Saturday, August 16, 2014

Anti-Spammer Activities

I temporarily removed a blog post "Gentrification on Capitol Hill," which has been getting an insane amount of hits, mostly from spammers. I also restricted who can comment. These are temporary measures. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Immigration and the Decline of Capitol Hill (II redux)

In my previous blog post, I had discussed the observations by Mary Z. Gray, who was a child on Capitol Hill in the 1920s. She discussed how Capitol Hill had begun to decline during that time. In response to my post, my neighbor Sandy, a great researcher of our block on 10th St, SE, wrote:
I hope I haven’t misstated the basis of the post. Our block of 51 houses is typical in many ways of Capitol Hill’s development. The first black family bought a new house in 1872, joining 15 white families already living here. What was happening in the 1920’s? Both black and white families were moving here...The Hill was a viable community appreciated by its residents. [Read further in the comment section.]
From a brief look at the Census data, it is clear that where Mary Z. Gray lived, around 3rd and E. Capitol, was very different from the history of our block down at 10th St, SE. Between 1890 and 1930, Gray's neighborhood was almost completely white for blocks (with the exception of a few African American live-in servants and African Americans living in alleys in NE). The overwhelming majority of the whites were "native" whites, mainly with parents from the mid-Atlantic region, not from abroad. So, her area was quite different from 10th St.

Mary Z. Gray would likely have questioned whether "The Hill was a viable community appreciated by its residents," especially considering how she discussed the 1920s segregation she witnessed in Capitol Hill businesses, including those on Pennsylvania Ave, SE, between 3rd and 4th. She remember deciding that she wanted to have peach pie at one restaurant, Sherrill's, with her family's African American live-in servant Oscie:
One day as we were passing Sherrill's, I suggested that we go into the restaurant section and have some peach pie. It was August, and there is nothing to match fresh peach pie...[Osci said], "I knows you sick. I can't go into Sherrill's and sit down at a table and eat a piece of pie." She was recoiling as I neared the door. "Why not? Don't you like peach pie?" "Sure I like peach pie, but you know I can't go in there and eat it." She looked frightened....When we got home, I told Mama about what happened. "Tell her she can go to Sherrill's," I said..."No, she can't go into Sherrill's to eat," Mama said softly. "Oscie's right. You should have listened to her...That's just the way things are. There are certain places colored people can't go. That's just the way it is."... And that's the way it was on Capitol Hill -- and throughout most of the country -- in the 1920s. (301 East Capitol, pp. 31-32)
Racial segregation did not always exist in the past. The 1890s marked a worldwide turn toward racial segregation and divided cities. This segregation did not appear everywhere suddenly or naturally, but rather took a great deal of work by whites, driven in part by the desire to maintain their housing values and other privileges. I am going to look further at the Census data to see how the area was changing by age, race, immigration flows, and housing values.

If parts of Capitol Hill escaped the worldwide turn towards divided cities, then we should consider ourselves lucky. Yet, if we step back and take a look at DC in 2010, we can see Capitol Hill at the center of a divided city/region (green dots are white residents; blue dots are African American residents):


NY Times interactive map





Immigration and the Decline of Capitol Hill (II)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Immigration and the Decline of Capitol Hill

In the 1920s, Capitol Hill became vacated and began falling apart. The author of the amusing and insightful 301 East Capitol, Mary Z. Gray, noted the decline of Capitol Hill during her childhood at this time:
It wasn't just that there were not other children around; all of Capitol Hill seemed to be becoming decrepit. If Mama weren't having Grandpap's elderly sisters to Sunday dinner, she was making 'courtesy calls' on maiden ladies in black dresses who cherished 'papa's' memory, and feared that their inheritance was not enough to see them through. Consequently, their inherited family houses badly needed upkeep and repairs, but the money wasn't there to do it. Many once-elegant houses were falling apart. Capitol Hill was beginning its downhill slide, which didn't begin to reverse upward for the next 30 or more years. (p. 89)
Capitol Hill's downhill slide would continue for many decades afterwards. Many white families, including Mary Z. Gray's, moved to the suburbs, but they would or could not sell their houses to African Americans or other groups understood by whites at that time as reducing the value of their houses and neighborhoods. Whites used racially restrictive covenants and more informal means of housing discrimination to maintain their housing values. African Americans lived in particular parts of Capitol Hill, and their numbers on Capitol Hill increased in the 1930s with gentrification in Georgetown and the 1960s with the destruction and gentrification of Southwest DC. In the 1920s, those white families left behind could not maintain their houses and there were not new, younger white families moving to Capitol Hill. This downhill slide happened well before the Great Depression of 1929. What was happening in the 1920s?

