Over the past month I've been enthralled with an album where the lyrics have made me stop and think. It's Sho Baraka's Narrative, but there is something from My Hood USA, 1937 which made me think of Shaw and well Truxton Circle.

As part of the Triangle Known as Truxton Circle art show (if you missed it, your loss) I had a map for residents to place a pin where they lived so we could see where our audience was from. The map wound up being a little confusing because the pins were colored and the colors on the original map pointed to types of different businesses in the neighborhood.
In the song My Hood USA, 1937 a few of the lyrics go like this:
All we got is liquor stores next to a Burger King
Next to a pawn shop, next to a Dairy Queen
Next to the China shop, next to the gas station
Next to the five churches, next to the building that's vacant

To my knowledge we've never had a Burger King or a Dairy Queen or a pawn shop, but churches, Chinese restaurants and gas stations, yup! We've had those. You may have to see the image in Flickr to see the six liquor stores (seen in brown) in NW Truxton existing in 1970. The other business that populated the TC in 1970 were barber or beauty shops (red), another staple of depressed neighborhoods. Not to fault barbershops, they're in nice upper class neighborhoods too, just not so many it seems. Then you have corner (and not on the corner) grocery stores in orange. We had one drug store, represented by green, on North Cap. I'll bet money it was a People's Drug (surviving People's Drugs are CVS'). The blue is "other convenience". Looking across the street on New Jersey Ave NW, I know one of those blues was a laundromat before it was converted into residential housing.
What this map doesn't show are the vacant buildings. There were vacant buildings when I showed up over a decade ago. Vacant commercial properties. Vacant residential properties. Yes, gentrification brought displacement, but there were many places where there was no one to displace, just an empty brick box with plywood windows someone used to call home.
I'm not even going to get into the "next to the five churches" thing. There were so many churches, storefront and steeple, that would be another blog post.
Sho touches upon the make up of a neighborhood in other songs. In Forward, 1619 he raps " In between white supremacy and black nihilism; AME churches, corner stores and the prison systems". In Kanye, 2009 "And why ain't no Whole Foods in the hood? All I see is fast food here, can we eat good?" ... "Less pawn shops and liquor stores and We Buy Gold".
When I visited Chicago for my "2008 Gentrification Tour" driving through the middle class and downtown neighborhoods I noticed what businesses were around. Lotsa chiropractors' offices in 2008. Looking around TC and Shaw today, our great industry is feeding people and selling mundane to interesting drinking opportunities. We need to diversify, and find other commercial ventures not dependent on people's oral and digestive parts.

So my neighbor's house caught on fire....

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4thAfterFiredamageNot my next door neighbor, but the family across the street. Their house.
I found out about it after my spouse called me to ask if I was seeing all the traffic on our block's email list group. Once I saw all the emails I figured out whose house was on fire and since the owner and I did a few things that I thought would help. Speaking with someone we know in common, the owner is upset, but also upset about how the fire was portrayed in the news. So I'm not going to talk about it in any detail, out of respect for her and her family.

I will talk about the importance of support systems. The email list mentioned that the nearby church reached out to help. I also know someone from the mayor's office stopped by to offer help. Not sure if her own church got back to her, but they are aware of her situation. And the Red Cross provided hotel accommodations. The Red Cross is great for providing the most meaningful help quickly and I would give them money if they didn't pimp out my contact information (many non-profits do). When the block experienced a flood a decade back, they were out at my house with mops and cleaning supplies before the insurance claims inspector showed up. But most obviously were the many family members and friends who came out to pull things out of the house and go through papers and things to find what was salvageable. Her family was out there for two days helping and assisting.

A year or so back a friend of mine's apartment was destroyed by fire. In another unit, another tenant who was experiencing some personal issues, started a fire. My friend was able to escape with his laptop and more importantly, his life. I've noticed he too has a great support system, as he was able to stay with at a friend's while he dealt with the aftermath. He had renter's insurance and gently declined our offers of money and stuff. The hardest part it seemed was going through all the things not obviously destroyed by water.

Looking at my neighbor's house the aftermath will be hard. The fire did not tear the beautiful metal handrail off the building. There are a bunch of things in black plastic contractor's bags, things that could not be saved. In order to do their job the firefighters tear doors off, break windows, and get a whole bunch of things wet. I'm not sure who is responsible for nailing the plywood up so thieves don't come through to steal your copper pipes or pilfer through floors undamaged by the ordeal. I can only gather the homeowner is responsible for calling a service vacuum up all the water that flowed to the basement. The water damage clean up people were there hours after the fire.

