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.

7 thoughts on “Strive for the harder story to tell”

  1. It’s the very nature of urban enviroments that they do change. Look at history and you’ll see a long line of groups succeeding each other and socioeconomic change. Unfortunately, we tend, on the whole, to have short memories. In most cities you’ll also see failed government attempts at urban renewal. I think what most people (or at least a lot of us) in cities would like to see is diverse neighborhoods (racially, ethnically, and economically). How you achieve this (and make it last) is the real question, but yeah, the Post coverage on this stuff tends to be pretty sorry. I know it’s a complex issue, that can be hard to write about, but that isn’t an excuse to start out with a given framework and then just find anecdotes that you can fit into your story.

  2. my comments/concerns about gentrification are as follows. okay-neighborhoods ( like the planet in general) change. this is a fact. and yes, it is nice when there are more amenities in and around one’s place of residence. what no one seems to note ( or care about) is that the folks who happen to live in a place before it is-ah-“discovered” want a decent existence, good services, etc. but -and i am sorry good caucasian friends-it doesn’t happen until you all move in..
    im not white, so i cant ask myself
    what it is like knowing that even in 2007-when to many folks, racism is supposedly dead-this marriage of money and (coincidentally?) race can move mountains.. and neighbors. people like to say gentrification is not about race, but class. so what has happened everywhere from beacon hill in boston to capitol hill in dc is one long, seemingly never ending coincidence? our lack of candor concerning these issues is not helping matters. something is right-and terribly wrong.

  3. I’d be interested to hear your response to this post that found it’s way to the Bloomingdale email list in response to this post (personally I can see that she’s completely missed your point):

    It amazes me how the white newcomers can snidely remark on gentrification as if:

    1. it’s not happening and
    2. they don’t actually disrespect the original residents “downtrodden struggling black old timers” as they’ve been called ever so respectfully.

    I am a part of this gentrification but I know what I am a part of. I am part of a system that gives no credence to the poor (white, asian, black, latino, indigenous people) because without money they have no power, they have no voice. They have no money so buying is not truly an option.

    What they have is police presence when someone is killed or a victim of crime. I, on the other hand, have police driving through my recently gentrified bloomingdale as a show of force to ward of would be thugs. Hmmm could this have happened four years ago when my building was a halfway house and drug dealers owned the streets? yes it could have occurred, but didn’t because the residents weren’t they type of folks (yuppie/buppie/rich) police are told to really protect. They are the type of people police are instructed to maintain (i.e. show up to pick up a body or take a report).

    Race is a major part of any story regarding DC. Why? Um take just one glance at the demographics. Take a glance five years ago and now today. What new faces have emerged that weren’t there before? Do you give up? So she can call it a standby if she must, I call it reality. The old standby should really be translated to wealth not race.

    Those who have it, make policy, change policy, offend the poor because they can and are too ignorant to even notice they’ve offended…how was it said the “downtrodden struggling black old timers” (in case you didn’t notice, that was offensive)

    Frankly Mari’s entire blog is offensive and quoting from it just seems, well, silly.

    That’s my two cents
    Gentrifed Buppie in Bloomingdale

  4. The blog isn’t for everyone, never intended to be, and everyone has their own opinions.

    Oh an some insight to my own internal editing, downtrodden struggling black old timers wasn’t my first choice. I actually thought it was better than ‘poor black folk’ because it would not include the middle class African Americans who stayed in the area, despite all that was going on, who are now elderly and it paints all of us as one income group.
    Another problem is the issue of race. Race isn’t the sole or major factor, but when that is mentioned it somehow gets translated into ‘race isn’t a factor’. In my opinion it isn’t as much as a factor as income, which one can say race plays a factor.
    Gentrification occurs when an area experiences disinvestment but still holds some assets that when the value of the properties get low enough (because of the disinvestment) it becomes ripe for gentrifying. If the black middle class didn’t run off to PG, we might not have had this problem. I can’t find it now, but there is a map/ flash media presentation showing the concentration of AfAm populations from the 50s or 60s to the 2000s using Census data. Early on there is a huge concentration in the north of the river and in the city areas, then in the 70s-90s, there is an exodus to Anacostia and PG Co. and then growth in MoCo.
    Prevent the disinvestment (the vacant & abandoned buildings, high rental rate, high turnover, etc) and prevent the gentrification. Somewhere in Ward 7, in a neighborhood whose name I keep forgetting, there is a strong stable middle class black population, and all is well (they would like a few more amenities, but that isn’t the point). Provided that the problems of some the surrounding neighborhoods don’t intrude, and the few people who move out are replaced by like persons (black professionals) there will be no disinvestment, and thus no gentrification.

  5. Thanks for responding. Personally I found Gentrified Buppy to be both divisive and ignorant.

    S/he fails to understand that you were not describing your neighbors as “downtrodden struggling black old timers” but characterizing negative stereotypes used by the Post.

    I don’t understand if she is criticizing you or using a broad brush against all “white newcomers”. (I am an occasional, rather than regular reader, but I don’t think you personally can be described as such….)

    Other than that, you actually both say the same thing.

    Your response was very gracious. (I was pissed). You may want to respond to the Bloomingdale email list.

  6. Mari, that neighborhood you’re referring to, is it Hillcrest? That’s a middle class neighborhood in Anacostia.

Comments are closed.