26 November 2012

'Urban Pioneers'

Can a relatively innocuous real estate sign be tone deaf? Maybe.

These signs, advertising the Flats at Atlas apartments, have been up for months in tree boxes in the blocks surrounding the building at 1600 Maryland Avenue NE.

A minute looking at the pictures of the faces on their website quickly tells you the people who these apartments are being marketed toward - twentysomething, single, well-to-do folks looking to live where there are a lot of bars and restaurants nearby.

While the building is located in the Carver Langston neighborhood, across the street from Trinidad, the advertising team chooses to claim the building is in the "H Street NE" neighborhood (and the name of the development obviously evokes the Atlas District).

Can you blame them? Their target demographic has certainly heard of H Street as a place where they can drink, eat, and have fun. The other two neighborhood names, if anyone has any clue about them, don't necessarily engender the same feelings. The fact, though, is that the building is on the periphery of the H Street commercial district, not right in the heart of it all, as they might like you to believe.

What bugs me most is the first two words at the top of the sign.

"Urban Pioneers."

The term "pioneer" is defined as a person who is among those who first enter or settle a region, thus opening it for occupation and development by others.

From a simple reading, one could infer that this apartment building has been built in an empty place, and that's true, from a very narrow point of view. The lot was vacant for years before the Flats went up, though imagine if the very solid Sears and Roebuck building (seen here) was still there.

From a broader point-of-view, the area is nowhere near empty. The "pioneers" of this area arrived in the first half of the last century. Most of the buildings on the surrounding blocks were built sometime in the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s. Some of those "pioneers" still live in the area, while many have been replaced by generations of new arrivals, coming in changing waves of class, color, and creed.

The "Urban Pioneers" branding that the Flats at Atlas has chosen essentially says "Hey, nothing was here before you. This place has no history, there was nothing of importance before YOU moved in." That's myopic, shallow, and simplistic.

What's not too late, though, is for those who live in the new apartments and their neighbors on the surrounding blocks to get to know each other, despite the marketing team's willful ignorance of the latter.


  1. When I moved to the neighborhood in 2008 a few people used that phrase something like "hey you're going to be an urban pioneer" Now that there are a lot more white people in Trinidad sometimes people throw the phrase around like "hey you were an urban pioneer"

    It's a silly term and in no way accurate but no worse than the way people throw around words like amazing and unbelievable.

    In this case it's just a marketing term to make people think they're moving in to the neighborhood before it's popular. Or perhaps they think people will see the sign and think they're getting a good deal on rent. Instead their signs could say "Amazing prices on rent" or Unbelievably cheap leases"

    But yes, the real urban pioneers bought in my house in 1925.

  2. The most cynical reading would be that this is good news for the previous round of "urban pioneers" who are already in the neighborhood and thus will no longer be the newest myopic little twits on the block.

  3. Sunny Florida AvenueNovember 30, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    When we bought on 6th NE in 2008, the 5 houses across the street were 1. Vacant 2. Halfway house 3. Halfway house 4. Vacant w/ crack squatters 5. Vacant. We may not have been the first pioneers, but we were pioneers nonetheless.

  4. I clicked through to their website and despite having very low expectations for real estate marketeers could still not believe how cheesy it was. Reminds me of the worst of the mid-2000s but instead of pushing McMansions, it's now The Flats.


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