Brightwood: DC’s Northern Neighborhood on the Cusp

by Amanda Abrams

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Row Houses Near 16th Street in Brightwood

It’s not hip. There are no cool cafés or bars and no hordes of local bloggers covering the neighborhood’s every move. For these reasons, and the lack of a Metro station, many DC residents have never heard of Brightwood, a quiet neighborhood near the District’s northern tip.

But local residents and realtors are fairly certain that in a couple of years, it will be on people’s radar. That’s partially because of its housing stock. “It’s kind of the final frontier,” said Dina Paxenos, a Long & Foster real estate agent who works in the area.

Vague Borders, Defined Population

Brightwood’s boundaries aren’t the most well-defined. The Brightwood Community Association considers the neighborhood’s eastern boundary Georgia Avenue, but longtime residents east of that street say they live in Brightwood, too. The neighborhood seems best defined as lying between Rock Creek Park to the west, Aspen Street to the north, 5th Street to the east, and Missouri Avenue to the south.

Many residents are African American professionals who have been in their homes for decades and are now retired. The homes that have turned over—and that’s occurred only gradually—have been sold to a diverse group of younger professionals. But unlike other moderately affordable neighborhoods, such as Petworth or Bloomingdale, the area hasn’t yet been seriously recognized by first-time homebuyers looking for a bargain.

Not Swanky, But Solid

The houses of Brightwood are the most notable element of the neighborhood: drive through the area and you’ll see row after row of moderately-sized, well-maintained row houses, duplexes, detached bungalows and colonials, and unobtrusive apartment buildings with an art deco flair. It’s not the kind of neighborhood where houses have recently been renovated, so buyers shouldn’t expect granite countertops and swanky appliances.

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Apartment Building in Brightwood

“The houses are in move-in condition, because people here keep up their homes,” explained Gina Beaven, an agent with UrbanLand Company. “But they’ll probably need to be updated. They might have old paneling, for example.”

As for new condominiums, there are a few like The Tewkesbury and The Lofts at Brightwood, but since the area’s single-family homes are almost the same price as the condos, the latter aren’t as popular.

Easy On The Wallet (For DC)

The average price for a three-bedroom home in Brightwood is currently $282,000, according to Paxenos. Sixty-two homes in the neighborhood have sold since January, spending about 33 days on the market, a sign that Paxenos thinks means the market is picking up.

Brightwood’s apartments offer a similar bargain for renters: the average price of a one-bedroom unit is around $1,000 per month.

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Intersection of Georgia Avenue and Piney Branch Road NW. Photo by rockcreek

You Can’t Walk For Groceries—Or Much Else

The homes here are affordable for a reason. Brightwood isn’t a place where you can walk to a variety of restaurants, bars or stores for everyday needs. So far, there’s one sit-down restaurant, the Brightwood Bistro, whose service and prices have received mixed reviews from patrons. Other than that, the offerings along Georgia Avenue, and to a lesser extent Kennedy Street just south of Missouri Avenue, are limited to El Salvadoran, Caribbean, and Chinese takeout.

For some residents, the lack of any major commercial strip is not an issue. For others, it is.

The lack of eateries doesn’t bother Anne Costello, an analyst at a think tank downtown and a seven-year Brightwood resident. “Silver Spring is a five-minute drive, and Takoma has great restaurants,” she said.

But Lee Ordeman, an actor who’s lived in the area for five years, would love some retail and restaurants nearby. “I wish I lived somewhere where I could walk into a friendly bar. You have to drive for groceries here.”

In a few years, the situation could be quite different. Next year, the federal government is pulling out of Walter Reed Army Medical Center, and the DC government is currently soliciting community feedback about how the 62-acre area should be used. Right now, there is a preliminary proposal for a development with 2.4 million square feet of retail, educational, residential, cultural, hotel, and office space, including a grocery store and several restaurants. Plans aren’t even close to final, but if the redevelopment moves forward, it will radically affect the neighborhood.

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Unusually Large Home in Brightwood

Brightwood aka Parkwood

Brightwood was a family neighborhood for decades, but as residents aged, the area gradually became heavily populated by senior citizens. Recently, young families, mostly Latino, have moved into the neighborhood and given it a youthful vibe.

According to Costello, the schools aren’t the best, but the area is otherwise very family-friendly: the streets feel peaceful and traffic is minimal. Brightwood is home to several lush parks, some with playgrounds and community gardens, as well as Fort Stevens Recreation Center; both Emory and Coolidge rec centers lie at its borders.

Not a Dealer? No Worries, Then

Both Ordeman and Costello said the neighborhood is relatively safe, though they acknowledged that the area does have some drug traffic. But it’s fine “as long as you’re not in the drug trade,” Ordeman said. Costello has had some problems with drug dealers on a nearby corner, but more because of the trash they leave behind than anything else.

You Can’t Just Hop on the Metro

The most common neighborhood requirement for young professionals in DC, according to Gina Beaven, is a Metro station nearby. That’s an amenity Brightwood lacks.

