04 April 2010

Distances in the District—What's "nearby" in Southeast DC?

Washington Post reporter Hamil Harris reported today that the Obama family attended Easter church services at Allen Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is located in Ward 8 and near the Skyland Shopping Center.

The headline, "Obama celebrates Easter service near site of D.C. shootings," makes it sound like the church is very close to the site of the shootings that happened March 30. I don't want to delve too deeply into what is considered "near" and what isn't within the context of Washington, DC, but let's take the headline and story for their word and assume that we can define the distance between these two happenings as "nearby."

View Easter service in a larger map

Look at the map above. The straight-line distance between the church on Alabama Avenue SE and the site of the shootings on South Capitol Street is approximately 2.7 miles. Anyone who's familiar with the District knows that's a long distance to consider close. DC is not a suburban or rural area. For comparison, I noted the distance from my block to the White House. It also happens to be 2.7 miles. So, if anything happens at the White House, should I assume that the events are meant to be symbolically tied to Trinidad? Of course not.

The point here I believe is one of familiarity. If one lives in Cleveland Park, they likely think of the National Cathedral as "nearby," but not Petworth. Yet the two neighborhoods are just as close as Allen Chapel AME and South Capitol Street running through Bellevue and Washington Highlands.

In a great guest post at Congress Heights on the Rise, author Ambergris writes about the problem that comes from unfamiliarity with the neighborhoods in Southeast DC. I would recommend that all local news organizations read this open letter. While the Washington Post appears to be doing a better job of identifying neighborhoods around the city instead of simply falling into the lazy trap of only identifying a city quadrant, there is still a long way to go.


  1. Amen. I swear, major media is becoming more and more irrelevant. Pretty laughable, actually.

  2. Hmmm. What if Obama attended church in 'nearby' Crystal City?

    Media do this too much. I was just listening to Kojo from last week, and he too identifies callers from within the District by quadrant.

  3. DG-rad: I wouldn't go so far as to say that major media (like the Washington Post) is becoming irrelevant. We neighborhood bloggers and the like still need professional journalists who have the time and resources to get out there are beat the pavement to turn up stories.

    The thing that has changed is that there is now a two-way street when it comes to accountability. We can (and should) hold their feet to the fire when they make mistakes, cut corners, or do sloppy reporting. What they need to realize that, if done well, this needs not be a personal indictment of them, but rather a way for all of us to become more educated and make the city a better place.

  4. yep, laughable. i think its fair to say that the Washington Post is far more concerned with Washington, and not so much with DC.

  5. @ Artisan - Thats deep. Gotta quote ya.

  6. Those shootings are practically right next door to the White House!

  7. If you knew anything about SE DC you would know that Allen Chapel a church I have visited is not that far from the shooting...I was in the vicinity of the crime scene. Some people are always quick to complain or criticize without all the facts! Take care!

  8. Anonymous: Sure, Allen Chapel is close, when you compare it to how close Silver Spring is, or how close Manassas is.

    Perhaps you are someone who drives to get from place to place. Someone who walks likely doesn't believe that 2.7 miles from a point is close to it.

    Thank you for taking the time to educate us on your way of viewing what's close and what isn't. Glad to see unique viewpoints.


You can be curmudgeonly too, but let's try to be civil and constructive here, ok?