Yesterday, I came across a very interesting additional cause of this decline. The glorious urban sociology professor at the New School Janet Abu-Lughod, who sadly passed away in December, wrote about a similar 1920s decline of the East Village and Lower East Side in New York City:
When immigration laws were changed in the early 1920s...the normal flow of successive new immigrants through the area was interrupted, leaving a weakened real estate market which in the period immediately following World War II collapsed entirely, as the children of the final European immigrant cohort availed themselves of both prosperity and the new opportunities for subsidized suburban settlement; they deserted the zone wholesale.(1) 
The 1921 and 1924 immigration laws placed quotas on the number of immigrants by country of origin allowed into the US (while completely excluding Asian immigrants). According to George Mason University's History Matters website: "Initially, the 1924 law imposed a total quota on immigration of 165,000—less than 20 percent of the pre-World War I average." Could this severe reduction in immigration flows, based on racism and ethnic discrimination, as well as the increasing use of racially restrictive covenants and more informal means of housing discrimination, have helped bring about the collapse of Capitol Hill in the 1920s? Further investigation will be needed to figure this out.


(1) Abu-Lughod, Janet. 1994. “Diversity, Democracy, and Self-Determination in an Urban Neighborhood: The East Village of Manhattan.” Social Research 61(1):181–203.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Don't Destroy CCNV!

Mitch Snyder
"Politicians in the District love to close shelters for so-called humanitarian reasons. But after shelters close they don’t seem to care all that much that people who lived there don’t have anywhere to go, and often end up on the streets." -- Diana Pillsbury, "In Defense of Shelter"

DC government wants to shut down the Community for Creative Non-Violence (CCNV) shelter near Judiciary Square, and some in the government also want to close the DC General shelter on Capitol Hill. My sociology colleague at Mason, Victoria Rader, wrote about one of the founders of CCNV, Mitch Synder (see picture). Several years ago, I went with a bunch of my friends to tour of CCNV, what is technically called the Federal City Shelter. What impressed me right away was that our tour guide was one of many homeless who lived at CCNV and who run the shelter themselves. CCNV is a unique homeless shelter, an asset that should be preserved, at least until the day arrives when all the residents have apartments or some kind of shelter that they can afford.

I have been hearing great acclaim about Diana Pillsbury and her work to save DC's homeless shelters. According to Diana, CCNV "is by far the largest shelter in the DC area, and in the country, with a capacity of around 1,350 people, regularly serving +/- 1,200 people." Diana says:
From my point of view, discussing the demolition of the Federal City Shelter is premature. This winter, we had deaths occur due to hypothermia: people froze to death. We have a family shelter that is at capacity, and many families who have no place to live. Youth providers turn away young persons seeking shelter daily, they too, are at capacity. Public housing has been cut to the point that it is almost non-existent. Housing prices are on the increase. Why then, are we talking about shutting down DC’s largest shelter? Can we really find housing for 1,200 people, when can’t even house those persons currently on the street? Is this really about protecting the interests of homeless persons, or is it about the DC Government making money off the sale of the property? CCNV is the most valuable asset homeless persons have; and thus, people should think twice before agreeing to shut it down.
In 2007, DC General was turned into a homeless shelter because DC government closed the main homeless shelter DC Village (Ward 8) due to horrible conditions. Did closing DC Village improve the situation for our homeless neighbors in DC? Why would closing more homeless shelters improve the lives of our homeless neighbors? Well, maybe this isn't about improve their lives? At the CCNV Taskforce meetings led by Jim Graham and non-homeless people (see Eric Sheptock's video below):
Also present at the meeting was real estate developer Douglas Jemal, founder and president of Douglas Development Corp. The developer, known for revitalizing historic properties for use as retail, office and residential sites, said that he was looking forward to helping address problems with homelessness in Washington.
Is the CCNV Taskforce more about money to be made than about the money that needs to be spent on our fellow DC residents? As you can see in this WETA documentary on CCNV "Promises to Keep", many of the problems that CCNV has had since the beginning continue today, since the government does not want to pay to maintain homeless shelters or provide adequate affordable housing:


