News & Politics

Two Perspectives on Foggy Bottom

Is the neighborhood a wasteland—or a refuge?

Since I moved from Atlantic Media (located in the Watergate) to Washingtonian, I've made a running joke about how weird it was to move from Foggy Bottom to downtown. It's suddenly so much easier to get to work! The number of affordable lunch options is overwhelming for someone who used to have a choice between Potbelly and what is perhaps Washington's worst coffee shop. In other words, I feel like a workaday hick who suddenly moved to the big city, at least during business hours on weekdays.

So it was interesting to read two radically different perspectives on the neighborhood this week. Ricardo Gutierrez, guest-blogging for Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic, described the neighborhood, where he lived when attending George Washington University, as an oasis: 

Foggy Bottom was so nice and so far from hood. It helped me become a better person and grow past the emotional caps that growing up in a shitty neighborhood forces on you. I was able to smile in the street and say hello to people I'd never met without thinking they were trying to get over on me. I was more open to the world around me. 

By contrast, the Washington City Paper's Lydia DePillis, in the course of discussing some proposed plans for revitalizing Foggy Bottom, describes the neighborhood as pleasant, but somewhat vacant:

Foggy Bottom: Home of the State Department, the Watergate, and…what else, really? The institutional-feeling neighborhood, carved up by freeways and uninspired green space, has some of the largest undeveloped chunks of land in the city.

I think, essentially, both of these descriptions are accurate. Foggy Bottom is a nice neighborhood. It's friendly. People take care of their lawns. The oft-hilarious sculpture exhibits that rotate through the area speak to a commitment to the arts and a sense of wit.

All that said, as is, Foggy Bottom is a relatively limited execution of what a nice neighborhood can be. Some of that's simply a result of those institutions. It's hard to do mixed-use zoning behind concrete barriers at the State Department, or to nestle in personality-rich little restaurants on blocks that are dominated by large university departments. But the folks at Catholic University are right that there are ways to make it a richer, more welcoming area for everyone, whether commuters, students experiencing Washington for the first time, or the folks with statues in their front yards.

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