Around the City

Urban affairs, neighborhoods, subways and the people who are affected by them all.


On Blaming Food Deserts

David McNew / Getty Images

We pondered yesterday whether lack of access to supermarkets is the major reason behind health inequality, in response to a survey showing most urban families were actually satisfied with their grocery options.

We asked readers: are food deserts really to blame, or do other factors loom larger? From the responses, it looks like prices and having time to prepare meals were also big concerns for families.

DCentric commenter molly_w wrote:

One thing I completely failed to appreciate until I became a mom was how hard it is for parents to find time to cook. I get home at 6, and my 4-year-old daughter needs to head upstairs and start her bedtime routine at 7:30. So I have 90 minutes a day to hang out with my child (never mind my husband), and I want to spend as little of it as possible fixing supper. (She doesn’t want me to spend it in the kitchen, either; she interrupts me every couple minutes with all sorts of invented needs — which only makes dinner prep take longer.) These days I’m all about frozen microwavable rice covered in something that came out of a crock pot, because I can get food on the table in about five minutes and have that time to hang out with my family. And I’m lucky in a lot of ways — I only work one job, I have a partner to help, we only have one kid.

In response to our post on the survey, Sylvia C. Brown, an ANC 7C04 commissioner, tweeted that saving money can come at the cost of saving time:

@ it still corroborates food deserts bcs it puts pressure on one--go to corner store save time but food price high +
Sylvia C. Brown

Corner stores also don’t have the same variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as supermarkets do. There’s a local effort underway to address that problem, with nonprofit D.C. Central Kitchen delivering fresh produce to corner stores as part of its “Healthy Corners” initiative.

Also, simply having a supermarket in a community doesn’t translate into healthier eating habits, according to a study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Researchers said healthy food isn’t always visibly displayed in supermarkets and it can be expensive. So you could build it, and they may come, but what will they buy?

Redeveloping Without Displacing: Affordable Housing Opens On Church Land

Elahe Izadi / DCentric

The Payton family tours its new home.

Tyisha and Antonio Payton were looking for a new home, something more spacious to accommodate their family than the two-bedroom, affordable housing apartment in Barry Farm they lived in.

Antonio Payton said he didn’t want to speak disparagingly of Barry Farm since “they housed us,” but said their former apartment was too small for his family. The appliances and apartment were outdated. And it didn’t feel like a safe environment where he could raise his three daughters.

On Tuesday, the family entered its new home at Matthews Memorial Terrace, a new $22 million, 99-unit affordable apartment complex built upon church land.

“This is a nice, secure building. It’s a whole different mindset,” Antonio Payton said. “I feel at peace here.”

It’s a unique project, built on land donated by Matthews Memorial Church at 2626 Martin Luther King Jr Ave, SE.

“This part of the city, and I live east of the river, has historically been ignored. It’s time for that to change, and it’s going to change because of developments like this,” Mayor Vincent Gray said at the Tuesday dedication of the building. “This development has been built with sensitivity to this community.”

The dedication ceremony was quite the celebration. It kicked off with a gospel choir, included some choked-back tears and plenty of praise and thanksgiving.

It’s been 28 years since the congregation first dreamed up the idea to use the land for housing. Bishop C. Matthew Hudson Jr., who took the helm of the church in 2006, said the project was a priority of his. The original intent was to provide seniors with homes near the church. He said “suburban flight” has taken many of his older congregants out of the community over the past few decades. “The church was preparing for that,” he said.

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The Disappearing Segregated City

Patrick Calder / Flickr

Chinatown D.C. attracts a diversity of people.

Racial segregation in American cities, including in D.C., is on the decline, but it still exists. The D.C. region is the sixth most segregated large metro area, according to a new study by the Manhattan Institute, a conservative think tank. Racial segregation in the D.C. region has been dropping since 2000, but at a slower pace than eight of the nine other cities on the list.

All-white urban neighborhoods have been nearly eradicated in the past few decades, according to the study’s authors, who examined census data from 1890 through 2010. Very few all-white neighborhoods exist today, and they’re mostly in rural areas or cities with a very small black population. In 1970, one-fifth of urban neighborhoods didn’t have a single black resident.

