May 2017 Archives

Corner of 3rd & P

Bates Market closed Yes, this is an old photo of the store at 3rd and P, back when it was the Bates Market. It had problems even then. Then it got a little renovation and became a store that got robbed a lot, as opposed to a store where people got shot in front of.... It has been a subject of interest of late because of the ABRA license and all. I am thankful we have Bradley Thomas, who is a lawyer, as our ANC because he could see what the neighborhood could have realistically expected considering who the store's owner hired to help get a beer & wine license. If someone else, who is heavy on bluster, reflecting resident outrage was the SMD ANC, neighbors might have been in worse shape. There is a process with these things and pitfalls.
Regulation, as with ABRA licenses and other things requiring the city's permission is placed there to prevent or shape or whatever. Yet citizens going about their day aren't familiar with the ins and outs of these various rules and are unprepared and lack the same team of professionals as those doing whatever it is that the residents don't like. The complexity that is supposed to slow down the developer or the business owner also confuses the resident, and neighborhoods like ours are lucky to have neighbors who are lawyers and professionals who might volunteer their skills to the cause.

NOTE: The program I'm using to blog is dying and I'm going to have to switch over to another at some point. So let's hope for the best.

Thoughts on neighborhood change-1953

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I heard an innocent comment at a neighborhood meeting, that residents should have a hand in creating the character of the neighborhood. Yes, the residents should and do have a hand in creating the character of the neighborhood. But then there are forces beyond the current residents' control.

Yet I couldn't help think of a blog post that mentioned two areas in the DC metro region that changed despite the protests of residents. The first was over in PG County in the 70s, 80s, and 90s where residents fought against the Smoot Bay project with concerns over the environment, the watershed, and traffic. Despite that long fight it became the National Harbor anyway.

The other area is another neighborhood that isn't Shaw so I'm quite sure there are things I will miss in retelling this story of neighborhood change. The other thing I'm going to ask you dear reader is not to be haughty believing in your own moral superiority when looking at the DC residents of 1953 to whom I will direct your attention. We all have faults, ours happen to be in fashion right now. So in early 1953 the DC Housing Authority in charge of building public housing decided due to several factors that maybe it should try integrating its properties. There was a plan already to add two additions to an existing apartment building for whites, so why not make the new wings integrated?

The residents of the building and of the neighborhood where the building and the planned additions were, reacted against integration. I've seen a number of letters, a majority look like they are based on a form letter. They mainly read as so:
Dear Sirs,
We residents of the [neighborhood name] are requesting a reversal of the integration policy laid down by [the housing authority] March 26, 1953 for opening the H. Dwelling extension in the near future.
We believe that at this time, with already strained facilities of every kind as a result of the present drastically overcrowded conditions, a policy of this kind could only make much more crowded facilities and make an almost impossible situation for everyday living in this community.
Yours/ Sincerely,
[Letter Writer]

I have my doubts about the crowded conditions, the tract is much, much  larger than Truxton Circle and that area wasn't as developed as the Old City. But I wasn't there and I don't know the history of the neighborhood. The 1950 Census has the tract, and it is a pretty big tract, with over 33,000 residents, about 92% of them white. It was hard track the changes of the neighborhood because the size and number of the Census tract kept changing each year. One year it is Tract 73, then it becomes 73.5 in 1960 and 98 in 1970 as that section of DC gets built up. In 1960 there were over 9,000 residents, 77% of them white. When DC becomes a majority African American city, so does this neighborhood in Tract 98, where the 8,660 residents are 98.4% black, and remains somewhat so today. What a difference 10 years makes and a greater difference in 20 years.
Those 1953 residents, the majority who were for segregation, had no impact except in their eventual departure. Yes, they were wrong on the subject of integration and race. But I wonder how future generations will judge us regarding development and resistance to change. Maybe they will despise us and our love affair with cars and parking. Maybe they will be annoyed with our refusal for so many years to build taller buildings. We can ask the DC residents of the future to preserve or keep or care for this that and the other thing. We may never know their answer. In the case of one of the 1953 letter writers.....
1953 Card to Keep CH White
My answer to Mrs. Alfandre, is no.
First things first, I have not read the book by Dr. Derek Hyra, but I did speak with him while he was doing his research. So this is a review of a talk, not the book, which I'll read sometime later.

Tuesday, May 2nd there was an author's talk at the Potters House in/near Columbia Heights and so I and the Help attended. I was curious, as I am with any book that covers the area of Shaw. We sat in the rear and so we had a good look at the crowd that packed the room. We weren't the oldest people in the room but the average age was about 20 years our junior.
Hyra at Potters House DC
Hyra mentioned two themes describing the demographic changes in Shaw. The first being the "Dark Ghetto", the second "Living the Wire". I picked up a third, and I could be wrong, blame the Millennials, in a room crowded with millennials. The dark ghetto was cashing in on the black history of the neighborhood by developers. Well the developers are damned if they don't acknowledge the black history and in this case damned when they do in Hyra's talk. The second theme seems to come from social gatherings with white residents of the 00s in the U Street area who probably did gleefully tell stories of crime and shootings in the area. Hyra contrasts this to black residents at civic meetings seeking relief from the same crime. He said that those white residents were trying to live the "Wire," referencing the television show on HBO from 2002-2008. And for some reason he mentioned millennials being part of the gentrification process.

Those are interesting theories, where I can see how someone could come to those ideas, and maybe there is a better explanation in the book because I disagreed with most of it.

Let me start with millennials. As much as I like to pick on that generation, those 20whatever year olds wandering around staring at their phones were still in middle or high school when Shaw was on it's second wave of gentrification. There was an earlier attempt in the 80s to revitalize the area, but it really didn't kick off until the Mayor Tony Williams administration and the goal to increase the District's population. Speaking of, I heard little of Williams and more of Mayors Marion Barry and Adrian Fenty in this talk. Millennials are only guilty of maintaining and encouraging the gentrification that began before they arrived.

I'm going to skip over the dark ghetto part because I don't think I really understood what Hyra was communicating. The Washington Post in reviewing his book called it " black branding".

Related to the dark ghetto was living the Wire. Considering that Baltimore is just an hour's MARC train ride away and far cheaper than DC, anyone desiring the Wire experience could have it. No one seeks the Sex in the City experience in Newark or Philly. Maybe here too a better, deeper and richer explanation is found in the book. I do not doubt that white residents living in the U Street area regaled each other and the author with crime stories with a laugh. I had early neighbors (circa 2000-2008) do this and I saw it as a coping mechanism, because these same neighbors were dealing with other neighbors who saw them as an easy mark or easy to intimidate, the petty property crime that damaged their homes and cars, and street harassment because they were gay or a woman and not black.
I'm withholding judgement on his book until I've read it. Until then....

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