For a long time, and with justification, people have vilified Washington for its numerous failures and foibles. As a resident of the District for almost 30 years, I saw that over time things had gotten worse -- much worse. But in the past few months, things have begun to look up, not just a little, but dramatically. Three specific instances related to safety, convenience and neighborhood come to mind.

First, safety:

A tree at the curb near my house recently began to list, leaning dangerously over power lines and traffic in the street. I called the city and filed a report on a Monday. That Thursday an inspector came to look at the tree, agreed that it had become a hazard and painted a red circle on its trunk.

The following Monday a crew took off the limbs and neatly stacked the wood. The next day, another crew cut down the trunk, not only removing all the wood but as much debris as it could. Had this tree not been taken down, the wind would have blown it on a house, a car or a person. Score one for the District.

Second, convenience:

Like other Washingtonians, I have hated to get my car inspected. In the past, lines at the inspection station on Half Street SW snaked around the block, and I knew I was in for a long and tedious time. But on my last visit to Half Street, I found a state-of-the-art facility; the inspection process took 25 minutes and was painless. Score two for the District.

Third, neighborhood:

For the past few years, the District would not pick up leaves piled by the curb unless they were bagged. While raking is good exercise and even fun sometimes, bagging the production of the grand, old trees in my yard leads to back spasms and a foul temper.

Then I received a mailing from the city saying that it would vacuum leaves if they were raked to the curb. My family built the biggest leaf piles our house had ever seen, looking at them with pride and a little bit of trepidation: What if the city crew didn't come?

But the crew came with freshly painted equipment, and when I arrived home from work, my curb was leaf-free. Okay, D.C. detractors, three strikes, and you're out.

It is wonderful to feel good about my hometown after feeling so bad about it for so long. I know leaf cleaning is not in the same league as schools, police and fire protection. Still, it's a start -- a good start.

So congratulations and thanks to Mayor Anthony Williams, his administrators and other D.C. employees.

-- Arthur D. Chotin