Thursday, December 27, 2012

Our Neighbor Terry Huff (II)

As discussed in a previous post, Terry Huff began his musical career singing on the corner of 15th Street and Independence Avenue SE with his brothers. Here is the flyer for the concert in his honor, titled “Special Delivery for Terry Huff: His Life, His Love, His Legacy of Music.” The event will take place on Jan. 4 at the Hampton Conference Center in District Heights, MD. It promises to be a wonderful event.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wikipedia and Community History: Potomac Gardens

Today, I took a look at the Wikipedia page for Potomac Gardens. I made some additions to the page, which has changed the nature of the page. Below, I have pasted in my recreation of the page as I saw it this morning. The existing page surprised me because it focused exclusively on 1) the potential replacement of the buildings either with Marine barracks or mixed-income housing and 2) crime in the area (under the only category of "Incidents"). There was no discussion of what life might be like in Potomac Gardens, as well as no mention of people important to the community, significant sites within the property, or important events or activities. There was also no discussion of how life in Potomac Gardens may have changed over time. In general, the page seemed to be written from the point of view of people unconnected with those living in Potomac Gardens. Yes, those living inside and outside Potomac Gardens have a great interest in the potential redevelopment plans, but the page does not capture much about Potomac Gardens. Without knowledge of the life within Potomac Gardens, it becomes very easy to argue that Potomac Gardens should be dismantled, since it appears to have no value or significance.

The current Potomac Gardens page reflects my changes. I hope that those with real knowledge of the history and life of Potomac Gardens can make the page truly reflect Potomac Gardens. Specifically, I added the "Social and Cultural Life" section and then put much of the discussion of the potential redevelopment in a separate section called "The Buildings." I moved the discussion of the fence out of the "Incidents" section because it was more about "The Buildings." Anyone can edit any page, which is the great gift of Wikipedia. So, I encourage everyone to edit such pages and create a living community history.

Potomac Gardens 

[the Wiki page as I found it]

Potomac Gardens is a housing project on Capitol Hill in Southeast Washington, D.C., thirteen blocks Southeast of the U.S. Capitol Building. The property is owned by the D.C. Housing Authority. The project was constructed between 1957 and 1968 in a now outdated model of public housing design, the buildings are conspicuous and isolated from the neighborhood context.[2]

The 2006 DC budget included funding for "A joint venture redevelopment between DCHA and a private developer to do a one-for-one replacement of 510 units of public housing located in the present Potomac Gardens and Hopkins Plaza developments. The proposed redevelopment will be a mixed income rental and home ownership containing 510 replacements units out of a total 1,230 units located on the two public housing sites and in the adjoining neighborhood."

There has also been speculation that the housing project would be redeveloped using Hope IV funding to create mixed-income housing. A detailed plan by University of Pennsylvania School of Design was proposed in 2010 called Choice Neighborhoods Washington, DC.[2] On June 7, 2012, DC Housing Authority issued a statement on potential redevelopment of the housing project, stating "We considered several sites for our HUD HOPE VI applications. We chose Capper/Carrollsburg, which was selected and received a HOPE VI grant for $34.9M. We do not have plans to redevelop Potomac Gardens at this time."

Other speculation has circulated that Potomac Gardens was slated to be sold for use as additional Marine barracks, as the location is one of only a few locations meeting the criteria set forth by the Marines.[5]

Jesse Jackson used the project as a backdrop for a press conference to announce he wouldn’t run for president in 1992, calling it “the urban crisis personified, the epitome of national neglect.”[6]

Former White House aide Oliver North performed some of his court-ordered, 1,200 hours of community service there before his Iran-Contra conviction was overturned.[6]


In 1991, a fence was installed, requiring 45 police officers to quell a violent negative reaction. In 1995, Marion Barry’s administration hired the Nation of Islam on an emergency contract to restore order.[7]

In June 2010, fifteen individuals were arrested, according to a joint press release issued in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney’s office, the MPD, the FBI and the U.S. Park Police, who all worked together on the arrests as part of a long-term a task force combating gangs, drugs and violence. The bust yielded heroin, cocaine, guns, scales and other drug trafficking paraphernalia and was described as significant by the MPD1 Commander David Kamperin.[8]

In November 2011, a series of violent attacks in the area surrounding the project drew widespread media attention and a response from DC Police Chief Cathy Lanier.[9]


Additional sources

  • Washington Post: Potomac Gardens, Jan. 10, 1992 – “Police Seize AK-47 Rifle in Southeast Arrest; Man Also Had Pistol, 37 Bags of Cocaine”
  • Washington Post: Potomac Gardens, Sept. 20 1991 – “Man Slain in Complex in Southeast; Residents Witness Morning
  • Washington Post: Potomac Gardens, Jan. 19, 1991 – “Youth, 14, Charged in Hill Slaying. Lawyer Was Killed in Car at Light.”

