WE TOOK THE METRO to Eastern Market the other day to see how the neighborhood had changed since the subway opened. Emerging from the tunnel, we were immediately struck by the spaciousness of the plaza: trees, shrubs evenly spaced down the Pennsylvania Avenue median, concrete and brick walkways.But clearly the area isn't empty: A library, a junior high school, an old-style five-and-dime, a bank and smaller shops indicate that an active community is at hand.
We decided to walk down 8th Street SE, a major shopping strip. Storefront thrift stops chock full of used furniture and wrinkled clothes sit next to new townhouses that serve as real-estate offices. A credit union, located in an old mansion, is right near a new theater featuring "Lunchtime Soaps," A fire station takes up much of the block across from a new, well-kept building housing a renal-dialysis center. Regimented hedges and red bricks of the Marine Barracks hold their own against the international air of the new Swiss restaurant and the intricate designs of the ceramic-tile store. Many of the shops are less than three years old. But a number of the people strolling down the street have been at home in this neighborhood for much longer.
Seventh Street SE dispels the myth that property values never increase around public housing: Brand-new townhouses have been built directly across the street from a public-housing project. A little farther along, past potted petunias and stray sunflowers, are older houses, each with a special feature: a peaked roof, some stained glass, a backyard court or a porch. Farther still are shops offering coiffeurs, cutlery and hand-made crocheted items.
And then there is Eastern Market. Not too long ago. there was a good chance that this 105-year-old fixture would continue in disrepair and eventually close. All that has changed, thanks to the work of community groups and a few city officials. Even while the market awaits improvements, it is increasingly busy. Booths are laden with mounds of green and blue grapes, baskets of mushrooms and piles of meaty cherries.Pleasant salesmen, who have been doing it for years, extol the virtues of home-made sausage with sage "so good you'll want to cry." Fresh fish are laid out next to tiny shrimp, just around the corner from the cheeses and next to the minuscule carryout and restaurant. There are shoppers from all over the area - some of whom, we suspect, came on the Metro. Most likely the market wouldn't have survived at all without the Metro.
Walking past the tennis courts and the supermarket on the way back to the Metro stop, we concluded with delight that the changes in the area have made for a much more lively and pulsing community. Tussles continue between community organizations and city officials, but those did not consume our interest on this day. What we went to see, and what we found, was an area that is growing. Metro brings it closer to the rest of the city and brings people t it as well.