Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Jane Jacobs, HOPE VI, and Ward 6

Today, I read all of Jane Jacob's famous The Death and Life of Great American Cities. For many people who study cities, Jane Jacobs is one of the most important urban thinkers of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. From my reading of her book, I can say that Jane Jacobs would have never approved of the demolition of the Arthur Capper public housing project and the creation of the, mixed-income Capitol Quarter funded by the HOPE VI program. Yes, she believed in the diversity of incomes, races, housing types, and businesses, which nurture the liveliness and life of cities. Yes, she criticized low-income public housing as part of her general condemnation of the urban renewal that demolished great swaths of American cities to make way for more "rational" communities, like that in SW DC. Yes, she was an early supporter of the housing renovation movement, urban density, and local political control in opposition to powerful city planners who sought to destroy communities in the name of "progress." At the same time, Jacobs would have agreed with one of the commenters on my earlier post, a member of the Arthur Capper community, who wrote:
I do not believe there was any justification for the extreme government intervention. I believe there should have been discussion on how to co exist with among new residents moving in buying property and those coming back to the neighborhood who were renters. The promise that was made for residents returning was broken. Those actions cause distrust.
Jacobs would have also rejected such extreme government intervention that removed all the Arthur Capper residents. Instead, she would have called for gradual change to bring in new residents to coexist with those already there and to create an even more lively city.

Arthur Capper public housing was built in 1958 as part of DC urban renewal. Yet, we should not understand Arthur Capper through the perspective based on certain, not necessarily correct, images of Chicago public housing, as large, impersonal, inhumane housing blocks. In contrast, Arthur Capper residents remember BBQs, football games, concerts, and a vibrant social life. In 1961, when she wrote her book, Jacobs would not yet have had much contact with the social life that developed in public housing like Arthur Capper. In her analysis of the "ghetto" and the "slums" of her day, Jacobs did see social life. According to her, the problem with the ghetto and the slums was not the buildings or the people, but rather that people were moving too quickly out of the area. She wished that cities would not draw in the middle class from elsewhere but rather transform the poor into the middle class.

HOPE VI can, in fact, be seen as just another kind of urban renewal, like the kind that Jacobs fought against. Rather than funding the gradual improvement of the Arthur Capper buildings and surrounding area, the government waited for it to fall apart. Then, once the area had been declared "severely distressed" and thus eligible for HOPE VI funds, enormous investments suddenly flowed into the area. Something like $700 million became available. This, in Jacobs' words, "cataclysmic" money arrives to wipe out the buildings and the people, seeking to create community anew. Planners sought to do exactly the same thing during urban renewal.

Jacobs suggests that low-income housing projects be salvaged by reweaving them into the city fabric. This reweaving is not done by erasing the housing project and displacing all its residents. Instead, in chapter 20 "Salvaging Projects," she argued that cities should:
  • Design new streets around the public housing that connect with streets beyond the project. The ground floors of the public housing should be redesigned to incorporate street-side uses, and new street-side buildings could be incorporated into open spaces. These street-side buildings of shops, offices, etc. should connect up with lively streets nearby.
  • Use vendors with carts to provide services and liveliness, if funds are not available for redesigns.
  • Improve safety inside public housing by employing residents as elevator attendants during the day and night.
  • Abandon maximum income limits, so that people can remain as they advance economically.
  • Make gradual, rather than cataclysmic, investments in public housing and the surrounding areas.
Rather than demolish and displace, as HOPE VI has done, we might instead consider Jane Jacobs' steps to reweave public housing into the city and further enliven the city.

P.S. One can be very critical of other aspects of Jane Jacobs' work. See my previous post about how Jacobs' work is often used.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Couch Surfing: Poverty, Housing, Voting in Ward 6

Many families in Ward 6 and across the United States have adult family members (children, distant cousins, uncles, etc) and adult non-family members (friends of relatives, children of friends, etc.) living with them on sofas, in basements, in spare rooms. These "boarders" rely on the kindness of others, so they may live there for a few days moving among locations or may live there for a few years. These boarders probably don't have a permanent address.

