June 2016 Archives

All of Shaw is a stage

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All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts... -Shakespeare

When I am on the bus or train, sometimes I like to play a game in my head called 'Casting' where I take everyone on the bus or in the car and decide what kind of movie or television show I can have with the people I see. On the bus it tends to go towards a Tyler Perry movie. On the train, if there is a cop, a security guard, or military people, it is an action adventure. It's all about the people.

The neighborhood is the same way. Yes, the built environment plays a part, like a set, but it is the cast of residents, workers, visitors, and others who come into a space playing a part that tells story of the neighborhood. Yet, there isn't one story, there are several stories, and depending on whose point of view, anyone could be an extra, nameless minor character with or without a spoken role, supporting actor, or the lead. Then there are the many unseen, the stage hands, the gaffers, transport captains, etc. All the people responsible for the Giant, the traffic lights, the coffee shops, the new buildings, the rehabbed old buildings, the vacant buildings, and the dollar store with the identity crisis, set up the scene. Sometimes people double as seen actors and behind the scenes, such as the resident who opens an eatery or a gym.

A few days ago I called 911 regarding a man who was laying in 7th St. Yes, he was on the asphalt, near a corner where a cab came dangerously close to running his feet over while turning. Why was he laying in the street? Beats me, I have theories and they are probably wrong. But walking up I asked him if he needed help. He was babbling something. So I asked him to grab my arm to help him up. He wasn't budging or making sense. Then from across the street a young African American man, who looked like he worked out at a gym, came over, pulled the guy up halfway onto the sidewalk, then ran back to catch his bus. While this was going on, a small group of elderly "people of Walmart" women were saying he should be left alone and nothing should be done.  At some point I call 911, explain to the dispatcher where I am and what's going on, then while on the phone EMS shows up. Apparently the old guy in the street has done this before and has been hit before. I leave, pop into a restaurant to wash old guy off my hands and head home.

That is just one story of the neighborhood. It probably doesn't fit the preferred narrative of gentrification. Almost everyone in the story was black, me, the guy in the street, the fellow who picked him up, maybe the cabbie making that turn. The old guy may have been displaced by the progress in Shaw, but his mental health seemed to be his biggest problem. I am a homeowner and government worker, and I've enjoyed the changes. The well-toned fellow, looked like he belonged in one of those shiny new apartment buildings or condos they keep building around here. Maybe so, maybe not, that was just my impression. Maybe someone called 911 before I stepped onto the scene, but city services showed up quickly. Possibly chance, or more likely the behind the scenes efforts of people to improve the city's response to the area. There was a time when the wait for someone to bother to show up would not have been so quick or taken seriously.

Many play a role in the various scenes that unfold every day in Shaw. What's yours?

Housing. Supply. Quality of Supply.

Faceless house
So I have been in Baltimore this week (not overnight) and so that gave me an opportunity as I walked around West Baltimore to snap a picture of one of the city's many, many vacant houses.
Baltimore has so many vacant houses it is not even funny. Riding in on the MARC train you can see them as you come into the city. The parts of the city where I've been walking around, not so much the touristy areas, there are some noticeable vacant houses. Some just have boarded up windows, some have braces to keep them from killing pedestrians (cross the street anyways) and some of them are like the the house pictured, where the front, or the back or the roof is missing.
There are about 16,000 vacant houses in Baltimore City. There are a few houses one could buy for less than $2500 each. Yes, they are shells. Baltimore City government has a "Vacants to Value" program, some are shells, others serious fixer uppers.
At a point in time DC was like Baltimore is today. Shaw had a lot of vacant houses. Between the middle of the 20th Century and the end, Truxton Circle lost a lot of its population and experienced vacancies. Though I cannot find the internet proof, I know my house, where I live, was once a vacant property.
When we think of housing, decent housing, we think of places with roofs that don't leak, places with toilets that flush, spigots that run vigorously, and outlets that don't spark when you plug things in. DC and Baltimore both have a lot of old ('historic' if you want to be fancy) housing stock. Say what you will about gentrification, it gets the old houses fixed up (I'm ignoring the new construction). If not properly by the developer who slaps on a new coat of paint, the next homeowner or next developer who does a better job and addresses the lead pipes, the lack of central air, the so-so water pressure, and other housing emergencies.
Many vacants are not decent housing. The vacants listed at DC Vacant Properties have issues. 509 O St NW has so many problems, like being vacant for way too long, and legal issues, it is a nuisance just standing there. The row of yellow houses at 313-317 R St NW have had squatters but have water, mold and other interior damage and are not fit for safe living.
So lets go back to the house in Baltimore missing half of its front brick. It is a house. In theory it could house someone. In its current state it probably could kill the inhabitants by falling on them. In its current state it can't house anyone safely.

banished? forever

Look a bookYesterday I got the sad news that banished? productions will be no more.

I came to know banished? when they wowed me with the Tactile Dinner. I may have gone to 2 or 3 Tactile Dinners since 2009, all of them different than the last, involving edibles, dance, film and being, not just thinking, outside the box. Then I enjoyed The Circle, (pictured) which was an audio time travel walkabout affair. What I loved about banished? was it wasn't just art, where you look at a thing, be it a thing on a wall or a thing on the floor. Nor was it just theater or dance where you sit back and observe a thing, which is fine. But theirs was an experience, where it did not depend on the passive audience, well the productions I attended, but active participation.

When they moved out to Brookland they had a tool library and held classes. I enjoyed the woodworking class, where I got to saw and drill. I also found pleasure in the whittling class. I wished I had taken some of their other offerings, I think there was a welding class. Once again, active, not passive.

banished? will have their last performance July 20-24 with she took me back so tenderly, I have no idea of what it will have in store, but I'm sure it will be transformative.