Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hine Jr. High: Development for Whom?

Hine Jr. High at 8th and Pennsylvania SE is slated for destruction and redevelopment. On Feb. 2nd, ANC 6B is holding a public meeting on the new designs organized by the chosen developer Stanton-EastBanc. From Stanton-EastBanc's website on the Hine project, we can witness some general themes of urban renewal experienced worldwide and across the decades. Among the many interesting aspects of the project description, I have chosen three:
  • Project vision: "When completed, the StantonEastbanc project will feel like a part of the neighborhood that has been there forever."
The new development thus seeks to completely erase the past, erase the fact that Hine Jr. High existed. Hine was combined with Eliot Middle School on 1830 Constitution Ave, thus, as usually happens in urban renewal, the students were sent away from the core to the Eastern border of Ward 6. We could be glad that the students have left behind the dilapidated Hine building. Yet, during urban renewal, according to a fascinating article by sociologist Sharon Zukin, both public and private investment "shows a high degree of selectivity" and gentrification does not counteract economic and racial polarization: "it fails to raise median family income...nor does gentrification always spread beyond a street or neighborhood to an entire census tract." This investment is directed primarily towards middle and upper class residents and often pushes out the poor. Hine suffered from years of lack of investment, as mentioned in a 2005 Post article about a Hine basketball coach: "But the guys from Hine don't complain. Half of their school had no heat this morning, either, and in every gym where they play, a third of the lights are burned out or missing." These kids were poor: "the vast majority of its students come from households with an income of less than $24,600 a year for a family of four, which qualifies 85 percent of them for free breakfast and lunch. Four of every five kids come from across the Anacostia River. Most live with a single parent, says assistant principal Maria Dent, except for those with 'no parental guidance because their parents have been killed'" (2005 Post article).

At the same time, as also acknowledged by the Hine alumni Facebook page (with 539 members), Hine was a Blue Ribbon School of Excellence. Principal Princess Whitfield turned Hines around in the 1980s, and she was named one of the nation's top 10 educators in the early 1990s. Yet, somehow by 2005, the city had stopped investing in Hine and decided to close it, at least at first to make it into a central school admin building. But there had been investment in the school and the students had excelled! (Another part of the erasing of the past is the school's namesake, Lemon G. Hine, Civil Rights lawyer and politician, but who was he?) The new building will feel like it has been there forever.
  • Project overview: "Continuous retail provides the missing link between Eastern Market Row (7th Street) and Barracks Row (8th Street)."
  • Project vision: "This major community-development project will welcome new residents with a diversity of ages and income levels.
In her Cultures of Cities, Zukin discusses how redevelopment often privatizes public spaces, then creates idealized pseudo-public spaces that are focused on consumption (rather than education, production, or some other activity). Blue Ribbon Hine is being replaced with retail. There will also be two nonprofits in the building, thus reflecting "the continued displacement of manufacturing and the development of the financial and non-profit sectors" in DC and elsewhere. Non-profits are not necessarily more than just another white-collar professional company, rather than providing jobs and services for Ward 6. Will those without incomes, such as our homeless neighbors who have lived in Ward 6 their entire lives, be included in this diversity? I went to the meetings where the visions of the Hine project were presented, but the DC government and the developers did not show much vision and offered only four rather uninspired options.

What could Hine become? This is a topic that I will explore further. For now, I propose rentals for those in the neighborhood, the thousands of interns, the visiting Library of Congress researchers, our fellow citizens who wish to lobby Congress, those visiting their relatives, etc.

I was also wondering what has happened to those who went or might have gone to Hine. How has the destruction of Hine influenced their lives?


3 comments:

  1. I live about six blocks away and consider Eastern Market part of my neighborhood. While it is important to preserve structures that are historically significant, I don't think there is any possibility that this school building is not going to be demolished.

    The question then becomes, should the new structure "feel like something that has been in the neighborhood forever"?

    Taxpayers in DC have invested billions of dollars to build a heavy rail subway system - something that has not been there forever.

    THere is a subway station right across the street from this site. In my opinion it would be malfeasance on the part of the city to not insist on a project that is of the highest density that we already see on Capitol Hill. And by the way, many apartment buildings that are six or seven stories are historic in their own right. So in terms of design it is certainly possible to create a mixed use project that incorporates the prevailing features of the neighborhood.

    Just to take the point a step further - a lot of the current residences in the neighborhood used to be corner stores or other commercial establishments - even small factories. Those residences have not "been there forever" - their conversion to homes reflects the changes in the neighborhood over the years.

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  2. An interesting article. I'm curious: perhaps you could add enrollment information to complete the picture. It's my understanding that DCPS facilities have seen radically declining enrollment over the course of fifty-something years. Too many facilities; not enough children.

    This is something the school systems in Montgomery County and Northern Virginia go through periodically as well--most notably in the late-70s and early-80s, as the baby-boom wave passed. Of course, closing facilities was controversial there as well.

    Also, you might flesh out the path DC could take to somehow build "manufacturing" capacity. That seems unlikely, given the recent arc of history. The bottom line is, the jobs that DC is going to provide in the coming decades are going to be white-collar jobs, and jobs that provide services to those white-collar workers.

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  3. Regarding capacity in the schools, CM Tommy Wells said (during July 2010 Council consideration of surplusing Hine) that there were one too many middle school buildings in Ward 6 and he had to make a decision whether to close Hine or Eliot. He chose to close Hine and move all those students from centrally-located Hine to a combined Hine-Eliot at the eastern fringe of the neighborhood.

    I think he and DCPS chose wrongly. There are advantages to Hine-Eliot (located behind Eastern HS, with access to wonderful ball fields). But the presence of a school at 8th and Pennsylvania Ave. SE since the Civil War makes a bigger statement, in concert with the SE library at that corner: Namely, that this is a neighborhood that cares about kids and their education. During much of that history, there was also a Catholic School, St. Ann's Academy, located across the street from DC public schools on the Hine site, in the 300 block of 8th Street SE.

    For many residents in the neighborhood, the decision by DC Public Schools to give up control of a site that has been a school since Abraham Lincoln was President was a tragic mistake. The Hine site is the historic site where the Wallach School was built in 1864 while the Civil War still raged, to serve all children, black and white, rich and poor alike. In 1922, students and teachers could look out the windows of the Wallach School to watch construction of one of the original Carnegie libraries, the Southeast Library that still sits across the street from this site.

    In recent years, however, developers in the neighborhood convinced our local elected officials that this historic school site should be developed commercially, and not serve students any longer.

    There is no need for a school to take up all or even most of the site, of course. Retail, office space and residential development of a density compatible with the neighborhood and its many strong transportation links should also be part of the development. But I hope the development will include a substantial DCPS presence when it is completed in 2015 or so. That would send the right message about the high importance residents place on meeting the needs of students on Capitol Hill.

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