Many people don't have official IDs because they don't have a permanent address. In states with new laws requiring official IDs or even utility bills or other forms of address-based identification, these people will not be able to vote. However, when I tested out DC's online voter registration, I saw that you need to report an address where you live. So, it seems that, if you don't have a permanent address, you likely can't vote in any case.

Why can't these people get a permanent address?
Often, it is because of economic adversity. Currently, in 2012, the federal poverty level for a family of three is $19,090. In Ward 6, 18% of residents live in poverty. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the DC Metropolitan area, a family can essentially be living in poverty if, for example, one person works full-time as a Barber/Salon Shampooer ($19,390) or as a Fast-Food Cook ($19,660). If you are a full-time fast-food cook in Ward 6, you could afford to spend $491/month on rent, 30% of your monthly income. (I admit that I don't understand the tax situation with an income like that, so I am just going with the income given).

What can you get for $491/month? I looked through Craigslist and found no apartments in that range, so I turned to renting rooms. Here is what I found in the first 100 listed:

$435 / 150ft² - You Can't Beat This Deal - (Congress Heights)
$425 Master bedroom w/private bath - (Stafford - Rte. 610)
$495 room in nice single family home for rent - (Bowie/Glenn Dale/Washington, DC)

If you have two kids, it would likely be impossible for you to rent one of these rooms. Also, several of these rooms would be very far from your job as a fast-food cook in Ward 6. So, you might then try couch surfing or rooming with family or friends.

I decided to look at the census data to investigate how many people might be choosing this strategy. Here is the American Community Survey data from 2005 to 2009 for four census tracts in Ward 6. Census tract 67 is the most wealthy census tract in Ward 6, while census tract 71 has the lowest income. Census tract 64 is in SW, and census tract 85 is just north of H St NE. As an aside, it is interesting how we have more women living alone than men living alone (see the italics below). It is difficult to determine precisely how many people are couch surfing. I put some rows in bold to highlight categories, which might be picking up these adult-relative/friend boarders. The roomer/housemate categories are likely including both more conventional renters and adult-relative/friend boarders. The "Other Relatives" category is surprising large (with the asterisk).

Household Type by Relationship in four census tracts in Ward 6

Cen. 64
Cen. 67
Cen. 71
Cen. 85
Total residents: 2,051 4,226 3,088 3,295
-In households: 2,051 4,107 3,088 3,295
--In family households: 1,563 2,711 2,609 2,173
----Householder 578 871 722 636
----Spouse 90 681 173 288
----Child 622 802 1169 671
----Grandchild 76 71 380 170
----Other relatives*
----Nonrelatives 44 125 38 20
------Unmarried partner 44 0 0 13
------Foster child 0 0 0 0
------Other nonrelatives
--In nonfamily households: 488 1,396 479 1,122
----Householder: 466 928 408 719
------Male living alone
------Male not living alone 13 120 17 86
------Female living alone
------Female not living alone 7 150 23 118
----Nonrelatives: 22 468 71 403
------Unmarried partner 22 130 20 136
------Foster child 0 0 0 0
------Other nonrelatives
-In group quarters 0 119 0 0

The working class in the United States has long had a tradition of such adult-relative/friend boarders, while the middle class has turned away from such practices. With economic crises, these adult-relative/friend boarders arrangements become increasingly necessary for survival. We should make certain that our neighbors are not being further harmed by not being able to vote because they don't have a permanent address.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Struggling to Get Back (Response)

I just wanted to respond to a commenter on my previous post about the video "Struggling to Get Back."

I find the video’s nostalgia for the de facto racial segregation of the old Capper Carrollsburg to be very troubling. Efforts to make the neighborhood economically and racially diverse have been laudable and successful. Living next door to people of different backgrounds, or being invited to getting-to-know-you receptions with them, might push us out of our comfort zones, but we’ll all be better neighbors and citizens for it.