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Holiday Greetings to our Neighbors at Potomac Gardens

A while back, I wrote a post about Potomac Gardens, a public housing project at 1225 G Street, SE. It is one of the remaining public housing projects in the city. Scholars are now realizing how important public housing is to the overall system of housing and to social and cultural life. We should not destroy public housing and turn it into mixed-income housing. I'll talk more about this in upcoming posts. Just wanted to hint at the fact that public housing is so important for people. Yesterday, I received this comment on my post:
I love the Gardenz. aka Magic City. even though i dont live there keep them up!!!!
Many people say that they *love* public housing! Magic City -- why is it called that? What is the magic of public housing? Warm holiday greetings to our neighbors living in Potomac Gardens and in public housing everywhere, as well as those who have been displaced from public housing in Ward 6 and everywhere.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Our Neighbor Terry Huff

Washington City Paper photo
The Washington City Paper announced that local singer-songwriter Terry Huff -- with D.C. soul hits “I Destroyed Your Love” and “The Lonely One” -- passed away last week: "Born Oct. 16, 1947, the ninth child of 18, Huff began his musical career harmonizing on the corner of 15th Street and Independence Avenue SE with his brothers." Yes, singing in street corner groups was a great Ward 6 tradition.  As I mentioned in a previous blog post, the Arthur Capper Public Housing Project "organized an enormous music scene. Well, there were already male singing groups that regularly met, maybe everyday, on every corner of Arthur Capper to sing Motown, such as the Dells, and R&B."

There will be several fundraisers to help pay for his funeral. The wonderful Peter Bug will be organizing one of these: 
Peter Bug, proprietor of the Peter Bug Leather & Shoe Training Academy at 13th and E streets SE, is planning a block party to raise money for the funeral, while John Sharpe is organizing a big-name concert, titled “Special Delivery for Terry Huff: His Life, His Love, His Legacy of Music.” The event will take place on Jan. 4 at the Hampton Conference Center in District Heights, Md. Confirmed acts include Al Johnson, Skip Mahoney, Sarah Dash, Diz Russell and the Orioles, The New Era, as well as surviving members of The Winstons and The Choice Four.  (Washington City Paper)

Friday, December 21, 2012

Eliot Hine Middle School Radio Station

Eliot Hine Middle School is the successor of Hine Junior High. The combined school @1830 Constitution Avenue NE now has a radio station!

P.S. It seems that the radio station has been taken down, but you can still hear their interview with Members of Congress Eleanor Holmes Norton and John Lewis.

Friday, November 30, 2012

The Poor are Too Expensive

Back in September at a friend's outdoor dinner party, I talked with someone at affordable housing company. Here are my notes:
Last night, conversation with X who works at a private company working with cities on mixed-income affordable housing. Her point was that it was too expensive to house the poor.
It is true that mixed-income affordable housing does not really house the poor. For example, a new residential complex could have 158 units with 112 units sold at market rate and the following affordable units: 

units for those making less than $32,250
5 units

units for those making less than $64,500
29 units

units for those making less than $86,000 12 units

It is quite easy to work full-time and make less than $32,250. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics data on DC-area average wages, a household with one breadwinner can easily be in poverty working full-time at the following jobs:
  • Barber/Salon Shampooers $19,390
  • Fast-Food Cook $19,660
  • Dishwasher $20,600
  • Cashiers $21,780
  • Food Preparation Workers $22,510
  • Child Care Workers $23,980
  • Janitor $25,480
  • Hotel Desk Clerk $26,190
  • Bank Tellers $28,410
Since many people working these jobs make an hourly wage and not the full-time salaries listed above, households with two breadwinners also could be making less than $30,000. A janitor working full-time could afford to pay $541/month in rent (30% of their monthly post-tax income).

