Author’s Note: Yesterday, we shared the first part of our interview with two DC families about raising kids in the neighborhood — Jim and Kathy have two young adults in college, and Bryan and Cristina have a son in primary school. Jim and Kathy live in Dupont-Logan while Bryan and Cristina live near the U Street corridor.
Understanding that DC is frequently at unrest with the politics of its school system, the question seems obvious: Did you send your kids to DC public schools?
The couples explained why they sent their kids to private schools. Jim and Kathy’s kids attended the Washington International School, largely to continue the experience their children gained while living abroad (the family spent five years abroad before returning to Dupont-Logan). Bryan and Cristina continue a family tradition in sending their son Brendan to a parochial school.
- Kathy: Everyone we know in our neighborhood went to private schools. Schools were a factor for folks to move to the suburbs.
- Jim: [But], people work hard to make [DC Public Schools] good. The larger community supports the schools.
Lusk: So then in what way do you feel connected to the city?
- Jim: One draw for us is the politics. Our family feels very engaged; we’ve volunteered for many campaigns and our kids enjoy that.
- Cristina: To be able to talk about the history of our neighborhood — to walk past Duke Ellington’s house, to talk about what he became, to talk about the Underground Railroad in a place that makes sense to a kid…
- Bryan: We live in a neighborhood older than the state I grew up in (Wisconsin).
- Kathy: It’s vital — the city is vital.
Lusk: What perceptions do they have about life outside DC?
- Jim: They have friends from Bethesda, Arlington, so they venture out into the suburbs to visit their friends. They don’t like it [in the suburbs].
- Kathy nods in agreement, “[Our son] characterizes the people he’s sees there. Spoiled, popped collar, rich suburban kids. That’s just his perception.”
- Cristina, “In our home, we have a lot of DC-related artwork and Brendan has asked… why the diamond is missing a chunk. So we explained it to him and he has a strong opinion about it.”
- Bryan (turning to his son): “Brendan, what should Virginia do with Arlington?”
- Brendan: “Give it back [to DC].”
Author’s note: I had a chance to catch up with Jim and Kathy’s kids, Jennie and Matt, a few days after talking to their parents.
Lusk: Growing up in Dupont-Logan, what did you do? What were your favorite places to go… to eat?
- Jennie: There is shopping in Georgetown, you hang out by the waterfront. The Phillips Collection is great. You can eat at places like Sticky Rice, Hank’s [Oyster Bar], Café Saint-Ex…
- Matt: I agree, Georgetown is a good place to go. I like the National History Museum and the Air and Space Museum. Ben’s Chili Bowl is always good.
Lusk: How did growing up in DC affect your decisions as young adults?
- Jennie: Of course you absorb the politics. I appreciate DC more now that I’m older. Having grown up in a city, I needed to choose a university in an urban area.
- Matt: I feel like we’re more informed [about politics] than the general public. It affects your friend circles because you want to talk with people about these things you know. It affected my decision to have a minor in political science.
- Jennie: Growing up in a city made me feel as though I could pack up and live pretty much anywhere, so I think it does make you braver in that sense.
Jennie and Matt both confirm that they’re not opposed to returning to DC as adults. And if they do return, they both decided they’d look to Dupont Circle or Adams Morgan neighborhoods as a new place to call home.
We know that the Borderstan area only represents a small portion of DC. We are also aware that the two couples we interviewed have resources and education that many of our neighbors only dream about having — which gave them more options for schools and opportunities (a fact they all recognize). Still, we are glad to see a sense of community thriving here. We hope it serves as a clear invitation for our younger and more recently arrived residents to stay awhile in the city, in our neighborhood.
Author’s note: The streets of the Dupont-Logan-U Street area teem with 20- and 30-something professionals. Many are recent graduates or have moved to DC to accept a new job. The Borderstan area has always had a lot of young people, and it is this demographic that is driving much of the neighborhood’s population growth today.
But you have probably noticed something else in the last five-or-so years in the neighborhood: more baby strollers and more toddlers. A decade ago, when parenthood approached, it was almost a given that these not-so-longtime residents would leave for the Maryland and Virginia suburbs (or the outer neighborhoods of DC, at the very least). These were people with the means to pack up and move — for a house with a yard, better public schools, safer streets — and for decades leave is exactly what they did. Those with fewer options stayed put, as they always had.
Today the once automatic flight to the suburbs has slowed, with more middle class parents choosing to stay and raise their children in the DC — right here in our neighborhood. We talked to two couples with kids who represent each end of the spectrum: one couple moved to the city in the late 1970s and then stayed to raise their children in the neighborhood; the second couple bought a house in the neighborhood a decade ago as the area was beginning to change.