Yes, nostalgia is problematic, but is Rose in the video nostalgic for segregation?:
  • In the video, Rose wishes that everyone from the old Capper Carrollsburg could move into the beautiful apartments and houses of the now named "Capitol Quarter," like they were promised. Instead, few have been allowed to move back in. You can see how difficult it was for Rose to move back. Just yesterday, someone asked me if I could help her to move back. Rose conveys her sense that injustice has been done to those from the old Capper Carrollsburg.
  • Rose seems to have liked the people and the community life of the old Capper Carrollsburg. She does not speak about liking segregation. From my conversations with those who lived in Arthur Capper, it is clear that they view Arthur Capper as a special place. One must recognize that different public housing projects have different dynamics. Just from a few conversations, people from Arthur Capper who later moved to other public housing projects and "rough" areas of town found them quite scary, and found Arthur Capper to be an enjoyable place. The people who lived there created this community. From my previous post:
"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."
  • One has to ask how the redevelopment of Capper Carrollsburg is "laudable and successful," for whom and according to which criteria? As I understand it, the redevelopment project forcibly displaced people since 1998. It is great that some former residents have been allowed to move back in. In contrast to HOPE VI projects like Capitol Quarter, other programs to create more integration 1) have made certain that former residents could move to areas with 10% or less poverty, rather than to just anywhere housing happened to be available, and 2) did not seek to erase entire communities but rather redeveloped the area in stages avoiding the displacement of people and communities and allowing them to reap the benefits of the improvements. Of course, I always ask why the hundreds of millions of dollars invested in Capitol Quarter could not have been invested much earlier.
  • Back in 2003-2005, one of the big issues among the Capper Carrollsburg residents was: who was considered eligible for the 707 units of public housing in Capitol Quarter? Many of the residents had low-wage jobs and thus had to compete for just a small number of the low-income public housing units (see my previous post and another post). Also other restrictions, like personal debt, kept many residents out.
  • Yes, reaching out to neighbors -- including those in Capitol Quarter, those who had lived in Arthur Capper, or those living now in other public housing projects in Ward 6 -- is a great idea. Members of the Arthur Capper community have invited those living in Capitol Quarter and around Garfield Park to join them at the annual reunions. Every Friday, they play horseshoes in Garfield Park. Stop by and say hi! Through such reaching out, I agree that we might become better neighbors and better citizens.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Struggling to Get Back in Ward 6

The movie "Chocolate City" was about the resistance by Ward 6 residents living in Arthur Capper public housing to their forced displacement. These residents were displaced by the federal HOPE VI program, in which government officials promised them housing in the new mixed-income development on the site of their old home. This new development is called Capitol Quarter. Rose Oliphant, former resident of Arthur Capper and one of the few who could move back, is pictured here. Ellie Walton, the director of "Chocolate City," has made a nine-minute update "Struggling to Get Back" (the entire video is available at the link) documenting Rose's struggle to return to her neighborhood after six years of displacement. Ellie Walton submitted this video as testimony to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Adequate Housing, Raquel Rolnick, who was on an 18-day official mission to the United States to investigate housing rights violations. Ward 6 residents are not just gentrifiers. Residents of Ward 6, like Rose Oliphant, also take part in global movements to resist gentrification and to secure the "right to stay put."

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Impossible Debts of Inmates

I noticed that Visitors' Services Center on 1422 Massachusetts Ave SE provides information about how to deposit money in inmates' accounts at the DC Jail. In her book The New Jim Crow, Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander talks about the significant debt prisoners accumulate in the criminal justice system, which follows them for the rest of their lives. If they do not repay this debt, then they are in violation of their probation and re-imprisoned. I wondered whether Ward 6 residents had accumulated this kind of debt.

Why do inmates have these accounts? According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, such accounts began in 1930 to collect inmate monies and to allow inmates to procure articles not issued regularly as part of the institution administration. From prison commissaries, inmates can purchase such items as postage stamps, tokens for laundry or copy services, snacks, beverages, Kosher/Halal items, writing supplies, radios, watches, mp3 players, clothing, shoes, personal hygiene products, over-the-counter medicines, and smoking cessation patches (FBP Trust Fund Manual, pp. 29-36). They also use funds in their accounts to make phone calls.

