Looking at the neighborhood with different eyes

So at forty *mumble* years old, I’ve become a mommy through the miracle of adoption. Seven years prior I became a spouse, after living in Shaw as a single lady for about ten years*. I, and the Shaw neighborhood, have changed and with those changes I’ve experienced the neighborhood differently.

After only being a parent for a few months, my view of the neighborhood and the city I’ve lived in for over a decade has drastically changed.Eyeglass binky DC bike mapI’ve observed this in parents, typically people who moved to the neighborhood as single people or newlyweds, and in time had kids, and moved. On an intellectual level I understood the desire to protect their children from the hazards and unpleasantness of some aspects of urban life. As a member of the middle class, you know you have an out, you could, by moving to a solidly middle class neighborhood west of Rock Creek Park or out to certain suburbs or exurbs, you nor your children have to tolerate higher crime, smaller houses, chance of the draw schooling, and off street parking. Now as a mom, I have a better understanding and have the desire to protect my Helpless baby.

But no, we’re not moving anytime soon.

Not to go into my personal career goals, but there is one scenario that would send us to PG County and I’ve already mapped out where we’d relocate. I’ve also been applying to positions in DC and those have much fuzzier scenarios of possibly, probably not, moving to the H StreetCapitol HillStadium Armory area. The job search had more to do with getting married, and I’m more dedicated to a great commute than any neighborhood.

The arrival of the Helpless baby has got me thinking more about parenting things I had thoughts about, prior to his arrival, and parenting things I want to research the heck out of. I have thoughts, slightly unchanged, about schools, child care, general safety, and use of transit. I already know what charter schools we will aim for, what charter will be our safety school, and which religious schools we’ll consider if the charters don’t pan out. Recently I have been thinking about how I could replicate my aunts’ and uncles’ success of raising high earning middle class black men, and I wonder how our neighborhood might work for and against that goal. Then there is the minefield of explaining things that he will observe as we walk around. He’s still non-verbal so I have time.

As I walk around, going to and fro the metro or neighborhood businesses, I see the neighborhood differently. I pay attention to other parents or nannies as they push, carry or walk their charges. I observe their strollers, what their kids wear, and where it looks like they’re heading. I take note what places have parents with kids and how welcoming those places are so I know where we might be able to go. The parents I see going about their day help me feel good about being a parent raising my baby in my hood.

 

*If you’re counting I’ve been in Shaw for a little over 17 years.

A park can be a plus or a minus depending on how it is used and who is using it

So about a week ago the Help (the spouse) was walking around with the Helpless (the baby) and noticed a broken lock on the 1st Street side of the Florida Ave park. I told him to contact 311 and he did not find the response satisfactory, so I tweeted, and got a very satisfactory response.

Keeping the park ‘safe’ is very important.  Because there are a lot of little signs of the return of the neighborhood’s bad old days, I figure I should revisit the days with the Florida Ave park was a liability and not an asset.

Let’s enter the InShaw time machine to 2006 and a post where the Florida Ave park is mentioned in passing. At that time the park was mainly a place where the homeless and addicts (booze & drugs) hung out. The park was open, in that there was nothing stopping anyone from sleeping there or being there at night. The problem at the time was alcoholics would go from Sunset Liquors on 1st and Florida and hang out at the park. Citizens figured if we removed the liquor store that would help clean up the park. The actual solution was making the 1st Ave side an exit only side and renovating the park.

So a decade ago the park was a liability. Kids rarely played on the playground, and maybe played on the courts (depending on if bigger kids and adults allowed it). The playground was the domain of the homeless and the addicts. Parents would try to make a go of it, but finding broken glass or used needles among the wood chips or a passed out adult on the slide was discouraging.

Now the park is an asset. The adults are pushed to the sides at the tables on Florida Ave or the tiny section near the exit on 1st (more on FL Ave because there are electrical outlets over there), and the kids are in the playground area, as it should be. I believe I’ve seen kids from the nearby charter school use the park during the school day. Sundays, when the Bloomingdale Farmers Market is in session, the park is filled with parents and young children. We included the park in our adoption book, as a plus. Now that we are parents, I’d like to make sure the park stays an asset, so when the Helpless is a little less helpless and can walk (or at least sit up) he can play there and expel some little kid energy.

