News & Politics

The Blogger Beat: Borderstan

This week, we hop between neighborhoods to find out what this Borderstan thing is all about.

Matt Rhoades and his pup, Lupe, on the corner of 15th and Corcoran streets, Northwest. Photograph by Luis Gomez 

Matt Rhoades launched his blog, Borderstan, in August 2008 to help give voice to a neighborhood he thought was lost in translation—not quite Dupont Circle, not quite Logan Circle, but somewhere in between. The blog was an outgrowth of an informal group composed of Rhoades and his neighbors that formed in 2006 in order to get better police coordination and patrols in the neighborhood.

Rhoades points to one incident in particular that prompted the group to organize: A man who lived at 15th and Corcoran streets, Northwest, spotted a drug deal happening near his home. He saw a police car parked nearby and flagged down the officer. Rhoades says the man asked the cop if he was going to do anything to stop the deal but was told that he couldn’t intervene because the deal was happening in a different police service area—even though it was just on the other side of the street. The man was outraged, and Rhoades says word of the incident spread quickly. Soon after, Borderstan Neighbors was born.

After three years of working with the District, Borderstan Neighbors has developed a close relationship with the two police districts that patrol the area. Officers from the bordering districts now coordinate activities, and Rhoades says the group regularly orchestrates get-togethers with the district commanders. They also work closely with the assistant chief of the Patrol Services Bureau, Diane Groomes. “It shows what you can do if you work together and simply refuse to go away,” says Rhoades.

As for the name “Borderstan,” Rhoades says he gets flak for it—people argue that it’s disrespectful of the “Stan” countries—but he doesn’t want to change it. “It works,” he says. “People remember it.”

We caught up with Rhoades recently to find out more about this boundary-straddling neighborhood. Best bar? Worst condo building? Most bizarre crime? Read on for his answers.

How you define Borderstan with boundaries and words:
“I think of Borderstan as a mini-’hood. It’s a semi-autonomous region that’s divided between the Dupont Circle and Logan Circle neighborhoods, running east to west from 14th to 16th streets, Northwest, and north to south from S to P streets. Borderstan is also a state of mind. It’s about people getting together to solve problems.”

Three reasons to live in Borderstan:
“(1) It’s the heart of downtown living; (2) you get to choose a neighborhood—Dupont, Logan, or even U Street—and still live in Borderstan; and (3) for fun we nag the police, elected officials, and government employees to get the services we damned well deserve. It seems to work every now and then.”

Number of active participants in the Borderstan community:

“Depends on how you define ‘active participants.’ We have about a dozen people who attend meetings with the police and elected officials on a regular basis. We’ve had two big meetings with police and city officials, which drew about 80 and 50 people, respectively. We have a listserv used by 130 people who live in Borderstan and another 65 people from what I call Greater Borderstan—our allies west to Rock Creek Park, friends east to Shaw, and compatriots north to Adams Morgan. Don’t mess with Borderstan!”

Favorite local leader:

“Not a person but a group: my neighbors in Borderstan. More specifically, I have to give credit to Julie and Chen. Together, we were the three amigos who started Borderstan Neighbors.”

Local leader you most wish you could fire:

“Oh, wow! I can’t give names because we have to work with a number of elected officials and the police. But I’ll say that there are some members of the DC Council who underestimate the effect of street crime on a neighborhood. Street crime—violent and nonviolent—is horrible for everyone, rich and poor, new and longtime residents. It’s important to address it because street crime keeps sucking up successive generations of young kids in Washington.”

Most common crime:
“That’s easy: car break-ins. There were 112 in Borderstan last year.”

Most bizarre crime you’ve heard of in your ’hood:
“The ongoing rash of rooftop burglaries. Someone keeps breaking into homes and apartment buildings by prying open rooftop hatches and skylights. The police are on it, but they can’t seem to catch anyone.”

Best bar in Borderstan:
“Stoney’s at 14th and P defines downtown living in Borderstan. When you go there, you see a whole cast of characters: twentysomethings and sixtysomethings, gay and straight, men and women, suits and ball caps. It’s a stereotypical blue-state dream come true. As Rodney King said, ‘Can’t we all just get along?’ At Stoney’s, we do.”

Best dinner spot:

Shop or business you’d like to see move in:

“More diners with affordable food, please! I lived in Chicago for ten years, where good cheap food is everywhere­—not so much in Washington. I was devastated when the deal fell through to bring an outpost of the Diner to 14th and T.”

Best and worst condo buildings:
“I love the condo and apartment buildings on the 1400 block of Church Street—good variety. Same thing with the residential buildings on the 1400 block of P Street. Those have retail on the first floors. I’m old enough to remember when urban renewal and development meant throwing up a neofascist-style behemoth that took up an entire city block. Worst building? Well, there’s a certain overhyped, new, expensive condo building near 15th and P streets about which I have heard horrible things—but it looks nice!”

Biggest architectural eyesore:
“The Verizon building on the northwest corner of 14th and R. It’s a dead zone. There’s nothing on the first floor, and it’s such a huge building that it destroys the street life on that corner. Actually, that entire intersection is dead. No restaurants, no people coming and going out of retail businesses.”

Favorite spot for people-watching:
“Sitting outdoors at Java House at 17th and Q, the outdoor tables at Caribou Coffee at 14th and Rhode Island, or the front window at Halo or Stoney’s on P Street.”

Finish this sentence: “If I could improve one thing about my neighborhood, it would be . . . ”

“I wish people took more time to just say hello when I’m out gardening or walking the dog. Our neighbors are friendly, but sometimes the recent arrivals seem very distrustful.”

Alternative names to Borderstan that you considered:
“None, believe it or not.”

Where you’d live if not in Borderstan:
“The Potomac River waterfront down by the fish market. I love the water!”

Favorite neighborhood blog besides your own:
14th & You. I finally met them a few weeks ago; they’re great. They don’t do a ton of postings, but the ones they post are very original and seem to require a fair amount of research. And of course, One Photograph a Day, which is the photo blog of my partner, Luis. Beautiful stuff, if you don’t mind me saying so!”

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