Housing Complex

Long Rant About Northern Virginia…Plus, a Little Something About Clarendon

I hail from Maryland. I like Maryland. I get Maryland. Maryland makes sense to me. 

I don't get Virginia. Virginia is crazy. The broad boulevards make me mad. I'm looking for something, and I miss it. I have to turn around. I lose 15 minutes. I'm trying to find a restaurant, but there's construction blocking the main road leading into the neighborhood. I look for an alternate route. There is no alternate route. I am lost. I am frustrated. I lose 20 minutes. 

Sometimes, Virginia's just not worth it. Actually, a lot of the time, Virginia's just not worth it.  

It's too bad I don't get more excited. Some people think it's pretty spectacular that one can visit three—THREE!—local jurisdictions living in the D.C. area. A few summers ago, a friend of mine from Texas came to visit me. We were driving around—heading, I think, to Old Town Alexandria—and so naturally we crossed into Virginia. A few minutes after, I said 'Oh, we're in Virginia now.' She was incredulous. Virginia! Just like that huh? Maryland. BAM. D.C. BAM. Virginia. BAM. Easy breezy. 

In Texas, when you leave, you are fully aware. There are more signs.  There is a big star by the border. You want to leave me? Texas seems to say. Fine. But, you'll be sorry. 

Here, though, it's easy to slip from one place to another, and yet, I probably go to Virginia once every other month. Like I said, it's too much work.  I feel like this thinking extends beyond me.

A little over a year ago, I worked at an office with some Virginia folks and some Maryland folks. The Virginia people thought Maryland was a confusing and dull place. The Maryland folks thought that Virginia was just ridiculous.

Which brings me to my point. Really, why is Clarendon sooooOOOOooooo great?  Last week, the American Planning Association named Clarendon and Wilson Boulevards one of their "Great Places in America." Today, the Washington Post has printed a love letter to Clarendon

They are icons of America, from California to New York, streets that evoke the nation's history, politics and style: Pennsylvania Avenue, Wall Street, Beale Street, Hollywood Boulevard.

To that list, add Clarendon and Wilson boulevards.

Okay, pause here. Blegh. Give me a break. Alright, let's continue with the Post story:

In the days since officials from the American Planning Association announced a Top 11 list of Great Streets in America — which included the Arlington pair and nine others from Tempe, Ariz., in the west to Portland, Maine, in the east — a long-running neighborhood conversation has swirled anew in Clarendon, centered on a couple of basic questions: What makes the area, which could have evolved into a lifeless outpost, cool? And what can be done to keep it that way? 

Really, is it that special? I've been to Clarendon. It's nice. Nice restaurants. Nice walkability. Nice Barnes & Noble. It was a very livable neighborhood, no doubt about it.  But, please explain the unique charm, the  je ne sais quoi, because I still don't get it. 

God, people from Maryland are so thick, right?

  • SG

    A few things (from a fellow MD native)...

    I think people make wayyyy too big a deal out of the "jurisdictions". I don't think many people (like your friend) without preconceptions would tell the difference between MD and VA. There isn't much. They're both good states with cool and not-so-cool places to live. The borders are extremely arbitrary, just born of a Congressional act way back when. In most cities, like NYC, Houston, Atlanta, Chicago, etc... all of the counties surrounding DC would emcompass "DC". They just happened to make DC a lot smaller, area-wise, than others. (And Arlington and Alexandria were originally part of DC's little square shape.)

    As to your question, Clarendon isn't THAT great, but it's still pretty neat. I personally don't think it measures up to many neighborhoods of DC that are prettier and have more to do (Gtown, Adams Morgan, Dupont, Capitol Hill, Cleveland Park) but it is quaint, transit-oriented locale with lots of good restaurants and shopping. I could see it being a good place to live for someone who wants to live like an urbanite, without actually having to deal with the pitfalls of a city. But I for one happen to like the craziness that life that comes with city living... but I can totally see the appeal of Clarendon.

    What is a better question is... why did Clarendon become perceived as so cool, and not Bethesda (even though it has more going for it)? I would say that it's the concentration of young 20-somethings (mostly from VA colleges) that helped make it cool.

  • Ruth Samuelson

    SG! Thank you. I expected a bunch of Clarendon defenders to jump on here immediately. Perhaps, they sense my MD/DC biases and avoid this blog entirely. I'm from Bethesda and even though I live in the city now, I'm always shocked when I'm home and come across someone in their twenties who I didn't go to middle school with. But, there are a few bars and one, dare I say, bar/club.I can't remember the name of it, and when I googled "Bethesda AND Club," I got a list of country clubs and swim clubs. So, yeah, I think Bethesda still has a long way to go.

  • http://none bob previdi

    Following the tone of your rant.
    Clarendon is not Virgina.
    The whole Ballston Rosslyn corridor is not VA.
    Its NY
    Its what NY was before WWII but NY has lost its way.
    NY is stuck with Pre-war NY and Post war NY which is Robert Moses drive everywhere and think that is America.
    America's love of the auto has ruined America.
    Clarendon reinvents NY. NY is not all about Manhattan, its the outter neighborhoods linked by rail to the heart.
    Forest Hills comes to mind. Forest Hills, Queens.
    Tall buildings, apts, offices
    row homes, single family. Forest Hills has it all.
    shopping and a train link to Manhattan.
    that is what Clarendon is brining back.
    They did it like Queens. Queens has the E, F, R, G, and V - Clarendon has the Orange line
    Its balence. Balenced housing, offices, shops, schools designed within walking distance with links by rail and car and bus to other places. simple. old school - and now considered wacko liberal by the republicans who own all the oil companies. Imagine that - walking radical liberal. Sad. What have we become.

  • Kevin

    The author is wrong. The first commentator is right. The distinction between MD and NoVa is fun for office debates and friendly kerfuffles, but it is otherwise not so great a difference as to merit real attention, and it is silly to produce a whole article (or blog entry) devoted to demeaning Virginia with no facts upon which to base the attack. This is just classic liberalism at its best--to wit, "I have no facts and no theories, but I do have opinions, and because I have them, they must be correct." I would rathered to have read an article about the history of the tire iron than to have to deal with a peckish little rant like this one--not whimsical, not entertaining, not wry--just boring, dull and baseless. No thanks and, yes, you well deserved the attack, Ms. Samuelson.

...