Slum history note or Fun with ProQuest

In the category of ‘research on the side’ I’m looking at something I noticed played a huge role in the development of Shaw around and after the riots, as reported by the Washington Post, the RLA or Redevelopment Land Agency. The RLA was started up in 1945. The Post proclaimed, “[the] RLA would be one of the most powerful governmental units ever ti operate in the District.” The RLA would purchase ‘slum’ properties and then sell or lease those properties with certain controls. A quick scan of the first RLA project, the Marshall Heights plan in SE, failed. It seems people just needed the City to put in sewer lines and pave the streets, not a huge governmental take over and undermining of property rights.
Fast forward past the SW redevelopment and all of its drama, to dealing with the “crime-ridden Second Precinct” in the mid 1950s. Where is the 2nd precinct? It is bounded by Florida Avenue, 14th St NW, the rail road tracks in the east, and MASS Ave and K Street to the south. Hhum, what could fit into that, what now? There is no neighborhood that ‘currently’ stretches that far, but I believe there is one that sorta fits, and I shall call it Shaw. With the National Capitol Planning Commission’s help they were going to clean up this ‘slum’ too. Yet the thing that gets me is the Post had a graphic proclaiming the 2nd as “THE WICKEDEST PRECINCT”. Okay I pick up on this later and see what adventures the Post, the RLA and the National Capitol Planning Commission has in store.

Attacking Slums. The Washington Post. Washington, D.C.: Sep 28, 1945. p. 8 (1 page)
New Survey Area Covers 2d Precinct; Boundary Listing Is First Step to Rehabilitation of Broad Section New Survey Area Covers 2d Precinct by S.L. Fishbein. The Washington Post and Times Herald. Washington, D.C.: Sep 18, 1954. p. 1

B is for Building permit

Well I got one friggin expensive building permit in my hot little hands. Two percent of labor plus $30. Not good when you guessed high on construction costs.
It wasn’t that bad, but not that good. I’m still reeling over the sticker shock. I was thinking it might cost $200 maybe $300 dollars in all. Nope. More. Considering some of the tales I’ve heard about the permit process I guess I should just shut up about the price and be happy.
DCRA has a section for homeowners to deal with permits. It took three visits, mainly because I had no clue. First visit, I really didn’t have my drawings all right. I drew only part of the house, apparently, I needed to draw the whole house. And I needed to draw in the electrical, the mechanical and the plumbing and the drawings have to be bigger than your standard 8×11 piece of paper. I got the vibe that they would have really preferred if I had real architectural drawings drawn by a real live architect or other building professional with a clue. Not my equivalent of a random idea drawn on the back of a cocktail napkin.
So I go back home, and ask IT for help. He was kind enough to try to give me a crash course in architecture. Three years of architecture school boiled down to an hour or two, but just the diagrams-good-enough-for-the-permit-office part. Have I ever mentioned what a great guy, a great neighbor, IT is?
Anyway, I get some larger lined graph paper. Redraw my house, all floors, with everything. I have diagrams showing the house as it is now, the house as I hope it will be, diagrams to show plugs and lights and some other drawings to show how many things in the house use the pipes. I made copies at Kinkos, because the drawings can’t be in pencil, and I go back to the Homeowner’s Center. The guy checking the diagrams and my permit application, pointed out that some things were missing/ not to code, etc. He was nice enough to hint at what I needed to do to make it fit code, keyword, hint. ‘X’ needed to be fixed, well now I know that X was wrong and needs fixing, but it’s up to me to figure out how to make X fit code.
So back to the drawing board. I fix X and some other stuff that I noticed he missed. Then back to Kinkos for three copies. Then over to DCRA. After about what seems to have been an hour of questions about my diagrams, my application, and what I was planning to do, I got a permit.

I believe and I really wasn’t paying that much attention but on the door of the Homeowner’s Service Center was a 8X11 sign saying that they did not handle properties in Historic Districts. There are other things the office does not deal with. Porches. I was told early on that if I wanted a permit to improve my stairs, which work but need to be a foot bigger, I’d have to deal with public space since your front yard is not your front yard, it’s public space. Except when there is a problem with water pipes, and WASA tells you that the land in front of your house is yours. So the porch falls under, stuff to do if I have any money left.
There is a PDF file DCRA has charting where some jobs fall in the system and what can go through the Homeowner’s Center. The Homeowner’s Center’s goal is to serve within 2 visits. I might have been able to do 2 visits if I had some clue about building codes, and had complete plans.