Jim and Kathy, and Bryan and Cristina, are parents who have stuck around to explain what life looks like on the other side of adulthood — they are parents. Jim and Kathy are new empty-nesters while Bryan and Cristina have a son in primary school. We sat down with them to discuss stereotypes about urban living, public schools and the seemingly paradoxical nature of an urban community. It is important to point out that we realize these are two couples with the resources and education that many of our neighbors only dream about having — which gave them more options when it came to raising kids in the city — a fact they all recognize.
Part 2: Tomorrow, we’ll share more of our conversation from these DC families as we discuss DC Public Schools, perceptions of life outside the District and the best teenage hangouts.
• • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • • •
Jim and Kathy have been living in the District on and off since 1979, and they chose Dupont-Logan as the place to raise their kids, Matt and Jennie. Their kids are young adults now –Matt is at University of Miami studying public policy; Jennie is completing her master’s degree in French Literature at the American University of Paris.
Bryan and Cristina have been living in the District since the late 1990s and have an articulate six-year-old named Brendan; they live near the U Street corridor.
We start the conversation talking about the neighborhoods their kids know as home: Cristina and Bryan are homeowners in Harrison Square and they admit that the neighborhood was on the edge of changing even more, but at the time they bought it, things were still unsure.
“We were willing to assume the risk that [the green line] was a magnet for something,” said Cristina. “And if it wasn’t, we were still on the Green line.”
Jim and Kathy, who live on Corcoran Street NW, knew initial risks were involved in their neighborhood, but were undaunted. “It was pre-crack, more heroin,” said Jim. “We’d find syringes in the parking lot. At that point there was only Connecticut Avenue [as a place to go].”
Here’s what the two couples have to say about raising kids downtown.
Lusk: With neighborhoods still in the throes of development, any thoughts about moving to the suburbs when kids came into the picture?
- “No,” Cristina said firmly, and the others agree.
Lusk: So what do you give up by living in DC? What do you gain?
- Cristina: We give up a yard; we can’t have a big dog. And if that’s the only thing I’m giving up…
- Bryan: Right, but Brendan has gotten to go to more baseball games, museums; his [out-of-town] cousin’s get to do those things once a year– for our kid that’s a Sunday afternoon.
- Jim: I guess you do give up a little safety.
- Bryan: [But] the suburbs are just as messed up.
- Kathy: You gain something in terms of your teenage children — you gain that they are not driving. They’re taking public transportation.
- Cristina: I think you do give up a lot of phobias; we have so much in diversity — Brendan sees it when we ride the city bus. He’s seen things at age 6 that [kids] much older have no idea about. I think he’ll handle things differently when he gets older.
- “Brendan knows the train, the bus. He’s hailing taxis for us now,” laughs Bryan.
- Kathy: I feel like [urban] kids have a broader view. They see a lot of the real world now and not later when they are [done with college].
Lusk: And is there an age when you felt safe letting your kids ride the Metro alone?
- “8th Grade,” said Kathy, firmly.
Lusk: What kid-friendly hotspots in DC do you recommend?
- Jim: I think our kids had sophisticated tastes, [so we didn’t look for kid-specific locations].
- Kathy: We used the parks a lot when they were little.
- Jim: DC has great green space.
- Cristina: The National Building Museum is unbelievably kid-friendly and it manages to be kid-friendly without being unwelcoming to adults. The Portrait Gallery is really kid-friendly–the indoor atrium is a really great space for kids. They have a scavenger hunt you can do with the portraits.
- Kathy: We hiked on Rock Creek Park, Roosevelt Island.
- Cristinia: DC has really made an effort to revitalize the library. We go to the library almost every week.
Lusk: People assume that people who live in a city don’t have access to the same sense of community that one might in the suburbs. True?
- Cristina: [The staff at Home Rule] all watched Brendan grow up and they know him at Yes! Organic. They all know him at Ben’s [Chili Bowl].
- Bryan: Brendan, what do you get at Ben’s when you order?
- Brendan: Cheese fries, a milkshake.
- Bryan: Who makes it for you?
- Brendan: Jay.
- Bryan: The neighborhood is a community within a community. We know a lot of people in the neighborhood and when Brendan is older and maybe out in the alley doing something he shouldn’t, we would find out as our neighbors would tell us.
- Kathy: When I walk to Safeway or to Whole Foods, I very often run into someone that I know on the street, and spend some time chatting. It’s a nice feeling of community.