Last month I had the incredible experience of attending a conference of US/ICOMOS and the World Bank, in Washington, DC. The conference focused on the relationship between heritage preservation and economics, and particularly on the ability of heritage preservation and tourism to create successful economic outcomes in surrounding communities. Presentations about minority cultural preservation in China, about healing through preservation in the Balkans, and about how heritage resources are an essential part of the environment of a thriving knowledge economy were particularly fascinating. Several case-studies and arguments about the relationship between resource management and tourism were also presented, providing a useful framework for addressing this always-tenuous relationship. It was really exciting to have so many professionals, grad students and recent grads from a variety of fields collaborating to discuss these issues around the world. Also, visiting the World Bank was super-cool, whatever you think about its impact on global development.
Beyond the conference, though, my little trip to D.C. was a wonderful breath of fresh air and a great opportunity to see a bit of a city that is usually perceived in marble and monument. I had already had one experience like this, visiting friends in Falls Church last fall. We barely set foot in the city, spending most of our time eating the most outrageous strip-mall Asian food we had ever had: pho at Pho 50 (second only to Pho Saigon 8 in Las Vegas), and tofu/kimchee jigae at Vit Goel (Lighthouse). Apparently the Washington D.C. area is great for ethnic food, as Tyler Cowen has convinced me. Anyway, so I already knew that D.C. was much more than staffers and protests and statues of dead presidents.
But it wasn’t until I got the chance to stay in a wonderful apartment in the Northeast that I found on airbnb that I really appreciated the beauty of daily life in our nation’s capitol. The neighborhood, just past Union Station, is actually a historic district, and it has very distinctive residential architecture. It also is home to a thriving community, with many apartments seeming to have recently turned over into condos but still many lower-income and family residents remaining. I felt safe on the street at all times of day and loved getting the chance to stay somewhere off the hotel-and-museum circuit. I highly encourage you to check out airbnb — it’s an incredible resource for travelers seeking a more immersive experience, wherever they are traveling.
So, of course, the question is: what does heritage preservation mean for people living in the Northeast neighborhood? Is the heritage of D.C. sufficiently presented to visitors, alongside the heritage of our nation? Has the historic district produced economic impacts in this neighborhood, and if so, who has benefited?