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African Immigrants Finding Inspiration in D.C.’s Black History

The history of D.C.’s African American community is long and storied. African Americans have been around since the city became the nation’s capital, and most were free by 1830. In recent decades, D.C.’s black community has grown in ethnic diversity due to an influx of immigrants; about 18,000 District immigrants identify as black, with many coming from African and Caribbean nations. The District is also home to one of the largest expatriate Ethiopian communities in the world.

Courtesy of St. Augustine Catholic School

Students singing at St. Augustine, a school founded by free blacks and former slaves in 1858, and continues to thrive to this day.

Relations between the African American community and recent African arrivals have been tense at times. That was on display during a 2005 debate over whether to officially rename a corridor in Shaw, a historically black neighborhood, into “Little Ethiopia.”

But the history of African Americans’ struggles and triumphs also resonate with some of D.C.’s black immigrants. In a WAMU Metro Connection story about St. Augustine Catholic School, which was founded by African Americans before the Civil War ended, reporter Jessica Gould speaks with current student body president Lello Negera: “I’m from Ethiopia. I came here in 2003,” Negera tells Gould. “When I learned the history of the school, it made me realize how special this school is and how hard the people fought for us to go to school.”

About 200 children attend the school. The school is predominately black but a number of students hail from other countries.

Friday’s entire Metro Connection show was devoted to how race and ethnicity affects the D.C. region. You can find all of the stories here.

‘Avoid the Ghetto’ App and Pegging Neighborhoods as Dangerous

Alpha / Flickr

Critics have dubbed a feature for GPS tools that would direct pedestrians to take alternate routes based on crime and demographic data the “Avoid the Ghetto” app. They say it could redirect people away from low-income or minority neighborhoods, or reinforce stereotypes about such areas. Others say the app makes GPS devices more intelligent by giving people useful information.

According to Microsoft’s patent for the app, which was approved last month, pedestrian routes can be calculated relying on demographic and violent crime data, among other things. The potential result: a pedestrian would be directed to walk a route where violent crime falls below a certain threshold, according to the patent.

Dubbing neighborhoods as “dangerous” can be tricky. Calculating the probability that you’ll be the victim of a crime is actually quite difficult, University of Maryland criminology professor Charles Wellford says. For one, it’s most useful when examined by block, not by an entire neighborhood. That’s because crime is highly localized, partially having to do with the conditions of specific locations, he says. However, calculating an accurate probability by block is difficult because it’s affected by how many people travel there, not just by who lives there.

For example, downtown D.C.’s population swells during the day as commuters increase the city’s daytime population by 73 percent. Is the probability that you’ll be the victim of a crime in downtown D.C. based based on how many people live there? The app patent is unclear on how it would take that into account. Wellford cites another example: he says the “most dangerous” place in San Francisco last weekend was Candlestick Park, where the New York Giants played the San Francisco 49ers.

“Any city that has an NFL team, the day they play at home, there’s a lot of crime around and within the stadium,” he said.

The app could potentially tell you to avoid that area. Depending how the data is used, the app can “paint pictures of communities that aren’t useful or accurate,” Wellford says.

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DCentric Picks: Chinese New Year Parade

Photo Phiend / Flickr

Participants in 2010's Chinese New Year parade.

What: Annual Chinese New Year parade.

When: From 2 to 5 p.m., Sunday.

Where: Chinatown, along H Street NW between 6th and 8th Streets.

Cost: Free.

Why you should go: Come to see firecrackers, dancers and plenty of dragons. Organizers of this year’s Chinese New Year parade want to make it one of the biggest yet. The Washington Post reports that the parade committee hopes that a bigger event will stir up pride within second- and third- generation Chinese-Americans, as well as alert people to the history of the neighborhood, which has seen a decline in Chinese residents.


