Twenty Years of Vacancy- The Langston School

100_0402.JPGThe John Mercer Langston School at 43 P Street NW has been sitting empty and vacant since 1997*. That’s 20 years of rotting away with nothing being done to bring it back to life.

When the problem of the school was mentioned at on Bates Area Civic Association to the representative from Ward 5 Councilman Kenyon McDuffie‘s office didn’t seem to be familiar with the hulking corpse of a building and might have confused it with another building. There is so much development going on, some involving city owned land, I understand it can be confusing.

Part of the problem is whomever is the Ward Councilperson for Ward 5 is not particularly interested in being proactive regarding this property. They and or their staff seem to believe the “process” will take care of it. The process is broken.

As a school, charters have first dibs. Langston is a gut job, so no serious charter school is going through the long process getting the school to dump millions of dollars in the building’s renovation. There was a fight for the John F. Cook across the street that Mundo Verde eventually won and added to, but Cook was empty for less than 5 years and was still functional as a building.

Yes, there is an educational center next door in Slater that has always expressed interest in Langston. However the occupants of Slater are poor tenants. Poor as in too poor to do the work needed to have the Langston building gutted, brought up to code, while respecting the building’s Historic Landmark status. However, councilperson staff will almost always drag up that unrealistic possibility when asked about what’s is if anything going on with Langston. The occupants of Slater have been interested in Langston for at least 15 years. If given 15 more years they will express the same level of interest without much action to show for it.

What’s the solution? Well I have an answer no one will like and possibly won’t happen due to the shared lot with Slater, luxury condos. Turning schools into high priced condos or apartments add fuel to the fire of the gentrification unaffordable housing debate. But let me remind you of the problem… Historic Landmark; 21st century building codes; rotting corpse of a building. To work with and deal with those things require the kind of money DINK households making 100-200% of the AMI bring. This cannot be and should not be done on the cheap. And unless the city wants to throw the Slater occupants under the bus, so they can offer a well heeled charter both buildings to make it worth the while, no school with the ability to rehab both buildings (Slater is bad off too) is seriously going to touch it.

*According to the Wikipedia page about the school.

Don’t get cray cray with your nostalgia

150X3rdSt.jpgThis is an old photo, probably from 2003, but I’m not sure, of 1508-1514 3rd Street NW. Those houses all boarded up in the photo now have real windows and doors and people. As you can probably see and guess, no one was displaced in the revitalization of those vacant houses. Guess what Shaw had a lot of back in the late 1990s and early 2000s…. boarded up nasty vacant houses.

This photo is from the “good old days” or the end of the “good old days” in Shaw. These are the “good old days” I guess some people are getting nostalgic about. It seems to be the same nostalgia that people in New York have about the old Times Square, back when it was filled with hookers, muggers and peep shows. I would like to remind you that the good old days, no one would deliver food to the house, you almost had to trick cabbies to drive you home and the local businesses were greasy carry outs, hair salons, dirty liquor stores, and unlicensed independent corner pharmaceutical distributors. Back in 2003 we would have killed to have a $30+ entree sit down restaurant to bitch about.

But it is 2017 and we have the luxury of complaining because we are hot stuff, for now. Who knows if there will be another middle class flight from the cities? It has happened before, it could happen again. Mansions have been split up to become rooming houses, and later rehabbed to become condos. History has taught me the good times do not last forever, neither do the bad.

Yes, those vacants in the photo above ‘might’ have been affordable to buy. Might, depending on the level of work needed to make them safe and livable. Might, depending on the dependability and skill of the contractor and the workmen. Might, provided it wasn’t a lead encrusted, termite riddled, pile of crumbly bricks with jerry rigged wiring and asbestos lined pipes. ‘Cause fixing that stuff costs money.

I will blog about the good/bad old days to remind you how far this neighborhood has come. I will blog to remind you not to get too crazy with your nostalgia.

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.

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 .