Can A Party Change Perceptions Of Anacostia?

Nahal Tavangar / @NahalTav

About 1,200 people attended the fourth annual Cherry Blast party in Anacostia.

Trapeze artists hovered above a crowd. A band played electronic music as green lasers flashed through the room. Nearby, people created silk-screened T-shirts, a video installation played against the wall and the crowd tossed a large, clear plastic bubble filled with pink balloons in the air.

The annual Cherry Blast event on Saturday night was in many ways a creative, warehouse party. It pulled together all sorts of artistic and musical spectacles that attracted a racially diverse crowd of 1,200 willing to pay $10 a ticket to enter.

But this party didn’t happen in Northwest or near gentrifying H Street NE. Cherry Blast, produced by The Pink Line Project, took place in a vacant police evidence warehouse in Anacostia, and drew attendees largely from other parts of town, many of whom were young and white.

Anacostia has a rich history, but in recent years the neighborhood has developed a reputation as dangerous and poor, a perception that local activists have been battling. It’s a mostly black neighborhood that doesn’t typically attract many white people.

Cherry Blast comes on the heels of Lumen8Anacostia, a weekend of art events and pop-ups held throughout the neighborhood. These events have given people, who normally don’t trek east of the Anacostia River, a reason to visit the neighborhood. But in doing so, they’ve raised questions about race and class.

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Who Benefits From Historic Preservation?

Historic districts are intended to preserve neighborhood landmarks and buildings in the face of redevelopment. But some argue that such historic protections, in practice, actually drive up real estate prices and make neighborhoods expensive. Salon’s Will Doig lays out the arguments, using New York City’s Greenwich Village as an example. The neighborhood received historic designation in the 1960s, long before it became the tony enclave it is today.

D.C. has a number of historic districts scattered throughout the city, with more potentially on the way.

That cost-benefit analysis is tough to pull off. In hindsight, the benefits of saving Greenwich Village from urban renewal in the ’60s ended up outweighing the costs. Today, the neighborhood is tremendously loved and as far from being a “slum” as possible. It’s also a refuge for the wealthy, however, and could house many more people than it currently does. But maybe the biggest problem with expanding the Village’s protected boundaries now is that, in the words of social theorist David Harvey, Manhattan is becoming the world’s biggest gated community. Taking steps that will likely make it even pricier could keep its real estate eclectic, but in the process, help make its diversity a thing of the past.

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D.C.’s Vacant Luxury Housing Development

There are plenty of examples of how developers and entrepreneurs have profited and driven gentrification near the H Street NE corridor. But here’s an example of an investment gone awry. Work began on Capitol Hill Oasis before the housing market crashed. Now 7 years later, the luxury housing project remains empty and half-built. The Washington Post reports on why the project faltered, including financial and construction troubles.

Every day, neighbors walk past, many wondering what has become of Capitol Hill Oasis. The billboard behind the chain-link fence still promises a “private elevator,” parking and “gourmet kitchens.” But the site is silent, except for the occasional sound of a rock crashing through a window, 10 of which are now boarded up.

“Look at what it’s done to the neighborhood,” Steve Robertson, 56, a D.C. Corrections officer who lives several blocks away, said one afternoon. “It’s going to sit there? They knock down whatever. They do whatever they want. What about the people who live around here?”

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Most-Liked Cities: Opinions Differ By Race

Seattle and Portland are among the most popular cities in the U.S., while the least popular is Detroit, according to a new poll by Public Policy Polling. Voters from around the country were asked how much they like 21 prominent cities. D.C. ranks in the middle, with 44 percent of voters saying they like D.C. and 39 percent disliking the District.

The poll found people responded differently depending on their political leanings, gender and race. When it comes to D.C., 40 percent of whites polled had a favorable opinion and 41 percent had an unfavorable opinion. Meanwhile, 56 percent of black respondents liked D.C., while only 23 percent didn’t.

There is a small correlation between how well-liked a city is and low poverty rates, but David Nir of the Daily Kos finds an even higher correlation between how favorable people are toward a city and how white it is.

Once I finished a moment’s gloating over where I live, though, I noticed that something else was happening here: a very high correlation (0.7) between how favorably a city is viewed, and how white it is. (Seattle and Portland are also the two cities with the highest non-Hispanic white population percentages according to the 2010 census, while Detroit and Oakland are the lowest and third-lowest.)

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The Complexities Of Rent Control

Derek K. Miller / Flickr

Expensive rents can be a byproduct of gentrification and rising property values. So isn’t rent control one way to keep housing affordable?

Turns out that it’s not always that simple.

This week’s Washington City Paper Housing Complex column explores how one developer’s approach to purchasing and renovating old apartment buildings in D.C. has become a double-edged sword for renters. When landlords wants to sell their buildings, a D.C. law requires that they offer tenants the first right to buy. Urban Investment Partners buys old buildings, but they get the tenants to waive their right to purchase by striking deals that include keeping rents relatively stable for original tenants. Those old buildings need major renovations, and the company pays for them by substantially increasing rents for newcomers to the building. The result: rent-controlled, low rates for those who remain, but the number of affordable apartments in the building — and the city– declines.

But what other options exist? The pot of money intended to preserve affordable housing in the District is dwindling. For-profit developers want to make money, and it’s difficult to massively renovate a building without charging people more to live there.

