Blogger of the Month: Prince of Petworth
Dan Silverman is a food explorer, a neighborhood busy body, a one-man Crime Watch brigade, a curious guy with a camera and a blog. Silverman, a 32-year-old homeland security consultant who has lived in the fast-changing Northwest Washington neighborhood of Petworth since 2003, is the Prince of Petworth. And now he's our Blogger of the Month (first in a series).
Silverman's chronicle of life in a once-Jewish, then-black, and now very mixed area that still features outdoor drug markets even as it vies to become the cutting-edge pizza capital of the city is a witty, adventuresome and reporting-rich voice embraced by old-timers and newcomers alike.
Petworth has spawned an impressive bunch of blogs. Prince of Petworth and Petworth News , Bill Crandall's excellent and newsy guide to "All the news within walking distance," are probably the most prominent among them. Both sites tell the stories of an area of about 55,000 people where barely a week goes by without some new eatery, watering hole, residential project or planning debate popping up. Petworth News is, well, newsier, and PofP is most definitely chattier, like its author.
I met Silverman, a bit paradoxically, at Columbia Heights Coffee, one of the great new neighborhood hangouts, even if it is slightly over the border from Petworth proper. Naturally, we riffed on the differences between the two neighborhoods. "Columbia Heights is more viscerally anti-development," Silverman said. "In Petworth, [activist and neighborhood commissioner] Joe Martin, Petworth News and Prince of Petworth work hard to make inclusion a priority, including the old homeowners in issues and discussions."
Tensions persist between longtime residents and newcomers, as in any rapidly gentrifying urban area, but Petworth has a slew of folks who work to bridge the divide. Silverman decorates his blog with photos of the most cheery and impressive gardens in front of rowhouses, and he celebrates eateries that cater to a mixed crowd of oldtimers and newbies.
When Silverman moved to Petworth after five years in Woodley Park, he knew nothing about the place he was buying into. He knew only that he liked the house. Silverman says he was only the second white person to move onto his block, but he reached out to neighbors and loved the porch culture of hanging out that has persisted in Petworth even in these atomized times. Silverman is an unusually outgoing gent--he says hello and introduces himself to everyone on his daily walks around the neighborhood, even to the drug dealers. And as people responded to his introductions, Silverman decided to share the neighborliness on a blog.
"I was boring my girl friend to tears with all my observations about the area," he says. So last November, as the campaign for a special election for a Ward 4 council member to succeed now-Mayor Adrian Fenty was gearing up, Silverman annointed himself prince. (The name was something of an accident: He happened to leave a phone message for someone one day on which he ID'd himself as the Prince of Petworth, and there it was.) He interviewed all the candidates and posted in-depth pieces about them. Within six months, he had 400 readers a day. He posts nearly every day and the blog has evolved into a diary of a neighborhood's hopes and troubles.
"If I don't know what to post, I go for a walk," says Silverman, who estimates he puts about ten hours a week into his blog. He interviews shop owners, amateur gardeners, anyone he happens upon. And nearly everyone is happy to be featured on the blog (on more than one occasion, Silverman's chats with front-yard gardeners have won him gifts of some very nice tomatoes.)
Realtors recommend PofP to people who are considering a move to Petworth. Politicians cite it as one of the city's must-read neighborhood blogs. Silverman has a good eye for detail (if you like commercial signs and murals, he's your man), a cheerful but not overly boosterish style, and a passion to make the place where he lives better. That's why he's Raw Fisher's Blogger of the Month. Next month: what's sprung up in MoCo? (Nominations for future explorations of local bloggers are always welcome. And please check out the Post's new local blog directory for a gateway to lots of bloggers in your neighborhood.)
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