Inmates probably can't spend too much at the commissary. At least in federal prisons, all inmates are required to work if they are medically able. According to the Federal Bureau of Prisons, inmates make between 12 cents and 40 cents per hour (1). Inmates receive their earnings in their accounts. Family and friends may also contribute to inmates' accounts. Most of this money flows through Western Union, which charges fees. I successfully requested prices for two transactions, which had the following fees: $100 to a county jail required a $10.95 fee; $200 to the federal prison system required a $8.95 fee.

I was amazed by the low pay and by the many fees charged to prison inmates. In addition to paying for laundry and various items at the commissary, inmates must pay the cost of their incarceration. Unless exempt, those entering prison starting in and after 1995 are required to pay the Cost of Incarceration Fee (COIF), which, as I understand it, can be the full cost of their incarceration, $24,440 annually on average in 2006 (see pp. 14-15 of this FBP report).

Since 1987, the Inmate Financial Responsibility Program (IFRP) requires that inmates make payments from their earnings to pay off their financial obligations. Inmates may pay a wide variety of fines and fees through their accounts:
  • Cost of Incarceration Fee (COIF)
  • court-ordered restitution (to compensate for significant bodily injury to the victim or for loss/destruction of victim's property; obligation ceases 20 years after the inmate's release from incarceration)
  • court-ordered fines (obligation ceases 20 years after the inmate's release from incarceration)
  • child support
  • alimony
  • student loans
  • Veterans Administration claims
  • tax liabilities, tax liens
  • Freedom of Information/Privacy Act fees (inmates may be assessed fees for making a FOIA request to see their records; all US citizens are entitled to access to their records)
  • legal fees
  • PLRA filing fees (inmates may be assessed fees for filing lawsuits)
  • medical insurance co-payments (FBP Trust Fund Manual, pp. 86-94)
Alexander lists other potential fees:
  • preconviction service fees (jail book-in fees, jail per diems for pretrial detention, public defender application fee, bail investigation fee)
  • postconviction fees (pre-sentence report fees, public defender recoupment fees, fees for residential or work-release programs, monthly parole or probation service fees) (p. 155)
Former inmates must repay their financial obligations, including paying for their own incarceration, long after they have served their time, or else they return to prison. Alexander argues that this system of indebtedness locks people into permanent marginalization:
This harsh reality harks back to the days after the Civil War, when former slaves and their descendents were arrested for minor violations, slapped with heavy fines, and then imprisoned until they could pay their debts. The only means to pay off their debts was through labor on plantations and farms...or in prisons that had been converted to work farms. Paid next to nothing, convicts were effectively enslaved in perpetuity (pp. 156-157).
Politicians from both parties can easily be "tough on crime," while creating an impossible situation for millions of US citizens and residents. Last year, the Post reported that 46% of formerly incarcerated DC residents surveyed were unemployed and about 60,000 DC residents have criminal records. Each year, many return to prison or jail. How many Ward 6 residents are in this debtors' prison? 

P.S. Let me know if there are other fees or fines that might be withdrawn from inmate's accounts, etc. 
P.P.S. See my previous post "Solitary Confinement, Video Visiting, and Ward 6."

(1) 16% of work-eligible inmates work in a Federal Prison Industries factory, where they can make up to $1.15 per hour.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Who was Arthur Capper?

Arthur Capper public housing was open from 1958 to 2005 right across the freeway from Garfield Park in Ward 6. Who was Arthur Capper?