Lesson from all this? I would say check your smoke detectors but I got 8 frigging CO and smoke detectors in my house.... waaay too much work. However,  I will replace an old hardwired smoke detector. According to the National Fire Protection Association, you're supposed to replace your smoke alarms every 10 years. I'm slowly replacing those 8 alarms. Renter's/ Homeowner's insurance helps. And lastly, build up your support network.

Change in Truxton Circle 1880-2010, part 2

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Please read Part 1 first.
Triangle Known As Truxton Circle
So at the highest in 1940 there were over eight thousand residents and with the last census in 2010 there were a little over three thousand residents in the NW part of Truxton Circle. There is a NE part on the other side of North Cap but I'm ignoring them*.
So what happened? And what's going to happen going forward?
I have my theories.
As I mentioned the TC population was at its height in 1940 (see part 1 for all the numbers) before the US got involved in WWII. Also by this time the TC was clearly an African American neighborhood, as a Black majority was reached in 1930. Prior to that it was a mixed neighborhood with a White majority. But who out numbers who and percentages are a distraction from the big story this tells of a current population that is less than half of its 1940, 1930 and 1960 populations. And this is with no major change in the housing stock.
Triangle Known As Truxton CircleI created two maps. One of consolidated 1887 maps and another of 1919 maps to show the change in building and housing stock. In 1887 there isn't a lot here. By 1919 most of what we recognize as housing in the TC had been built. The major exception is Square 554, where Mt. Sinai, the Northwest Co-op and the park sits. That block was mostly commercial so the loss in population was probably minimal.
So the housing barely changed and the population changed a lot. So what happened?
My theory, big changes in American culture, changes in migration and changes in attitudes regarding living space. A lot has happened since 1940, civil rights, Section 8, patterns in marriage & families and the rise of the service economy to name a few. The TC Black population was rising ever so slightly starting around 1900 and began to drop noticeably in 1970 and more so in 1980.  My theory was the Great Migration was feeding that side of the population. My great uncle was part of that migration, going from NC to SE DC. My aunts in the 1970s pretty much skipped DC altogether and went to PG County.  I credit Section 8 and HUD programs with out current landscape. The NW Co-op is a product of some HUD program and Section 8 provided value to the housing stock, but not enough value to provide an incentive to tear housing down and replace it with something newer. In 1940 people had larger families and took in lodgers (roommates). In 1940 people did work in the service economy as domestics, but many TC AfrAm men worked as some sort of low skilled laborer. In 2017 there is less demand for full time maids and ditch diggers. There is a demand for knowledge economy and skilled workers such as lawyers, IT people, managers, and the like. Those workers tend to hold off marriage and have way fewer kids, if any. A house that may have been home to 6 people in 1940 may now only have 1 or 2 people.
Another thing relating to the unchanging housing stock and fewer people are attitudes about space. In 1900 there were 11 people in my then 1000 sq ft house. Five of them were adults. In 1940 just 4 but they were all adults sharing a 2 bedroom house. Today the average American home is over 2000 sq ft and children are expected to have their own room. So the current TC housing stock that has remained mostly unchanged is now considered too small for American migrants raised in suburbia or in larger homes. The trend towards tiny spaces seems to appeal to young professionals, not so much families.
The future?
In the near future I predict the neighborhood will become more racially mixed but less economically so. I also think there will be fewer families and the families that do remain will be small. The far future is harder and impossible to guess. We could become something like a slum again if the economy of the area changes because of technology (robots will replace us all) or change in how the Federal government operates (more agency headquarters in Booneyville, VA or MD or WV. So houses split into 2-3 condos may once again return to being 1 house under different circumstances. Whether or not it remains majority African American depends on the state of Black America and what the neighborhood offers.

*They are in a different census tract so it would be a pain to try to incorporate them. Also dealing with the NW part was tedious work so, no. Anyone is welcomed to do NE.

