Thursday, September 29, 2011

Hawk & Dove, Race, and Class (II)

The new Hawk & Dove will open with "a locally-sourced, seasonal bistro menu prepared in an open kitchen." While it did not have to happen this way, the turn to local food has in fact driven out the local, in this case the local working class and the other local residents who patronized the Hawk & Dove. Hawk & Dove also regularly provided affordable or discounted meals to the homeless and poor in the neighborhood. Similarly, and equally unnecessarily, historical preservation has been more about preserving buildings than about preserving people. Interestingly, my neighbor Thom appealed to the ANC and the Historic Preservation Review Board to preserve not the Hine school building (at 8th and Pennsylvania Ave SE) but the educational heritage of the Hine site -- the culture of children and learning that had been embedded in the schools at that site and in the community since the Civil War. (See the comments section here). According to the HPRB,

Historic preservation safeguards the District of Columbia’s cultural heritage, supports the local economy, and fosters civic pride in the city’s beauty and history.

Thom was not successful. A relatively autonomous, local children's culture is in the process of being lost.

Hawk & Dove, Race, and Class

Many identify gentrification as whites moving out blacks. While one has to recognize the role that race plays in gentrification, the key feature of gentrification is the replacement of a less affluent group by a wealthier social group. Back in March, the Washington City Paper published "Confessions of a Black Gentrifier." Black gentrification has been going on for some time around the country, as discussed by sociologists such as Mary Pattillo and Michelle Boyd about Chicago and by numerous scholars about Harlem. Generally, however, the displacement of the less affluent and the shift in class composition are the defining features of gentrification. DC has had a working class including white and black residents. Even though gentrification has moved the working class outside of the District, DC's working class world continues in various forms today.

On Saturday, after being in business for over 40 years, the Hawk & Dove will close. The new Hawk & Dove will open with "a locally-sourced, seasonal bistro menu prepared in an open kitchen." A couple of days ago, I was sitting at the Hawk & Dove bar talking with a long-time (white) customer. He regularly comes to the bar as part of his circuit through the city to see his working-class friends at working-class bars. This circuit is shrinking as places like the Hawk & Dove change and working class jobs continue to disappear in DC. Also, those who had those jobs are quite old and are passing away. Yes, there were many working-class jobs around the Navy Yard, the Capitol buildings, and most importantly Foggy Bottom. At Foggy Bottom, according to my "informant," Pepco and Washington Gas employed many people, who regularly patronized Lindy's Red Lion. These jobs are now gone, and the expanding subcontracting of government jobs and the movement of many jobs to the suburbs has further undermined DC's working class world. Yet, there are still working class jobs in DC, such as those in the Capitol buildings, and the working class still patronizes Lindy's Red Lion and Hawk & Dove. What does my informant miss about DC's working class world? Those who live in all the new condos don't know their neighbors. The working class knew their working-class friends throughout the city. On Saturday, bid farewell to Hawk & Dove, but also keep an eye on the working-class networks that remain.

P.S. Thanks to Alex B's comments, I'll suggest that the current Hawk & Dove is a (at least partially) cross-class institution, unlike Senart's and Chesapeake Room nearby and owned by the new Hawk & Dove owner. Such cross-class institutions are difficult to create because they must be affordable and open/comfortable to a broad range of people. The interns who frequent the Hawk & Dove are usually working for free and have more in common with the precariat (see video interviewing the precariat) -- precarious work is temporary, informal, often unpaid or poorly paid, uncertain, insecure -- than with the proletariat.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

DC Studies

For those of you interested in DC Studies, I just want to recommend H-DC, the Washington, DC History Network. I subscribe to their listserv, which has great info about the history of DC. For example, H-DC told me about the upcoming DC Historical Studies Conference. The conference will take place in downtown DC Nov. 3-6, 2011. Their conference website has the schedule of panels and tours. In addition, you email questions about DC to the H-DC editors!

