A look at what's going on in Trinidad, on H Street, and in the larger area north of Capitol Hill.
Monday, October 24, 2005
A Reaction to the Post on Gentrification
Here's a nice link to another blog's (Republic of T) post on the Post article I linked to this morning. Republic of T also refer's to In Shaw's post on the same Post piece. I liked the discussion of Dupont Circle & Logan. I know we've heard/read that stuff before, but still, it serves as a reminder that things are not static. If you read any history on this area, you'll find that there were once large populations of Irish & German immigrants around here (there were also working-class African American, but that fact tends to elicit fewer raised eyebrows). There were synagogues around & there was even a Kosher deli in the 1300 block H Street. Nothing really stands still for long. Neighborhoods can rise & fall & rise & fall again. There are, as the Post article points out, times when change is completely brought in by a large government/quasi-government force from the outside (like with what happened in SW, or what is happening in New London, or, um...around the future baseball stadium site). At the same time, change is sometimes the result of something more random (individual home owners) & market based (people priced out of other areas). The latter is what we are seeing around here. I (obviously) support much of the change going on around here (I'd be hard pressed to oppose the opening of quality businesses in previously vacant storefronts). I think most local residents support the changes as well. There are certainly concerns that accompany rising rents & property taxes. You can cap property taxes & offer various kinds of tax relief, but the rent issue is more difficult. Trinidad, Ivy City, Deanwood & certain neighborhoods east of the Anacostia have spent the last few years taking in residents who find that they can no longer afford Mount Pleasant, Takoma, or other gentrifying parts of the city. To what, exactly, are these renters entitled? And who has give it to them?
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while the word "gentrification" seems to imply white people moving in, displacing blacks, one of the most famous "black communities" in the nation, Harlem, was once home to poor irish that were displaced by middle class blacks around 1900. The afro american realty company bought many properties and rented to more well-to-do blacks starting in 1904.
And thankfully so. Harlem was a beautiful neighborhood, that the poor irish immigrant were letting go to hell. they were burning themselves out, living in wrethced conditions and had few amenities.
Thankfully, people with the means to,saved the neighborhood.
We need to move beyond our issues and even belief in "race".
All this discussion makes me think of the Lower East Side in New York. About 15 years ago I worked as a docent at the Eldridge Street Synagogue (worth a visit if you're up that way)in what used to be a predominantly Jewish area. While we often gave tours to classes of Hebrew School students bused in from the suburbs to learn about their roots, my favorite 'tourists' were the Vietnamese and Chinese immigrant kids who lived in the neighborhood and often dropped by to see how the renovation of this beautiful old building was going. They found it fascinating that an area they knew as totally Asian-immigrant was previously populated by Jewish immigrants (and before them by Irish and before that by German immigrants.) I loved contrasting old photographs with storefront signs in Yiddish with the same storefronts now signed in Chineses/Vietnamese. The one thing that stayed the same, was that it had always been an immigrant area. The origin of the immigrants was all that changed. Indeed the vitality of the area was probably due to the constant change!
I think there are some problems with your use of the word "entitled". One, there is an implicit judgment there that staying in a neighborhood "a few years" does not entitle one to a sense of place therein. Two, there seems to be an implicit judgment that such a belief would be erroneous.
On a seperate point, you are also assuming that you somehow have accurate demographic information regarding how long each and every resident in Trinidad or Ivy City has lived therein.
As for the person arguing that the Irish residents of turn-pf-the-century Harlem were "letting (it) go to hell", that would be hard to determine 100 years later (one, they were probably renters and therefore had little control over how their properties (owned by others) were maintained; two, you have no idea how city services might have treated the Irish population there, as the Irish were quite hated during that time period and may have received minimal city services to assist them in maintaining their community).
I also deplore the fact that racial discussions on blogs are almost always anonymous. Why? Why is it so hard to put some type of name to your beliefs when race is involved?
btw, what "entitles" rich white people to be able to come in and alter neighborhoods in whatsoever manner they choose? is this a divine right? LOL. viva la free market?
