My values, your values, neighborhood values

Via DC Blogs who got it via Petworth News, one Petworth blogger ponders values and change. It is a long piece asking by what right does one seek to change a neighborhood? I don’t believe I’ve ever really examined this question in terms of right. Mr. Don’t-talk-to-anyone-SUV guy changes the neighborhood just by living in it. Does he have a right to change the neighborhood, by adding to the small contigent of people who pretend to ignore you? Does he have the right to add one more SUV to the street? Yes, simply because he has a right to live here. And even if he doesn’t want to acknowledge it, he is part of the neighborhood.
There is active change in its small amounts. There is calling the cops for violations that in the past were tolerated. There is advocating for a business or challenging another. There is also changing a neighborhood simply by renting or buying or convincing someone to let you live with them in the hood. In the past 5-6 years, a lot of people with dogs, who walk their dogs (instead of just chaining them up in the backyard or letting them roam free on the streets), who moved into the neighborhood, in their own way changed the neighborhood. They added some sort of doggie element that wasn’t there before. Was it their right? It was their right to move in, and have a dog (provided their landlord/SO okay’d it). Doing right by their dog, they have to walk it and by walking the dog, they are bound to meet up with other dog owners. Somehow this all leads to doggie drama. But I digress.
My point is whatever it is that makes you, YOU, you bring when you come into a neighborhood, and thus change that neighborhood. If you happen to be white or Latino and you move in (which is your right since the Fair Housing Act) you add to the non-black population, and decrease the percentage of African Americans in the neighborhood, particularly if the number of blacks isn’t growing faster than that of the non-blacks. Same thing if you are gay, a non-car person, a dog owner, a college educated person, a vegetarian, a lawyer, a bitter barren spinster librarian, whatever, and there are enough folks like you, you add an element. If that element is different than was was there, then expect change. When there are enough citizens in a given geographic location united in thought and/or deed, change will occur.
I don’t see it as a matter of rights, and change is natural. The early 20th century censuses show that TC was a different neighborhood, with different people. The mix of people who lived here in 1910 don’t live here now. What was once a racially mixed neighborhood with black laborers*, white and European immigrant tradesmen, shopkeepers, and government clerks, became a predominately black neighborhood, which is changing into something else. Whomever happens to be here gets to make the rules and the values of the loudest, most active, most numerous citizens tend to carry the day.

*the overwhelming number of AfrAm TC residents who were laborers or servants in 1910 is really, really depressing.

12 thoughts on “My values, your values, neighborhood values”

  1. I think you nailed it: “I don’t see it as a matter of rights, and change is natural.” What people forget is that these neighborhoods have already changed at least once or more in the past 100+ years.

    What I’m busy trying to figure out is what are the true costs of gentrification/transitioning neighborhoods… especially in TC. DC politicians and anti-gentrification experts always first point to forced displacement as a consequence of gentrification. One thing that has surprised me is that I have not seen much displacement-by-gentrification in my limited time in the ‘hood. Thus, the changes seem to be reached by new folks wanting in and old folks wanting out. That’s really a tacit approval for change if you ask me.

    Sure, the rising property taxes reach into everyone’s wallet (thanks DC gov’t!!). But in looking around TC, it seems like so many that decide to move out of the area do it on their own terms and usually on an enormous pile of home equity.

    The changes that I see around the area seem to be for the better: housing being fixed up, less crime, less litter, more conversations on the streets, forthcoming retail and restaurants, and a more vibrant community. What’s not to like about that? Everyone benefits from these changes.

  2. As someone moving into the neighborhood I’ve never thought about doing so as having anything to do with my rights – legal or natural (think John Locke) – but rather my desires. Though these desires are mostly selfish (I want to be close to metro and the excitment of downtown, and live somewhere interesting) I do appreciate that they and my actions are linked to wider change that I hope is beneficial and positive on balance.

    With regard to rights, I think a lot more in terms of folks who have been here for years and what they perceive their rights to be. As we identify with the neighborhoods in which we live, often in parallel to other identities (class/ethnic/racial), these perceived rights are based on self identities and tenure in the neighborhood. I’m sure some folks feel they have a right to stay even if the cost of housing is out of reach, a right to govern even if officials representing their views no longer hold elected office, a right to make rules in our neighborhood even if they no longer live here; based solely on self-identity with the neighborhood and their tenure.