Contagious construction

When I first moved into the house I was excited to do a little fixing here, a little fixing there. Then I hit what I called the 3rd year slump, which basically boils down to “I’m tired. I don’t want to do this anymore.” And that’s why I’m paying people to come into my house and fix it.
Well this weekend I helped a gal from my church (and reader of this blog) do some demo work in her new house. She’s recently come from a church sponsored trip to New Orleans where the group demoed some houses damaged by Katrina. Everyone I’ve spoken to who have come back from there raves about the work and seemed to be energized by it. So that same post-New Orleans energy was in the air, as well as lots of dust, as we whacked at her walls, knocking down Sheetrock and plaster.
With the right tools and extra hands, this knocking at walls business seems, dare I say it, fun. Also the brick behind the drywall and plaster looked beautiful. I know the case is not the same back at my house. We got a workout swinging the hammer, chiseling the plaster and whatever that stuff under the plaster happens to be. The process took me back to the new homeowner excitement of trying to imagine the space as something wonderful, once all the demo and construction has been done.
She’s saving some money by doing the demo work herself. I could save money by doing my own demo as well. When I came home after knocking the plaster off her dining room wall, I felt the desire to demo something in my house. So I pulled up a little carpet. But then I realized I didn’t know where’s my crow bar and my utility knife is a bit broken, and I needed to shower, and I wanted to take a nap too. But I still got a little of the demo-your-house bug. I want to take apart carpet and demo some walls, the easy stuff, before the serious work of building and fixing starts.

I might be pale….

but dammit I’m Black.
Okay, I get it, there is a ‘to do’ about my blog on a listserv I’m not subscribed to. People are entitled to their opinions as I am mine, but let’s get one thing straight, I’m not white. I’m a pale black woman. There are some white people darker than me (which reminds me I need to spend time out in the sun) but still, really. The photo is a picture of my dad. I didn’t get my skin tone from him, I got it from mom.
Everyso often I guess it is good to review with an ‘about’. So quick review of who I am and why I write the blog….
I am a SBF 30-something from Florida and a University of Florida grad (go gators!). I transplanted myself to the DC metro area for work and the family I have in the area keeps me here. I tend to describe myself professionally as a librarian, though I don’t do strict ‘library’ work. I have a small distrust of the government, though I work for the government. The little townhouse in Shaw, is my first home, and I’ve owned it for about 6 years.
In Shaw is one of many blogs I started back in 2003. Like the other blogs, it was meant to keep friends updated. In Shaw, specifically was to supplement a conversation I was having with various friends who were also on the buying a house fixin’ it up vibe. So I blogged. Looking back at my archives I’m trying to figure out where are my kitchen renovation posts, they might be on Livejournal, but keeping friends updated about what I was doing was a big reason. Also around about that time I was a regular on some discussion boards, pushing the idea of giving city living a chance. the blog was another way to talk about the neighborhood. Then some people emailed me, asking about the neighborhood. Being the librarianish kinda gal that I am, I was happy to try to provide people with information.
Why do I blog now? I have no idea. Habit, maybe. Thoughts/opinions get expressed and hashed out, instead of staying bottled up inside. Friends do keep up with me on this and my other semi-ignored blogs. Or they could just call me (pick up the phone dang it!) It also presents an excuse to do a little light research, when I’m in the mood to do so.
I have pondered the end of In Shaw as it exists now, I haven’t figured out the how and when. For one, I’d like to pursue other projects and posting regularly takes some time. Secondly, it’s soaking in that I showed up in the middle of the ongoing, never ending process of neighborhood change/ gentrification/ urban renewal and really my observations probably aren’t adding anything new. I’ll think about it some more.

Spanish for living ’round here

It’s time for me to take a refresher course in Spanish, because trying to give directions to a little Latina grandma I forgot the word for “Yellow”. I was trying to point out the yellow line on the metro. All my brain could give me was the German word for yellow, “gelb”.
Apparently she couldn’t speak a lick of English and it didn’t help matters when another non-Spanish speaker tried to help out. A quick scan of the Shaw/Howard platform, there were no other people who might, might have a stronger command of Spanish…. and my train was coming so, I left her, feeling really bad. But She didn’t speak English and I don’t know enough Spanish to gove useful directions and there really wasn’t any more I could do.
So thus it was a reminder that my Spanish is rustier than my bike, and I need a tune up. I mentioned the whole incident to some friends who reacted negatively to the Spanish speaking woman, “if you’re going to come to my country illegally you should learn the language,” blah, blah, blah… To which I say, while she’s on the waiting list for the ESL classes, that I hear are backlogged, I can try to meet her halfway and learn some Spanish.
However, what I need is Spanish for my world, my hood. I don’t need to know how to tell Maria that Jose is having a party or ask how Carlos is doing. No, I need Spanish for trying to give directions on the Metro or Metrobus. While we’re at it I need cleaning and construction crew Spanish. I need the following phrases:

Could you please not dust while I’m still sitting at my cubicle.

