Will Chains Fill 14th Street?

Lauren Parnell Marino / Flickr

A stretch of 14th Street NW.

The 14th Street NW corridor continues its transformation, as work on luxury condo buildings marches on and announcements of restaurant openings stream in. The older businesses that opened along the strip in the aftermath of the 1968 riots are, one-by-one, closing shop (and getting millions of dollars in exchange for their buildings, if they own them). Some newer businesses are moving, too.

Development comes in waves, from pawn shops to fancier locally-owned businesses, and eventually, to chain retailers. That’s according to a few real estate experts interviewed by The New York Times, who say that 14th Street NW could eventually see its small, albiet upscale businesses, replaced by national chains and junior-sized box stores.

People move into gentrifying neighborhoods partially because they see how it could change, but also because of the unique character of such places. If  national chains come, will a neighborhood lose its desirability among such newcomers? From the Times piece:

One [resident], Tim Christensen, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1989 and is president of the Logan Circle Community Association, wondered about the cost.

“I’ve said before that when the last pawnshop and the last storefront deli leaves 14th Street, I will leave,” he said. “It’s that mixture of the gritty and the upscale that gives the neighborhood a unique character. If one day it’s all gone, I think we will feel a sense of loss.”

Gentrification does indeed come in waves. Some of the first businesses that contribute to the revitalization of a neighborhood can get priced out when turnover is complete. This is especially true for business owners who lease space and have no building to sell; they can become victims of the success they helped to create.

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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In Your Words: Who Are The Native Washingtonians?

Mad African!: (Broken Sword) / Flickr

Most of D.C.’s newcomers hail from far-away locales rather than Washington’s suburbs, according to recent census estimates. Given that, I asked last week whether someone like me, raised in Maryland but now living in D.C., gets to claim any native Washingtonian status — a title that carries weight in this transient city. A number of you chimed in, both in our comments section and on Twitter. Continue reading

Who Can Claim ‘Native Washingtonian’ Status?

Mr. T in DC / Flickr

A D.C. flag painted on a planter on gentrified H Street NE.

Most newcomers to D.C. hail from from far-away places, not nearby suburbs, according to newly-released census estimates. More than double the number of people who moved into D.C. from Maryland and Virginia came from outside the region, such as New York and California.

While the nation has seen its population increase because of the rise of racial minorities, D.C.’s population has grown because of whites moving into the city. At the same time, the District’s black community has shrunk. And those leaving D.C. mostly move to places like Maryland’s Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, according to the census estimates.

All of these numbers makes me wonder about what it means to be a “native Washingtonian.” It’s a term that carries plenty of clout in this transient city, and especially in light of gentrification, it’s become code for “non-gentrifier.” But as the city swells with folks who hail from so far away, could local newcomers claim some of that clout, too? Take me, for example: I was born in D.C. and grew up in Maryland. I moved into the District a few years ago, but D.C. news, arts and politics have been a big part of my adult life. At the same time, I acknowledge that my childhood was marked more by rolling, rural hills than by city streets. Am I no different than someone who moved from, say, the Midwest?

Anyway, check out the full list of places from where D.C. newcomers hail and click through our map of movement throughout the D.C. region:

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Gentrification And The Upper-Class Cultural Bubble

zzub nik / Flickr

Author Charles Murray has been criticized and praised for his latest book, “Coming Apart,” in which he argues that white America is in crisis and that the country is divided primarily by class, not by race.

Murray’s argument is that “the super wealthy, super educated and super snobby live in so-called super-ZIP [codes]: cloistered together, with little to no exposure to American culture at large,” reports NewsHour. Murray’s book includes the “bubble quiz,” meant to determine just how out-of-touch respondents may be (and it’s presumably intended for whites).

A caveat to one of the questions may be of particular interest to our readers. The first question states, “Have you ever lived for at least a year in an American neighborhood in which the majority of your fifty nearest neighbors did not have college degrees?” But, the quiz qualifies, it doesn’t count if the neighborhood is gentrified and you’re one of the gentrifiers. In other words, Murray argues, gentrifiers are still in an upper-class bubble, even if they don’t technically live in one. Do you agree? It’s a salient question in D.C., given the number mixed-income neighborhoods.

And you can take the quiz here.

Gentrification’s Impact On Poor Children in Rich Neighborhoods

A reader adds to our discussion on whether poor children benefit by having rich neighbors. Soulshadow55 writes:

Yeah, that’s all well and good but what usually happens is that the neighborhood improves to the point that poor families can no longer afford to live in it.  The increased tax base continues to attract so-called wealthy people to the neighborhood which decreases the number of poorer families with children.  The new so-called wealthy people benefit more from all of the new facilities, the playgrounds, improved schools, better services, etc… [SIC]

Harold Neal / Flickr

Gentrification is one of the main reasons behind why more poor District children now live in wealthier neighborhoods. Such neighborhood revitalization, which brings along amenities that children can benefit from, also increases property values. As a result, low- and moderate-income families renting at market rates may get priced out.

