Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Gentrification DC

Yes, I must have a bug in my bonnet. That and work has slowed down here.

Last year, well October 2003 I attended the very crowded American Cities discussion on gentrification at the City Museum. I have notes I don't remember if I entered them into this blog. If I didn't (too lazy to search) well here it is.

Jim Abdo, president of Abdo Development began with his side of the story. He talked about historical buildings and that he, unlike some of the other developers, only rehabbed abandoned buildings. No one got kicked out.

His take points out something that I haven't touch upon in my gentrification rants, historical or historically interesting buildings. The neighborhoods in question, Columbia Heights, Shaw, LeDroit Park and Capitol Hill have some pretty neat buildings. Sadly it is only the middle & upper classes that can keep the buildings with the historical details up. It is good if you score a house that still has the pocket doors, the original stained glass, the long windows, the original crown molding, the wood floors, the carved newel posts, the detailed iron fences and stair railings, oh I could go on. When the middle classes fled the city and these houses with so much detail were rented out or sold to those with less some of those details got lost to the practical. Long tall windows are expensive to replace so they got replaced by cheaper squat ones. Pocket doors removed or walled up. As the neighborhood got rougher it just probably didn't make sense to invest that much into the property. So gentrification is saving some housing provided the rehabbers have an appreciation for history.

Next on the panel was Maria Maldonado from CASA Maryland. She talked about what gentrification was, the replacement and displacement of one neighborhood with another. She talked about immigrant families that have been there for over 18 years and are being forced out due to market conditions. She also mentioned a horrible incident where 20 lawyers descended on one building scaring the tenants. The odd thing, she mentioned was that people come for the diversity but it is the economic power of the incoming group that forces out the diversity.

The last fellow I have notes for (I left before it all ended) was from Arlington and talking about affordable housing.

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At 1/10/2005 11:34 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi, hello, good evening,

I've been caught up reading your blog for a few hours tonight. Usually I read a few posts of someone's and move on, but I'm positively enchanted by yours. It's so good to find a blog from someone in DC who is actually addressing issues beyond the Hill and beyond the club scene. I adore this city: the long and deep history, the diversity, the small and seemingly hidden vibrant pockets. I've not found any other blog that addresses neighborhood and city wide issues the way yours does, particularly the very complex problem of the gentrification process (which most people don't realize has been going on in one form or another in this city for at least half a century -- well before the 1968 riots).

Your perspective is a virtual breathe of fresh air out here in lala land. Please, please keep it up. I don't have a Blogger account and don't follow any non-news blogs, but after reading your blog I am getting myself a news aggregator; with any luck there will be more like yours out there.

By the way, I also attempted to attend this meeting at the City Museum, but I was one of the people who didn't get in. I was greatly disappointed at the complete lack of media coverage of the event, the so-so write up in Next American City, and the mayor's last minute no-show. I hadn't found anyone else who had actually managed to get inside; I'm glad I finally did.


At 1/11/2005 7:33 AM, Blogger Mari said...

Thanks. The whole purpose of this blog is to relate my observations of this neighborhood ( got other ones that just relate my boring life) and yeah, I have found few that AREN'T club hopping diaries or the like but if you find another let me know.

At 1/20/2006 5:38 PM, Blogger LinaBo said...

I really enjoy your blog- thanks.
So Jim Abdo. By touting his development as development that only rehabs existing, abandoned buildings, he is evokes a nostalgia, in my opinion a naiive, romantic nostalgia and shifts the focus from the sociological and economic impact that his development has on the surrounding urban fabric to an idea of who isn't being moved out. Washington DC is a great place to use this card because it has a fairly traditional and nostalgic relationship to its architecture, in some ways seeing it as something static (this is why, as you mentioned, it is common knowledge that to encounter pocket doors and a carved newel post is a find) rather than something that can activate change.
What does that look like? Not entirely sure- still muddling around with my own issues of being a "gentrifier" (I hate that word but that's the way it is right now)...
However a hinge must be forged to avoid the continuation of people being moved out of their neighborhoods. If this is the way that Ms. Maldonado described it, I disagree with her definition of gentrification. Isn't a neighborhood composed of both physical and social layers that contribute to the sense that one has- this is ___neighborhood? So one cannot replace the other. You cannot cut an paste and entire neighborhood. What seems to be happening is a sort of hybridization of neighborhoods, and little by little, as developments go up (doesn't matter if they're utilizing an abandoned building!) the property taxes rise and people are shoved out. In any case, wouldn't the solution be somewhat of a composite of this type of (Abdo or otherwise) development and low income housing? Why can't the Abdo developments subsidize low income housing next door? Is this nuts? I mean, if we want diversity, doesn't that mean that it's diversity not only when convenient?? I think it was Burnham who suggested boulevarding over "less desirable neighborhoods" as one of the ways to use the notion of beauty as a tool for social control in the City Beautiful Movement- what does that look like today? What is development boulevarding over and why??

At 7/23/2006 6:04 PM, Blogger Nick said...

I just found the blog, too, and I like your inquiring attitude towards an inflammatory subject. I live in Woodridge/Brooklnad, an area that is getting gentrified, I think, though it's hard to tell if folks have been here a long time or a short time--most everybody is middle class/upper middle class. In any case, I bought 2 years ago and while house-hunting, had to think about the gentrification aspect. My dad, a sociologist specializing in race relations, posited this idea. First, rich (or richer, or white, or whomever the gentrifiers are) have to live somewhere. Do we want them to live in an all-white, segregated area? Maybe some folks do, but that's probably short-sighted, since interaction, not isolation, will work best in dealing with racisim/classism/sexism/other isms. So, then, we want them to live in mixed-race/class/etc. areas. His next point is that, even at its fastest rate, gentrifying takes a long while, especially if we are going from 90%, like Shaw, to under 20% or lower. So, while it's taking place, if it ever does reach that tipping point that takes it there, people are living in a mixed neighborhood and hopefully becoming better people because of it. Finally, the folks who are selling their houses in my neighborhood are the older folks who've lived here for a long time and they are making a sweet profit. Good for them. The rub there, of course, is the renters. But I wonder what the displacement rate of poor renters in non-gentrifying areas is. I know that when my parents split up when I was a kid and I lived with my single mom, who worked late, we rented and we moved a lot. Not because of gentrifiers, either. But still, I hate to boot little old ladies and families with kids and all the other people who need housing, too. It's a tough issue, so no wonder we think about it a lot. What we need is a way to stop the predatory tax increases that occur; maybe a grandfather tax rate for folks who've lived in one spot for a decade or something...
I dunno.

At 5/27/2007 2:50 PM, Blogger christopherlee said...

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