Yet, these low-wage service workers are absolutely essential to global cities like DC. Highly and not-so-highly paid professional rely on these low-wage service workers. We live in a society that has no place for the poor and, at the same time, completely depends on the poor. The private and public sectors do provide housing to those who can pay market rate, but somehow the poor are too expensive?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Contributions of Public Housing

Someone recently sent me this post "Home of The Supremes & First Black Public Housing Complex to be Demolished in Detroit" by Duke University Professor of African & African American Studies Mark Anthony Neal. In Detroit, the Brewster-Douglass public housing project was closed in 2008 and is now being redeveloped. In this article, the Mayor of Detroit is quoted as saying: 
The former Brewster-Douglass complex has a proud place in Detroit’s rich history, as the nation’s first federal housing project for African Americans; as the place where Joe Louis learned to box; and where Diana Ross, Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard formed the Supremes.
Yet, the emergence of great musicians and athletes from the Brewster-Douglas public housing project in Detroit was not a fluke. I suggest that, across the country, public housing projects produced many great musicians and athletes, as well as many other professionals. Why? And why is this not generally recognized?

I base my argument on what I have learned from the oral histories that I am conducting with former residents of Ward 6's Arthur Capper public housing project. The MLK Library's Washingtoniana Division is now processing the first batch of these oral histories, and the public will be able to listen to these oral histories any day of the week.

During a recent interview, I asked one of the former residents why she thought that Arthur Capper changed for the worse in the mid-1980s. Those I have interviewed so far have stated emphatically that it was wonderful growing up in Arthur Capper during the 1960s and 1970s. So, what had changed? She said that 1) in the early 1980s, DC Park and Recreation dramatically cut the funding to the Arthur Capper Recreation Center and 2) in the early 1980s (1981 to be exact), one of the main employers in the area, the Washington Star, went out of business.

The Arthur Capper Recreation Center, probably like other public housing recreation centers, was an amazing source of activities that not only occupied the time of children, but developed their skills. The rec center had coaches for the boys sports teams and girls sports teams, which practiced seemingly everyday. These teams regularly competed with teams at other public housing projects, especially Greenleaf in Southwest. These were seriously competitive games that brought out people from across the city. From all this practice, these children turned out to be some of the best athletes in the city.

The rec center also organized an enormous music scene. Well, there were already male singing groups that regularly met, maybe everyday, on every corner of Arthur Capper to sing Motown, such as the Dells, and R&B. Then, in the early 1970s, Arthur Capper had numerous soul/R&B bands, including Free Form Experience (definitely listen to this), Redds and The Boys (who had a 1980s hit song “Movin’ and Groovin’”), Mousetrap (earlier Young Sounds of Soul), The Spirits of Liberty, Zoom Band and Show, Larry Anderson's K Street Crew, and Keith Hatcher's band. Some bands from other parts of town were seen as competition, such as East Coast Connection (definitely listen to this) and Brookland Highlights. Kids would learn instruments from watching these bands play and then would form their own bands. Like the sports teams, all these bands practiced a lot. Every Friday and Saturday night, bands from Arthur Capper or from elsewhere in the city would play at the stage at the Arthur Capper Recreation Center or in other places around Arthur Capper. [The role of DC Park and Rec reminds me of the importance today of the US National Park Service's life-shaping concert scene at Fort Reno and Fort Dupont, as well as my own experiences learning to swim and play tennis through the park and rec.]

The DC government and federal government cut funding to public housing and recreation centers for a variety of reasons, including due to significant cuts in federal aid to cities. During the 1960s and 1970s, the Federal government invested heavily in cities because states neglected cities. The Reagan administration severely cut the federal budget, including federal funding to cities. I need a more reliable set of data, but here is something general from the National Housing Institute:
By the end of Reagan’s term in office federal assistance to local governments was cut 60 percent. Reagan eliminated general revenue sharing to cities, slashed funding for public service jobs and job training, almost dismantled federally funded legal services for the poor, cut the anti-poverty Community Development Block Grant program and reduced funds for public transit. The only “urban” program that survived the cuts was federal aid for highways – which primarily benefited suburbs, not cities.
At the moment, I have only anecdotal evidence that the activities at the Arthur Capper Recreation Center were significantly diminished, leaving the children in the area without the development of their sport, musical, and other skills.