Change in Truxton Circle 1880-2010, part 1

Well the art show/ history exhibit The Triangle Known As Truxton Circle is over. If you missed it, you've missed it. It is not showing anywhere else. It was a great show because of so many local elements from the location (thanks Weibenson & Dorman Architects PC), the community (thanks Scott Roberts for putting it all out there) and the fact that three neighbors (creative types) had one singular topic, our neighborhood.
My major theme for the show was change.
Change and BEANS 1880-2010
Two pieces (which is 12 individual pieces) really brought it home, Change and Beans. Quick key, Yellow on the map and Navy beans are White people, Brown on the map and Black beans are Black people and Green and Brown Pinto beans are everyone else.
I loved the response visitors had with BEANS! I hadn't planned to create it, but in meetings with Ira and Brian (the more experienced artists) they suggested some visual to continue Change 1880-1940 and show the demographic change since the 1940 census. So I looked into artistic graphs and other visuals. I settled on doing something with dried beans. I figured if no one bought the pieces I could make soup afterwards.
So what are you seeing in the photo above. You are seeing demographic change. You are seeing a neighborhood fill up and empty out. Here are the numbers:
  • 1880= 1511 approx (832 whites, 678 blacks, 0 Asians)
  • 1900= 4723 approx (2281 whites, 2438 blacks, 4 Asians/Chinese)
  • 1910= 6801 approx (4565 whites, 2232 blacks, 4 Asians/ Chinese)
  • 1920= 7234 approx (4221 whites, 3008 blacks, 6 Asians)
  • 1930= 6175 approx (1712 whites, 4455 blacks, 6 Asians/ Chinese)
  • 1940= 8242 or 8244 (1718 whites, 6519 blacks, 4 Asians-3 Japanese-1 Chinese)
  • 1950= 7720 (1511 white, 6186 black, 23 everyone else)
  • 1960= 6789 (58 white, 6716 black, 15 everyone else)
  • 1970= 5830 (21 white, 5768 black, 41 everyone else)
  • 1980= 3349 (61 white, 3249 black, 39 everyone else)
  • 1990= 3623 (189 white, 3347 black, 87 everyone else)
  • 2000= 2997 (103 white, 2713 black, 181 everyone else)
  • 2010= 3028 (816 white, 1964 black, 248 everyone else)

There is a lot to unpack there. So I'm going to do a part 2.

Parking- People buy houses with no parking

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No Parking Wednesday Parking.
It has come up recently regarding the development on Richardson Place and the developer who is looking for a variance for two sorta connected lots on the 300 block of P St NW and the 1500 block of 3rd.
People attached to cars don't seem to understand those of us who aren't. I haven't owned a car in over 20 years..... gad I'm old. I have lived in DC for about 17 years, also carless. And as a carless person I have bought a house, where I didn't care about parking. I only care about parking when it comes to accommodating visitors who have cars.
Well development or not, being able to park in front of your house is going away, unless you're handicapped. Change has not only come on the residential side, there has also been change on the commercial side with more (hopefully) businesses and houses of worship that will demand parking. Yes there are more people and households with more cars, but businesses like the nearby DCity Smokehouse, Big Bear Cafe and TC's ANXO (mentioned in the Michelin guide) bring outside cars in the north, Wicked Bloom and NoMA businesses bring cars to the east and southside of Truxton. If North Capitol becomes the commercial strip that we all hope it will be then there will be fewer parking spaces in residential areas. We will be like Dupont or Georgetown or any other DC neighborhood with a healthy residential and commercial area.
And like Dupont and Georgetown people buy expensive houses and condos with no parking. A quick look on Redfin for Dupont and it appears if you are spending a million or more on a property, you may get one lousy parking space, anything less than a mil and you're parking on the streets with the rest of the peons. The new Ditto condos at 4th and P sold. The one without parking sold for smidge less than a million, the one with parking sold for $1.2 million. Five thousand less than a million, over 2,000 sq ft of modern living space and you have to compete with cabbies for parking near the mosque. I guess that's the future.

A little forgotten neighborhood history- an association

So I've been cleaning out my files, in some attempt to gain some control over the boxes of paperwork that I've accumulated in my life. Having a small home, small compared to the rest of America (mine approx 1100 sq ft vs 2600 sq ft) I've tended to be very good about not accumulating 'stuff" but I've managed to let the papers build up.

Anyway, in that pile I found a report about the Three Corners Neighborhood Association. Never heard of them? Yes, most haven't as they were just one of many DC neighborhood associations that formed and died.