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Our Lives Depend on MLK

On October 16th, the new Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial will be dedicated. Some might think the memorial commemorates how African Americans finally gained rights equal to whites. Others might think that the memorial represents the special interests of African Americans and their immoral claim to special rights. In contrast to these views, historians, anthropologists, and sociologists have shown that the African American struggle for rights, within which Martin Luther King, Jr. worked, created the very rights that all American citizens enjoy. The African American struggle for rights works within a social life that produces the neighborliness and community that many of us cherish in DC. Here are some of the points made by scholars:
  • In her work on DC during and after the Civil War, Northwestern University historian Kate Masur has shown that the African American fight for equality created positive rights. Most importantly, the 14th Amendment both granted citizenship to recently freed slaves and declared that all laws applied to everyone. Earlier, different people had different privileges and rights in different spaces. The 14th Amendment created nation-wide citizenship rights. At this time, the African Americans also forged parents’ rights to their children for all residents. One woman successfully took back her daughter from a white man with a form letter stating, "The wishes of the parent and child are both to be considered before those of any third party and all the rights of the family must be recognized and respected among these people the same as among the whites" (p. 76). Thus African Americans’ demands for specific, concrete rights helped the nation to move beyond the past system of special group privileges to our current system of universal rights and national citizenship.
  • American University anthropologist Brett Williams found in her study of Mt. Pleasant that residents' class cultures lead them to see and use the neighborhood in different ways. Older, mainly African American renters and homeowners develop deep, local ties on a daily basis, teaching their children "to greet and joke with shopkeepers, bus drivers, and people on the learn details, nicknames, reputations, stories, and histories" and regularly visiting the same local businesses and people. In contrast, the newer, often white homeowners have a more cosmopolitan engagement, "believing in breadth rather than density and a quest for variety rather than repetition." They take their children across the city to schools, playgrounds, soccer games, and dance classes. Many African American renters excuse the new neighbors' ignorance of local street life and appreciate their contribution of "volunteer time, money, and knowledge to neighborhood activities," but the new neighbors "for the most part do not reciprocate this goodwill; their feelings seem to vary from indifference to tolerance or compassion to vague unease or active dislike." Brett Williams advocates a politics grounded in density and repetition:
"Ultimately, many white middle-class people who want to reclaim a piece of the vibrant central city for themselves are going to have to change. They need to learn from the cultural world built by those who preceded them: they need to develop some of the same skills as they try to look inward. In the summer of 1986, after a long seclusion, I was confronted by one of the men on the street: "Where the hell have you been? You never come up here anymore; you don't even associate with the people in the neighborhood." Half joking, he was almost chiding me about what was supposed to be almost a job. If we are to preserve variety in our cities, I believe that those of us who want to live in such areas have to take on that job, which is first of all the world of culture, and then we must try to link that cultural stand to broader, but also deeper, denser, more textured, repetitive, and rooted political action."
  • In his How Racism Takes Place, UCSB sociologist George Lipsitz writes about racial segregation that we also see in Ward 6 and argues, "the actual long-term interests of whites are often damaged by spatial relations that purportedly benefit them, while Black negotiations with the constraints and confinements of racialized space often produce ways of envisioning and enacting more decent, dignified, humane, and egalitarian social relations for everyone."
The Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial commemorates African American struggles over the centuries that have created our universal rights and the continuing movement to realize the vision of a more decent, dignified, humane, and egalitarian world. We all depend on this movement.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

New Book on U St.

Urban historian Amber N. Wiley has written a great review of Blair Ruble's Washington's U Street. Ruble, who directs the world-famous Kennan Institute and the Comparative Urban Studies Project at the Woodrow Wilson Center downtown, explores U St as a "Contact Zone" and DC as an ambiguous place " by virtue of its function as the seat of the federal government and geographical location between North and South." One particularly interesting part of the review:
Ruble situates Washington within a network of three cities that include St. Louis and Baltimore that had a black population consisting of a majority of free blacks by the outbreak of the Civil War. Contraband camps set up during the Civil War and the creation of the Freedmen’s Bureau also added to the early important presence of blacks in the city. Ruble therefore refutes the idea that Washington became an important center of African American life only beginning in the early twentieth century. This point is significant to Ruble and other scholars of Washington history such as James Borchert, Kathleen Lesko, Valerie Babb, and Carroll R. Gibbs because it emphasizes the contributions of free and enslaved African Americans to early life in the republic.
I'll be talking more about this point in an upcoming post.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Updated DC Cooperative Map

I have added a few more cooperatives to this map. I'll have to add the limited-equity housing cooperatives when I get their exact addresses. Let me know any other cooperatives or organizations that assist cooperatives in town.