Here is "the homeless homeless advocate" Eric Sheptock speaking on the lack of representation of CCNV residents on the CCNV taskforce:


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Navy Yard Neighborhood History Discussion on Saturday

This Saturday, July 5th, the Navy Yard Neighborhood Association (NYNA) is hosting "A Celebration
of our Community’s History Part I." During this afternoon event, there will be many interesting activities and discussions (including a presentation by me):

  • Screening of the documentary “Chocolate City
  • Oral histories of former and returning residents
  • Panel presentations by Johanna Bockman (on the history of the Navy Yard area) and Sabiyha Prince (on gentrification, race, and class; she is the author of African Americans and Gentrification in Washington, D.C.)
  • Exploration – building a shared community
  • Refreshments, activities for kids 

The NYNA is creating a series of events based on the idea "Learning from our past, Building bridges to our future." They are trying to deal with the past and do the difficult work of creating a connected neighborhood. From 1958, the Capper-Carrollsburg public housing project housed about 700 households in that area. The former residents had formed ties with each other and with homeowners nearby (including those around Garfield Park). The project was destroyed and replaced by Capitol Hill Quarter, a mixed-income development. The documentary "Chocolate City" is about the Capper-Carrollsburg residents' resistance to their displacement.

Many former residents feel great affection for Capper-Carrollsburg, and many were not able or allowed to move into the new development. NYNA seeks to create bonds between the former residents of Capper-Carrollsburg and the new homeowners and renters in the area. It should be a very interesting event because of this difficult work they are doing.

"A Celebration of our Community’s History Part I."
Saturday, July 5th, 2014, 1-5pm
200 I Street, SE, Washington, DC

The public is invited. Please share these event details with others. You can RSVP here

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Movie Series on Gentrification, Urban Renewal, and Resistance

Housing for All, DC Jobs with Justice, Empower DC, Jews United for Justice, ONE DC, and Washington Peace Center are sponsoring a great movie series. Summer in the City II is a documentary series exploring gentrification and urban renewal. They are starting with the amazing documentary "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth," which has truly great interviews with former public housing residents in St. Louis. The documentary inspired me to think about "Pruitt-Igoe and Ward 6."

So, the series has documentaries about DC and about other cities, examining the global trends of gentrification, urban renewal, and local resistance (yes, local resistance may also be global). Save these dates for fabulous discussions with grassroots organizers and residents working on the front lines of these trends. It all starts this Wednesday!

The Pruitt Igoe Myth -- see the trailer and flyer
Wednesday, July 2
6:00 PM
Southwest Library – 900 Wesley Pl SW

The Legend of Cool Disco Dan
Wednesday, July 9
6:00 PM
MLK Library – 901 G St NW
This film follows infamous graffiti artist Cool ‘Disco’ Dan as he discusses the changing city that he once marked. It tells the story of a changing DC during the era of the crack epidemic and the evolution of Go-Go, celebrating the culture of DC.

Southwest Remembered
Wednesday, July 23
6:00 PM
Southwest Library – 900 Wesley Pl SW
Southwest Remembered follows the effects of the federal plan of Urban Renewal in Washington, DC during the 1940s. Southwest DC was one of the first areas to undergo this effort, which ended with more than 23,000 displaced residents and a radically altered Southwest.

The Garden
Wednesday, August 6
6:00 PM
Emergency Community Arts Collective - 733 Euclid St. NW
A rose that grew out of the 1992 LA Riots, the community garden in South Central Los Angeles was a testament to community resilience. However, when the land is sold to a wealthy developer, the South Central Farmers are forced to show a different sort of resilience in their battle with city hall.

My Brooklyn
Wednesday, August 20
6:00 PM
Location TBA
This film follows the director, a self-described gentrifier, on her journey to peel back the complex layers of a changing city. Focusing on the closing of a popular and profitable African-American and Caribbean mall, the movie explores how migration into cities, city planning and racial divides come to a head in an all too familiar story about change in American cities.