    While sometimes maybe baseless in law, I want to be sensitive to these perceived rights when I can.

    The change you guys mention will mix up identifications between specific groups of people and the neighborhood, and make it more diversified. The influx of money will bring change, and hopefully all of it will make life better for everyone.

    However, as someone who is coming in, I don’t want to be thought of as someone who is infringing on other’s rights. Rather I want to be seen as someone who is adding something worthwhile and helping to create a neighborhood worth sticking around/moving in for.

  3. wow.. theres some crazy rationalizing going on over there in petworth.

    who has the right to change a community? this is still the USA, right? i think we’re still using our constitution and all those amendments to it..

  4. I agree, change is natural. Certainly looking over the longer term – many of the areas in D.C. have changed several times. And while I am generally pro-gentrification, I would prefer it to be ‘friendly gentrification’ where people respect their new neighbors.

    When I was up in Takoma, there were several newcomers (like me) over the past few years. Some would say hi, others would not.

  5. Chnage is coming and it is inevitable. Some good, some bad. You either have two choices change with it or move on. Most locals will say that they are trying to turn DC into a mini NY with all these overpriced condos which no one wants. But people will stay,fight and complain. Until they are eventually forced out (some deservingly so).

    Here are 3 rules/tips when moving to the city that newcomers should all adhere to:

    1. Never cross the street or clutch your purse when people walk by.
    2. Speak to you neighbors when walking or driving by.
    3. Finally and most importantly. DONT BE A COWBOYS FAN!!!

    The hood will be just fine…

  6. Change, whether we like it or not, is an inevitable part of city life. Most of the points that have been made are valid, however, how can anyone say that someone deserves to be forced out. Who decides which people deserve to be displaced?

  7. dc gal–

    I understand your point. I think the person was refering to the “less desirable” elements… ie, criminals. Of course this is a very small percentage of people in any neighborhood. But, they need to go.

    It’s still weird to me to see the same dealers on the same corners every day. Hard to believe that that should be accepted or anyone should feel remorse for displacing someone like that… but I’ve heard people argue that.

  8. … how can anyone say that someone deserves to be forced out. Who decides which people deserve to be displaced?

    Depends on what “forced out” means. Most anti-gentrifiers seems to be of the opinion that if you can no longer afford to live somewhere that is the equivalent of being forced out, equating it with the bailiffs showing up and throwing your belongings onto the lawn. Personally, I disagree with that attitude. I (a middle class white boy) have lived in various places where, for one reason or another, rent was jacked up to the point where I didn’t feel the payment justified living there. So I found cheaper accommodations that were more in line with my income. Would I have liked to have stayed? Sure, moving sucks, but so does paying a lot more in rent every month. . I was simply reacting to a changing financial situation. I wasn’t “forced out” by any stretch of the imagination.

    Equating acting in ones best financial interest with “forced displacement” smacks of someone agitating for class warfare.

  9. Moving lets you know who your real friends are….
    Who decides who stays and who goes? Well all these decisions are being made by a thousand different people, the landlord who may have a clue who can’t pay the jacked up rent, the tenant who can’t pay the new rent, the govt official who can (or won’t) try to find a solution with limited resources, the developer who doesn’t care and needs to make a buck to put his kids through college, different people with their own needs and concerns that feed into the pot that is gentrification. Man, that was a long run on sentence
    I don’t believe there is a single person or agency creating the situation, its a bunch of us deciding to come or go or stick around and endure.

  10. Adding to dcLocalYocal’s tips:

    4. Get out in front of your house and stay there for a while and get dirty.

    What I mean by that is when I was living at 5th & T I noticed a lot of newcomers seemed to come home and shut the door immediately after work, never venturing outside for fear of mingling with the crackheads. Do some yardwork, even if it’s not prety, get dirty, and show you are out there. In any neighborhood, it shows you are there and available, and chatting will ensue – even with the crackheads. You learn useful things from all your neighbors.

  11. i have written about gentrification in a great neighborhood in beirut, comparing it to my hood on my bloomingdale blog

    i think a comparrison could be made with the anti-gentrification folk there also.

    While their civil war was amongst the worst in history, many people do, in fact miss the days of comraderie and sense of self that living in such extreme conditions bestow.

    While no one wants to relive the lebanese civil war, or the DC crack war, there is SOMETHING that is lost when conditions improve.

    just a thought really.

Comments are closed.