Arthur Capper was born on July 14, 1865 into a family of slavery abolitionists. His father, Herbert, had moved to Kansas "to provide one more vote" for the abolition of slavery (Socolofsky, p. 1). Herbert was a radical Republican, meaning at that time that he actively fought against slavery and for radical social change. Herbert married Isabella McGrew, daughter of "the fighting Quaker" Simon B. McGrew, who, it is said, was against violence and war but kept guns for defense against pro-slavery militants. Arthur Capper married Florence Crawford, the daughter of Kansas Governor Samuel Crawford, who as colonel commanded the 2nd Regiment Kansas Volunteer Infantry (Colored).(1) 

Arthur Capper continued his family's traditions. Capper was the first President of the Topeka branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and on the national board of the NAACP for over 30 years (Leon Graves)

Capper had a great influence on the city Washington, DC. Capper worked as a journalist and then as a newspaper publisher before becoming a politician. In Kansas, he fought "boss rule" and became the state governor. In 1919, he left for DC to take on his role as senator. Upon his arrival in the Senate, he was immediately put on the District of Columbia Committee. By his second term, Capper was considered an unofficial "mayor of Washington" (Socolofsky, p. 146). I don't know what DC residents thought of him at the time, but "Capper was one of the most popular senators of his time. It was said that he received more personal mail than any member of Congress" (Shideler, p. 49). He was a senator for five terms. 

Capper was also a long-time supporter of cooperatives. Upon his arrival in DC, Capper submitted a Senate bill (S. 3066) to allow the formation and incorporation of cooperation in DC itself. In 33 U.S. states, special laws facilitated cooperative institutions, but DC did not yet have such laws. Capper had hoped that Congress would allow DC residents to create cooperatives functioning according to Rochdale Principles. In the 1920s, he also called for legislation to "curb profiteering" (Socolofsky, p. 149). As a member of the Farm Bloc, he successfully sponsored the Capper-Volstead Act of 1922 and later acts legalizing cooperative marketing and producers' associations. These laws allowed farmers to form cooperatives to market their own goods, rather than being at the whim of larger corporate distributors. According to USDA (p. 20), by 2000, there were over 3,000 agricultural cooperatives in the United States. (2)

Arthur Capper died in 1951. Capper had helped sponsor the legislation, which created DC's public housing authority, the National Capital Housing Authority (NCHA). To honor Capper, the NCHA named one of its first new public housing projects after him. The significance of this naming becomes apparent when we recognize that across the freeway Ellen Wilson public housing already existed. Ellen Wilson public housing was named after the wife of Woodrow Wilson, who had segregated the federal government in DC. Ellen Wilson public housing was built for white residents. Thus, using Arthur Capper's name signified a different kind of politics, a politics against segregation, slavery, and racism. 

Interestingly, Arthur Capper remained influential in the public housing project long after his death. Arthur Capper public housing created one of the nation's first food cooperatives in a public housing project. The MLK Co-op Food Store opened in 1970 at the Arthur Capper Community Recreation Center (5th and K SE), after functioning as a food-buying club for 18 months. The main organizer of the food co-op was Beatrice Gray. The store was managed by Raymond Sadler. The Board of Directors was chaired by Marie Nolan, with the following other members: Annie B. Jewell (vice-chairman), Addie May Harper (treasurer), Parline Cole (assistant treasurer), Sandra Hester (secretary), Barbara Wilson (assistant secretary), and Nathaniel Graham. They hoped to make the MLK co-op Food Store a model for all NCHA projects. The Urban Law Institute provided legal assistance. Giant, Safeway, Greenbelt cooperatives, and some churches provided management and financial capital. The MLK Co-op Food Store was run by Arthur Capper Consumer Federation, Inc. Arthur Capper influenced Ward 6 in a wide variety of ways.

(1) This was an all black unit with white officers (like Samuel Crawford) founded in 1863, after Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation allowed black military service. Many blacks served in Kansas, the Carolinas, and elsewhere "illegally" well before that. The term "colored" was the official term in the 1860s.
(2) The USDA voiced concerns about the consolidation of farming cooperatives: "Just 200,000 farmers now do essentially what 7 million did 50 years ago: feed and clothe our nation and much of the rest of the world. Cooperatives have also consolidated during those years. In 1950, USDA reported that 10,035 farmer marketing and farm supply cooperatives had $8.7 billion in sales. By 2000, the number of farmer cooperatives had fallen to 3,346 while total net business volume jumped to nearly $100 billion" (p. 20). 

