13 Mar 2012

First Person: Living in the Riverfront-Navy Yard Neighborhood

Photo by Kate Barrett Gallery.

This post, by guest author Kate Barrett Gallery, is an excerpt of a piece that originally appeared on her blog Neighborhood Nomad.  You can see the full interview here.

There are neighbors who love where they live and then there are neighbors who love it enough to roll up their sleeves and get things done. David Garber is among the latter. In his fast-growing Washington neighborhood known as Navy Yard, Garber can be found installing signs reminding neighbors to clean up after their dogs, advocating for a new school, or encouraging members of his community to frequent local businesses during construction.

What does Garber love about Navy Yard? What drives him to participate? Read on for an interview with David Garber of Navy Yard.

On Moving to Navy Yard from Anacostia… 
When I moved to Navy Yard in summer of 2010, I was still very involved in the Historic Anacostia neighborhood. I made a deal with myself that if I crossed the river, I still had to be able to see Anacostia from my apartment. I can still see it — until someone builds something outside my window — but my advocacy efforts at this point have completely shifted to this neighborhood and the Southwest Waterfront, and on learning about how our little corner fits into a more interesting, sustainable, and functional District as a whole.

The Character and Feel of the Place…
The neighborhood right now is a study in contrasts. Rusted out taxi repair shops next to gleaming office buildings. Brand new high-rise residential buildings next to windswept empty lots. Construction vehicles and fences everywhere. But despite all that, there’s definitely a community here. We’re all really excited about the neighborhood we’re growing into.

… And What’s Next on Its Horizon
The most exciting thing happening right now is the massive influx of new restaurants finally being built. In the next year, Navy Yard will have 10+ new places to eat, drink, and hang out. Although there are a few great local spots in the neighborhood now – Justin’s Café, Cornercopia, and Lot 38 Espresso – these new spots will draw residents from the rest of the city and will make us feel more like our own great place. I mean, we love going to Barracks Row and H Street, but there’s something about being able to enjoy going out in your home neighborhood.

On His Advocacy and Participation…
Most of my involvement in the neighborhood has come as a result of my position as Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner. I started running for office almost immediately after moving in — which might seem like a different way to do it — but as soon as I moved in, I started seeing things I wanted to change or improve — things like better bike infrastructure, more community involvement with development projects, and pro-pedestrian planning. I  saw the ANC as a great way to help push some of those interests into real improvements.

Navy Yard’s Biggest Draws — And What Needs Improvement…
The biggest draws in the neighborhood are its location between the waterfront and Capitol Hill; its future both as a great residential neighborhood and as a dynamic retail, food, and entertainment destination; and its great parks: Yards Park and the soon-to-open Canal Park. Oh yeah, and the ballpark. The Nats have a real chance to be great this year – and the bigger the crowds, the bigger the positive impact will be around our urban stadium.

It’s rare that an entire neighborhood is basically bulldozed and started over from scratch, but that’s essentially what’s happened/happening here. Because we’re in the middle of such a massive transition, many of the ‘needs improvement’ items are about the empty lots and what we hope to see fill them: awesome new buildings with awesome new grocery stores, shops, and amenities. There’s also a huge need for a new elementary school in the neighborhood. Until more permanent family-friendly infrastructure is in place, the neighborhood won’t be a sustainable option for people with children.

This Year’s Priorities and Initiatives…
A lot of my work for the neighborhood right now is going into making sure that the restaurants that have committed to open feel welcomed and supported from a regulatory standpoint. Unfortunately that’s not always the default attitude at the ANC level — but I want to do everything I can to help them get the licenses and support they need to open within a reasonable time frame.

Right now, I’m most excited about the opening of Canal Park, which is scheduled for November 1st. It’s been this very barren spot for so long now and I think it will do a ton to stitch the east and west sides of the neighborhood together. Also excited for Thai food at Kruba Thai and Sushi opening in Foundry Lofts, and the brewery coming to Boilermaker Shops. And the shipping container “Fairgrounds” market coming to Half Street. Scratch that. I’m excited for everything coming through the pipeline right now.

On How Well He Knows His Neighbors…
I think there’s a saying out there about how communities grow stronger when they’ve gone through struggles together. If not, someone please coin it for Navy Yard. The past year has been a rollercoaster of news and hyper-local advocacy: we fought to bring a new school to the neighborhood and have continually been told no by DC Public Schools – at least until 2015; we had to fight hard to stay in Ward 6 during redistricting; we’re working to make sure a freight railroad project through the neighborhood doesn’t hurt the residents and homes closest to it; and the real monster: we were told Whole Foods was coming, then the deal fell through (rumor has it they’re still interested). But we also finally heard we were getting a Harris Teeter, a Vida Fitness, and ten new restaurants, so we’re still chins up.

Geographically, we are a pretty big neighborhood, and each development right now is mostly in it’s own little cluster of underutilized lots — so from a physical standpoint we aren’t 100% knit together yet. It’s probably a little different for me since I’m the ANC Commissioner, but I see people I know every time I walk into Justin’s, Lot 38, and Cornercopia, or bike through Yards Park and the Capitol Quarter townhomes. But I know that others feel the same way on different scales. We’re a community of wavers and smilers, and are united in our interest in seeing the neighborhood become great. Residents definitely feel an allegiance to this place, and each new amenity will only help strengthen those bonds.

His Favorite Local Haunts…
If we’re being literal, one of my favorite Navy Yard haunts (and this is in the actual Washington Navy Yard) is the Ghost Ship Barry, which is the warship that gets all spooked out for Halloween. Otherwise, Cornercopia has the best deli sandwiches around (the “Stadium” is fantastic), and if you haven’t been to Yards Park for a Friday night summer concert then you are wildly missing out.


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