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 .

Gentrification and Theatre

This weekend I and the Help were invited to see the play Clybourne Park at the Woolly Mammoth Theater down in Penn Quarter. According to the theater’s website on the drama and the promotional information:

Clybourne Park explores the evolution of racism and gentrification over the past half-century in America by imagining the conflicts surrounding the purchase of a house in a white neighborhood in the 1950s by an African American family, and then the re-design of that house in “post-racial” 2009. While Clybourne Park is a Chicago neighborhood, the play makes no direct reference to its geography. Woolly believes Clybourne Park is highly reflective of the changes happening to neighborhoods throughout DC and across the metropolitan area (and urban America).

And it is a riff off of Raisin in the Sun with the first half of the play taking place in the home of the family selling the home (that we assume) the RITS’ Af-Am Younger family. I thought that first half started a little slow.
I really appreciated the director’s commentary after the performance at a reception. On one point as urban DC people living in 2010 we know how to judge the characters of 1959 in the first half of the play, saying with confidence Mr. Lindner, from the Clybourne Park Improvement Association, is wrong in arguing against selling to the Black family. However in the second half, taking place in what I gather to be 2009, that moral surety is not there and issues of race and gentrification are tied up in arguments about ‘history’ and architecture.
Since the Help and I are both in the History field, we pondered the ‘history’ part for a while. We also pondered the racial and chronological make up of the audience at that performance. History is messy and we found it interesting that one of the Af-Am characters was pushing the idea that the desired preserved history started with the integration of the neighborhood, not its establishment or previous ethnic makeup. Also when the Help (the whitest white guy who was ever white) pointed out the demographics of the audience which had a smattering of Afro-Americans, I mentioned audiences like my Aunt and her friends tend to favor Tyler Perryish morality plays over at the Warner Theatre.
The second half of the play does try to press a lot of gentrification topics into 6 characters. Two topics did ring a bell in relation to stories and events witnessed in the Shaw neighborhood, history and racial defensiveness. The Shaw historical narrative isn’t wrong, it just leaves a whole lot out that isn’t particularly marketable in the larger “Heritage” theme. And one character reminded me so much of a former neighbor who was one of those isolated* white families who moved to Shaw, who tried to be a good neighbor but had to walk on eggshells every time they interacted with their Black neighbors because even the banal issues were hidden roadside bombs of pent up racial anger.

UPDATE- Theater Discount

Readers of this blog can see any performance of Clybourne Park for only $15. Use this numeric code 789 when arranging tickets. Reservations can be made online (, over the phone (202-393-3939), or in person (641 D Street NW, Washington, DC). Clybourne Park runs March 15 – April 11, 2010. Performances are Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm and 7pm. Questions? Visit woollymammoth-dot-net or email Rachel Grossman, Connectivity Director,

*Isolated in that they were the only white people on the whole block.

CDC comes up with something dumb

(Hattip to Frozen Tropics)
The CDC (Center for Disease Control), which I would like to trust for their timely health information has put something out that erodes that trust. Eroded, because Health Effects of Gentrification, is stupid.
I don’t deny that displacement because of neighborhood demographic changes is stressful and stress impacts ones health. According to the CDC:

These special populations are at increased risk for the negative consequences of gentrification. Studies indicate that vulnerable populations typically have shorter life expectancy; higher cancer rates; more birth defects; greater infant mortality; and higher incidence of asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. In addition, increasing evidence shows that these populations have an unequal share of residential exposure to hazardous substances such as lead paint.

So is the CDC saying that gentrification, not poverty and poor housing is the cause of shorter life expectancy and asthma? Are all those new middle class residents moving in and fixing up vacant and run down houses polluting the air with lead paint? Is that what the CDC is saying? Because in poor neighborhoods in no danger of gentrification or reinvestment are healthy, lead free, utopias where the Popeye’s serve low fat vitamin rich meals and the corner mart has fresh fruit and lettuces. Oh wait, no. Those poorer neighborhoods in the other part of the District (think outside of NW) aren’t healthier because there is little to no gentrification there.
I see there was nothing for ‘Health Effects of Poverty’ because gentrification is a nice way to distract attention away from chronically poor neighborhoods.

Gentrification of Sesame Street

Sesame Street gentrified and I blame Elmo. Others blame Elmo as well, showing how this annoyingly voiced red hyper monster destroyed SS single-handedly by taking up a huge portion of screen time.
When I was a kid, we had two channels, NBC and PBS. So after I got home and Mom finished watching Days of Our Lives, I turned the channel to the PBS station to watch Sesame Street. People walked along, bumped into each other, started conversations, or ventured over to the independently owned shop “Mr. Hooper’s” and hung out, as people do here. Kim Wee as Mr. Hooper, because that’s the only small shop I hang out at, if I am hanging out anywhere. But unlike here, SS isn’t as trashy. We have more Oscars, and more guys in the alley (but unlike the SS characters they aren’t trying to give us a good deal on the letter “A”).

