By Joshua Zumbrun
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 2, 2007 5:06 PM
Just five months after a fire ravaged Eastern Market on Seventh Street SE on Capitol Hill, the Eastern Market neighborhood has been recognized as one of the nation's 10 Great Neighborhoods by the American Planning Association, a nonprofit public-interest and research group focusing on city planning.
"What's real is that there was a fire. What's misunderstood is that we never really closed," said Steven L. Miller, an exhibitor at the market, who has sold black-and-white fine art photography at the market on weekends for four years.
The perseverance of vendors such as Miller helped garner Eastern Market the award. Paul Farmer, president of the American Planning Association, said Eastern Market "shines as an example of the good that happens when residents care about where they live and take time to be involved."
The neighborhood and the city's resolve not to abandon the 134-year-old market after an April 30 fire is starting to pay off. A $25 million renovation of the market is in progress. "There has been a marked renewal in the number of people who have noticed that we're open for business, which is satisfying because this institution, as this award suggests, is an unusually unique microcosm of society and commerce," Miller said.
"It's a real affirmation to the community that has been working on issues related to Eastern Market for more than 30 years. There was a time when the market was dead around there on the weekends," said Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), whose ward includes the neighborhood. "Now Realtors make their listings saying, 'Just steps from Eastern Market.' "
Many displaced vendors moved onto the streets after the fire, and on Aug. 25, a temporary building opened so that D.C. residents could once again buy tender slabs of flatiron steak, imported cheeses, flowers and homemade pastas and desserts.
The American Planning Association liked "the unique businesses there, the sense of local identity and local commerce," said association spokesman Denny Johnson. "In so much of the country you see more and more franchises. We're not opposed to those, but having a strong local identity is important."
Mayor Adrian M. Fenty received a certificate of recognition at a ceremony in front of the market this morning.
"Eastern Market is the heart and soul of Capitol Hill," Fenty said in a statement. "While the historic market hall was severely damaged by fire this spring, this community's spirit and commitment to rebuild never wavered. Eastern Market is as vibrant a place as it has ever been."
Miller said he hopes the award will send a message to get even more people out to the market. "It's not a parking lot with some vendors," Miller said, "it's Eastern Market, it's one of the 10 best neighborhoods."
This was the first year for the planning association's "Great Places in America." The 10 Great Neighborhoods -- from Pike Place Market in Seattle to Old West Austin to Park Slope in Brooklyn, N.Y. -- were joined by 10 Great Streets. In future years, the association also plans to recognize 10 great public places.
The complete list of Great Neighborhoods is available on the American Planning Association Web site.