Okay, you caught me. I stuck the work "entitled" in there on purpose. I wanted people to comment on any rights of long-term, but impoverished residents (I wasn't trying to make a judgment, but rather to goad people into making comments). I feel like most people tend to jump on gentrification as a hot button issue, but I don't really think that most people actually think deeply about the topic. Personally, I don't think that there is anthing wrong with the idea that long-term renters have a right to remain in their neighborhoods. My question, is only only how much of a right they really possess. Many people would say that renters have no right to complain about resisting being displaced, because that is the nature of the business (I disagree somewhat). I was actually expecting to get flack about about implying that renters have rights to assert ownership over a neighborhood. I have a personal objection to the idea (although I do understand where it comes from) that renters necessarily have less of a stake in the neighborhood than do owners. This is essentially the same issue we dealt with a few weeks back where I said that voice re:development on H Street should not be tied to economic investment on H Street.
I never claimed to have demographic info on every Trinidad/Ivy City resident. I said that
"Trinidad, Ivy City, Deanwood & certain neighborhoods east of the Anacostia have spent the last few years taking int residents who find that they can no longer afford Mount Pleasant, Takoma, or other gentrifying parts of the city."
I would argue that the above quote is nothing more that indisputible fact( just look at census info & info from various non-profits in DC). I never once came close to suggesting (in fact, I never suggested at all) that the above facts applied to every houshold (or even close to the majority of households in the area) in Trinidad. Many households have been here since the 1950s & before when this was a solid working-class community. All kinds of people have moved to Old-City #1 & Trinidad since that time, & for all sorts of reasons. If you look at past posts you will see mention of these populations & understand that I would never suggest that all, or most, Trinidad/Old-City #1 residents are the impoverished individuals who have been pushed around the city. I only repeated what hard facts support: i.e. that poorer people have been pushed out of gentrifying communities in DC & into less well off communities. I would suggest that if you dispute this idea, your arguement is not with me, but with HUD, MANNA, the Census Bureau & countless other organizations. If you have a better idea about how to get more accurate demographic info, please let me know (I would be most interested).
I've now completed the 1880 census (1900-1930 to follow) of the Truxton Circle and yes, I can now say where the irish immigrants lived, kids of irish immigrants, African Americans, german-americans, boring old white people, and the one italian guy, give you their addresses, tell you how many people they lived with adn what they did for a living. And in the end, it is boring work.
The point of doing boring and tedious work of going through the census (good lord is it tedious) is to see for a fact and how one set of people replaced another set.
Later censuses tell you who was a renter and who was an owner, so maybe with all this stuff we can figure out what happened and a few leads of why.
Also census. US census. Is there anything more accurate? Phone book? No. Social register? Bah! Yeah it is only every ten years but it way better than guessing. Guessing would have saved me many hours and would have made for a more interesting paper.
Now that is some serious dedication. I mostly cribbed my historical population info from a survey on the area that was published a few years back. Some of the stuff about the Jewish population comes from a few other reliable sources (i.e. not neighborhood lore).
One other point on Soul Searcher's post, it isn't just white people with money who move into gentrifying neighborhoods. People of other races buy places too. And those guys also change the area. I have link over in the gentrification section called "Middle Class Blacks Also Change the 'Hood." The article mostly focuses on individuals who grew up in working class neighborhoods, but I suspect that there are plenty of middle class African-Americans from the suburbs & tonier places who also have bought houses in gentrifying neighborhoods.
As an addendum to your most recent comment, Inked...it also isn't just low-income blacks who are displaced. My partner and I have rented in the Hill East neighborhood for two years and can no longer afford to live in our neighborhood, and we are both young, professional, and white. We're moving east to a cheaper area as a result. Many of the houses in our new neighborhood are being bought up by African-born investors.
As a public policy researcher, I often wish there was more recognition that a lot of these issues are about class, not race. Preoccupation with race often obscures issues of class mobility and poverty.
I completely agree that it is not always blacks that get pushed out of neighborhoods. But since DC is a majority black city, that is most of what is going on here. All you have to do is look to history and you will see plenty of examples of one group overtaking another as the majority in a certain area. And you are absolutely right that rapid jumps in rent pose a serious concerrn not just for the poor of all races, but for basically middle class individuals whose jobs don't pay particularly well.
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