23 Aug 2011

NoMa: Capitol Hill's New Downtown?

NoMa farmer's market. Originally uploaded to flickr by Laura Padgett.

To be fair, let me say that I’m not a connoisseur of the red line, especially once it goes beyond Union Station. The first time I ever took the red line and got off just one stop after that, at New York Ave, I was a shivering 19-year-old student who had been cajoled into going to Ibiza Nightclub for a campus fundraiser titled “Clubbing for a Cause.” After months of shelter in the campus bubble of Foggy Bottom, going this far eastward was unfamiliar territory, and already the upperclassmen were trying to scare me with stories. The walk from the metro to Ibiza seemed long then; it was an awful, blistery day in November and pitch black outside, and when we were all standing in line, I remember looking around and realizing there wasn’t much else there to see, not much at all.

That was just a few years ago, but the neighborhood is already changing fast after the NoMa Business Improvement District has started to implement resources for a closer neighborhood feeling in the area. You may have seen the NoMa logos all over the trash bins in most spots north of Massachusetts Ave. After much budgeting and marketing, the area is finally becoming something more than construction site. It’s its own mini downtown within the rest of the District, complete with a bike trail and Potbelly’s.

A few weeks ago I met with Rachel Davis, the marketing and events manager for the NoMa BID. As I passed a strip of newly built restaurants (Au Bon Pain, Roti, etc.), I looked across the street to discover that there it was: Ibiza. I recognized the dark building and big cursive letters in front, but that’s all I recognized. The neighborhood looked completely transformed.

Beyond the new places to eat, NoMa is building up in terms of housing and offices. Already home to CNN and CQ Roll Call, the headquarters of NPR is moving there from Penn Quarter. When I visited, much construction was underway for the completion of several luxury apartment buildings. I went in one: Flats 130 at Constitution Square. Although the views are less breathtaking than others around the city, the building featured an outdoor pool and deck, private laundry, free wifi in several rooms, and many other amenities, all at the same price I had grown accustomed to paying for run-down apartments near my college campus.

It’s certain that all the right things are in place for NoMa, but the question remains as to how to make a true community out of a neighborhood. Farmers Markets and outdoor movie screenings, both of which are now popular pastimes in the area, are one step of many in the right direction.

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One response to “NoMa: Capitol Hill's New Downtown?”

  1. Anonymous says:

    Ground floor retail, or lack thereof, will make or break NoMa.

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