Be careful of what you write on the net

Some time ago the Washington City Paper mined several years of the Columbia Heights listserv for comments and published them. It did not make the citizens, particularly the newer citizens of the gentrifying neighborhood of Columbia Heights look good, especially with old vs new tensions. Upon reading some posts on a certain Shaw discussion forum makes me cringe a bit and I thought of the City Paper piece.
I do acknowledge everyone’s right to vent. I mean isn’t this blog just me venting? Yet since I have gathered more readers than the 5 or so circle of friends who read the earlier stuff, I am a bit more careful in my venting.
What makes me cringe? Well, I will admit I am a bit classist, it is a sin I comfortably live with most of the time. However when I see something that can be summed up to say “our neighborhood is changing so poor people don’t belong here and they need to go.” I grow uncomfortable and must reassess my own classism.
In some ways I do side with those annoyed with the old timers and the poor. Some in that grouping can be the most annoying and frustrating types. On my own block alone there are a couple of folks, the screamer, DM, and the crackhead who aggravate me and other neighbors and make the block less inviting. Yet, I would never (at least I don’t think I would) bluntly say (with the exception of the crackhead) that they do not belong and need to be pushed out. The crackhead does have to go, simply because of stupid crackhead logic that makes her & her friends a danger (like leaving your crack friend 1/2 dead on sidewalk) and a nuisance. The screamer and DM just need a little behavior modification, like not screaming at your kids for hours and not falling off the wagon. Yet I’ll admit that having them move away is a whole lot easier than waiting and encouraging changes in behavior.
I guess my other fear is that comments made on public boards, or in some electronic form that can be stored and distributed, is that these comments do feed the worst arguments about gentrifiers, even if it does not reflect all who help gentrify a neighborhood. From those who are in anti-gentrification camp, these comments prove that gentrifiers want to kick the poor and the old out of their homes. No really, I don’t want to kick the seniors out, I want their drug dealing grandkids out. The trick is trying to figure out how do that without making innocent people suffer just because they are older or poorer.

14 thoughts on “Be careful of what you write on the net”

  1. eveyone’s entitled to their own opinion.
    and i think your’s are rather realistic and well thought out.

    when it comes down to it, there are people on your ( or my) block that we like or dont like, for whatever reasons. if someone screams all day and night, i dont like them. i dont care how rich or poor they are.
    if they deficate in my alley, i dont like them. and please dont try to shake my hand afterward.

    if they say hi to me and smile on the street, i like them.
    rich,poor, black white, hispanic, asian, old timer, yuppie; none of that matters to me.

  2. Definitely anytime you get into gentrification issues you are on some pretty dangerous ground (but then you can’t exactly ignore the issues either, because that would be even worse). I think that public listserves/discussion boards are a wonderful and powerful tool by which residents can discuss ideas and build community feeling. At the same time, I think we need to all remember that we should be very careful what we say in our emails to such listserves (ofr board postings). It doesn’t matter if we are only frustrated for a second and venting. The moment we press send, that message is out there forever. Plus, the people who read your emails might not know you in real life, so maybe they don’t fully get the context, or they don’t understand that that you are being sarcastic. Email is devoid of all the cues a individual might pick up on in a face to face conversation. As such, I think anything sent to one of these listserves/discussion boards should not be dashed off without a bit of consideration. I know I’ve read a few postings/emails that have made me cringe (even when I suspect that the author’s only crime is not considering context).

  3. Frankly, I don’t have a problem wishing certain segments of the local population would pack up and move. That makes me an evil white gentrifier? Oh well… its my neighborhood too.

    I refuse to apologize for expecting my neighbors to respect DC law, respect my right to walk down the street unmolested, and respect my right to peace and quiet after (say) midnight. That’s all I’m after. It’s also what many of the older “long time” residents want – but for the most part they are too afraid to confront anyone.

    Its surprising how many Shaw/Ledroit residents violate one or more of those criteria. Those are the ones who need to move along.

    – JM

  4. As always another great post. And I have to agree with you on the crackhead thing…can I add one other segment to this…those who do not care about the appearance of their neighborhood.

    Last night I walked by a bus stop near my house to find about 75-100 liquor bottles strewn all over the place. It is a regular hangout for a few (usually rowdy and drunk) folks who have no problem telling me how they feel about having me (and my wife…this scares me) in the neighborhood.

    Outside of a restaurant (with TWO trash cans DIRECTLY outside) there is trash strewn all over the place. I saw two young kids just throw their trash onto the sidewalk and hop on their bikes without even blinking. Sooner or later this type of stuff will stop…but at what cost? A complete and total oerhaul of the 9th and 7th street corridors?

    As I have always asked, there needs to be a way that the new can co-exist with the old in the neighborhood.