Sources: Homer Edward Socolofsky. 1962. Arthur Capper: Publisher, Politician, and Philanthropist. Lawrence: University of Kansas Press; Announcement of talk by Leon Graves on Arthur Capper; James H. Shideler. 1963. Book Review of Arthur Capper: Publisher, Politician, and Philanthropist, Agricultural History 37(1): 49; US Senate. 1919. "Incorporation of cooperative associations in the District of Columbia," Washington, DC: The Government Printing Office; USDA, "Agricultural Cooperatives in the 21st Century"; "Food Co-op at Capper Housing," DC Gazette, Feb. 1970, p. 3.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Solitary Confinement, Video Visiting, and Ward 6

The Post published its own editorial against solitary confinement yesterday and published a letter to the editor further criticizing the practice today. Both document the grave consequences of solitary confinement on individuals and on society. Here in DC, WPFW has an interesting radio show called "Crossroads," which talks about prisons and criminal justice more generally from the perspective of the formerly incarcerated. The perspective on this show is quite unique. I have taken sections from a show on "video visiting," which is replacing in-person visits to prisoners mediated by phones and plexiglass with off-site visits mediated by video. The show very critically discusses this new system at the DC Jail and elsewhere in the country because it makes it difficult for families to maintain a connection with their relative who is in jail/prison and to keep an eye on their relative's health and mental states. The show also turns to solitary confinement. The perspective from prisoners' family members who call in and from the formerly incarcerated is quite illuminating. Below is one section from this show and then a much shorter clip from the same show in which the radio program host gives his personal view:

A more recent "Crossroads" show discussed the Visitors' Services Center, located right here in Ward 6 on 1422 Massachusetts Avenue SE. They provide help to prisoners and their families, in a wide variety of ways, including:
Bedtime Stories for Children

Call on us to have a bedtime story recorded for your children. We provide the recorder, the tape and a selection of books to the inmate mom or dad - or your can supply your favorite story to us to be read. The story will be sent to you immediately after it is recorded.
They are looking for further help from locals. How many Ward 6 residents are or have been in jail/prison? What are their and their families' concerns? How might their concerns differ from those who have had little personal connection with the prison system?

P.S. The radio show on video visiting mentioned the following book: The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Ohio State University law professor Michelle Alexander. I talk about her book in my new post "The Impossible Debts of Inmates."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Arthur Capper Reunion

Yesterday, in Garfield Park (2nd and G St SE), I spent the afternoon at the annual reunion of the former residents of Arthur Capper public housing. It was a great party. Hundreds of people, young and old; great music (including several musical groups, see photo); lots of food. As I mentioned in a previous post, this reunion is just one of many activities they have throughout the year. Many of these activities happen in Garfield Park since Arthur Capper (also know as Cappers) was located just on the other side of the freeway.

When I asked people where they lived before moving to Cappers, I noticed that many people's families had been forced to move several times around the city. Some of their grandparents had lived in Georgetown, where gentrification in the 1930s and through the 1950s forced African Americans out. Many others had parents or grandparents who had lived in the thousands of houses demolished between 1954 and 1965 by urban renewal in Southwest DC (see my previous post). The census data over the decades shows a substantial decrease in the number of African Americans in SW, here from over 9,000 in 1950 to just over 2,000 in 1970:

Census Tract 60

%Black #Black %White#White
1950 94.9% 9,071 5.0% 474
1960 62.2% 1,056 37.3%633
1970 (60.1) 24.5% 987 74.3%2,933
1970 (60.2) 100% 1,084 0.0% 0

(By 1970, some of the census tracts were split in two (60.1 and 60.2).) You can see another decrease in the number of African Americans in this tract from over 3,000 to under 1,700:

Census Tract 63

%Black #Black %White#White
1950 58.2% 3,174 41.3% 2,250
1960 64.2% 1,514 35.1%829
1970 (63.1) 39.5% 1,652 60.1%2,515
1970 (63.2) 6.4% 16 93.6% 235

Over time, census tract 64 stayed about the same with over 90% African Americans, while census tracts 61 (2,267 to 388) and 62 (1,752 to 109) decreased substantially. (You can find a census tract map below, which has more info if you click on: View Ward 6 Census Tract Map in a larger map).  The lucky ones made it into public housing, since there was very little available affordable housing, especially for African Americans. Georgetown and SW were no longer an option, and Capitol Hill has been gentrifying since at least the 1960s, so people could possibly find housing in the Eastern parts of Capitol Hill. In addition to those who came from Georgetown and SW, I talked with two people who had lived in row houses on Capitol Hill, which were then demolished, in the case of one person, to make way for the 295 freeway and, in the case of the other, for public housing.

The majority of people I talked with, however, moved out of Cappers well before it closed, when they became adults in the 1970s and 1980s and got their own places elsewhere in the area or in the country. However, as one man expressed the general feeling: I moved out, but I never left. Everyone talked about visiting regularly, visiting "home" and "family."

When Cappers closed, people were forced to move again. Very few have been allowed to move back into new Capitol Quarter development because of the quite high income requirements and other restrictions. I met two women who had moved back. One of them was quite excited about her place. One senior had just moved back, many years after Cappers had closed. People were dispersed around the area and elsewhere. For example, one young woman told me that she now lives in a "rough area" of Ward 8 and hopes to move elsewhere.

In the face of repeated displacement, the former residents of Cappers continue to talk about Cappers as their "family" and about the importance of "togetherness" and "community." They are still building community now at Garfield Park.

View Ward 6 Census Tract Map in a larger map

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Art of Gentrification (II)

Social scientists are concerned about gentrification because it usually means displacement of lower-income residents. When displaced, the now former residents do not get to experience the potential benefits of gentrification. A while back, the City Paper published "A Guide for the Responsible D.C. Gentrifier." The main takeaways were that one should be friendly and respectful of one's neighbors and one shouldn't worry about being a gentrifier because gentrification is inevitable. Yes, it is usually a good idea to be friendly and respectful to neighbors, but the inevitable is usually a problem for sociologists. We are always creating the world in which we live, so nothing is inevitable. Usually, what seems to be inevitable in society is in fact the not-at-all inevitable outcome of power struggles.

Around the world, people struggle over the control of cities, who has a right to be, live, and work in different spaces. Many scholars have shown that city governments have actively sought to lure high-income residents and displace low-income residents in part because these high-income residents can pay more taxes and support a more expensive, service-based urban economy. As Brooklyn College sociology professor Sharon Zukin argues, the arts and historical preservation have been coopted by patrician elites, financial capital, and middle-class homeowners to support this class shift in cities. CUNY geographer Neil Smith has further argued that cities and their more wealthy residents have, in fact, taken on a vengeful attitude, seeking to take back the city after abandoning it for the suburbs in the 1950s/1960s and to punish the poor. In a previous post, I asked if CHAW was siding with banks and real estate firms that encourage gentrification maybe even of a vengeful sort or might it take other sides in the struggle over the right to the city. I wrote this with the deepest gratitude to CHAW for teaching me to draw and paint, as well as for bringing me into their wonderful community.

In the 1980s, a non-profit director in NY's Lower East Side challenged the wealthy's right to the city:
The basic issue is who owns that land. By 'own' I mean in the very real sense, morally. And we believe that that land belongs to the poor, literally, in every way, legally, morally. It belongs to the people. Because they were the people who struggled when nobody else wanted the Lower East Side. ("The Fine Art of Gentrification")
In Ward 6, many people including the poor stayed around and created a vibrant city life that continues to draw people to the area. How might we stop displacement and realize -- in the words of DC's own Chester Hartman -- the "right to stay put"?