Brightwood Beats Back Walmart

Flickr: Racineur

According to Lydia DePillis at the Washington City Paper, preservationists who wish to stop Walmart from coming to their neighborhood are now trying to throw history in the retailer’s path:

In a classic last-ditch anti-development tactic, the “Brightwood Neighborhood Preservation Association,” headed by Ward 4 Thrives member Verna Collins, has submitted a landmark application for the Car Barn that now sits on the site of the Walmart planned for upper Georgia Avenue.

One of the comments under DePillis’ piece included concerns about gentrification, displacement and the digital divide:

It’s a brilliant move, really. These people are already doing everything they can to price the long-time residents out of the real estate market. So now they’ve banded together to prevent them from having access to cheaply-priced products. In the final stroke of genius, they’re using the digital divide to take advantage of the older, original folks in the neighborhood who probably don’t even realize this fight is happening.

How to Get Money For Your H Street NE Business

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

Many bars and restaurants have opened up along H Street NE in the past few years, but few retail options remain.

D.C. has just unveiled the application for a grant program that gives money to new or existing retail businesses along the H Street NE corridor. There’s about $1.25 million available for the program, and the first wave of applications is due by Oct. 26.

As we’ve noted before, the program is intended to boost retail along the commercial strip, which has seen a wave of gentrification. Many new bars and restaurants have opened up shop while daytime foot traffic has been minimal.

Longtime businesses can apply to the grant, as long as the money isn’t for liquor stores, barbershops, hair salons, phone stores, bars or restaurants. Eligible businesses include stores selling home furnishings, clothes, groceries, books, art or “general merchandise goods,” with special consideration to those with “innovative retail elements.” There are other stipulations in the application, which can be seen below:

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When a Grocery Store is Labeled ‘Ghetto’

Steve Snodgrass / Flickr

A hallmark of neighborhood change and gentrification are shiny, new grocery stores. The 32-year-old O Street Giant in Shaw closes today to make way for a modernized Giant set to open in 2013. It’s part of the multi-million dollar CityMarket at O development, which includes 600 condos, a boutique hotel and 84 affordable senior housing units.

The O Street Giant has gotten a bad rap throughout the years; there have been health inspection problems, rancid food and rodents, as TBD’s Jenny Rogers reports. Some who regard the store with disdain refer to the place as “Ghetto Giant,” a problematic moniker implying poor and black. But when the store first opened in 1979, it was “declared a triumph for a neighborhood still recovering from riots and struggling with crime,” Rogers writes:

The Washington Post printed that it “symbolizes the transformation that has occurred in Shaw, once the city’s worst slum.” Then-mayor Marion Barry cut a white satin ribbon and proclaimed, “It’s the good times for Shaw.”

According to reports at the time, the O Street Giant was the first new grocery store to open in the District in 10 years. Post writer LaBarbara Bowman noted its “gourmet foods”—including caviar, pickled mushrooms, and Swedish pancake mix—and “gourmet produce”—pomegranates and papayas. For less discerning shoppers, the store offered “pork and beef neckbone, large galvanized trash cans and large packages of rice and beans.” These diverse offerings, it was predicted, would serve both Shaw’s poor and its newly returning middle-class residents.

Decades later, the store certainly doesn’t symbolize neighborhood transformation, nor is it a model of serving low- and middle-income residents. But despite all of its problems, the O Street Giant remained quite busy. It was open 24 hours a day, and more importantly, it was the only full-service supermarket in the neighborhood. Safeway and Whole Foods, more expensive than Giant, are quite a hike away (about .05 to 1 mile away). If you don’t have a car or have kids in tow, O Street Giant is all you had.

Giant is offering a free shuttle to the Columbia Heights Giant, which picks up on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 9:30 a.m. and Sundays at noon, which is far from convenient.