The Three Corners Neighborhood Association (3CNA) was created in 2001, the same year the report (PDF here) was written up. According to the report the organization began "as part of the effort to facilitate community improvement. New and longā€time residents in the area began to call on DC officials and services to address problems such as rats, trash, loitering,
drug trafficking, prostitution, etc. "

I vaguely remember attending a meeting or something with the founders of the group. They were a racial mix of professionals. They hoped the report, written up in December of 2001 would bring attention to the problem around the area of Rhode Island Ave, New Jersey Ave and Florida Ave where three Wards and two police districts came together and made it problematic when dealing with crime and other problems where government would be useful.

Ah 2001, the bad old days. This was back when gun shots would ring out almost every night and my street had 24 hour drug dealers. This was also when nobody would deliver any food (I couldn't even get Pizza Hut-then on U St to deliver) but the Postal worker and UPS actually hid your packages. That's all I got.

Need Green to rent green

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I'm going to state the obvious. Housing in DC is expensive.
New housing in DC is expensive. Old, historic, and historic districty housing in DC is expensive.
So taking a plain, basic apartment that is decent enough that you're not calling the owner a slumlord is more than likely to be expensive. Throw on fancy stuff and that's gonna cost extra. Want a green LEED certified apartment or house, yup that's gonna cost you.
The folks at Rent Cafe contacted me a while ago with some tables and graphs.
Along with the statement that:
  • Washington DC overtakes other popular urban hubs - including Manhattan and San Francisco - in green rental stock, boasting an impressive 7,000 apartments classified as ''green.'' The capital also comes in 8th place in our Top Greenest Cities, for best ratio of people to green rentals (96 people for every green unit available).

Makes sense.

For a while I thought our representative bird was the building crane, and those new buildings usually had the extra LEED/ green this and that flava crystals. Before, in the good old days, or bad old days (same days) there was a fair amount of affordable housing going up in DC because that was the market. The regular market rate renters were heading for the burbs. Then after Mayor Williams, DC starts getting all popular and developers are building apartments, condos and houses for people with disposable income/higher paying jobs. People, more willing to pay the green housing premium.
As a homeowner who has done some work on her house I know that the green choice is not necessarily the cheaper choice. Low/No-VOC paint, costs a lot more that the regular paint. Paying someone for the blown-in insulation, more than the pink fiberglass bats. According to the study Rent Cafe mentions,  "Average rent in green-certified apartments is $560 more than in regular new apartments, while most surveyed renters are willing to pay up to only $100 more."
Of course, being green is only one part of the price as there are several other factors that go into making DC housing expensive. There are things the city government demands (taxes, fees) and does (long permitting process), there is our old friend "supply and demand" and a cost of doing business that gets passed on to the renter.

The Triangle Known as Truxton Circle

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Frankenmaps.jpgWell after a year of planning The Triangle Known as Truxton Circle (#TheTraingleKnownAs #TruxtonCircle) is up in a Truxton Circle gallery for Truxton Circle/Shaw residents to view.

Our opening was last night, and despite my own problems with crowded rooms, it was wonderful. Speaking for myself my goal was achieved, I told the history of the neighborhood and people got it, they really got it. I have been trying to tell a story of this neighborhood, this section of the Shaw School Urban Renewal Area I call Truxton Circle for over a decade on this blog. Maybe this blog was always too small and it story needed to be made more real and told with something that can be seen and touched.

But maybe it needed to be told with my colleagues artists Ira Tattelman and Brian Bakke who also told a story of Truxton Circle. Ira told the story the old traffic circle with his installation. People at the opening would look for the traffic circle on my maps. Hint: you can find the remnants of it on the 1970 "You Are Here" map where visitors from Shaw, east of 7th St can place a pin where they live, and an outline of the circle on the "Freeway Plan circa 1957-1960". I'll leave it to everyone else to argue about where exactly the circle was. Brian and I told the story of the people of Truxton Circle (though he doesn't call it that). Whereas I focused on demographics, Brian told stories of particular people, including one character we don't see around much anymore, Hollywood. You remember Hollywood don't you, bearded black man in Parliament-Funkadelic outfits, used to hang out at 7th & P and the BP Station across the street from the gallery (410 Florida Ave NW) where all this is taking place?