Keeping it a park where little kids can play will require vigilance and positive use. It will have to be kept secure so it won’t get misused by adults and kids will have to use it so there isn’t a vacuum that negative elements will fill. Once it becomes a liability again, it will be another problem residents will have to spend energy fighting, and a blight that will bring down the attractiveness of the neighborhood.

Incompetents with guns

This is not about the second amendment.

This is not about gun control laws.

This is about drug dealers on the corner.

The problem, and it comes with every wave of new neighbors, particularly white neighbors, is the idea that the guys on the corner are harmless and have some imagined right to hang about. They are not harmless.

Where there is the business of drug dealing, there is a gun somewhere nearby. A loaded gun, ready to shoot. More than likely an illegal gun where those in possession never bothered to go through the gun safety training class or registration.

Incompetents with guns have have bad aim hitting cars, houses, bystanders, and sometimes their intended target. I remember a daytime shooting many years ago on my street, in front of my house, so this is not theoretical. The shooters shot at a bunch of guys hanging out on the corner (suspected drug dealers) in a drive by from an SUV- Suburban Ussault Vehicle. The shooters managed to hit one guy in the butt and as they traveled down my street they felt the need to shoot several rounds of bullets towards the ground. They managed to damage some cars. I didn’t have a car so, I didn’t care that much. But I do care about an errant bullet wandering into the insides of one of my neighbors or myself (and now as a mom, my family members).

The bad old days of the drug dealers are slowly creeping back into Shaw. The only difference is there are fewer baby mommas’, girlfriends’ and grandmas’ houses to hang out in front of, the plus side of gentrification. So yes, some of the guys may have lived in the neighborhood at one time (as a kid, as a boyfriend, etc) but they don’t live here now. They do not respect the neighborhood, and never did. Don’t feel obligated to make excuses for them.

When you find someone on the sidewalk call 911

Guy sleeping in front of Liquor StoreI call 911 a lot.

Not everyday a lot but more than other citizens it seems. I call when the guys selling heroin on the corner contain too many guys or the odd child (bring your children to work day!). I call when I witness an accident. I call when I see domestic abuse playing itself out in public spaces. And in recent days I call when I find someone in my residential neighborhood passed out, semi-passed out or exhibiting irrational behavior on the sidewalk.

Now, I tend not to do this for people in commercial areas or in front of stores, like the gentleman in the photo. I did once for an old guy who wanted to lay down in the street at 7th & P St NW. If he stayed in the street a cabbie or someone not paying attention might have run over his feet when making a quick right on to P. People passed out or experiencing problems in less traveled areas are more unusual and deserve attention. People passed out in the usual areas, I ignore.

So you find someone passed out or not particularly lucid on the sidewalk near your townhome, nowhere near a store, church or park, what do you do? Call 911. They are going to ask a lot of questions. Figure out what address you’re closest to. Decide if the situation needs police or EMS or both. I tend to go with just EMS unless the person seems violent. Figure out if the person is breathing. If you can, stay with the person until the EMS show up.

I can’t say if I’m seeing more passed out or about to pass out people because of the opioid epidemic. They aren’t crack heads, crack heads were a little different. They aren’t drunks, that, I can smell that difference. Something is going on, but I don’t know what.

Problems with Derek Hyra Book: Part III What Does It All Mean

The last section of Derek Hyra’s book Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City are just two chapters, seven and eight.  There isn’t much to add than what I’ve already wrote on the previous two sections, except for some minor disagreements with the author. My major problems were in Part II.

The minor disagreements are in regards to what is and who is missing. For Truxton Circle at least there was a spike in the growth of “Other,” people who were not exclusively Black or exclusively White, these people are missing. So are middle class African Americans. Gen X and Baby Boomers aren’t players in this book either, though both made the neighborhood more palatable for the Millennials (born between 1980-2000 according to Hyra) who are all over the damned place now.

I understand an author, especially when you’re not writing a huge tome, has to be exclusive in choosing what and what not to write about. It just appears to me that some things were left out because they didn’t fit or did not support the author’s thesis. Yes, the new residents fought for dog parks, but they also fought to improve people parks too, something that isn’t explored.