This counter is a 1/2 inch too short, can it be fixed?

You need to cross the street to catch the 70 bus to Silver Spring.

Random gardening post

Over on the main In Shaw site there is an announcement for an urban gardening class offered by Shaw Eco-village. Thought I’d just mention that.
There is probably a lot one can learn about urban gardening, but currently I’m okay with my general gardening knowledge. Besides, with the upcoming construction and being out of the house* my gardening will be next to nada this Spring. I’m just letting the mint go wild, and seeing what ever I planted do its thing. Maybe some container gardening. I’m not going to be very aggressive about it, not like last year.
There are some things I’d like to know about my urban garden that I wouldn’t learn in the class. Like is there really lead in my soil? When I talk to others and mention my gardening theme of ‘if I can’t eat it, I ain’t growing it,’ someone eventually brings up the worry about stuff in the soil. Considering the soil was a big patch of clay when I got it, and I added a lot to it in the following years. What is on the top should be all the Home Depot purchased top-soil, peat moss, sand, fertilizer and my own compost. I guess the possible lead should have washed out of the soil by now or absorbed by the plants that I pulled out when moving in. But I would like to take the guess to a knowing and have the soil tested, so I know that I’m right.
How’s the garden now? Well a few days ago I wandered out to the back yard and grabbed some Spring onions growing in an Earthbox that I planted in fall. They are looking well and I used three of them to make a nice onion wine sauce for a bit of fried trout. In other pots the alpine strawberry has some green leaves, as does the oregano, and the mint. I’ll probably need to divide the roots and repot them. The laurel bay is dead. From what I can tell it was killed by too many freezing days. I’ll leave it alone, maybe it will spring back. There are some chives that have popped out in the window box that I think I seeded in Fall. Last year’s thyme and sage are chugging along in the window boxes as well. I’ve used the thyme all year, and it’s been okay. However, I look forward to more mint for the mojitos.

*Got housing in a undisclosed TC location. I’ll stay there until one of the owners’ pets decides that I gotsta go. Then it may be followed by crashing in Hyattsville or CH.

BAA meeting TODAY

| Blagden Alley Association |
| Monthly Meeting |
| |
| THURSDAY, March 22, 2007 |
| 7:30-9:00 pm |
| Steve and Kristi’s |
| 915 M Street, NW |

The newsletter is at

1. Local house price talk.
With Elizabeth Blakeslee and Connie Maffin.
Industry numbers, and what’s selling and what’s not.
2. A bit Ninth Street history and upcoming banners:
Main Streets’ Design Committee Chair Brent Kruse.
3. Police.
4. More. A lot more.

Edible Urban Garden Class

Course Description

Introduction to Urban Edible Gardens — Gardening as if your meals depend on it.

April 6- April 8, 2007. Washington D.C.

Learn to garden organically in an urban environment. This hands-on and intensive two and a half day workshop will teach you how to grow a variety of food in your urban yard (or patio). Taking into account all the obstacles an urban setting presents to a gardener, this course covers how to work with “urban nature” rather than against it and to take advantage of valuable urban resources. Topics of the course will include, but are not limited to: low-maintenance gardening & design, soil amendments & preparation, water catchment, composting — all through a permaculture* approach.
*Permaculture is a method of working with nature to design systems to provide basic human needs such as food, shelter and health. This workshop serves as an introduction to the wisdom of permaculture and its possibilities for application in Washington D.C. (The material covered in this course can be applied to a full 72-hour permaculture certification course).

Instructor: Marisha Auerbach. Joining us from Olympia, Washington, Marisha is a long-time permaculture educator and practitioner. She specializes in sustainable urban food production, flower essences and herbal tinctures and has taught courses across the US, Canada and Central America. For more information on Marisha, visit her website

* Intro: Friday, April 6th. 7-10pm. Location: To be announced.
* Part I: Saturday, April 7th. 10am- 5pm. Location: The 7th Street Garden.
* Part II: Sunday, April 8th. 12pm- 6pm. Location: The 7th Street Garden.
* Cost: $150, due March 16th. *Work/trade or scholarships available for qualifying residents. (Intro & Part I only: $100) Deposit: $75, due March 15th.