At about the same time, the Washington Star newspaper went out of business in 1981. The Washington Post took over the building and presses, but the number of jobs seemed to have dropped significantly. Adults and children had regularly worked for the Washington Star. Everyday after school, kids were picked up by trucks and delivered around the city to sell newspapers. This money was extremely important to both the kids and their families. Adults could work regularly or drop by for temporary work. The end of these jobs placed an additional burden on the Arthur Capper community.

So, this post is a first attempt at trying to document the vibrant sport and musical life in public housing that created such stars as the Supremes and to explain some of the reasons for the changes in public housing life in the 1980s and 1990s.

Friday, November 23, 2012

What would Adolf Cluss do?

A couple of years ago, at a meeting about the redevelopment of the Hine Jr. High site (8th and Pennsylvania, SE), one of my neighbors asked the architect, "What would Adolf Cluss do?" Cluss had been the architect of so many beautiful buildings in DC, such as the Smithsonian's Arts and Industries Building (to the right) and Ward 6's Eastern Market (to the left). Cluss also designed the Wallach School (below), the school torn down to make way for Hine Jr High. So, if Cluss was alive today, what would he have done with the Hine site? Since he built such beautiful buildings that are so popular today, could we capture some of his spirit and inspiration?

Well, this is an interesting question, especially considering the fact that Cluss was a communist, an active participant in the 1848 revolution in Germany, and a close friend of Karl Marx. For information about Adolf Cluss (1825-1905), I turned to the beautiful book Adolf Cluss, Architect: From Germany to America. Arriving in the US in 1849, Cluss worked at the Navy Yard and organized the workers there. He also sought to transplant the Communist League from Germany to the United States and wrote articles for a variety of communist and left-wing periodicals. In 1858, Cluss broke with Karl Marx and allied with German communist and future Civil War Union General August Willich (Letter from Marx to another revolutionary; see much of Marx's correspondence here).

In 1862, Cluss began his architecture career when he won a competition to design the Wallach School, yes, the school before Hine. He designed six of the earliest public schools in Washington, DC, and many public buildings and public works, as well as private residences and churches. As discussed on the book's website, "Cluss promoted the quality of urban life by designing enduring, beautiful school buildings for Washington's students, both African-American and white. His public schools in Washington enabled all segments of society, regardless of wealth or race, to experience architectural beauty and style." In her review of another book on Cluss, Kate Holiday wrote, "Cluss's idealism made him an active urban reformer, and he spent much of his architectural energy on building 'multiclass urban public schools.'" At that time, such an approach was, in fact, revolutionary!

However, maybe such an approach would also be revolutionary today in an age when most developments involve condos (with a few "affordable" units), high-end retail, boutique hotels, and high-rent office space. So, what would Cluss do? He almost certainly would not design something like the current Hine redevelopment plan. Any ideas of what Cluss might do?

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Washington DC as Global City

Washington, DC is a global city not only because it is the capital of the United States, one of the most powerful countries in the world, but also because it shares many qualities with other 'global cities.' Columbia University sociologist Saskia Sassen is one of the pioneers in the study of global cities, demonstrating how in the current, post-1960s global economy cities like New York, London, and Tokyo take on new roles as the 'brains' managing production that now takes place globally. These global cities provide corporate and financial services performed by highly paid professionals, who then depend on child care, restaurant, entertainment, construction, and other services performed by poorly paid workers. Since she wrote her book, The Global City, many other social scientists have argued that cities in the Global South, such as Jakarta or Rio de Janeiro, are equally global, but in ways different from New York, London, and Tokyo (Goldman and Longhofer 2009). Washington, DC is yet again a different kind of global city.

Investments, labor, and ideas flow through all these cities, but these resources are not distributed evenly across cities or even within cities. Some cities are able to attract large investments and highly-paid professionals (the "creative classes" discussed by Richard Florida) from around the world, while others, like Detroit, find this difficult. Thus, cities now compete with each other on a global playing field. On this competitive field, cities often create areas particularly attractive to international investors and the creative classes. In Washington, DC, examples include the new Waterfront in SW DC, Barracks Row on Capitol Hill, and H St in NE. At the same time, global cities have ever increasing inequalities, as discussed by UN-HABITAT: "major cities in the United States, such as Atlanta, New Orleans, Washington DC, Miami, and New York, have the highest levels of inequality in the country, similar to those in Abidjan, Nairobi, Buenos Aires, and Santiago" (Bratman 2011:1546). The reorientation of city politicians and elites toward global investors and the globally oriented creative classes seems to distract them from the needs of low-income constituents, such as the 50% of the DC households making less than $54,000, and from responsibilities toward the national government (though DC may be different on this last issue).