    On the subject of electronic posts, some of you saw the little message left for me by someone last week. Just wanted to thank MM for ending it and those who sent me emails (and comments) saying that this was way out of line. I thought long and hard about the name last weekend and I refuse to be bullied into changing a moniker that was given to me (not chosen by me).

  5. Trash is a big issue for me also. I’ve asked the city to add trash cans, but no luck. So I walk down my street once a week trash bag in hand and pick up trash. Glad I pay taxes

  6. Several things….
    There are several discussion lists in the Shaw area, there is the U Street list, the Logan Circle list, the Truxton list and I don’t know if Mt. Vernon has a list..

    When the group is defined by age or income then it is a problem. There are Section 8’ers who are good neighbors, I have one such family on the block.

    And UP, yeah, if I could force people to back up their posts with an ID so they’d have to own up to their rants I could.

  7. MM –

    You are too nice! No worries…I have a thick skin (and an even thicker skull). You have softened my view on gentrification in the short time that I have been reading your blog…I once was a kick arse and take names believer in clearing the neighborhood and now I think there is a common ground that can easily be attained if old and new get over their sterotypes and work together.

    My first ANC meeting opened my eyes that there are only a few that truly do not want the new here…the other old time residents see us as a potential catalyst for changing things that have been ignored for too long (schools for example).

    As for the Section 8 portion, look at Immaculate Conception. Slowly that building is changing (in spite of the dealers who line the street from time to time) because the residents have become the owners and they have taken pride in their home. Maybe this is more of an ownership issue? Food for thought!



  8. Ah the Ownership society my little Republican heart is beating madly now.
    I think this may have been covered in an economics class many moons ago, about people and how they treat their resources. I mean our streets are our resources. My tree box, even though it is owned by the city is my friggin treebox and I take some pride in it. So I put in flowers and plant seeds and spent about a week pulling out roots so somethin’ would grow….

  9. Yes the ownership society…(econ 101 perhaps?). I have watched with a bit of pride as the IC building has changed. I walked home from the Metro one day with a single mom and her kids, they had just taken ownership of their place and they were so proud of the things that had changed within the walls (I think they even have a coffee bar inside). Maybe one of the places where affordable homeownership could come from is the numerous properties in and around Shaw owned by non-profits that can barely afford to maintain them let alone keep them from falling into disrepair.

    IC was owned by the Catholic Church (I think that is what I read) and there is another property that is in litigation right now (Carroll Gardens???…corner of 7th and Q) that could become the same thing. Maybe it is working with the non-profit owners to convert these properties into affordable, occupant owned apartment/condos???

    Yes, I am trying to stay with my free market Republican roots, but I am thinking more and more that there is a way for everyone involved to make out (just maybe with a little less profit and a benefit to those who choose to stay in Shaw.

  10. Urban Pioneer’s second post is exactly why everyone should check out an ANC, or PSA meeting. Those meetings can make it very clear that old and new have a lot of common ground. After all, it isn’t just new people that get mugged by neighborhood teens, or have to deal with trash, public urination, and drug dealers on the corner. The real difference is that old timers have been around long enough to know how bad the bad old days really were. Luckily some of them were even around back when many of these neighborhoods were solid places to raise a family (always a moral boost to hear about the glory days). Another advantage of meetings is that they don’t suffer from that pesky digital divide that keeps many elderly and lower income residents off listserves and message boards.

  11. I’ve got prostitutes, they probably have more money than I do. I’ve got the guy who told me “give me the money” as he pulled back his sweatshirt to show me a gun (he’d have my money if I didn’t run into the road). And, I’ve got the guys that walk through the alley and leave brown streaks on the wall as they defecate there, they probably don’t have much money. Sure I want these folks and it doesn’t matter what color or how much money they have. The elderly lady down the street who does none of the above? Are you kidding??? May she live long and prosper.


  12. KG…

    Yes, the way that change happens isn’t always perect. Yes there will be people who cannot afford the neighborhood anymore…just like Dupont once did…just like Adams Morgan once did. But many of those “old ladies” were the smart ones…years ago they bough their homes years ago.

    Today I have four neighbors (that I can think of off the top of my head) who are elderly that bought their homes for less than 25K…all of the homes are in PERFECT condition (one that is better than mine…) and way too much house for any single elderly person to maintain. Soon that little old grandmother may decide to sell and make a HUGE profit (the last house that sold on my block was just short of 700K…I know this is a bad example) which would easily pay for a nice, secure retirement anywhere they choose (including Shaw, Dupont or other places).

    A man who once owned a home on my street and now lives in the Asbury Dwellings (and I know this because he is a cab driver as well) said he sold a year ago but decided to stay around. He does not have to work but he likes it…is he the best example…probably not.

    My point is there are examples on both sides as to why this is a good/bad thing.

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