“Older District residents feel ignored by businesses aimed at the young and the hip,” says the Washington Post. That’s the headline from an article that, oddly, revolves around a regulatory battle between senior citizens and the newest addition to Columbia Heights’ bustling 14th Street: TGI Fridays. The article claims that this is a struggle between older, long-time residents who just want to spend their golden years in peace, and the large cohort of elder-disrespecting, younger people who migrated to the District over the last decade.
I think it’s really an age-old story of changing neighborhoods, changing preferences, and standard NIMBYism.
The Post narrative is implausible because TGI Fridays may be the least hip restaurant that could possibly be added to Columbia Heights, a distinction made even easier because there’s already a Ruby Tuesday directly across the street. TGI Fridays is so unhip that food bloggers take ironic visits to the “casual dining restaurant and bar” just to make fun of their offerings, and its very existence is a running gag at the Onion.
Were it it not located within the same building as the apartments housing the senior citizens who protest against it at ANC meetings, I suspect they would be looking forward to having shrimp poppers, pizza shooters, and extreme fajitas with their friends. It’s just the type of well-lit restaurant for a conversation if you find most of the neighborhood’s establishments to be “frustratingly dim and… deafeningly loud.”
The ground floor in building that will soon host TGI Fridays has been largely vacant for the past several years. That means seniors enjoyed all the benefits of living on the commercial district’s main thoroughfare without any of the trade-offs that usually come with a mixed-use building, so I can understand their perspective. But they should also understand that TGI Fridays is about as good of a tenant as they could have hoped for. The Post article indicates that the restaurant will install sound-proofing to limit effects on the seniors, rather than limiting where and when the restaurant can do business.
This seems like the most sensible outcome, but the sword cuts both ways.
TGI Fridays could also be bad news for the young people the Post is fretting about. It’s exactly the type of bland, suburban restaurant they moved to Columbia Heights to avoid. After a few waves of hip people move to an up-and-coming neighborhood, high-income professionals and families may follow. With the last wave of new residents also comes higher rent and uncool neighbors. Sometime soon, young people may be forced to entirely abandon the neighborhood for hipper pastures in Brookland, Bloomingdale, and H Street NE, only to start the process again.
The same economic forces and rules that give birth to neighborhoods popular with young people may ultimately cause their demise, at least for the hip crowd.
For the same reason we shouldn’t allow young people to ban families and chain restaurants to preserve their hip enclaves, we shouldn’t let senior citizens control regulatory matters because they don’t want their commercial building to be used as designed.