NYU anthropologist Tom Looser has noticed that professionals moving through global cities tend to be indifferent to their local surroundings, local history, and local culture, and to feel little responsibility for others and for local government in these cities. I think that this is true but in a more complicated way than Looser describes. First, paradoxically, the creative classes demand "unique," "authentic," "local" experiences. So, they would not desire a dinner at a McDonalds or other chain restaurants. However, many restaurants, cafes, and events appear locally distinct, when, in fact, they are owned by major global investors and reflect the global demand of the "creative classes." As a result, we see similar "local" events all around the world -- outdoor movies, gallery walks, business district food fairs, etc.

Second, parts of the creative classes are in fact engaged with DC government and the larger city, but often in a hostile, superficial way. This hostile engagement also follows global patterns. The wonderfully insightful CUNY geographer Neil Smith described the new attitude of cities and professionals moving to cities in the 1990s, a vengeful ("revanchist") attitude against those who were perceived as destroying the city: African Americans, the working class, the poor, recent immigrants, and so on: “The rallying cry of the revanchist city might well be: ‘Who lost the city? And on whom is revenge to be exacted?’” Public discussions in DC swirl around criticisms of specific DC politicians, when we should also examine how the current, post-1960s global economy and the desperate attempts by cities to compete has shaped the District that undermined school funding, reduced working class jobs (yes, there was a working class in DC), and redirected money towards area of commercial development and away from other areas.

Bring up the name "Marion Barry" to a group of professionals and there will be little indifference. Yet, they will not actually engage with the fact that Marion Barry allied early on with white and African American professionals and developers functioning within the rapidly changing global economy. At the same time, Marion Barry also formed a political machine that helped many African Americans, including low-income residents, who would find little support from later mayors. In Black Power, Stokely Carmichael (who partially developed his book's arguments while living in DC) condemned political machines as not truly improving the world for African Americans and/or low-income residents, and called instead for real empowerment -- economic, political, and cultural. Yet, the distortions of the city caused by global urban competition and the fact that political machines were not replaced with a more inclusive political system meant that low-income residents remain neglected in the global city.

Professionals' vengeful attitude towards minorities and the poor/low-income even has some similarities to the attitudes of colonial rulers, similarities recognized by many, including Stokely Carmichael in Black Power and American University's Eve Bratman. In his fascinating Wizards & Scientists, former history professor at  U of Maryland, College Park, Stephan Palmi√© demonstrates the similarities in elites' attitudes towards colonies and ghettos. I found this quotation about witch-hunts in colonial Cuba particularly haunting:
Yet the...witch-hunts were not just expressions of racially structured class conflicts (although they certainly were that, too). They were also, perhaps to an extent not adequately acknowledged, the product of a struggle on the part of Cuban intellectuals and social critics to construe hitherto fairly vague conceptions of cultural Africanity into a social pathogen the extirpation [to pull out from the roots, to remove totally] of which would form a precondition for the achievement of Cuban modernity. (Palmié 2002: 29-30)
This quotation sounded so familiar to the discussions going on about the future of DC. The "creative classes" sound much like the powerful colonial Cuban intellectuals. The "creative classes" involved in public discussions seem to desire to extirpate, to remove totally, low-income African Americans as a social pathogen from the District that would allow the District finally to flourish and be a truly modern, global city. Is this the kind of city we wish to living in? Who has a right to the city?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Farmers' Markets and Social Entrepreneurship

On Saturday, I visited both farmers' markets in Ward 8. The farmers' market shuttle bus made this relatively easy, and I would highly recommend taking the shuttle to see the markets and the wide area that the shuttle covers. FYI: due to lack of further funds, next Saturday's shuttle will be the last one of the season.