Those living in public housing, however, could be somewhat buffered by the negative impact of rapid gentrification, since rents remain steady. Take Columbia Heights, where public housing apartments are on the same block as million dollar homes. But good luck to anyone seeking public housing — the waiting for affordable housing vouchers in the District has swelled to more than 37,000-people long.

What To Call Gentrification By Non-Whites: Does Race Matter?

Gentrification takes place when middle and upper-income people move into low-income communities, which ushers in economic change, reinvestment and development. Jumping back a few weeks ago, a discussion took place on DCentric when we pondered a more specific kind of gentrification: gentefication, which is when low-income, immigrant Latino neighborhoods are gentrified by second-generation, well-to-do Latinos.

So we wondered: is gentrification much different when gentrifiers aren’t white, so much so that it requires its own term?

Alex Baca tweeted that having a separate word for this kind of gentrification is unnecessary:

It's class-based. Don't need fancy names. RT @ On gentrification & rhetoric when non-whites are gentrifiers

But others argued that gentrification by non-whites does have different implications for neighborhoods. Commenter Gente Negra, wrote:

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Is D.C. Too Expensive To Be Creative? Fugazi’s Ian MacKaye Weighs In

rockcreek / Flickr

Gold Leaf Studios is located at 433 I St. NW.

At the end of the month, one of D.C.’s last large DIY spaces will close, putting out dozens of artists. It will be replaced by a $57 million development. Washington City Paper has this excellent write-up chronicling the history of Gold Leaf Studios and the artists it hosted:

For well over a decade, Gold Leaf’s 12 studios have housed legion creative types like [Durkl creative director Will] Sharp. And while Gold Leaf attracted packed crowds and scattered media attention over the years as its art parties grew notorious, its more important legacy is simply as a cheap, spacious place for folks to do their work. “There are happy artists here over 50 that come in at night and paint,” says Sharp. “Artists, welders, sculptors, musicians, and jewelers all under one roof is kind of an oasis for someone like me.”

Courtesy of Bora Chung

Brandon Moses of Laughing Man practices in his Gold Leaf studio.

Although Gold Leaf Studios was never intended to be permanent, its sale and closure come at a time when D.C.’s housing prices are rising. There’s been a recent, ongoing discussion over whether D.C. has become too expensive for artists to create and live. (Noticeably absent from the discussion is how go-go, a D.C. music genre, is increasingly being relegated to cheaper suburbs).

Slate’s Matthew Yglesias writes, “I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the city was probably more culturally influential during its mid-eighties quality of life nadir than it is today as a richer-but-prohibitively expensive city.” That’s when D.C. gave birth to groups like post-punk band Fugazi.

Fugazi founding member Ian MacKaye stopped by WAMU 88.5′s offices last week to discuss an online archiving project on The Kojo Nnamdi Show. We caught up with him afterward to get his thoughts on D.C., art and gentrification.

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When Yoga Studios and Old Clothiers Benefit

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Stan's has been on H Street Northeast since 1978.

The H Street Northeast corridor has plenty of new bars and restaurants that draw evening crowds, but the area is low on daytime foot traffic. A new grant program is intended to change that by boosting the corridor’s retail options.

In the past, we’ve written about the $1.25 million grant program and about some fears that businesses catering to newer and wealthier clientele would benefit rather than longtime businesses. The grant was made available to new or existing businesses, as long as they weren’t restaurants, bars, liquor stores, hair salons or barbershops.

The first round of winners were announced Wednesday morning. They include Bikram Yoga Capitol Hill, H Street Care Pharmacy and Wellness Center and The C.A.T. Walk Boutique, all of which opened along the corridor between 2006 and 2010. That may lead to easy charges that the program is benefiting newer businesses over older ones. But also winning a grant: Stan’s Inc., a clothing store that has been in D.C. since 1947 and on H Street since 1978. DCist reports that owner Leon Robbins will renovate the store and expand its clothing line using the $85,000 award.

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When Early Gentrifiers Can’t Afford to Stay

Michael Feagans / Flickr

Love Cafe is closing on Jan. 29 after nine years on U Street.

Businesses move to transitional neighborhoods because space is cheap and there’s potential for future growth. But sometimes the economic success of these neighborhoods leads to the demise of the early gentrifiers.

Love Cafe opened at 15th and U Street, NW in 2003, two years before Busboys and Poets moved into the corridor and signaled rapid change in the community. This week, Love Cafe owner Warren Brown announced he’s closing Jan. 29 because rent has gotten too high. H Street Playhouse on H Street, NE is closing moving after it opened along the corridor in 2002, ahead of the trendy bars, restaurants and high rents.

Of course, some businesses that moved into neighborhoods at the beginning stages of gentrification do remain. They could be at an advantage because they got their feet in the door early. But gentrification happens in stages, and just like the longtime businesses that successfully weather gentrification, newer businesses also have to keep adapting to neighborhood changes in order to survive.