Walking Washington With The Prince of Petworth
July 18, 2012, Washington, DC: Speaking of neighborhood nomads, meet Dan Silverman (if you don't know him already). Silverman stays connected to his most recent hometown of Washington by walking. A lot. He is, in fact, so fanatical about doing so that he makes a living recording his observations along the way. On lengthy strolls throughout Washington's many neighborhoods, Silverman takes note of an architectural detail or a neighborhood garden, gets the nitty gritty details on crime, or shares the latest real estate scoop. He posts his findings to his hyper-local, hyper-popular blog, Prince of Petworth. Silverman sat still long enough to drink a cup of coffee at Peregrine on Capitol Hill and share his story with Neighborhood Nomads. His Walking Ways: I used to walk around the weekend both Saturday and Sunday. Since I got married, now I do one or the other. I'll walk between 15 and 20 miles. Twenty miles kills me, believe me, I'm not bragging. But if I get tips from Georgetown to Capitol Hill, I'm kind of psychotic and I will follow it all the way, zigzagging massively in between. A perfect day is a 15-mile day. I'm tired, I'm pretty beat up at the end, but my joints aren't hurting. I feel physically tired but I'm ok. That's generally Saturday or Sunday, which would account for 60-75 percent of my material that will be used during the week.
I'll walk anywhere from 2-5 miles each day during the week. That's kind of like a release for me. I find it very therapeutic. It's funny, even when I go on vacation, I find I have to walk. It's in my blood.
His Favorite Neighborhoods to Mosey: So many. I love Mount Pleasant, I love Capitol Hill, I love Georgetown. I'm beginning to love the Navy Yard area; it's still a little desolate but that new Yards Park is beautiful. I love the very residential neighborhoods like Forest Hills and Crestwood and 16th St. Heights, and anywhere I just sort of stumble on. I love going through Rock Creek Park and stumbling out in different areas.
I don't care how many times I've walked a specific block, I still love it when I go back to it. And it depends if you have a different perspective, if you're on a different side of the block, if you're looking at a different angle. But even if I'm on the same exact side of the block, looking at the same exact transom that I've looked at 100 times, but it's been a month since I saw that transom, I still stop and say, Jesus Christ, that is a beautiful transom.
When I first started, it was all new, everything was like a birthday. Now I've seen almost everything. But new things pop up -- new homeowners are doing new projects and building new things -- so there's always surprises, new murals…
The whole beauty of living where we live is that we can take advantage very easily of all of our neighborhoods which are fairly well connected.
Back in the day, you'd hear people say, I'm not going to Georgetown or I don't like those Capitol Hill people… all the stuff that they were missing out on is incredible. But you know, I was the same way. I was that person. And maybe through age, through moving around, through having friends moving around, you begin to realize that there's more to life than your specific neighborhood.
I realized that the city is great because of its many neighborhoods. And it still is.
Where He's Lived and What Brought Him To Washington: I moved to DC in 1997. I grew up in New York -- as a little kid in Brooklyn, but for most of my life, on the South Shore, Nassau County, a place called Rockville Center. I went to college in Ohio, at Miami University outside Cincinnati, but I spent a year abroad in Israel working on community service, volunteering, teaching English, working with immigrant groups, stuff like that. I came straight from a year abroad to DC to go to grad school at American University.
When I first moved to DC, for the first five years or so, I lived between Woodley Park and Cleveland Park. I have two distinct periods in Washington: When I first moved here, it was pretty much all about Adams Morgan. At that time, of course there was an H St., but in terms of places that you went out, there were a couple places on U St. -- State of the Union and the 9:30 Club, Black Cat, Polly's, but it wasn't a massive go out space like it is today -- or there was Georgetown. I wasn't really a Georgetown supporter at the time, so I really closed myself off to the city beyond Woodley Park, Cleveland Park, Adams Morgan. For like five years, that's all I explored.
I started looking for houses in 2002. Believe it or not, I was really interested in living in Columbia Heights (which is very believable), but the not-so-believable part is that I had no idea what the hell Petworth was. I'd never even heard of it. But I was looking at all these grungy, one-bedroom, nasty condos that I could afford, and the realtor said, 'Why don't you check out this single family home in Petworth for same price?' There was a yard, it wasn't that far from the Metro…and that was it. I went in completely blind.
How His Neighborhood Has Grown Up With Him: Early next year will be my tenth year in Petworth. Petworth has always been a slower revitalizing area -- it's taken longer for restaurants to come in, it's taken longer for people to hear of it. Now it's rooted; there's a lot going on. For years, when I lived in Petworth, people said, 'What the hell is that?' I'd say, 'Two stops north of U St.' For me -- people who have had homes there for 50 years don't need to explain it -- but for me and my friends, Petworth was two stops north of U St. And then as Columbia Heights developed and got hotter, Petworth was one stop north of Columbia Heights. That was the identity. Today Petworth is Petworth.
We finally do have some restaurants, we finally do have some amenities, and that's not just appealing to the so-called newcomers. You talk to the old residents and they say, 'You're goddamn right I'm happy to have a restaurant, a grocery store… yes, I'm excited for some of the development projects.' This is something that benefits everybody. Some of the restaurants are expensive for me like new restaurants throughout the city are expensive. We save up and go out maybe once a week, once a month, whatever works in the budget. Not everything new thing that opens up is gonna be affordable for everybody. But you know, you want a a diversity of retail, of everything, I mean, diversity's the best. And that's something that's making Petworth better today.
The Best Things About Petworth: I love Grant Circle just to chill out. I used to be member of the golf course at the Old Soldier's Home, which was a hidden gem, before I started the blog and was able to golf. I really like the new Chez Billy that opened up…
Petworth is always gonna be my heart. It's always gonna be what got me interested in hyperlocal. I didn't give a shit really when I lived in Cleveland Park. I mean, I walked a lot, but I didn't really care, I wasn't obsessed. In Petworth, I became really fanatically obsessed.
From the very beginning, it was the people. The affordability and the people, for sure. You read stories about neighbor fights and crime, you probably read them on Prince of Petworth, and that couldn't have been further from my experience when I first moved there. Of course there's a little bit of crime, but it didn't effect me. The people are so nice. They say hello, sitting on their porches and talking -- it's really like I imagine the 50s were. Everybody knows each other and as a newcomer, I was welcomed immediately.
His Roots in Mom's Garden: I was always a walker, definitely, but I was never as much of an observer. I always liked gardens because my mom was a fanatical gardener. But I remember coming home once from college and sitting in their backyard and it was such a moment. All of a sudden, I got it -- all of the hours of work she put in -- and I just saw this unbelievable garden that I'd never appreciated in the past. I think just with age, you begin to appreciate different things.
His Plans for the Future: My parents still live in New York so I still go back fairly regularly to visit. And they live in the city, it's great. Nothing is like New York. It's got such excitement and certainly the architecture that I love and it's got really interesting people, but it's overwhelming. It's too crowded. It's too hectic. In DC, I love the mellow atmosphere. You hear people say, 'We gotta be like New York, they've got this and that,' but our chill, neighborhoody way is the best. I would never trade that.
I could live in Capitol Hill, I could easily live in Forest Hills, I could live in Penn Quarter, I could live in Crestwood, I could live in AU Park. There are so many parts of the city, hell, I could live in H St. But I can say that without hesitation, all those places that I could live. With equal lack of hesitation, I could not live in New York.
Like I said, I've lived in Petworth coming on 10 years and I love it. I may live in Petworth another 10 years, but I'm certainly not averse to living somewhere else if the circumstances arose. That's the beauty of DC -- so many amazing neighborhoods to live in.