These issues disproportionately affect people of color in the District. About twice as many African Americans, Asians and Latinos rent rather than own homes in D.C. Meanwhile, nearly the same number of whites own homes as rent them in D.C. About 55 percent of people who live in D.C. rent.

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The All-White Jury Pool Effect

Trials that start with all-white jury pools end up finding black defendants guilty 16 percent more often than white defendants. But having just one black person in the jury pool can alter that result, nearly closing the conviction gap.

That’s according to a Duke University-led study released this week, in which researchers examined more than 700 Florida cases.

“I think this is the first strong and convincing evidence that the racial composition of the jury pool actually has a major effect on trial outcomes,” senior author Patrick Bayer said in this video.

Check out Duke University’s infographic below, showing that conviction rates of black and white defendants are nearly identical when at least one black person is in a jury pool.

Crowdsourcing Neighborhood Changes

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

A sign on 14th Street and Rhode Island Avenue NW asks "What would you build here?"

Businesses play an important role in the transformation of neighborhoods. A certain restaurant or store can attract newcomers, make a block seem “desirable” or become a gathering spot.

But as it stands now, the public generally doesn’t have a say on what specific businesses open up in their neighborhoods, says developer Ben Miller. Should that vacant storefront be a coffee shop or a pet store?

That’s why Ben Miller and his brother, Dan, started in late 2011. They were trying to figure out what to do with the building they purchased at 1351 H Street NE, and wanted public input. So they posted the project online and asked people to vote on ideas they had already explored or submit suggestions. About 1,000 people responded, and Ben Miller says they’ll announce the final project within a few weeks.

The site is in its early stages and currently features five buildings. People sign up by providing their names and zip codes and can then comment on project ideas or suggest new ones for the featured buildings. Building owners, developers and others then use the feedback as a factor in the eventual outcome, along with economics, construction issues and other things.

“A lot of people aren’t in the process of how neighborhoods get built. They don’t know how decisions get made,” Miller says. “A lot of it can be changed by including lots of people who normally don’t get involved.”

But is targeting an online audience the best way to increase involvement? A persistent digital divide in the District means there’s a good chunk of the population who is not connected, and they’re mostly low-income folks.

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Ben’s Chili Bowl To Open On H Street

A longtime clothier on H Street NE will officially be replaced by a Ben’s Chili Bowl. George Butler sold his building at H and 10th Streets NE after selling men’s clothing for more than 40 years along the corridor.

We’ve known that the Ali family, the force behind D.C. institution Ben’s Chili Bowl, purchased the building. But it wasn’t clear whether H Street would get a Ben’s of its own, or whether the Alis would open a different kind of restaurant. Frozen Tropics reports today that a Ben’s will indeed open in the first floor.

Ben’s is as homegrown as it gets, so is having the restaurant replace a longtime H Street shop count as gentrification?

It became very clear at a public meeting last night that the first floor will become a Ben’s Chili Bowl.

Margaret Holwill, who live tweeted portions of the meeting, further reports that the upstairs will feature and open kitchen, and a bar (alcohol served upstairs only). But apparently, the grub upstairs will not be what you can get at Ben’s Next Door.

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Explaining Why More Asians Are Marrying Within Their Race

Interracial marriage is at an all-time high. And while Asian Americans are still the most likely Americans to marry outside of their race, there’s been a steady increase in the number of Asians marrying other Asians.

A rise in immigration from Asian countries has widened the Asian American dating pool, but The New York Times also reported that there is “a resurgence of interest in language and ancestral traditions among some newlyweds.”

But Wall Street Journal columnist Jeff Yang points out that many Asians are still marrying across ethnicity and nationality. A University of Massachusetts–Amherst sociology professor who has studied marriage trends found that the number of Asians marrying across ethnicity has risen by 8 percent since 2006.

Both [Matthew] Cha and [Perry] Manadee essentially found themselves beginning to date other Asians when the option became more practical. (From personal experience, I can say that dating the daughters of your parents’ close friends is not practical.) This coincided with travel to Asia, or attending top universities — where there’s a disproportionately high concentration of Asian Americans — or moving to major cities on the East or West Coast, where Asian Americans cluster. And given that the overall Asian American population grew by approximately 46% from 2000 to 2010, the fastest of all racial and ethnic groups, this also explains much, but not all of the downtick in Asian interracial marriage: The more Asian fish there are in the Sea of Love, the more likely it is that you’ll net one — though not necessarily one from exactly the same coral reef.

And given the spike in Asian interethnic marriage, that’s apparently increasingly okay. Far from obsessing over common language or tradition, most of my other interviewees mentioned the same thing [Mina] Lim did: The general shared experiences and expectations they had with their Asian partners led to a comfort zone in which aspects of life other than race and ethnicity could come to the fore.

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Art Driving Gentrification?

hellomarkers! / Flickr

This sculpture is on top of an Anacostia warehouse

The District is funding a series of art events housed in vacant spaces in downtown Anacostia. The idea behind Lumen8Anacostia: to make use of under-used spaces, and also spark some much-needed economic growth in Anacostia. The Ward 8 neighborhood has already seen some professionals moving in, but nowhere near to the same degree as neighborhoods west of the river.

On Tuesday, local blog Greater Greater Washington tweeted that the Lumen8Anacostia could signal “a new dawn for Anacostia” and Washington City Paper pondered whether Anacostia could be the next Williamsburg. That sparked a conversation between locals, including Ward 8 Councilman Marion Barry, about gentrification, displacement, race and the arts.

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