Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Street Mayors: A unique bit of city life

Shortly after we moved to Meridian Place, we met a great man named Matthew, who lives down closer to 14th Street. He's lived in the same rowhouse since the late 50's or early 60's, and saw everyone leave after the riots, and has witnessed the slow—and rapid—transformation of the neighborhood with the opening of the Green Line in 1999 and plenty of other factors.

Matthew has raised all his children in this house, and now has more grandchildren than he can count on two hands. Almost every morning, as I set out for work on my bike, I'm greeting with a wave and a "hey there, young man" as I wave back to Matthew sitting on his porch. He looks out for everyone on the street, knows most of the people who have been there for awhile by name, and knows the rest of the faces, probably.

The Bride blogged about Matthew shortly after we moved here. We heard stories from other friends of ours, including our pastor Glenn at GraceDC who said they have a "mayor" on his street as well. (Turns out its the same guy as this WaPo story - Outlaw) The first time they tried to have a package delivered to their house, he came over and politely notified them that no one on the street has any packages delivered directly to their house — he receives all of them. And he showed 'em where he had keys hanging to nearly every house on the block, so everyone knew where they had a spare when locked out or could ask him to water the plants and feed the dog. His mayoralty is a little more involved than ours. Apparently, this phenomenon is not uncommon all over the city—of a longtime resident who looks after things for everyone.

On the many streets in D.C. full of rowhouses and townhomes, rather than tall buildings with doormen like other big cities, these de facto street supes are a welcome addition, making many of our neighborhoods great places to live.

The Bride sent me this story from the Washington Post about one such Mayor near Stanton Park on Capitol Hill.

In a city of workaholics who leave home early and return late, many neighborhoods have their version of William Outlaw -- or would like to. The 80-year-old retiree accepts packages for 130 Capital Hill neighbors when they are not home during delivery hours. His practice is so well established that delivery services often head directly to his door without stopping elsewhere on the block. Some neighbors call Outlaw the unofficial mayor of the street, not only for his grass-roots post office but also for the way he volunteers to clean sidewalks, check on homes while neighbors are vacationing and do other odd chores...His name is passed like a secret treasure among grateful neighbors, so much so that real estate agents have touted him as a selling point to prospective buyers.

Read the rest of the story in the Washington Post