in reality.

  23. Good enough. Well, you had better advise all the people living near 17th and Euclid that they live in "Mount Pleasant" as the tax database says. Since that is also a recognized neighborhood name, which is why you think it's correct for Columbia Heights, then I guess the same principle applies, right?

    And all this time they thought they lived in Adams Morgan, which doesn't actually exist. Silly fools.

    Or is the database now only correct Columbia Heights for some new, previously unimagined reason?

    Anyway, it's a pointless argument. Call your neighborhood whatever you want if it makes you happy. But the tax database is clearly not based in any reality that is recognized by the vast majority of DC residents.

  24. It is settled finally. The names in the tax database are the true names of the neighborhoods. So everyone go now and check the tax database for the name of your neighborhood.

    The only silly fools are the ones that paid over $1,000,000 for a house that 3 blocks over costs $400,000.

  25. Wow. This got violent since the last time I looked! In the interest of stirring the pot a bit more, I would argue that it is impossible for people who rent, around 60% of the population at the last census, to look at their homeowner's tax records and figure out what their neighborhood is called.

    The sticking point seems to be that Anon believes that neighborhood identification needs to be officially designated by the government while Jamie, and it appears many others, including me, believe that neighborhoods are simply arbitrary, self-imposed titles (be they imposed by the locals or the real-estate community).

    PS- That's about all I have to say about that.
    PPS- Great debate though...

  26. Anon., the tax definitions are arbitrary boundaries that were created for the purposes of easily defining tax bases. They have no connection with the people who live there, nor do they define the area that they live in.

    If you actually lived in the neighborhood, you would know that North Cap and Florida NW is not considered Columbia Heights by ANY stretch of the imagination. Your insistence to the contrary clearly demonstrates your lack of understanding of Columbia Heights as a neighborhood. That part of town is commonly defined as Shaw or Shaw-Howard.

    In many other cities, neighborhoods are defined by the names of the developments that they are located in, and have nothing to do with the tax code.

  27. Fight the fight, cooler, but he's either an idiot or a troll and I can't believe I wasted this many words on it already...

  28. I go with Clifton to the South, Spring to the North, 16th to the West and Georgia Ave to the East.

    I figure Clifton is the southern border because it's the first street at the actual top of the hill, before it levels out, and after all the 'hood is called Columbia HEIGHTS. You're not in the "heights" til you get to the top.

  29. Actually I do live in the neighborhood but since you seem to think otherwise, maybe you are the idiots that don't live in the neighborhood.

    I think you are just mad because you don't actually live in the neighborhood.

    And I guess anyone that has a different opinion than you people is an idiot? What are you a child?

    Maybe you people should just move.

  30. Great post, comments.

    neighborhood boundaries can't be fixed and that's pretty clear. At best, maybe there's cusp areas and even those would be pretty broad.

  31. "And I guess anyone that has a different opinion than you people is an idiot? What are you a child?"

    I think that 1 + 1 = 3. Prove I'm wrong! I don't care that everyone else thinks it's 2, I think it's 3.

    What, you think if I have a different opinion that you I'm an idiot?

    Silly child. Maybe you should just move somewhere where 1 + 1 = 2! You're just jealous because it's really 3.


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