For more information and to register contact: Liz Falk at 7thStreetGarden [at] or (202) 722 2962.,

Course Schedule (Topics may change slightly)

Friday, April 6: 7-10pm. Location: To be announced.
Growing your own Food! Introduction to course. Talk, slide show and video summarizes topics of the course. Hands-on: make seed balls

Saturday, April 7: 10 am – 5 pm. Location: The 7th Street Garden

10 – 10:30am: Introductions, Introduction to The 7th Street Garden
10:30 – 11am: Food Security: Where does our food come from? The future of our food.
11 – 11:30am: What is permaculture? Why is it a response to the changing state of food? To climate change? To overall sustainability?
11:30am – 12 pm: Permaculture ethics: The ethics that we live by.
12 – 1 pm: Waste, compost, waste=food.
Hands-on: Build compost bin/pile appropriate for urban environment (if outside, to keep the rats out & inside composting for apartment residents)
1 – 2pm: lunch (provided)
2 – 2:30 pm: Permaculture principles
3 pm – 5 pm: Introduction to soils, the power of mushrooms, mulching, manure, sheet mulching, ‘Food Not Lawns’
Hands-on: Sheet mulching, inoculate mushrooms

Sunday, April 8: 12 pm – 6 pm. Location: The 7th Street Garden

12 – 12:30pm: Best of yesterday, recap of ethics and principles
12:30 – 2 pm: Design methodologies; design for your urban garden space
2 – 3pm: Using your backyard or patio: Herbs, Building raised beds, containers gardens
Hands-on: Build an herb spiral, plant containers
3 – 3:15pm: break (snack provided)
3:15 – 4:15 pm: Capturing water, conserving water, and watering your garden
Hands-on: Set up rain barrels
4:15 – 5 pm: Perennial Forage Systems (How to create low-maintenance food gardens), Envisioning and planning for the future
Hands-on: Sowing, transplanting, broadcast
5:15 – 6 pm: Urban food security, envisioning possibilities, finishing hands-on, closing

About the 7th Street Garden— The 7th Street Garden is located in the heart of Washington, D.C.’s Shaw neighborhood. The Garden is a highly productive community food
garden wherein low income residents learn to grow, utilize and market local, seasonal and affordable produce. The Garden will greatly contribute to food security, economic opportunity and enhance the environmental in this community. As well, we are committed to creating a site that demonstrates urban environmental sustainability. The 7th Street Garden will educate and engage youth and adults, instill a sense of neighborhood pride where ideas can flourish, senses will be engaged, defenses will be disarmed and
multidisciplinary educational opportunities will abound.

Strive for the harder story to tell

Well I’ll probably clean this post up and put in some links about the recent Post articles about H Street and Navy Yard, as well as the tried & true “Shaw is gentrifying/changing” themed articles. Once again the old themes and the stock characters in their typecasted roles. White newcomers are wealthy arrogant jerks who disrespect the downtrodden struggling black old timers, is the easy tale to tell.
I will admit I do see glimpses of the hard stories in the Post. Where there are issues of class, country of origin, education, gender, theology, sexual orientation and age play more a part of story than that great DC standby, race. Maybe to an editor they are less interesting.
The easy story starts with a peaceful middle class African American neighborhood. Ignore the Jews, the Irish, the Germans and those few Italians that everyone tells me were all over the neighborhood (but haven’t seen too much documentation on). Maybe a few hard questions center around the riots, who left and never came back, who stuck it out, who filled in the vacuum, and what did the city government do and where did the govt. fail & succeed?
Then I can ask what are the alternatives? Neighborhoods where the commercial sector has basically flat lined and you can barely even get businesses to even look at the area? Places where your dining options consists of KFC, Micky D’s, Popeyes or some other carry out? Residential sections where there are few buyers and renters have no interest in becoming homeowners?
Here’s the story I know about Shaw: Its been changing for over 100 years. People of different races, countries of origin and financial circumstances move in, and those people moved out and they got replaced by more people. Gentrification has been happening at least since the 80s in fits and starts (do a Proquest search, Washington Post 12/31/79-Present, search “Shaw” [or logan/ bates/ blagden] & “gentrification”). Business growth has been slow, for a variety of reasons, but it has been moving forward. So we tend to get excited when something new pops up. Long after the pages of these stories turn yellow and get stuck in the Post’s pay-to-see archives, people will move in and people will move out and the neighborhood will continue to change.