I really liked how everyone interacted with the art and the exhibit. And I hope those of you who came will come again to get the luxury of reading the captions and panels on a less crowded day. The gallery (410 GooDBuddY at 410 FL Ave NW) is open on Saturdays 12-2PM, Fridays 10AM-12PM until we shutter the thing February 17. Inauguration Day stop by we'll be open until 3pm that day, and we have an artists talk February 11th 2-4PM so you can ask us questions. 

Thanks to BACA, the DC Humanities Council, ANXO, Right Proper and other sponsors, oh and Scott Roberts (Mr. Info).

This is a fight I'm done with- Richardson Place

So I'm back from a BACA meeting. Two topics took up a majority of the meeting, one being the District of Columbia's criminal justice system, the other being the proposed co-housing, 24 bedroom, 24 bath thing up on Richardson Place. The residents of Richardson, particularly Jim N. have my sympathy, but that property, that problem, I'm done with it. I fought that fight in 2005, it's been over a decade, and I can think of worse things.... which we fought against, and what OakTree development proposes, that ain't it.

Back in November 2005, eleven years and two months ago, I wrote on the old InShaw blog about Wilbur Mondie/ Mondi and his plans to build some buildings on the empty lots, and later Jim N.'s beautiful garden. In that month a few neighbors on that block, people on Richardson, 4th Street and New Jersey Avenue banded together and got our then ANC and BACA president Jim Berry involved.

Then the residents were concerned about water drainage, parking and a concern about shoehorning families in need into some cheaply built cramped looking housing. I should mention in 2005, parking was plentiful (compared to today) and we had lots of Section 8's (poor people housing) with disruptive tenants. No Big Bear. Nothing cool.

The person spearheading the effort was a lawyer (or employed in the legal profession) named Karl K. and of all the people deeply involved he was the last to move in 2016(?). Jim Berry stepped back and later moved. Toby and his wife moved to NoVa after the birth of their first kid. John stuck around to fight another zoning fight but moved to a guaranteed good DC school district after getting married and having kids. And there were others, who eventually moved. A lot happens in 11 years.

Greater density has happened. Within a 5 minute walk houses are getting re-divided (many were built as duplexes, turned into 1 unit, then divided again) into condos, tall infill buildings were filling in, and there were pop-ups, some good, some bad, and some downright ugly. Street parking became harder to find, and until I married a car-owner, I didn't care. And this was coming from the east with NOMA and the west with U Street amenities slowly moving east. 

Regardless if there are 24 or the feared 48 residents, or even a possible 15-20 residents at one time (because of vacancies) parking is going to get scarce. Those wonderful restaurants and businesses that are slowly making their way down Florida Avenue will bring competition for parking. Demographics are changing and the two bedroom, one den condo or house bought by the power couple, and the dozen more like them, will in time get rented to a gaggle of bros or gals or mixed group when the power couple wants to move because of kids or another job opportunity in Phoenix or New York. 

The building is not as ugly as Mondi had initially proposed. It looks like the infills that dot Shaw.
The people that will supposedly occupy the building would be young single childless professionals. That demographic is taking over the area. Whippersnappers.
At this point I'm not sure what would be gained with such fight. Nah, I'm saving up energy to fight for a turret.


So yesterday I was walking home and noticed this box on the sidewalk on New Jersey Avenue. See picture. Whatever was in the card had been taken out. It looked new enough not to be trash.

Now earlier on my walk I noticed a handcart between two cars on the 600 block of S Street with an Amazon box on it.

Because of what I'll call a #SeeSomethingSaySomethingFail that I'm still kind of smarting from, I had zero interest of investigating to see if these were what I suspect were stolen packages.

There are tons of videos out there of people stealing packages off the porches and front stoops. Cameras don't seem to stop package thieves. But cameras are helpful, just not at stopping the crime.

So try to avoid having packages delivered to your home if you are not planning to be home. Also try to tell people who are apt to send you packages to send them to your office (if you are allowed to receive packages) or to an Amazon Locker or friend or to give you the tracking number. I have seen creative solutions to the problem. I saw a clunky looking "Packages" receptacle in someones front yard. In Baltimore, I saw a sign someone placed on their front door that could be read across the street "FED-EX- UPS- USPS Do Not Leave Packages On Step".

There are packages that you can receive. If you have a big enough mailbox you might be able to receive small things. Items heavy as sin don't go far. Once I noticed a package on a neighbor's stoop. I left a note and was about to take the package in and it was well over 50 pounds. So I amended the note, offering to help bring it in if needed.

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