O St Market ConstructionLastly. Hyra in his last chapter mentions , “Neutral ‘third spaces’ may facilitate the development of bridging social capital.” Yes,  agreed, however we get back to what is not mentioned. Places like Ben’s Chili Bowl and Busboy’s & Poet’s are mentioned but I think the author is blinded by appearances. There are places in Shaw that have something for everyone, one place being the O Street Giant, ’cause everyone has to get groceries. I have never eaten at Busboys & Poets and have been to Ben’s less than a handful of times in my 17 years of living here, but I’ve been to the Giant hundreds of times. The story of the O Street Giant transforming from the Ghetto Giant to the Gentrified Giant is an interesting one, not explored in this book. I have seen my neighbors there, I’ve seen my fellow parishioners there. It serves the people buying grass fed beef with a black card and those buying family pack chicken with an EBT.  The Giant is truly an inclusive third space. Instead he, and various other writers like to write up how horrible or exclusionary coffee shops, $12 cocktail and $30+ entree restaurants, restaurants & coffee shops that did not exist 15 years ago, some not even 5-10 years ago, are.

Problems with the Derek Hyra Book: Part II WTF is Going On?

So continuing from yesterdays Part I, Part II contains chapters 4-6 in Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City and the part that contained a factual error that made me question the whole book.

The error? Someone who is Hispanic and has now been here long enough not to be a new comer, is described once as White and a new comer. To be fair the person described himself as a new comer at the time Hyra was researching the book. Time has passed, but books do take a good while to get published. However the racial thing, that a bigger error, especially when you have the issues of race and the book is pushing a particular narrative. In the case of the racially misidentified person, it appears the story is of a “White” newbie replacing a longtime Black leader.  But the case was the Black person being replaced moved, or was moving, to be with his wife ( a total surprise to me, didn’t know Jim got married), so the new comer filled in. Yes, it may seem a little more sinister if the new comer is White, which he wasn’t. If you had seen him, you would not confuse him with a White guy.

neighborhooddrugdealersI should mention Part II is where he brings out his “Living the Wire” idea. The evidence is a little flimsy appearing to be based on one civic association social where White residents regaled in stories of crime. We all have our coping mechanisms. I do remember those who would do the same, and notably those White residents who did, immediately moved when they became parents. Parents do not want to ‘Live the Wire.’ Those who did want to live dangerously, eventually moved.  Besides anyone who wants to live The  Wire, needs only to move 40 miles north, where housing is way cheaper in Baltimore.

Problems with the Derek Hyra Book- Part 1 the Poor Setting

Hyra book coverSo it has been well over a month or two since I sent questions to Dr. Derek S. Hyra’s publicist and no one has gotten back to me. Fine. I’m not sure who is reading this blog anymore anyway. And since I’m guessing hardly anyone is reading this, I’m just going to say it,  Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City wasn’t a great book.

It has some things going for it. For one, it is about Shaw (more the U Street area) that’s a reason to check it out of the library. Secondly, it is an easy read. I was able to finish it in two work days, so the writing style is very approachable. And if you ignore the notes, references, and index, it is less than 200 pages.  That’s the good.

The not good comes from inaccuracies, undefined/poorly defined/ vague terms, and cherry picking. I came to the book with an open mind. I was aware that Hyra sympathized with OneDC, an organization that protests and complains about gentrification. I can enjoy an anti-gentrification book, unfortunately, a glaring factual error in Part II made it difficult for me to trust the author. Talking with other people there are other minor factual errors in the book, that doesn’t help.

In the first part of the book, Hyra describes how he did his research, where the neighborhood is, and his theories. The first two chapters are okay, the third sent me on a margin writing fit. Chapter 3 “From Company Town to Postindustrial Powerhouse” contained a poor definition of Washington, DC. or DC. Hyra frequently uses “DC” when it appears that he means “DC Area”. Here’s the difference, one of these things has representation in Congress, one does not. It is a common sin of suburbanites and people who live outside of the District of Columbia, and yes, this got under my skin like a mite. He described the defense industry as having “a major DC presence.” The word “area” after “DC” would have been more accurate. On page 51, Table 1, he lists the top 5 defense contract firms, none in the District of Columbia. I understand the need to talk about the area economy but it confuses matters the way it is written.

Next I’ll write about Part II: WTF is Going On?

Parents do not want to live the wire

BFM May 2017

I sent some questions to Dr. Hyra, author of Race, Class, and Politics In The Cappuccino City, a book about gentrification in Shaw, so I’m waiting to hear back. Until then I wanted to share something a friend mentioned to me.

