Sunday, June 19, 2016

I highly recommend this!

I went to the first show, which was truly great. It is a very innovative format and had great Q&A too. 

On My Mind/In My Heart: The Voices of Women in Public Housing 
Monday, June 20th
6:00 - 8:00 PM (Doors at 5:30)
Anacostia Arts Center
1231 Good Hope Rd, SE

Don's miss this special encore performance!

The first show was standing room only - and some people didn't make it in the door! 

The powerful personal stories of six women who live in DC public housing communities are brought to the stage thanks to the talented script writing of Caleen Jennings and staging of Director Goldie Patrick.

This special performance is being held in conjunction with the Washington Area Women's Foundation and will be followed by a discussion with the audience on our collective hopes and dreams for the next generation of women and girls.

Space is limited. Please RSVP to Lauren Stillwell Patterson at

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Capital Dilemma Book Talk Tomorrow

Tomorrow evening at All Souls Church, Georgetown University history professor Maurice Jackson, GWU history lecturer Bell Clement, and I will be talking about our chapters in Capital Dilemma: Growth and Inequality in Washington, D.C. edited by American University sociology professor Derek Hyra and anthropologist Sabiyha Prince

The amazing Sam Menefee-Libey has been running a monthly series on "Economic Inequality in DC" at All Souls Church. The group does common readings and engages with DC scholars about DC history, sociology, and so on. 

Tomorrow, the event starts at 7pm at All Souls Church, 1500 Harvard Street NW @ 16th (Columbia Heights Metro Station). Join us for a great discussion. 

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Highly Recommended: The Voices of Women in Public Housing

This is a very exciting event. This Friday, April 1st at 8pm, Empower DC is presenting "On My Mind / In My Heart: The Voices of Women in Public Housing" at the Anacostia Arts Center (1231 Good Hope Rd SE). Six public housing residents tell their stories along with music and discussion led by the amazing Schyla Pondexter-Moore. Our neighbors in action! 

Below is more info on the event. And I'll see you there! 
Join us for a truly unique and powerful experience!  
What do you know about the people who live in DC's public housing communities? Six women from different DC communities are inviting you to hear some of their personal stories, hoping that you will walk away with a greater appreciation for the people who call public housing home. 
Participants include:
Linda Brown, Greenleaf Gardens
Robin Fields, Arthur Capper
Abena Disroe, Hopkins
India Fuller, Greenleaf Gardens
Rhonda Hamilton, Syphax Gardens
Paulette Mathews, Barry Farms
Their stories have been woven together with the expert assistance of playwright Caleen Jennings and are brought to the stage under the brilliant direction of Goldie Patrick. The event includes music by Ron dj'Rbi Brown and a short discussion with the audience facilitated by Empower DC's public housing Organizer Schyla Pondexter-Moore.
Seating is limited - so make sure you get there early! Doors open at 8 pm.
Facebook event page:  

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Alternative Lifestyle City and the Great Blight of Dullness

A while back, I was talking with someone who has been running an illegal food co-op for decades. In his discussion about the co-op, he said in passing that DC in 1967 was an "alternative lifestyle city." I asked him why he thought that. He said that downtown was filled with cooperatives, like a co-op bookstore, co-op plant stores, and even co-op headshops. This 1981 article describes DC's Magic Lantern Cinema and other DC co-ops in this area: "Five years ago, Washington DC's worker-run cooperative community was still strong — a network of food coops, "anti-profit" bookstores, record stores, print shops, plant stores, etc." You can see a list of the extensive number of co-operatives in DC here.

The co-operator said that the mindset of downtown was alternative. Around the Second World War, the area had been redlined (redlining is "arbitrarily denying or limiting financial services to specific neighborhoods, generally because its residents are people of color or are poor") because it was understood to be an African American area. Banks would not provide loans to residents or to businesses in the area. He said that "alternative," "working-class" whites then moved to this area, which had cheap rent. In this area neglected by banks and investment, people could try out a lot of new ideas very cheaply and the people in the area were relatively open to such experiments and such people.

As many people have discussed, downtown DC had a vibrant punk scene, such as at the Landsburgh in the center of today's Penn Quarter discussed by the fabulous Vassar sociology professor Leonard Nevarez. In the DC punk scene book Hard Art: DC 1979, the authors write, "In the land of the rejected, the field is flattened, open to much opportunity. Here flourish the weeds and nonstandard quality alike" (p. 63). But punk music and cooperatives were by no means the only part of this "alternative lifestyle city." (For another fascinating discussion, see Michelle Chatman's "At Eshu's Crossroad: Pan-African Identity in a Changing City"). Where did the "alternative lifestyle city" go?

In our perverse world, when investors abandon an area, rents may go down and diversities might increase, as well as opportunities for creativity and social life. And conversely, when investors become interested in an area and "revitalize" it, they often seek to erase what is there and create a blank slate. As discussed by Jane Jacobs, developers who seek to lure the wealthy into the cities often eradicate a whole range of diversities (age, income, race, etc.) and create, what she called, a "Great Blight of Dullness":
CityCenterDC. Photo by: Payton Chung, public, labelled for reuse.

Monday, January 25, 2016

What makes a city?

During the snowstorm, I sat down to read Luc Sante's The Other Paris (2015) and couldn't put it down. What an amazing book. Sante starts off by saying that "we have forgotten what a city was" because business and government elites have sanitized the city:
The exigencies of money and the proclivities of bureaucrats -- as terrified of anomalies as of germs, chaos, dissipation, laughter, unanswerable questions -- have conspired to create the conditions for stasis, to sanitize the city to the point where there will be no surprises, no hazards, no spontaneous outbreaks, no weeds. (pp. 7-8)
Of course, in DC, we have more than our fair share of such newly redeveloped, sanitized places.

