Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Now even the Brits are talking about Petworth...

A couple other DC blogs have already noted this, but I thought it was worth pointing out here. Financial Times ran an article about Petworth on Saturday, noting in particular the good housing stock, central location, and bang for the buck.

“I like the size of the houses and I need all the outdoor space for my dogs,” [Angela Vassallo, a DC epidemiologist] says. “You get the most living for the price in DC.”
This mostly residential area in the north-west quadrant of the city is enjoying a boom as buyers flock to its tree-lined streets, still affordable stock of sturdy single-family houses and old-neighbourhood feel.

The article is pretty positive but also notes the problems, including crime and trash. I think it's pretty dead on. What is most interesting is that the description of the neighborhood reminds me a lot of Mount Pleasant when I first moved there in 1996. Vacant houses, crime, exactly the same problems. But Petworth has many of the same advantages that Mt. Pleasant has:
  • It's close to, but not IN that action of the business district. In Mt. Pleasant, I could walk to Adams Morgan in about 15 or 20 minutes. My new house in Petworth is about the same distance to DCUSA and the Columbia Heights business district. But it's removed enough that you avoid the noise and traffic.
  • It's residential with lots of trees and few apartment buildings. Whereas Mt. Pleasant abutted Rock Creek Park, a wonderful location, my Petworth house is steps from Rock Creek Cemetery, a large, beautiful, and tranquil space, perfect for running or reading a book, and the Old Soldier's Home.
  • It's convenient for commuting. In Mt. Pleasant Rock Creek Parkway was right there, a great route out of town both to Maryland and Virginia. Petworth is similarly close to North Capitol Street -- driving to Silver Spring or Capitol Hill takes less than 10 minutes, it's a breeze to get in and out of town.
  • Public transit is also pretty good - I'm only about 12 minutes on foot to the metro, about the same or even a little less than my walk in Mt. Pleasant to the Columbia Heights metro. Many bus lines also serve the area.
Now I don't think that Petworth homes will be selling for $800,000 any time soon. But at the end of the day, it's the physical characteristics of a neighborhood that make it a desirable place for people to invest, to fix up houses, to take an interest in making things better. It's because they want to actually live there for what it is. This is why Mt. Pleasant turned around in the late '90s and early '00s. When I moved there in '96 there were a half-dozen abandoned houses on my block alone. I bought a four-bedroom townhouse for barely over $200,000. Many houses in Petworth are selling for not much more than today -- pretty amazing considering that it's 12 years of inflation later, not to mention the dramatic changes DC has seen in desirability, with the result that the population had actually started increasing after decades of loss.

I think Petworth will follow suit over the next 10 years for exactly the same reasons Mt. Pleasant became so popular. It's got great houses, it's affordable (for now), you can walk to transit or services in 15 minutes or less, it's convenient for car commuting, it's got a great community and neighborhood feel, and it's got wonderful greenspaces and rich history that make it a pleasant place to live.

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