Monday, May 27, 2013

Gentrification and Gentrification and Gentrification

In response to my post on the new Hawk and Dove "Eyesores, Urine Smells, and Gentrification," my neighbor wrote to me, "You do know that the [original] Hawk came with gentrification, right?" and suggested that it had probably replaced another establishment of equal value. This is a great point, and, yes, it is probably true. However, this view presents gentrification as a repeating cycle, like the seasons. Businesses come and go. It is more accurate to look at gentrification as a historical process, which is different in different times, not the same thing happening over and over again. 
Image from the Washington Times.
Gentrification is the displacement of lower-income residents and businesses by higher-income residents and businesses (see "Gentrification in DC"). According to the Washington Times, the Hawk and Dove opened in 1967 and operated for 44 years. The owner Stuart Long likely created a business that catered to the new gentrifiers on Capitol Hill. When Xavier Cervera opened the new Hawk and Dove, he created a business that catered to the new gentrifiers on Capitol Hill. Both versions of the Hawk and Dove were the result of gentrification, but these were very different kinds of gentrification:
  • The U.S. economy in the 1960s was fundamentally different from today's economy. The first Hawk and Dove opened in 1967. In the late 1970s, the U.S. economy began its shift away from production to finance. As some of you might remember, investors from Japan and from the OPEC countries flooded the US economy with investments. As the New York Times reported in 1989: "The Rockefeller Group, the owner of Rockefeller Center, Radio City Music Hall and other mid-Manhattan office buildings, said yesterday that it had sold control of the company to the Mitsubishi Estate Company of Tokyo, one of the world's biggest real estate developers." 
With deregulation in financial markets, wealthy individuals and corporations found that they could make more money in financial investments than in the production of goods. This resulted in "financialization": "the tendency for profit making in the economy to occur increasingly through financial channels rather than through productive activities" (Greta Kripper's excellent 2011 Capitalizing on Crisis, p. 4). With fewer investments in production, the U.S. economy has fewer well-paying working class jobs, which has increased inequalities in DC and decreased the buying power of the working class.

This new economy creates a historically new kind of gentrification. For example, Xavier Cervera, the owner of the new Hawk and Dove, has sold his restaurants to a Boston equity firm, an investment company "experienced in the restaurant business and seeking to enter the Washington market" (reported by Larry Janezich). While the old Hawk and Dove sought to make money and be a community bar, the new owners of the Hawk and Dove are an investment firm, seeking primarily to make profits for their investors. The owners are also not in the neighborhood, but rather in another city or in another country. Does that have any impact on the business? (see below)

Image from Sitephocus.
  • The most recent version of gentrification has moved away from preserving buildings or sometimes preserving communities to "new build" -- the destruction of the old and the creation of entirely new "communities." We can see this new form of gentrification in the nearly complete reconstruction of the area around the Nats stadium (see image to the right). Such gentrification happens in the name of Jane Jacobs' call for density and community, but very much contradicts her spirit.
  • Even if destruction had happened before, it doesn't mean that it is right to force the destruction of a community yet another time. As the Washington Times reported, the change was forced on Hawk and Dove: "Stuart Long didn't want it to end this way." According to “I lost my lease,” says owner Stuart Long. “They’ve leased the premises out to somebody else.” “I’ve been here 44 years,” he says. “I tried to make 50, but I didn’t make it.” The owners of the building leased the new building to Xavier Cervera who could pay more. Who decides which business is there? Maybe if they had more time, the Hawk and Dove staff could have bought the place? 
  • The old Hawk and Dove had created a rare product: an inclusive bar. People continually repeat that the Hawk and Dove brought together a wide variety of people: "where congressmen and clerks, lawyers and foremen, college students and pensioners rub elbows daily while sipping beers and munching burgers" (Washington Times). A Hawk regular since 1976 told the Washington Times: “It’s like family here, it’s more than just friends … great bartenders, great company, smart people, interesting people.” People said that they felt comfortable there. The working class still hung out there. Affordability had something to do with this, but also the world created by the staff and the customers played an essential role. 
It's easy for those not tied to the Hawk and Dove to say, well, change is inevitable, businesses come and go. An inclusive community bar is rare, social product. A kind of product that Capitol Hill was particularly good at creating. We also have Mr. Henry's and Tune Inn. What if the 1960s provided the conditions for the old Hawk and Dove and Mr. Henry's to create cross-class social worlds fundamentally different from today's expanding, exclusive class worlds? Or did people in the 1960s and 1970s force these restaurants to be inclusive? Or did they continue to exclude certain groups? Who gets to decide to destroy a cross-class world? A Boston equity firm? Are there new cross-class worlds?

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