On Blaming the Black Middle Class

Flickr: afagen

“Stop Picking on the Black Middle Class; It didn’t abandon urban communities, despite what some say,” is the headline of Natalie Hopkinson’s article in The Root.

The piece references a recent Washington City Paper article, which asked “As parents in places like Capitol Hill embrace neighborhood schools, has D.C.’s black middle class given up on them?” Hopkinson answers, “If I were looking for a culprit in a racial group, the black middle class is the very last place that I’d be sniffing around.”

Hopkinson also describes her attempt to stop her next-door neighbor from selling crack. Confronting the man and shaming his customers didn’t work, so she called 311 and spoke to a black city employee who suggested that she do what the “white folks” did. Hopkinson wasn’t interested in that advice:

I was too furious to hear the rest. What in the Tiger Mom hell did my being white, black or purple have to do with the fact that this man was selling crack? “Just get someone over here!” I barked, and hung up the phone. Still, crickets.

Sadly, this attitude is par for the course in D.C. When you’re white — maybe especially in a very black city like Washington, D.C. — people pay attention. Some of it is the sheer novelty of whites living in previously all-black neighborhoods. Some of it is historical, and the socioeconomic position of whites in relation to blacks.

Whatever the reasons, as the city continues to gentrify, getting whiter and richer, progress is credited to white folks. It’s as if they deserve gold stars for consenting to live among the Negroes and cleaning up the Negro mess. Never mind the complicated cocktail of race, class and history that has shaped the city’s fortunes over the years. If you’re black, well … just try to be more like white people!

In the original City Paper feature, Jonetta Rose Barras wrote:
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Gentrification Making Food Cheaper?

Mayela Lopez / Getty Images

On the positive side of gentrification, the process of wealthier folks moving into low-income neighborhoods could mean reduced prices for organic and locally-grown produce. Racialicious digs into how this phenomena may be occurring in Brooklyn:

After leaving Bar Sepia one night, we passed by one of the mister’s old standard bodegas (basically, a convenient store), but he did a double take… and eventually, a full stop.

“Wow, man,” was all I heard. “Gentrification is real.”

The bodega wasn’t simply a “bodega” anymore. It was, apparently, an organic produce store… with respectable prices.

… If increased presence of money means increased produce… then increased produce – by nature of trying to one-up their competitors – means increased presence of organics, which means increased presence of local produce… which eventually means decreased price. Competitors are constantly trying to one-up each other, and they do that by decreasing the price of the necessities while offering special and unique products at a premium.

This is a strange situation. Gentrification, that which has been cast off as such a dirty word (and has people, like the above, ashamed to no longer be poverty-status poor?), is actually making food cheaper. I mean, damn – never in my life have I seen an organic red pepper go for $0.99.

But as neighborhoods gentrify, will low-income residents be able to afford rents to remain? Cheaper groceries are good, particularly for folks with less money, but will they be around to enjoy 99-cent peppers?

Five Takeaways ‘On the symbolism—and politics—of bicycling in D.C.’

Flickr: M.V. Jantzen

Bike lane, Dupont Circle

Is the anger in D.C. toward bicyclists misdirected? This week’s  Washington City Paper cover story explores the issue. Here are five points in the article that stand out:

Bike lanes are inaccurately characterized as a “welcome mat ”  for rich, white gentrifiers. Yet some of the locals in Ward 3,which includes Tenleytown, dislike bike lanes as much as people  in Ward 7, Fairlawn . So people of all races and classes can find common ground in their discomfort with bike lanes: “If anti-bike-lane sentiment were really about race or class, it’s unlikely that a white guy from Ward 3 and a black guy from Ward 7 would sound nearly exactly the same when they talk about the topic.” Reporter Alex Baca suggests the feeling comes from old-timers who see the bike lanes as a symbol of change.