View DC Cooperatives in a larger map

P.S. [6/6/2012] See the Co-op Directory and Co-op DC Group.

Gentrification is Global

Gentrification is happening worldwide, as cities around the world seek to survive and grow in the global economy. Global finance invests in our local restaurants and development projects, as well as those in other cities, globalizing gentrification. In studies of this process in different locations around the world, we can see common trends. Writing about European gentrification two years ago, Berg, Kaminer, Schoonderbeek, and Zonnevelt found:
Even though population movement is a common feature of cities, gentrification is specifically the replacement of a less affluent group by a wealthier social group -- a definition which relates gentrification to class. Whether a result of city council policies or real estate pressures, gentrification stands in contrast to earlier attempts to improve deprived neighbourhoods by addressing the built environment, the central objective of urban renewal up until the 1970s. More recently, the betterment of deprived neighbourhoods has taken a completely different form as the improvement of living conditions is no longer considered the task of the state ('to enlighten the masses'), but rather a side effect of the development and emancipation of the higher and middle classes. The state seems to have acknowledged its inability to influence the welfare of its residents directly and has left that task to the workings of the supposedly objective agency of the market. Gentrification has become a means of solving social malaise, not by providing solutions to unemployment, poverty, or broken homes, but by transferring the problem elsewhere, out of sight, and consequently also geographically marginalising the urban poor and ensuring their economic location and political irrelevance.
Through HOPE VI, several DC public housing projects -- like Ward 6's Capper-Carrollsburg -- were dismantled and the residents dispersed. Likely, they were given vouchers, a market-based program in which the voucher holder pays 30% of their income and the rest of the rent is paid by the government. Those who know my research will know that I do not think that markets are necessarily a problem, specific institutions around them are. Several years back, John M. Hartung of HUD and Jeffrey R. Henig, GWU political science professor, looked at the DC-area distribution of those using vouchers. They found that those "with vouchers and certificates most highly concentrated in tracts with residents having a low socioeconomic status (tracts with a higher percentage of persons 25 years of age or older who have no more than a ninth-grade education) and where there is an ample supply of affordable rental forces cannot be counted upon to spontaneously generate socially desirable ends." It seems that the deconcentration of the poor may have led merely to its reconcentration elsewhere, marginalized outside the center of the city, its amenities (like Metro and jobs), and access to political influence. Who instead benefited from this program? Have they benefited globally?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Decline of Rental Housing in Ward 6 and DC

As the Post reported yesterday, the number of people in poverty has increased to one in six. In DC, one in five live in poverty. As far as I can tell, the new Census data made available on Tuesday does not yet provide poverty data at the census tract level, but it does provide rental housing data. Those living in poverty in DC live predominantly in rentals. Also, many other DC residents and long-term visitors also live in rentals.

Citywide, in the past ten years, our population increased by nearly 30,000 people and the number of renter-occupied units increased by about 7,000 units. The proportion of renter-occupied units has not kept up with our population growth. Percentage-wise, there are more owner-occupied units in 2010 than in 2000. However, the Census does not yet provide us with data on how much these renters pay for these units or their income levels. Therefore, we don't know whether these new rentals are predominantly high end. In 2000, about 700 households lived in the Capper and Carrollsburg public housing in census tract 72, which has been dismantled and replaced by Capitol Quarter houses, condos, and apartments with only 39 units available to individuals or families making $30,050 or less (0-30% AMI), aside from the 162 senior units. Therefore, the majority of the new units citywide are not likely for those living in poverty.

In Ward 6, the poverty rate has been steady at about 20% for the past 30 years. The population of Ward 6 has increased by about 8,000 people over the past 10 years, so the number of people living in poverty has increased. The table below lists some of the Ward 6 census tracts. (To see where these census tracts are, see this map.) The bolded items represent areas with decreasing numbers or percentages of renter-occupied units. The wealthiest census tract in Ward 6, number 67, lost nearly 40 renter-occupied units. The poorest census tract in Ward 6, number 71, gained 4.

