Sunday, June 10, 2012

Building Community with Public Housing Residents

Yesterday, in Garfield Park, I spent the afternoon with former residents of Arthur Capper public housing. Garfield Park is located around 2nd and G St SE, right next to the Results Gym. "Cappers," as the former residents call it, was located just on the other side of the 395 freeway between 1958 and 2005, when it was replaced by a mixed income development funded in part by the federal HOPE VI program. 707 households regularly lived at Cappers. Public housing is often seen as lacking in civic spirit, as housing isolated individuals and crime, and as destructive to the residents and others.

Well, the Cappers group definitely complicates these assumptions. I got to know the Cappers through their Facebook page, which has 370 members. Yesterday, many of the Capper residents spoke about Cappers as one big "family"; how they knew everyone and everyone watched out for each other. I asked people when they moved out. Many grew up there and then moved out as young adults, while others lived there much longer. One man expressed the general feeling: I moved out, but I never left. Everyone talked about visiting regularly. The common refrain was that they all had grown up together and they were family, and they needed a way to reconnect with former Arthur Capper family members and keep the community alive.

Cappers residents remembered the immense number of activities and the fun that they had in their old homes. They also remembered some of the difficulties. Their rec center offered football, baseball, soccer, track, golf, and chess. There were regular BBQs and band performances, by resident bands and visitors, including Chuck Brown. There were tutors and coaches, who took a lot of time with them, which they sought to repay later in their lives.

With Cappers gone, the former residents have turned to Garfield Park as their family/community space. While living in or visiting Cappers, they spent a great deal of time in the Park. I know about the following activities they hold there during the year:
  • Annual reunion on the Fourth of July
  • Annual Labor Day picnic
  • Horseshoes every Friday after 5pm
  • Bowling throughout the winter (at a bowling alley on Pennsylvania Ave)
  • Various other events (yesterday, about 25 former residents gathered for a fundraiser for their reunion).
The Cappers residents are very interested in building community around Garfield Park with those living around the Park and those now living where Cappers used to stand. Yesterday, I did meet four people who lived outside Cappers and maintain contact with Cappers residents. The residents want others to understand why they come to Garfield Park and to come together to learn about each other and improve the Park.

On the fourth of July, drop by Garfield Park and talk with the Cappers residents. You could go up to someone there and say, "I heard about the Cappers reunion. Did you live in Cappers? What was it like living in there?"


  1. Fantastic Johanna. I am often in Garfield Park w P & Z. Key for Cappers is they had a Rec Center that worked, jusging from lit on why big Projects fail

  2. Really love the way this complicates the usual story. Heard a piece about Capper-to-Hope VI on WAMU Metro connection last week that touched on the lasting connections residents had to Cappers. Did you meet with any of the same people in the broadcast? Although the piece also had people who loved their new abodes after Cappers, one of the women called her relocation "an emotional genocide" and there was also discussion about fear of what was to come, of being displaced.


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