Turnover part 2

This map is of houses sold on these few blocks between 1999 and this year below $500K. There are still plenty of red stars representing sales. The blue are more than likely houses that sold prior to 1999, or the odd property selling at $500K and above. Since I did throw in the more than $500K on the map (not shown) it seems there were a few but not many. Comparing the map from Turnover part 1 to this one, a majority of the 1999-2009 sales were less than 1/2 a mil.
Yet the thing that I find really interesting is not so much the amount houses finally sell for, but the fact there are so many houses that change hands in a 10 year period. It seems to reflect the transient nature of DC or the investor fueled real estate boom of the 2000s.
Let’s say, for the most part, that the blue dots represents long timer residents and the red stars newer residents. It isn’t perfect, as the blue dots could be rentals that turn over every couple of years but never sold, and red stars rentals bought by new investors that remain rentals. On my own block one of the red stars was a rental home that the renters later bought from the owner. But anyway let’s say those red stars represent new blood on the block, in some spots, except that part of the 100 block of P, there is a fair amount of turnover.
If you get on the DC gov website and play with the DC Atlas for Real Property and compare and contrast with other parts of the city regarding final sale prices (which sometimes isn’t the listing price) and turn over, it’s interesting.

Turnover part 1

This was stolen off of the DC government’s DC Atlas website and what it shows are houses sold between Jan 1, 1999 and yesterday. More accurately it shows houses sold for more than $1 and below a billion. I had to throw that in when it showed every house with a red star and I discovered the database had some quirky dates of homes being bought by their longtime owners for 0.00, and had to find a way to exclude that misinformation.
Each red star represents a property sale, that’s it. However, one can make guesses that a majority of those sales resulted in some turn over.

“No one wants to live near poor people”

…isn’t exactly a correct comment, but I have seen it a couple of times on the web regarding mixed income housing and gentrification. I’m mean we’re living in Shaw not Woodly Park or Chevy Chase. I have a hard time imagining that people who bought housing, oh east of 9th Street, were caught completely off guard by the subsidized housing that dots the neighborhood. Than again, maybe some were.
I think of Shaw as economically diverse. You have neighbors in longtime poverty and short term (young, just starting out, etc) poverty, the elderly and disabled on fixed incomes, and others whose incomes wax and wane depending on clients, contracts, sales, rentals, or what have you. But I don’t think it is so much a neighbor’s poverty is as it is their dysfunction. Grad students are broke, but hardly anyone is up in arms about graduate family housing. Plain college students can be broke also (depending on their sources of support) but neighbors do tend to oppose their housing as that population can be a bit too rambunctious and loud, not because they may or may not have money (see Catholic U area for examples of such conflicts).
Shaw’s diversity, economic, racial, etc., is a strength and a challenge. Crime is a huge challenge, so are the blocks of concentrated poverty. In mixed income areas we learn from each other. The more middle class residents learn about the various programs for neighbors in need, the more they can train themselves to be supportive of programs that work and harshly critical of ones that fail and are nothing but fronts for poverty pimps. The more I learn about Bread for the City (CFC# 61733), and N Street Village (CFC# 90946) the more I am impressed by their work and efforts.
But let’s wander back to the question of mixed income housing and if it is possible, would non-poor people be willing to live next to poor people. Well in Shaw, we already do, in townhomes. I have a hard time telling, as it is from causal observation over the years, but the Washington Apartments, along 7th and 6th Avenues, appears to be slowly becoming more racially diverse. As far as I know they aren’t subsidized housing, but I do get the sense that those apartments are economically diverse. Feel free to correct me if I’m totally off base.

Economic identity

A comment I got here annoyed me, in the same way that being called white annoys me. I’m an African American, but a pale one, so the attack on my identity, as I see it, irks me. Same thing with the discussions of gentrification and neighborhood change, there is a string of thought that fails to see a neighborhood’s residents in terms of grades of economic diversity. Instead it is the rich, that being anyone not in subsidized housing or elderly on a fixed income, and poor, and very little in between.
Sometime back I got an inquiry from a journalism student, who asked about neighbors couching it it terms of poor neighbors vs rich ones. The more I learn about my neighbors the more I know what I don’t know about them. I can guess whose house is a Section 8, whose retired and on a fixed income, but knowing if someone is on food stamps or other forms of state assistance, I don’t know and really it isn’t any of my business. Same thing for other neighbors who have jobs and careers, So-in-So works for the government, Theotherguy works as IT, She is a freelance graphics artist, Blahblah is an Asst. Director at a non-profit, and Whatshername does something (I’m not sure what) at Pepco. Are these people rich? Wealthy? Not likely. But they are more apt to be ‘wealthier’ or ‘richer’ than neighbors who are unskilled workers or persons starting out in their careers or others for whom employment is problematic. Anywhere else in America So-in-So, Theotherguy and the rest are just middle class people living on a cul-de-sac, here, we become fabulously wealthy.
The money to buy our homes comes from savings, sometimes family members, recently deceased grandparents, and raiding the old 401K for the deposit. The renovation money from 2nd mortgages, building loans, family, savings and once again raiding that 401K. We turn to same resources the rest of middle class America does. Because we’re next door or down the street from people whose economic state is more dire or more obviously distressed, the side by side comparison makes it look like two extremes. Rich and poor.