DC’s first tiny house movement was in the 1880s

Last fall, Washington, D.C., Councilmember Vincent Orange (At-Large) proposed building 1,000 “tiny houses” for low-income residents and millennials. His bill — “The Minimum Wage, Living Wage, and Millennial Tiny Housing Amendment Act of 2015” [PDF] — quickly drew criticism as being “gimmicky” and potentially discriminatory. What many don’t know is that Orange’s initiative wasn’t the first time District leaders sought to solve big housing problems with small houses.

Boneyard Studios Tiny House Village

Tiny houses. Photo by Inhabitat via Flickr.

In Washington’s earliest years, alleys housed horses and privies. As African Americans began streaming into the city during the Civil War, most alleys were converted to residential uses and many small wood shacks went up. These quickly became overcrowded and concerns about disease and crime followed. Continue reading

Holding onto the Bible and the land

Meeting attendees study handouts illustrating bike lane alternatives.

Meeting attendees study handouts illustrating bike lane alternatives.

Yesterday the District of Columbia Department of Transportation held a public meeting to share revised alternatives for proposed protected bicycle lanes in the city’s Shaw neighborhood. The meeting followed an earlier event in October 2015 where African American church congregations found themselves in an adversarial position against bicycle lane proponents.

It was the latest chapter in more than a century of gentrification in Washington.

More than 300 people packed the auditorium in a D.C. charter school. After presentations from D.C. transportation officials, nearly 50 D.C. residents shared their comments. According to the meeting moderator, District officials had already received more than 2,000 comments about the proposed bike lanes.

KIPP DC-Will Academy auditorium shortly before the meeting began.

KIPP DC-WILL Academy auditorium shortly before the meeting began.

Continue reading

Can historians help defuse gentrification conflicts?

My latest article on the conflicts that arise in gentrifying neighborhoods when bike lanes are proposed has been published in the National Council on Public History’s History@Work site.

A bike lane passes across the street from Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, M Street NW in Washington, D.C. Cyclists battled the church in 2013 over building a bike lane in M Street.

A bike lane passes across the street from Metropolitan A.M.E. Church, M Street NW, in Washington, D.C. Cyclists battled the church in 2013 over building a bike lane in M Street. The historic church is home to one of Washington’s oldest African American congregations.

Over the past several years, urbanists and cycling enthusiasts have clashed with churches and residents in gentrifying neighborhoods. Can a comprehensive understanding of a neighborhood’s and a city’s history avoid heated exchanges that end up being polemic battles about race, class, and privilege?

From the new History@Work article:

Gentrification: It’s not just for sociologists and anthropologists any more. Though historians have been making inroads documenting and interpreting gentrification and displacement, there are abundant opportunities for historians to make significant contributions in public policy and planning. One recent kerfuffle involving proposed bicycle lanes and African American churches in Washington, DC, provides a window into how a better understanding of the past could have defused a racially and class charged debate over painted lines in public spaces. – See more at: http://publichistorycommons.org/a-public-history-role-for-building-bike-lanes/

© 2016 D.S. Rotenstein

 

Proposed bike lanes in Washington pit cyclists against churches

DC-BikeLane

Existing Washington bike lanes, 2015.

My latest History News Network article examines the historical basis for the conflict that erupted when the District of Columbia Department of Transportation proposed building bike lanes through the city’s Shaw neighborhood.

Bike lanes don’t cause gentrification and they are not necessarily products of gentrification. Yet, judging by the adversarial situations that have emerged in cities across the United States over the past decade, bike lanes appear to be inextricably tied to debates over whether gentrification is beneficial or damaging to neighborhoods and people.

Read the new article here: The Battle Over Bike Lanes in Washington, DC.

© 2016 D.S. Rotenstein

Dream City homesteading

Urban Homesteading program ad published in the Washington Post, March 12, 1977.

Urban Homesteading program ad published in the Washington Post, March 12, 1977.

The journalists Harry Jaffe and Tom Sherwood drew the title of their 1994 book on recent Washington history, Dream City, from Charles Dickens’ 1842 description of the nation’s capital: “city of magnificent intentions.”

Through the years, District and federal leaders have struggled to solve the city’s housing ills by implementing policies and programs borne of magnificent intentions. Urban homesteading, which the city adopted in 1974 to address a large pool of abandoned housing and growing demand for affordable housing, was one of those dreams.

For a small number of District families who paid $1 for a home, it was a dream come true. Yet, for the distressed neighborhoods where the homes were located, it was a dream deferred. The program which hoped to spur contagious reinvestment failed in that respect. Continue reading

Off the books at First and T

Salon owner Latosha Jackson-Martin interviewed by a local TV crew, April 2015.

Salon owner Latosha Jackson-Martin interviewed by a local TV crew, April 2015.

Last spring a long-lived Washington, D.C., hair salon shut its doors after about 50 years in business, 27 of them in the 100 block of Rhode Island Ave. NW. Jak & Company’s owner spent a few weeks in the media spotlight after a Washington Post reporter spotted a letter taped in the storefront’s plate glass door.

The letter announced that the business was closing; gentrification was one of the reasons the letter cited.

The history of changes in people and businesses at the intersection of First and T streets NW in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood includes a hidden history of ties to Washington’s African American underworld. Continue reading

The gentrification post

People who live in gentrifying neighborhoods enjoy many new things that accompany increased investment and influxes of new people: better police protection, more places to shop and eat, and cleaner streets. The changes may be gradual or they may appear in such a short period of time that it seems like overnight.

Something as simple as the appearance of a mailbox on a corner can reinforce longtime residents’ impressions that change is occurring.

And now that I’ve been over here and we’re getting whites moving in the neighborhood, we’ve got a mailbox on the corner. We don’t have to go up to the post office ….

The mailbox is new. And pickup on time: eleven o’clock very day. Eleven o’clock every day. So you see, you get different service and you get general services and so forth and so on. — Washington, D.C., Ward 7 resident, July 2015.

Branch Ave., 2007. Credit: Google maps.

Branch Ave., 2007. Credit: Google maps.

Branch Ave., 2015. Note new sidewalks.

Branch Ave., 2015. Note new sidewalks.

© 2015 D.S. Rotenstein

Bob Moore: civil rights era activist, community planner (updated)

BobMoore-obit-clip

Credit: Washington City Paper.

Robert L. “Bob” Moore was the president and CEO of Washington, D.C.’s Development Corporation of Columbia Heights. He died earlier this week at age 74. Moore was a New Jersey native who did his undergraduate work at Johnson C. Smith University in Charlotte, N.C.

Moore first encountered Jim Crow segregation when he travelled from to college by train. When the train stopped in Washington, D.C., he was forced to move to the “colored car.” Continue reading

A queen-sized hug

Queen Elizabeth II visited Washington, D.C., in the spring of 1991. Her itinerary included parts of the Capital City typically avoided by most visitors, royal and otherwise. An affordable housing development in the city’s Southeast was one of the places Queen Elizabeth visited.

In 2007, I interviewed people who were involved in coordinating the visit and who were principals in the housing development. The Washington, D.C., Local Initiatives Support Corporation continues to post excerpts from the oral histories done to document their history. Continue reading

Columbia Heights reborn

The riots that tore through Washington, D.C., after Martin Luther King’s assassination in April 1968 left many neighborhoods physically and emotionally scarred for decades. Columbia Heights was one of the most adversely affected. Continue reading