The St. Elizabeth's market is small and on an amazing location. It would be particularly interesting to visit the market and go on an organized tour of the expansive campus of St. Elizabeth's (one of the buildings is pictured to the left). The market at THEARC is larger and is definitely worth visiting. THEARC is a wonderful community center that probably was originally for Parklands public housing across the street. On Saturday, Parklands looked particularly beautiful. THEARC (pictured to the right) includes activities organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Levine School of Music, the Boys and Girls Clubs, the Washington Ballet (a ballet class was just letting out while I was there), as well as health, parenting, and educational services. I talked with Michael, the director of the market, who said that kids visiting the market were so excited to learn how to open pea pods and to choose their own apples. I thought: yeah, sure. Then, I got on the shuttle with a mother, her 10-year old son (I think that might have been his age), and her 2-month old. When I asked the 10-year old how he liked the market, he said, "I learned how to eat snap peas!" Then, he proceeded to tell me the recipes he learned for cooking eggplant and green tomatoes. The most important part of each recipe was: "Then, the next step is you eat them!" At the market, I saw numerous young kids happily eating whole apples. THEARC space is very inviting and encourages kids to investigate.

The experience reminded me of a discussion we had in class about Logan and Molotch's Urban Fortunes. In the book, the authors talk about how "use value" (how we use land, buildings, and communities in our daily lives for shelter, for friendship, and so on) often comes into conflict with "exchange values" (how we seek to make money off land, building, and communities to pay for retirement, to make a living, or, for some people, to make a fortune). For nearly a decade, Ward 8 did not have a grocery store because grocery stores did not find it economically advantageous to work there; exchange values trumped residents' use values. In contrast, farmers' markets are businesses that try to bring together use values and exchange values, which can mean that the businesses are less profitable but they help low-income people get access to fresh food. Farmers' markets are part of the social entrepreneurship movement, which also includes micro-finance discussed by Muhammad Yunus' Banker to the Poor and is presented as a new form of capitalism. Social entrepreneurs seek to create new markets/economies that are more inclusive and accessible.

However, as discussed in my previous post "What is Neoliberalism? Is there Neoliberalism in Ward 6?," social scientists have criticized such market-based programs in part because these programs cannot provide solutions to the root causes of increasing inequality; rather they mobilize often flighty (especially during economic crises) philanthropic funds to attempt to deal with basic issues of hunger and malnutrition. Are there alternative programs that might help reduce inequality and poverty in Ward 8, as well as in Ward 6?

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Co-ops in DC

Today, at the Ward 8 Farmers' Market (@ THEARC), I'll be handing out flyers for DC Co-op Day, which takes place on Saturday, October 27th at UDC. Everyone is invited, but space is limited, so register soon if you want to attend. A group of us are writing histories of various cooperatives in DC. We have also put together an "Evolving History of DC Cooperatives":

"Washington, DC has had a long history of cooperatives. In part, this was because African Americans have sought to form cooperatives as a way create economic and political freedom. As Jessica Gordon Nembhard has argued, “African Americans have used cooperative economic development as a strategy in the struggle for economic stability and independence.” In 1907, W.E.B. Dubois (pictured at the right) spoke in favor of a wide range of cooperatives and alternative economic institutions. Cooperatives would remain a key institution in the toolbox of African American social movements. Washington, DC remains a central location for these social movements and thus would have a rich cooperative history." Read more

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Neil Smith on Lefebvre

It is sad for us all that CUNY geographer Neil Smith passed away just a few days ago. His idea of the "revanchist city" has been so helpful for me, but he wrote so many enlightening works. I happened to pick up Neil Smith's foreword to Henri Lefebvre's The Urban Revolution and quite liked the following quotation:
Whereas space came alive in early-twentieth-century art, physics, and mathematics, in social theory and philosophy it was a quite different story. Space there was more often synonymous with rigidity, immobility, stasis; space itself had become a blind field [places used as practices that obscure constitutive sociospatial relations, practices that obscure the ways that city residents create or constitute the city themselves, making it instead appear as if, for example, city government or developers constitute it]. For Lefebvre, by contrast, space holds the promise of liberation: liberation from the tyranny of time apart from anything else, but also from social repression and exploitation, from self-imprisoning categories -- liberation into desire. Space is radically open for Lefebvre; he refuses precisely the closure of space that so dominated western thinking and in some circles continues to do so.
Many people flock to cities, especially large cities, because they liberate us from so many constraints, including self-imprisoning ones. If one looks at the early urban studies of the Chicago School from the 1920s and 1930s, one sees how those sociologists understood the city as dying and immobilized into separate, alienating neighborhoods. The blind field obscured city residents' practices that constituted the city. Is it possible to think about DC urban space as radically open, moving beyond time, exploitation, and self-imprisoning categories? Thanks to Neil Smith for his many writings.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