Renter-Occupied Housing Units

2000 (%) 2000 (#)2010 (%)2010 (#)
Census Tract 67 42.2% 79340.4%754
Census Tract 71 69.7% 76957.6%773
Census Tract 6485.6%82383.8%819
Census Tract 7296.6%81684%1534
Census Tract 79.0164.9%95164.2%989
Census Tract 80.0133.3%37835.1%451
Census Tract 8148.1%64446.6%677

Many would argue that it is good to increase the number of home-owners in these areas. However, the demand for rentals is ever increasing, especially for affordable units for interns, low-wage workers, etc. The supply of affordable rentals does not meet the demand. This is a nationwide trend. Even more problematic is the conversion of rental properties into owner-occupied properties, which displaces the poor. From the incredibly informative Housing Policy in the United States 2010 textbook, we know that the average nationwide income for those working as elementary school teachers ($49,781), LPN nurses ($38,941), security guards ($29,401), and cashiers ($19,757) would not allow them to buy a house or condo. Of course, many of the new rental units available are far outside the price range of the average hourly wage for those working as LPN nurses ($15.72), security guards ($14.13), janitors ($11.57), and cashiers ($9.50), who are also in poverty. What can be done to stop the decline in affordable rentals?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Give a Call to WPFW

Everyone knows that WPFW 89.3 is a great DC radio station, which has been providing an alternative to mainstream media since 1977. They also speak for DC! Give them a call and donate right now: 202-588-9739 or 1-800-222-9739. Of course, you can also donate online, but thanking the radio station with your own voice is a great thing.

P.S. Also, check out WPFW's fabulous new webpage.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Gentrification Lecture on Tuesday

GWU American Studies Professor Suleiman Osman will be giving a fascinating lecture about trends we also find in Ward 6: gentrification, renovation, and our search for authenticity.

"The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification, Renovation and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar Brooklyn"
Lecture by Suleiman Osman, PhD, George Washington University

The National Trust for Historic Preservation
1785 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

6:30 P.M. – light refreshments, 7:00 P.M. – lecture

Reservations are not required. $10.00 for Latrobe Chapter members, student members (full time) free with ID, $18.00 for non-members.

The gentrification of Brooklyn has been one of the most striking developments in recent urban history. Considered a “blighted” slum by city planners in the 1940s and 1950s, Brownstone Brooklyn by the 1980s had become a landscape of hip bars, yoga studios, and expensively renovated townhouses in new neighborhoods with creative names like “Boerum Hill” and “Carroll Gardens.” In his recently published work The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn, Suleiman Osman locates the origins of gentrification in the cultural upheavals of the 1960s. Starting in Brooklyn Heights in the 1940s, a new urban middle class (or “brownstoners” as they referred to themselves) began to migrate into Brooklyn’s brownstone areas, purchasing and renovating aging townhouses. Where postwar city leaders championed slum clearance and modern architecture, "brownstoners" sought a new romantic urban ideal that celebrated historic buildings, industrial lofts and traditional ethnic neighborhoods as source of authenticity they felt was lacking in new suburbs and downtown skyscrapers. They started new reform democratic organizations, founded block associations and joined forces with long-time residents to battle urban renewal. But as brownstoners migrated into poorer areas, race and class tensions emerged, and by the 1980s, as newspapers parodied yuppies and anti-gentrification activists marched through increasingly expensive neighborhoods, brownstoners debated whether their search for authenticity had been a success or failure.


For general information, please see the Latrobe Chapter website at, or contact Christine Henry at (202)-744-8123 or

Friday, September 9, 2011

Public Housing Residents: Criminalizing the Victims?

I get the sense that some DC residents consider public housing residents 1) criminals, especially when crime occurs around public housing, and 2) the cause of the assumed "failure" of public housing. This is not the picture I get from reading 10 years (1979-1989) of Washington Post reporting on Potomac Gardens and the personal papers of John A. Wilson, DC council member and chair, who worked to improve other Ward 6 (then Ward 2) public housing in the 1980s. I have found that public housing residents not only have been accused of the crimes done against them but also that their decades-long, partially successful efforts to improve their living environments have been forgotten.

Across the nation, federal, state, and city governments had assumed that rents would cover maintenance costs, but this was not the case. In Ward 6, unmaintained public housing projects were without heat (many families used kitchen ovens to heat their apartments) and functioning elevators, had collapsed roofs and ceilings, had broken sewage lines and flooded first floors, and other results of the lack of general maintenance. From 1979, the Marion Barry Administration made renovation of public housing a top priority. Throughout the 1980s, renovations were made through the city, but at a very slow rate, leaving people in horrible conditions. Public housing residents feared for the health and safety of themselves and their children.