I was talking about the book and my impression to a friend who is white and a parent and lives in another gentrifying neighborhood. Hyra has a theme in the book of “living the wire”, which refers to the HBO series The Wire, and in the context of Shaw, as I understand it means the danger, but not too dangerous environment of the neighborhood appeals to millennials. I and my friend are Gen-X, a generation that barely shows up in the book by name, and maybe we do not fit in the book since we are not millennials.

My friend stated that parents do not want to “live the wire”. My observations tell me that statement is very true. The parents who live and used to live in my end of Shaw bear that out, be they millennials or late Gen-Xers. In the early 00s, white couples who started having kids were more than likely to head for the ‘burbs or west of the park or elsewhere when those kids started hitting the age of 2. Why? Because DC schools sucked back then that’s why. Another thing is parents are protective of their kids be they well off or poor. Those who could move to a ‘better school district’ or a place where they felt their child would be safer, did. No one talks about poor people displaced by crime. Wouldn’t fear for the lives of those you love move you as much as rising rent?
BFM May 2017
People can be edgy when they are single. Maybe a little less so when they couple and the love they have for the other person makes them actually care for the safety and well being of their significant other. That care goes into overdrive when the babies show up.

Some parents moved, others dug in their heels and made it work. My friend, as well as some others who were around were pioneers when Two Rivers and Yu Ying were new and unproven. I saw that without the charter school system, these families would have left, because families did leave when their kid did not get into the charter school of their choice.

The childless versions of new comers, and I knew some who moved in when young and single (sometimes moving out as married parents), may give the impression of ‘living the wire’. But time and experience makes ‘living the wire’ less appealing, besides, there is far more attractive and wonderful things about Shaw (transit, dining, history, architecture, etc) than some misguided fantasies.

NOTE: I’m upgrading the servers this blog sits on in June. Hopefully something will be here at blog.inshaw.com .

Alley going ons

The worst recently of alley going ons was the attempted armed robbery that happened last weekend. From what I’ve heard, a young guy with a gun tried to rob a Latino construction dude. I sort of heard something around about the time of the robbery, but when I looked out all I saw was one middle aged Latino guy yelling to some unseen guys. I didn’t think too much about it at the time because there are a few construction projects going on. But when I chatted with a couple of neighbors they told me about the attempt. Not sure what foiled the robbery, I guess the alley is a little bit more active (in a good way) than the robber figured on.

The alley now has a few more eyes and a few more people are using the back deck or patio now that the weather is getting nicer. I regularly hear the family across the way entertaining on their deck. The cat ladies several doors down hang out on their deck and I am hearing and seeing them on occasion. There is a house closer to the end that has a roof deck and noticeable it has an excellent view of the corner where the friendly neighborhood dealers have taken a liking to hanging. Decks and gates that give greater visiblity to the alley have placed more eyes in the back.

One neighbor (as we were recounting the robbery attempt to each other) told me how the changing dynamics of the surprised one old bum. It seems the old guy was looking for a place to hide or smoke crack and his old haunt was closed off to him. The neighbor said the guy had this look of annoyance and then surprise when the neighbor (on the other side of the alley with his garage gate up) gave him an “hello.”

During the day, when I was home sick with a cold, I noticed the traffic in my alley. Because of the construction, there are construction guys walking and driving up and down the alley. There is also an employee from the day care talking a smoke/cell phone break pacing up and down. And as usual, school boys, dog walkers, and cyclists cutting through.

Front Yard Tomatoes

Walking around the hood I’m noticing more folks growing tomatoes in their front yards. I’m wondering if it is a fluke? Are they accidental tomato plants grown from a stray tomato seed from a) a discarded sandwich or b) compost- those tomato seeds seem to survive compost?
Regardless I’m happy to see a part of the Shaw lawn going to food production. I haven’t had too many worries about growing things in the front yard. My concerns are:
1. Kids playing on the sidewalk will almost always throw a ball in your yard knocking over and possibly destroying plants.
2. G-dd-mned squirrels eating unripe fruit and leaving them 1/2 eaten on the step, or fence or high spot you can’t reach.
3. Newspaper delivery people aiming for plants.

I have gotten emails with concerns about front yard tomatoes getting stolen and attracting rats. I don’t know about rats, as I haven’t seen any evidence of them and I figure the fruit grows too high for them to reach and I collect all of it so none of it hits the ground. And the only ones who’ve stolen from me are the squirrels.