Bikes are seen as oppositional to cars. Cars symbolize powerful things like freedom and the “American” way. Bicyclists are then tarred with an extremely negative brush: “Anyone with access to a Bruce Springsteen album knows there are deep veins of American culture where four wheels signify freedom, adulthood, and maybe even America itself. Those who shun automobiles, by extension, shun all of those things. Like grown-ups playing kickball or attending Twitter-fed snowball fights, such a rejection of traditional adulthood seems like the realm of the privileged.”

It’s the media’s fault. Quick, what’s an easy way to encapsulate complicated social dynamics, change, race, class and everything else that might cause tension in a city? Bike lanes! “David Alpert, editor of the blog Greater Greater Washington, suggests the brouhaha was propped up by media outlets looking for a quick way to frame last year’s mayor’s race. ‘I think to some extent it became an easy shorthand for people writing about race relations and about divisions in D.C.,’ he says.”

D.C. is not special. People love to compare the District to New York City, which isn’t rushing to embrace bike lanes, either. “Look at New York, where transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has been vilified in Park Slope (where brownstones sell for nearly $2 million) and Staten Island (a stronghold of the white ethnic middle class) alike for installing lanes.”

A key reason why some residents are against bike lanes has nothing to do with race or class: They simply weren’t consulted first. A lack of outreach or communication from city government resulted in resentment: “Bike lanes in D.C. seem to come with an extra emotional charge, a legacy of the way they were installed—rapidly, and without much notice to or input from the people nearby—under Fenty and his transportation czar, Gabe Klein.”


Is Anacostia Being Gentrified?

The word “gentrification” elicits certain images, particularly in D.C: dog parks, coffee shops and bike lanes. But the mere presence of such things doesn’t mean residents are being displaced.

The Washington Post tried to also dispel another stereotypical marker of gentrification –  white people — by profiling a group of middle and upper income African Americans who have moved into (or back) to Anacostia:

“I used to think it was about race — when white people moved into a black neighborhood,” said lawyer Charles Wilson, 35, president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. (Wilson ran against Marion S. Barry Jr. in the 2008 Ward 8 City Council race.) “Then, I looked up the word. It’s when a middle-class person moves into a poor neighborhood, and I realized, I am a gentrifier. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t like that word. It makes so many people uncomfortable. The g-word.”

“Actually, I thought it was if you see a white guy in Anacostia, listening to an iPod, jogging or walking a dog!” joked Sariane Leigh, putting her hand on her hip and waving a sweet potato fry for emphasis. Leigh, 33, works by day helping low-income communities access education. In her free time, she writes a blog called “Anacostia Yogi,” and teaches “Soul Flow Yoga” at the Hillcrest Recreation Center on Denver Avenue in Southeast.


Elvert Barnes / Flickr

These residents chose Anacostia over other neighborhoods because they like living east of the river, and many longtime residents say they are happy to see professional blacks moving into black neighborhoods, the Post reports. Those profiled are active in the community, such as Courtney Davis who published a children’s books meant to bolster the image of kids in Ward 8. “I’m fighting for this neighborhood,” Davis told the Post. “It still has some work to do. But I’m not here to make a quick buck and run off.”

But are these new, wealthier residents making it too expensive for low-income residents to remain in the neighborhood? Typically, gentrification is thought of not just when people with more money move into a working class neighborhood; it’s also when that movement raises housing prices and prices out low-income residents. And by-and-large, displacement isn’t occurring in communities east of the Anacostia River, according to Roderick Harrison, a Howard University professor and senior fellow at the Joint Center.

“Probably the more appropriate term is ‘succession,’” he said. “People have been moving out of wards 7 and 8 because once you can afford to do so, you do. People feel they’re improving their lives with moves to Prince George’s County.”

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DCentric Picks: ‘Clybourne Park’ Post Show Events

Disclosure: DCentric will be speaking during a community forum on media representations of gentrification after Sunday’s performance, and again during an audience exchange on Thursday, Aug. 4.

