After a nerve-wracking yet effective apartment hunting process and 3+ weeks of living out of a suitcase, it was simply brilliant to get to move in to my new home in Columbia Heights in late September. And this week, returning to DC after 11 days of travelling proved that my home really is here now: It was great to be welcomed back by my awesome roommates, and I haven’t slept as well in a long, long time as in my own bed during the first night after the trip.
The classic landmark of Columbia Heights is the Tivoli Theatre, a beautiful old movie theater from 1924. Since the opening of the DC USA mall in 2008, the latter seems to have stolen the show, though. DC USA hosts massive stores such as Target, Bed Bath & Beyond, and Best Buy. Next door, there is also Giant Food, a huge supermarket that is open 24/7. You would typically find all these major retailers only in the outskirts of cities surrounded by huge parking lots, not in a densely populated area next to a metro station. This makes me think of the mall in Ruoholahti: suburban services for urban people without cars! Luckily, the local restaurant scene resembles more that of Kallio, with gems like Sticky Fingers, a vegan bakery.
The history of Columbia Heights is fascinating and eventful. In the early 1800s, the area was still preferred mainly by cows, but in the early 1900s, it was preferred by some of Washington’s wealthiest and most influential people. Four street car lines provided transportation to downtown. From the late 1940s to mid 1960s, African American residents began to buy apartment buildings previously owned by whites, and Columbia Heights became a middle-class African American neighborhood. In 1968, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., riots ravaged in the neighborhood, and many homes and shops remained vacant for decades.
After the Columbia Heights Metro station was opened in 1999, the area started to gentrify, and during the past years it has been one of the fastest gentrifying neighborhoods in the United States. According to Wikipedia, even despite the recent gentrification Columbia Heights still is Washington’s most ethnically and economically diverse neighborhood. In 2010, 43.5% of the population was African American; 28.1% Hispanic; 22.9% White; 3.2% Asian; with the remaining 2% belonging to other groups.
My new home is diverse too: All my roommates have US passports, but they have roots at least in Russia, Ethiopia, California, France, England, Cyprus and Sicily – and there are just four of them! (It is actually quite unique here in DC to be a Finn who was born in Finland, grew up in Finland, has Finnish parents, and even Finnish grandparents.) The five of us share a house with three floors and a nice patio. Compared to Finland where living in shared houses and apartments after graduation has traditionally been considered relatively hippie or even left-wing, it is very common over here. For me, it was absolutely the preferred option: so much cheaper, and most importantly so much more fun!
In our house, on the ground floor there is a kitchen, a dining room, and a living room – equipped with a projector instead of a TV, just like in my castle in Helsinki. Bedrooms, including my small, sunny basecamp, are upstairs. I was conveniently able to buy nearly all the furniture I needed from the cool Bulgarian NASA scientist who rented the room before me. The basement is the kingdom of one of the roommates (and his pet snake), but additionally there is the laundry room, and a sauna. Yes, a sauna, can you believe it? I mean who would’ve thought that I end up living in a house that has a sauna in DC?