The lack of funds also meant a lack of security. Most public housing did not have functioning front doors or fences, which meant that anyone could enter their buildings anytime of day. At the 1200 Delaware Ave, SW building, there was "widespread fear among the tenants. This is apparently due to the fact that the building is totally open at all hours to anyone who wants to enter the building" (JA Wilson Papers, MS2190, Box 25, File 15). These outsiders continually broke all the lights, leaving residents in the dark. In 1988, Greenleaf residents in SW reported:

At Greenleaf, front doors were installed for a brief period last summer, but then removed so they would not be vandalized. Security guards were hired for a brief period, but then left becuase they were unsafe without doors or a guard station...When residents met with Mr. Jackson about this, he said that residents had to take responsibility for reporting drug pushers before the Department would improve security. (JA Wilson papers, MS2190, Box 25, File 17)
The city basically told residents that they would have to deal with the situation themselves. Residents across the city organized themselves. At Greenleaf public housing, a group of residents formed The Committee for the Betterment of 203 N St, SW and organized "Operation Fight Back" to drive out drug dealers in their building through regular resident patrols. A non-profit working with them asked the police for assistance in this terrifying endeavor:

Can we have 24 hour police coverage for at least three weeks -- one week while we are patrolling the halls, and coverage later so there will not be retaliation?

Would four police be possible -- two for the front, two for the back?

Could there be some undercover police?

How can we be sure pushers won't hurt the children of residents who are patrolling? Is there some way the residents who are most active can have a call-in point, where they tell their whereabouts or where they are going?

Is there any special equipment we need? What about walkie-talkies?

What has been the experience of other neighborhoods who have tried to get rid of drugs? How did 14th Street get cleaned up?

What other precautions should we take? (JA Wilson Papers, MS2190, Box 26, File 12)
For those without the money to enter the private apartment market, public housing was all they had. There were thousands on the waiting lists for private apartment vouchers or other options. Yet, public housing is more than just housing. Public housing often provides community and social networks (and social capital) that poor people in particular need to survive. As one Potomac Garden resident told the Washington Post in 1983, "I like it here. I like the people. I don't like the problems. But the people are good people."

Many in the DC government sought to help and were successful in many cases in the late 1980s, but poor residents in general were abandoned to fend for themselves. The residents organized, but a basic level of security and maintenance would have helped them to realize their goals.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Peter Bug, Fellow Sociologist in Ward 6

John "Peter Bug" Matthews is a fifth generation DC resident, an alumnus of Tyler Elementary School, and a great community organizer, founding the Peter Bug Shoe Repair Academy at E and 13th St SE (right near Safeway) and committing himself early on to helping DC youth. You'll learn a lot from the interview of Mr. Matthews done by Destiny-Pride. Here are some items particularly relevant to this blog:
  • Mr. Matthews has a degree in sociology and anthropology from Federal City College, which opened its doors in 1968 and later became part of UDC.
  • Mr. Matthews worked alongside his college friend Carroll "Skeezie" Payne helping kids at Potomac Gardens and at Tyler. As part of the Roving Leaders Program, they sought to engage at-risk youth in constructive activities. This 1989 Post article talks about Potomac Gardens children spending "large chunks of their time visiting with Carroll (Skeezie) Payne, a city housing worker who has become an ex-officio grandfather to many of the youngsters in the project." Mr. Matthews did a lot of work organizing residents of Potomac Gardens, Arthur Capper, and other public housing in Ward 6.
  • Mr. Matthews nearly founded a shoe manufacturing company for Timberland in the area, which only required matching funds that the DC government failed to provide. The failure of this project "was one of the tragedies of the dream that we thought we were going to fulfill."
  • When asked what relaxes him, Mr Matthews said,
You know what really relaxes me? When I can see people having fun. Folks ask, “Man, why do you do all of this [referring to his annual Peter Bug Day]?” I say, because I want to hear folks say, “Man, we had a good time.” I need people. I need to be around people. I can’t stand to be by myself because I might drive my car off a bridge [laughter]. I’ve got to have some people around me. Just to make people feel happy and be proud of themselves – that relaxes me.
Save the Date: Peter Bug Day is the third Saturday in May.