There Goes the Neighborhood

Polytropos HQ is situated in a most excellent section of Arlington. It’s one of those countless apartment buildings within a couple blocks of Wilson/Clarendon Boulevard, which runs from the high rises of Rosslyn up through Courthouse, Clarendon, and Ballston. The Courthouse/Clarendon zone was one of my favorite areas in Metro D.C. even before I ended up living here: you’ve got a decent movie theater, a great place to see local bands (Iota), two excellent coffee shops (“Common Grounds”: and Java Shack), and more restaurants per capita than anywhere else in the universe. Clarendon, especially, has zoning restrictions that keep it from turning into another Rosslyn or K Street.

But the neighborhood is changing. Old houses and garden-style apartments across the street from us are about to be replaced by classy expensive towers like the ones up the hill. As a renter and not an owner, housing prices are depressingly high. “Gentrification” isn’t the right word, because the area wasn’t low-income to begin with. “Dinkification” is also inadequate because it implies that the dinks weren’t here to begin with, which they were. So I don’t know what to call it, but the whole area is in a constant state of construction, with new apartment buildings and stores going up everywhere in spasms of Savvy Franchise Development (maybe “chainification”?). It all started with “The Market Common”:, a big courtyard lined by all sorts of hip stores (Crate and Barrel, Barnes & Noble, Apple Store, etc.) with ridiculously expensive luxury apartments above them. Now all the old buildings across the street from it have been torn down to build more of the same. The MC itself doesn’t bother me too much, since there wasn’t much there to begin with, and much as the Faux Town Square architecture annoys me, I’ve had occasion to be grateful for easy access to a big bookstore and a “Big Bowl”:

Walking down the boulevard today, I saw that one of the new places going up is a Cheesecake Factory. Somehow, this is going too far. A certain amount of development is fine, it’s not like we’re getting stuck with Waldenbooks and T.G.I. Friday’s. But the Cheesecake Factory is jumping the shark. It’s the ultimate in middle class decadence without a shred of the shabby-but-cool diversity that made the neighborhood attractive to begin with. It’s the antithesis of a little shop like British Goodies, which sells cigars and assorted weird foodstuffs, or Cafe Dulat, an informal Vietnamese restaurant with a killer lunch buffet. Both of them are still around, but the tide of development is against them. They’ll be bought out and knocked down and replaced by bigger and slicker establishments with more luxury apartments on top, and it’ll be a godsend for the Arlington County tax base but something ineffable will be lost in the process.

Or maybe not — only time will tell. I’ve met old-timers who complain that the neighborhood lost its cool a decade ago, and are blind to all that’s wonderful about it now. I don’t want to be one of those people in another few years, oblivious to the fact that the place has somehow kept its edge or found a new edge. So I’m not giving up. But I ain’t eatin’ cheesecake, either.