Nonetheless, the northern section of the neighborhood is a five-minute walk from the Takoma station on the Red Line and the Petworth station on the Green Line lies about ten minutes to the south by bus. And buses serve the area well: the 70, 71, and 79 run north and south on Georgia Avenue; the S1, S2, S4, and D33 serve 16th Street; and the E2, E3, and E4 run east and west on Kennedy Street.

Finding parking is not an issue in Brightwood, and the neighborhood is relatively close to I-495, though driving all the way to Virginia every day could get tiring.

The Bottom Line

Like every neighborhood in Washington, Brightwood has its pros and cons. The number of affordable, quality homes and the serenity pervading the neighborhood are major upsides. But for anyone who’s looking for active nightlife, a cozy neighborhood restaurant, or even a simple coffeeshop—and isn’t willing to wait a few years for those amenities—Brightwood isn’t the place.

Amanda Abrams is a Washington, DC-based journalist who has written feature stories for The Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, and Washington City Paper.


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This article originally published at http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/brightwood_dcs_northern_neighborhood_on_the_cusp/2498

11 Comments

  1. mike said at 8:57 am on Thursday September 23, 2010:

    developers are definitely coming in and renovating old houses.  I live on the eastern border of brightwood and in the past year there have been at least 5 houses in a 3 block span that have been gutted and renovated from top to bottom and have sold in days or weeks.  You’re right that it’s a sleepy neighborhood and will never be that exciting but it’s perfect for a younger couple who wants to buy a single family house in NW but can’t afford other areas.

  1. B said at 9:09 am on Thursday September 23, 2010:

    I hope that Brightwood stays like it is while adding a grocery store and some good restaurants. I don’t want to see some massive development come to where Walter Reed is now and ruin the area’s character.

  1. V said at 9:52 am on Thursday September 23, 2010:

    l live in Brightwood and the lack of retail and restaurants makes me want to move, if I could afford it.  The rent is cheap, which is the appeal, but that is all. I don’t even want to go grocery shopping sometimes because I don’t have a car and its annoying to carry bags of groceries on the bus.  As for restaurants, I wish there was a cafe where I could eat breakfast, unfortunately there is no such place. I have to go to Columbia Heights for this. Its sucks. I really hope Brightwood changes, but I don’t think I will stay around to wait for that

  1. The Brightwoodian said at 11:46 am on Thursday September 23, 2010:

    Hey world, Brightwood isn’t half as bad as this piece makes us sound!  Take it from one of those bloggers that doesn’t exist in the neighborhood (according to paragraph 1).

  1. Elvis said at 12:10 pm on Thursday September 23, 2010:

    I don’t think the article puts Brightwood in a bad light (there really isn’t much in terms of retail). I have been looking for a house in Brightwood and Petworth for about two months. If Brightwood had even a little bit more in terms of shopping options, I wouldn’t even consider Petworth.

  1. Elvis's ghost said at 12:22 pm on Friday September 24, 2010:

    I’m confused by the comments regarding having to drive for groceries.  Is the Safeway that is in the middle of the neighborhood a figment of my imagination?

  1. Brightwoodbrightwood said at 10:56 am on Sunday September 26, 2010:

    +1 Elvis’ Ghost, my thoughts exactly.

    The We Love DC blog ran a piece that was similar to this, but far superior as it actually discussed the neighborhood’s existing amenities: http://www.welovedc.com/2010/08/27/where-we-live-brightwood/#more-47330

    The oh-it-might-be-a-good-place-to-live-eventually tone of the Urban Turf piece confounds me.

  1. jarrod said at 2:05 pm on Tuesday September 28, 2010:

    To say there isn’t a grocery store in the area is odd.  The Georgia avenue safeway is in the exact middle of what the author defines as Brightwood.  In fact, the Safeway is directly across the street from the shops shown in the picture directly above where it says “You can’t walk to groceries..”

  1. Amanda Abrams said at 2:32 pm on Thursday September 30, 2010:

    Fair enough. Just about everyone I talked to DID mention having to drive for groceries, but you’re right that the Safeway is there and the heading is not accurate. Thanks for pointing it out.

  1. EB said at 8:31 am on Friday October 22, 2010:

    This article is so obviously written for a certain demographic—upper-middle income, white professionals who like “cool”, whatever that is. To say that, “You Can’t Walk For Groceries—Or Much Else” is absolutely absurd. “You can’t walk to any snooty stores” would be more accurate. I live in Petworth and walk up to Brightwood to do much of my shopping. The GA Ave Thrift Store is hugely popular, the Safeway is big and modern (with a Starbucks), there is a sit-down African place: http://www.yelp.com/map/chez-aunty-libe-washington, a Haydee’s http://www.yelp.com/biz/haydees-washington-2,  a Post Office (open Saturdays!), CVS, I could go on and on. The walkscore for a random house for sale in the neighborhood is 74 “very walkable”: http://www.walkscore.com/score/-6316-8th-St-NW-washington-dc . Please at least visit a neighborhood before you blog about it!

  1. Emmy Robinson said at 10:33 am on Thursday August 23, 2012:

    Fo those who don’t own cars for grocery shopping, there are lots of other alternatives: Giant Food Peapod; Zip-cars, etc.  Think outside the box a little and enjoy living in a nice neighborhood!

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