Fake art and the right to stay put

How many layers of resistance are embedded in this poster?

This poster is one of three affixed to a boarded-up storefront in Washington, D.C.’s Anacostia neighborhood. The storefront, like many other properties in this community East of the Anacostia River, is an active worksite in the Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. corridor. Anacostia once was a predominantly African American neighborhood stigmatized for its poverty and its perceived high crime. Now, Anacostia is prime real estate ripe for reinvestment, redevelopment, and gentrification.

Public space like the boarded-up storefront is a communications free-for-all where graffiti tags compete with concert flyers, community event announcements, and protest statements. With advocacy organizations and artists appropriating the language and imagery of resistance and commodifying it, discerning who is doing the resisting and why becomes fraught. Continue reading

Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood tackles gentrification using history

One of the greatest injustices in South of Market redevelopment has been the callous obliteration of its past. — Chester Hartman, Yerba Buena: Land Grab and Community Resistance in San Francisco (San Francisco: Glide Publications, 1974).

Urban planner Chester Hartman’s observation about San Francisco’s Yerba Buena neighborhood looms large as one Washington, D.C., neighborhood is trying to prevent its past from being displaced and rewritten as the forces of gentrification sweep through. Residents of Bloomingdale, an early District of Columbia suburb that was absorbed in the late 19th century by Washington, have mobilized to undertake an innovative interdisciplinary effort to seize control of the neighborhood’s future by gaining a better understanding of its past.

My latest article for the National Council on Public History’s History@Work examines Bloomingdale’s project. In the H@W piece I touched on how Bloomingdale residents and the volunteer researchers and community planners struggle to define gentrification. It’s not an easy task.

Older businesses share street fronts with newer ones like this yoga studio in Washington's Bloomingdale neighborhood.

Older businesses like the DC Mini Market share street fronts with newer ones like yoga studios and restaurants with patio seating  in Washington’s Bloomingdale neighborhood.

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Regentrification in Atlanta’s former meatpacking district

When [Anne Quatrano] and her husband, Clifford, first moved Bacchanalia from its original location in Buckhead to the Westside in 1999, the neighborhood was hardly a neighborhood at all. “It was desolate,” Quatrano says. Seventeen years later, Howell Mill Road is prime real estate, hot with new apartment complexes, boutique clothing stores, and hip coffee shops — Atlanta Magazine on the relocation of first-wave gentrifiers in Atlanta’s Westside Provisions District.

Atlanta's Westside Provision District, 2014.

Atlanta’s Westside Provisions District, 2014.

Once the heart of Atlanta’s stockyards and meatpacking district, the Howell Mill Road area  west of the city’s midtown suffered from disinvestment and abandonment until the 1990s when upscale restaurants and boutiques began moving in. Many of the new businesses drew heavily on the area’s history. New businesses incorporated meat industry names into their titles. Establishments like the Abattoir restaurant, White Provisions, and Star Provisions anchored the district, which was rebranded the Westside Provisions District.

westside-02

Westside Provisions District, 2014.

Now, as Atlanta Magazine recently reported, a pair of the first-wave gentrifiers, Star Provisions and Bacchanalia (owned by the same company) are relocating. Reasons given include parking pressures (new developments have private decks) and the business owner’s inability to reach a new rent deal with the landlord.

Star Provisions and Bachhanalia, 2014.

Star Provisions and Bacchanalia, 2014.

Gentrified meatpacking districts are one of the phenomenon’s ironies. Whether it’s New York’s Meatpacking District or Washington’s changing Benning Road area or Pittsburgh’s Northside, there’s something about places where animals were converted into dollars that now are spaces where neighborhoods are being cut up, repackaged, and sold to new types of consumers.

Washington Square, New York City.

Meatpacking District, New York City.

© 2016 D.S. Rotenstein

The “value gap” in history, historic preservation

I recently read Princeton University African American Studies professor Eddie Glaude’s new book, Democracy in Black: How Race Still Enslaves the American Soul. Glaude elegantly described what he called the “value gap”:

When I say that the value gap is rooted, in part, in our national refusal to remember, I am not invoking some politically correct notion of history that simply includes previously excluded groups. How we collectively remember is bound up with questions of justice. Or, to put the point differently, what we choose to forget often reveals the limits of justice in our collective imaginations.

As I completed my paper for this year’s Delta Symposium, Glaude’s book informed how I analyzed the creation of Decatur’s Authorized Heritage Discourse and the city’s historic preservation program. Glaude’s value gap is the most apt way to view Decatur and its relationship to African Americans, their history, and their historic resources.

Delta-slide-cover-2016

It’s not that Decatur hates African Americans in an old-school white supremacist fashion. Rather, Decaturites (city officials and many residents) simply don’t place as high a value on African Americans and their history as they do whites and the historic places with deep attachment among the city’s white residents. It shows in their policies towards affordable housing, taxation, community engagement, education, and, yes, historic preservation. Continue reading

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.

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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

Ms. Wynn’s legacy

I met the former owner of 526 McKoy Street in Decatur, Georgia, on a cool winter morning the second week of January 2012. She was one of the first interviews I did with Decatur homeowners in the city’s gentrifying Oakhurst neighborhood. Earlier this year, she died at age 86.

526 McKoy Street, Decatur, Ga. May 201

526 McKoy Street, Decatur, Ga. May 2015.

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Flip house gray Decatur style

Washington architectural writer Amanda Kolson Hurley recently examined the origins of what she’s dubbed “flip house gray” for Washington City Paper. According to Hurley, house flippers prefer a neutral, boring color palette. Over the past few years gray has emerged as the dominant bland color in the nation’s capital.

Hurley’s article provided an answer to a question I had back in 2012: why was a Decatur, Ga., house flipper painting a red brick bungalow and its garage matching shades of gray?

East Lake Dr. house, 2009. Credit: Decatur Citywide Historic Resources Survey.

East Lake Dr. house, Decatur, 2009. Credit: Decatur Citywide Historic Resources Survey.

East Lake Dr. house, early 2012.

East Lake Dr. house, Decatur, early 2012.

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