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.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Destruction of Authenticity since the 1980s (re-post)

I've been having many conversations with people about the rising costs of cities around the world, so I thought that I would re-post this as an attempt to try to understand what is going on:

Brooklyn College sociology professor and wildly famous urban sociologist Sharon Zukinmade these observations about NYC in her most recent book:
But the city's historic diversity of uses, local specializations, small stores, and cheek-by-jowl checkerboard of rich people, poor people, and people broadly in the middle has been submerged by a tidal wave of new luxury apartments and chain stores. Global investment firms have bought thousands of low-cost apartment houses and prepare to raise the rent or sell them as condos, driving out older and poorer tenants. The fertile urban terroirof cultural creation is being destroyed by the conspicuous displays of wealth and power typical of private developers and public officials who build for the rich and hope benefits will trickle down to the poor, by the promotions of the media who translate neighborhood identity into a brand, and by the tastes of new urban middle classes who are initially attracted to this identity but ultimately destroy it. These forces of redevelopment have smoothed the uneven layers of grit and glamour, swept away traces of contentious history, cast doubt on the idea that poor people have a right to live and work here too -- all that had made the city authentic.
Her view of authenticity is that it has two mechanisms -- the protection what is seen as "original" (think historic preservation) and continual cultural innovation -- that are in tension, but are also in tension with (and used by) the homogenizing forces of redevelopment that we see in all cities today. The 1980s are a particularly important starting point for these homogenizing forces.

P.S. Zukin recognizes that authenticity is ridiculous in the urban context, which is always changing, but rather that authenticity is a continual concern of residents in cities. The idea of authenticity has real effects.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Car washing, shoe repair, and BBQ in Ward 6

On the blog Popville, the question was asked, "Where do you get your car washed?" AK responded:
I have taken my car to Peter Bug’s Shoe Academy on Saturdays. The workers there hand wash and dry the car, and it’s pretty cheap. There’s also some BBQ and you can drop off your shoes for repair and pick them up next time. It’s a fantastic community resource, and it helps out the people working there. Peter Bug is also great to talk to. If you’re lucky, you can chat with him about his many decades living in D.C.
... It’s at 1320 E St SE. Here’s some great info on Peter Bug (
Thanks for the shout out from AK! Thanks also to Peter Bug for all that he does for Ward 6!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Save the Shelters!

The Post reported that DC Council member Jim Graham suggested shutting down both the DC General homeless shelter (with 300 families) and the CCNV shelter with (with more than 1,000 single adults). Shutting down any homeless shelter will not make anything better for these people. A much better path is to speed up the process of building affordable housing, which is going so very slowly, and to do the necessary repairs of the shelters while keeping them open. Of course, one can dream about opening all the DC hotels to the homeless shelter residents. Is that option being offered? Are there some alternative places in DC where these 2,000 people will be housed?

I made similar warnings about similar suggestions before: "Warning: Save the Shelter and the People" and "Warning: Save the Shelter and the People (II)." Yes, the situation is terrible in the shelters, but being without shelter is worse. So many times, politicians use criticisms of the shelters or public housing as justification to eradicate the shelters and public housing, making the situation worse.

Also, CCNV is a very unique shelter. The topic of a future post!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Legalization and Mass Incarceration in DC

Today, I spent two and half hours collecting signatures near Eastern Market to put legalization of marijuana on the ballot. It was probably the most enjoyable political work I've done. People were either silently against it or so incredibly excited. Also, I found that a lot of people just wanted to ask about the Ballot Initiative and about the confusing marijuana laws in DC.

Basically, Ballot Initiative #71 seeks to legalize marijuana possession for personal use by those 21 years of age or older. Here is some clarification from the DC Cannabis Campaign:
  • Possession of marijuana is NOT LEGAL in Washington, DC.
  • The decriminalization of marijuana possession legislation passed the DC City Council on March 4, 2014 but will not become law until it has been reviewed by Congress for 60 legislative days (late-July).
  • Medical marijuana IS LEGAL in Washington, DC, but for only registered patients with a limited number of approved medical conditions: AIDS/HIV, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.
Ballot Initiative #71 is only about possession and growing for personal use. There is nothing in it about selling or taxing marijuana. The Ballot Initiative will allow DC residents 21 and older to:
  • Possess up to two ounces of marijuana outside one’s home
  • Grow up to 3 mature marijuana plants inside one’s home
  • Allows growers to keep all the marijuana grown at home
  • Does not allow anyone to sell marijuana (DC rules prevent this question in the ballot)
The DC Board of Elections gave the DC Cannabis Campaign the official circulating petitions on April 23 and the Campaign is currently collecting signatures from registered DC voters. The Campaign has until the first week of July to collect over 22,373 valid signatures in order to put the initiative on the ballot in November’s General Election (info from the DC Cannabis Campaign website).

Why am I out collecting signatures? I am working on this campaign because the current laws about possession of marijuana are implemented in a racist manner. According to last year's ACLU report "The War on Marijuana in Black and White," DC is second after Iowa for having with the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates per 100,000:

According to a report by The Washington City Paper, 91% of those arrested in DC on marijuana charges were African American: 
According to arrest numbers obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department and crunched by a statistician, between 2005 and 2011, D.C. cops filed 30,126 marijuana offense charges. A staggering number of those—27,560, or 91 percent—were filed against African-Americans. Only 2,097 were filed against whites.(WCP, April 22, 2013)
And marijuana use is basically equal among African Americans and whites:
Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites. In 2010, 14% of Blacks and 12% of whites reported using marijuana in the past year; in 2001, the figure was 10% of whites and 9% of Blacks. In every year from 2001 to 2010, more whites than Blacks between the ages of 18 and 25 reported using marijuana in the previous year. In 2010, 34% of whites and 27% of Blacks reported having last used marijuana more than one year ago — a constant trend over the past decade. In the same year, 59% of Blacks and 54% of whites reported having never used marijuana. Each year over the past decade more Blacks than whites reported that they had never used marijuana. (ACLU, "The War on Marijuana," p. 21)
The marijuana laws are allowing the wasteful and racist mass incarceration of African Americans, as well as the generally wasteful mass incarceration of so many people. (See my previous posts on mass incarceration and debt and solitary confinement)

The campaign needs so many more signatures. Please consider volunteering to collect signatures.