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  • Neal Sweeney

That House on The Corner Won't Last Much Longer

Updated: Dec 2, 2019

Four years ago I left the neighborhood I had grown up in for over 17 years and went to Boston to attend Emerson College and earn a degree in Journalism in Marketing. Since then it has been announced that the retail-devouring and tax-evading abyssal maw known as Amazon would be making itself manifest in Crystal City, about four miles from the house I knew as home. The County offered the company a $23 Million incentives package in return for an estimated 12,000 'high-paying' jobs over the next 12 years. The move has drawn criticism left and right, putting strain on an already exacerbated housing market accompanied by a city that is number three in traffic congestion and who has had metro stations shuttered for the entire summer.

Now I've returned from college, degree in-hand, to a neighborhood that looks the same in most cases, but feels irreversibly changed. Houses on the block are being bought, torn down and rebuilt into skinnier, taller, residencies all accompanied by seven-figure price tags and west-coast design sensibilities like strangely-colored doors that act as a garish garnish on an already putrid-smelling dish. A dwelling that once contained an aging, cancer-afflicted woman whose lawn I used to mow was no more, and instead replaced entirely; the house on the corner next to it that I only knew as the one with a wheel-chair elevator on the side of it has had said elevator removed and the excess vegetation around it shredded, it will likely be next.

It feels like a trend in tandem with the polarization of our political climate, as masses flock towards crowded metropolises and pack themselves in to tight apartment buildings with lower-level retail that sport vain names like West Alex and have studio apartments with configurations referred to vapid things such as The Selfie. In other words, you live somewhere, or you live nowhere. No longer are towns built around single mass-employers like coal mines and steel mills, instead mega-corporations like Amazon inject themselves into already established ones like Washington to save themselves the effort and trouble of having to build their own infrastructure. Obviously this is due to the fact that steel mills required themselves to be near rivers and coal mines needed coal to mine, whereas Amazon is an ephemeral, online business that only needs two physical locations to eviscerate competitors globally.

I'm no expert on southern Virginia and West Virginia, but I've spent some time in both places, and can only recount things like the absence of cellular signal in entire small-towns. Places that once seemed to hold some form of business or retail were abandoned shells with 'For Sale' signs in the windows, with only a gas station, Subway sandwich shop and grocery store remaining. These are places susceptible to the opioid epidemic and poverty, stretches of empty, abandoned territory where people circulate resources amongst one another and simply try to persist in the wake of formalized industry.

With the aforementioned degree obtained my life sits at an inflection point while I attempt to establish a career and peruse job offerings that solely reside in one of these metropolises. Choosing to live in a smaller, more quaint area feels like a resignation away from professional-level careers and an acceptance that in some ways I have failed, being unable to secure a job that I will see as prestigious and worthy of a person such as myself. It feels like another problem where fingers can be pointed towards governments and citizens can cry out that the system has failed them, and will continue to do so as people in this bone-headed country continue to do things as they have been done; Just because it has been that way does not mean that it should be that way.

But as a mere citizen I resign myself to the fact that there is nothing I can do about this, and will merely play the game presented to me, in lieu of deciding not to play at all. For now, I will continue to spend my days reaccompanying myself with the house I left for four years, adjusting to the immaculately-designed and transformed Ballston Quarter that still acts as a vessel for Chik-Fil-A and mediocre retail establishments filled with things I'd be better off buying online.

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