Examining D.C.’s Dropout Crisis

Rosa Say / Flickr

One reason why some parts of D.C. have such high jobless rates is that many of the unemployed lack the skills and credentials to qualify for D.C.’s jobs. While most available jobs require a bachelor’s degree, 21 percent of people living in Ward 8 haven’t even completed high school.

Dropping out of high school has far-reaching effects on one’s life, family and community. WAMU 88.5′s Kavitha Cardoza reports on why people leave school in her examination of D.C.’s dropout crisis. In her first installment, she profiles a family with a history of dropping out:

The causes and consequences of dropping out are often intertwined. Low-income students are more likely to drop out, which means they can’t get jobs that pay well and continue lives of poverty.

Four generations of Walker’s and McMillan’s family haven’t graduated from high school. They have many of the risk factors for dropping out, including learning disabilities, teen pregnancy, and drug abuse. And it’s not clear whether or how the cycle could be broken.

The story, which you can read here, is the first of a nine-part series.

Job Training and D.C. Unemployment By Race

WAMU 88.5′s Patrick Madden has been reporting on the ineffectiveness of past D.C. job training practices and changes the city is making to how it prepares residents for jobs. His investigation revealed that much of job training money went to training people to be bus drivers and Metro train operators. But such training programs haven’t resulted in graduates getting jobs.

The debate over job training has particular relevance for D.C.’s black and Hispanic communities. This chart shows 2010 D.C. unemployment rates by race, with the numbers coming courtesy of the U.S. Department of Labor Statistics [PDF]:

D.C. Unemployment By Race (2010)


DCentric has previously explored the causes behind D.C.’s unemployment disparities. One major reason is the mismatch between the skills people have and those required by District jobs. For instance, unemployment is at 25 percent in Ward 8, where more than 20 percent of residents lack a high school diploma. Without effective job training, can that unemployment number go down by very much?

[Stuff] Who Says? (Video)

The [Stuff] people say meme has come to D.C., courtesy of this SocialStudies DC video (which you can watch at the bottom of this post). Some choice lines include, “Wait, where are you from, originally?” and “It’s only $1,400 a month for their converted sunroom, so, not bad.”

But who’s really saying this stuff? Is it really accurate to call it “[Stuff] D.C. says?”

A couple of people, including @clintonyates, tweeted the video is really things that white people in D.C. say.

@ Funny, but very "white DC" tho. You can't have a DC video without the words "bamma" and "uhrea" (DC pronounciation of area)
Ricky Ribeiro

A few folks pointed out that race and class don’t always intersect:

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‘Finding Our Missing’ and Disparities in Missing Persons Coverage

Roxanne Cooke / Flickr

For years, there have been vocal critics of media’s handling of missing persons cases. Particularly when it comes to national news, cases of missing white women tend to get more attention than people of other races. The problem extends beyond not adequately covering minority communities; media coverage and attention can be crucial in solving cases of missing persons.

A new TV One show premiering tonight, “Find Our Missing,” aims to correct the disparity by spreading the word about missing African Americans. The show is part of a collaboration with nonprofit Black and Missing. Some of the first cases featured on the show focus on D.C. women Pamela Butler and Unique Harris. The Washington Posts reports:

… “Find Our Missing’s” main mission isn’t media criticism or a social harangue — especially since the first two cases seen here received a considerable, if belated, amount of local coverage. Rather, in the manner of “America’s Most Wanted,” it encourages viewers to come forward with useful information. Everything you need to know about “Find Our Missing” is in that second word: our. The series keeps its outrage just out of view; its foremost concern is for the missing, as well as their friends and relatives.

Increasing television airtime for these cases could lead to their solving. Another tool that could be useful is social media, but is there a disparity there, too? Twitter, Facebook and other forums are free and open for anyone to use, so it would seem these could be the perfect ways to circumvent any media bias. But take the case of Emily Hershenson, a white D.C. woman and ex-Capitol Hill staffer, who went missing on 2011. Many locals took to Twitter and other networks to spread the word. Tweets called on news organizations to move the story up in prominence, and her name was a trending topic. Some wondered, however, if the case would have received as much attention on Twitter had Hershenson been of a different race and class.