Sante then dives into a fascinating world of the other Paris. This isn't the world of the Eiffel Tower, the grand boulevards, or the upper-class residential areas. The other Paris is a world inhabited by shady bars, tiny streets, the "Zone" at the edge of the city, drunks, revolutionaries, and workers of infinite variety, such as prostitutes, criminals, singers, and pliers of strange occupations like zesteuses. This other Paris flourished before 1940 or, at the latest, before 1970. He takes the reader deep into these worlds of the past as a kind of flaneur, strolling through and exploring the city. The images in the book are particularly amazing.

Sante talks about how flaneurs explore the ghostly or dreamlike presences of "composted layers of a thousand eras, and any given moment includes some proportionate blend of all those eras" (p. 31). This made me immediately think of Edward P. Jones' dreamlike collection of short stories Lost in the City about the African American neighborhoods in DC destroyed in the 1960s and 1970s. Jones' characters roam through the city, observing African American social worlds and their boundaries with white worlds. For Sante, dreams and folklore are often the only ways to access these worlds, especially in a city in which so many parts of have been erased.

Sante despairs about the clean up of Paris. Money, power, and desire for security have destroyed the other Paris. Thus, his book is a reminder about "what life was like in cities when they were vivid and savage and uncontrollable as they were for many centuries" (p. 17). I was particularly struck by the value of neglect and decay for cities. In the 1960s, 1970s, and maybe early 1980s, downtown DC had been redlined  (redlining is "arbitrarily denying or limiting financial services to specific neighborhoods, generally because its residents are people of color or are poor"). In this area neglected by banks and investment, people could try out a lot of new ideas very cheaply and the people in the area were relatively open to such experiments. The place flourished with punk shows, cooperatives, etc. And this was a place where low-income people of all sorts could live and have a place in the city. Sante reminds us that, in our current situation, the cleaning up of cities eradicates these worlds.

He rightly condemns the urban renewal of the 1960s and 1970s, which destroyed and redeveloped large areas of cities around the world. Today's redevelopment of cities continues this destruction, as we see along the Waterfront. Yet, some of the products of urban renewal, such as public housing, the War on Poverty funding, and the general neglect of cities allowed for the non-sanitized lifeblood of the city to be rejuvenated.

One could say that things are always changing in cities, but the sanitizing of cities in the 19th century and today has destroyed what makes cities great: "The small has been consumed by the big, the poor have been evicted by the rich, the drifters are behind glass in museums. Everything that was once directly lived has moved away into representation" (p. 271). Sante concludes:
The history of Paris teaches us that beauty is a by-product of danger, that liberty is at best a consequence of neglect, that wisdom is entwined with decay. Any Paris of the future that is neither a frozen artifact nor an inhabited holding company will perforce involve fear, dirt, sloth, ruin, and accident. It will entail the continual experience of uncertainty, because the only certainty is death. (p. 271)
Maybe we should go in search of what makes DC a great city in the dirt, decay, and neglect?

P.S.  And we could look at the deadzones?

Saturday, October 24, 2015

My "Gentrification in DC" talk on Monday

I plan to talk about gentrification myths, the scholarly literature on gentrification, and my current research project. This event is free and open to the public. 

Monday, October 26, 2015
"Gentrification in DC" 
Johanna Bockman, Associate Professor of Sociology, George Mason University, and DCSS President
All Souls Church, 1500 Harvard Street, NW (@16th Street)

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

DC Historical Studies Conference Nov. 12-15 at Carnegie Library

The Annual Conference on D.C. Historical Studies is such a great conference. It brings together a whole range of professional and amateur historians of all ages full of fascination with all that is DC history. We will start with a lecture on Thursday, November 12th at 6pm by the amazing Columbia University history professor Eric Foner, talking about “Reconstruction and the Fragility of  Democracy” at the National Archives (700 Constitution Avenue, NW). You must register (at no cost) for this talk and reception. There is limited seating, so register as soon as you can. You will be glad that you attended this talk.

When you register for the Foner talk, you can also register for the conference for only $30 ($20 for students/seniors). The rest of the conference will take place at the Carnegie Library (801 K Street, NW). There are so many great panels on Friday, November 13th and Saturday, November 14th, as well as evening documentary films (Dan Silverman,, will moderate one doc discussion on “The Pride and Promise of Petworth”) on those days and walking tours on Sunday, November 15th. The conference has panels from all historical time periods. See the entire conference program here.

I am personally attending these events:
  • Friday, November 13th:
    •  9:30am: Elizabeth Clark-Lewis' lecture on the historian Letitia Woods Brown. 
    • 11:45am: Making Home Here: Formation of Latino Communities in and around the Nation’s Capital. I am particularly interested in the research that Enrique Pumar (Catholic U Sociology) will be presenting. 
    • 12:30pm: The History Network.
    • 2:30pm: Agents of Change in Post-World War II D.C. Got the word that James Blondell's talk “Police, Community and the War on Poverty in the District of Columbia" will be especially interesting. 
    • 3:45pm: Gentrification Gone Wild: Race, Class and Politics in Washington, D.C. 
  •  Saturday, November 14th:
    • 9:30am: The State of D.C. Historical Studies.
    • 1:30pm: Housing Policies and Gentrification: Urban Homesteading to HOPE VI. I'm presenting on my current research here, though The DC Sound panel looks really good. 
    • 3:15pm: D.C.’s Home Rule Decade: Context, Policy and Politics in the Campaign for Local Autonomy.
Check out the program for the huge range of fascinating events: 
Drop by for a couple of panels, a documentary, and/or a lecture. You will be glad you did!