What: Audience exchanges and community forums following performances of Woolly Mammoth’s “Clybourne Park.” The Pulitzer Prize-winning play explores race, class and gentrification in America’s cities by taking a unique twist on “A Raisin in the Sun.”

When: The play runs through Aug. 14. The community forums take place after Sunday matinee shows, and the exchanges take place after performances on Wednesday through Saturday.

Where: Woolly Mammoth Theater, 641 D Street, NW.

Cost: Ticket prices start at $30 for the performances, but the post show events are free and open to the public.

Why you should go: A range of issues that relate to gentrification in D.C. will be addressed by variety of speakers during post-show events, including health activists, small business owners, authors, documentary filmmakers and musicians. See a full schedule here.

High Property Taxes and Changing Neighborhoods

Nic McPhee / Flickr

Pamela Johnson, who owns a storefront in the H Street NE neighborhood, says her property value has gone up so much that she can’t afford to pay her tax bill. Her story is included in The New York Times gentrification piece, which caused Matthew Yglesias to ask if property owners can ever be the victims of gentrification:


Normally you think of the gentrification problem as applying to renters. Objective conditions improve in a poor neighborhood, which is good. But the improved conditions lead to higher rents, so the poor people wind up not benefiting since they have to move out. It’s difficult for me to see how this kind of problem could afflict property owners, who regardless of race or class considerations ought to benefit from asset appreciation.

But as Ta-Nehisi Coates of The Atlantic points out, winning out financially isn’t always the only priority for owners:

I actually think it’s fairly easy to understand Johnson’s beef. She likes her neighborhood as it is. She may well be able to “sell high,” but the fact is she doesn’t want to sell at all. She probably would love to see her property values rise, but the neighborhood isn’t simply, for her, a financial instrument–it’s an emotional one.  In that sense, Johnson isn’t very different than millions of other humans who invest in neighborhoods.

Her contention that the city is “driving us out of here.” is very much debatable. But it’s worth noting that a class of owners with a commitment to something more than a naked financial return is a good thing. When Matt asserts that the city is trying to make H Street a “desirable place to live,” I am compelled to ask “desirable for whom?” I’m not being obtuse here–I understand, in the aggregate, his larger point. But very often people find a kind of value in their living condition that eludes socioeconomic data.

And although individual owners may make money by selling properties in increasingly pricey areas, what kind of overall effect do such sales have on neighborhoods? In Logan Circle, for instance, a group of low to moderate-income homeowners are contemplating selling their modest town homes to a developer for $800,000 each. If they decide to sell, they could walk away with a large return. But if they sell and leave the neighborhood, they take with them much of Logan’s remaining income diversity.

In Your Words: New York Times Tackles D.C.’s Gentrification

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

The Grey Lady published a feature about gentrification around H Street NE and how the city is losing its black majority:


The shift is passing without much debate, but it is leaving ripples of resentment in neighborhoods across the city, pitting some of the city’s long-term residents, often African-American, against affluent newcomers, most of whom are white, over issues as mundane as church parking and chicken wings.

The story makes mention of the defeat of Adrian M. Fenty in the 2010 mayoral race and how some focused on used dog parks and bike lanes as symbols for affluent whites “re-arrang[ing] spending priorities to suit themselves.” Adam Serwer of The American Prospect argues the disparity in unemployment rates was the issue in the election; for whites, unemployment increased by 1 percent, while it increased by 5 percent for African Americans and doubled for Latinos:

What happened during Fenty’s term was that black people and Hispanic people lost their jobs while white people largely kept theirs. Blaming this on Fenty is unfair, but given that politicians are always evaluated in part by the jobs they help create (or lose) voting him out was an entirely rational decision. I’m not sure why, in a story about Washington DC’s internal racial divisions, the only mention of this is a throwaway line about unemployment in Ward 8. Alongside the city’s black exodus, the uneven impact of the economic crisis is the story.

The story touched off a Twitter debate among locals about the city’s changing face and how the media and the public talks about gentrification:

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