SW DC (and a bit of SE)

Well, September has flown by in a whirlwind of classes, grading, grant proposals, article revisions, conference planning (two conferences, to which everyone is invited: the Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies and DC Co-op Day), and so on. A couple of weeks ago, I had my urban sociology students go independently on a tour of SW DC, following the great Southwest Heritage Trail brochure put together by Cultural Tourism DC. On their blogs and in class discussion, the students reported on their visit to SW and on another visit to a neighborhood of their choice in DC. It is so much fun to hear about their experiences and thoughts about the District. And, of course, the professor also had to go on the tour. I went the morning before class, and here are some photos I took. I wish that I had made a video with music and special effects like some of my students did!

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Consequences of Displacement

Between 1950 and 1960, 23,500 residents were moved out of SW DC to make way for new middle- and upper-income, as well as some public, housing. At the time, it was understood that impoverished slums were being replaced with a mixed-income community. This urban renewal has similarities with more recent displacements of the Ward 6 poor done in the name of helping them. These displacements have quite devastating affects on the majority of the residents.

In a previous post, I discussed the results of a survey of a small group of those displaced in the 1950s:
They found that the 98 families obtained housing that was physically improved, especially with indoor toilets and in well-maintained buildings, but they experienced new problems...By 1965, government officials realized that the "myths" of housing reform and slum clearance "were based on rather vague and misleading correlations between the physical conditions of housing and such social factors," like poverty and crime. For those interviewed, poverty continued (a common experience among those displaced), and they then suffered "from another set of problems created by their removal from what was once their homes" because they lost not only their homes but also "a functioning social system." Some became sick with grief, like that experienced by a death in the family, which was a common reaction to such relocations. Seventy percent of those interviewed had visited SW after redevelopment, and "a significant number talked about crying and feeling sick" when they visited.
I am in the midst of conducting oral histories with former residents of Arthur Capper public housing. One interviewee, whom I call X for now, had moved as an eight-year old with his family in 1960 from Southwest to Arthur Capper public housing. Here is part of our discussion:
JB: Why did you move?
X: I found out later on that, I think, they were renovating the area down there... So, all the low-income had to move out of that area. So, I think we had...well, of course, we had to move ourselves.
JB: Did anyone you knew move back into the area?
X: No. (Then in a whisper) We were gone. We were gone.
His family was one of the lucky ones, which obtained an apartment in public housing. He spoke very fondly of his time in Arthur Capper, especially because the residents could trust each other and shared food and other items when they were in need. He also remembered that relatives and family friends who were now homeless stayed with them in their public housing apartment for long periods of time, sleeping on the sofa or on the floor. A cousin lived so long with them that X considered him a brother. His father also helped out the many poor and homeless in the area with food.

Families who had been displaced by SW renewal had to move again in the 1990s and 2000s when Arthur Capper public housing was closed. Public housing has long provided a respite for *both* the official residents and the family/friends they have taken in, the thousands of people made homeless by renewal and by more current "revitalization." The current destruction of public housing through HOPE VI and other programs displaces the official residents and the family/friends who depend on their kindness. This displacement comes with great costs to the individuals and communities involved, including communities in Ward 6.

Several decades ago, a Chicago newspaper predicted that the affect of urban renewal displacements would have devastating affects over the long term:
Something is happening to lives and spirits that will never show up in the great housing shortage of the late '40s. Something is happening to the children which might not show up in our social records until 1970.
The HOPE VI displacements began in the 1990s (though some displacements occurred earlier), which means that we are already experiencing the affects on the lives and spirits of the children who grew up in this time

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What is poverty?

This past weekend, I attended the annual meeting of the American Sociological Association in Denver. It was absolutely fascinating. Scholars attend such meetings to get the most up-to-date research in the field, get feedback on their research, learn about new data or new fields, meet other scholars in the field, obtain new materials or learn new ways to improve their teaching, and train graduate students who present their own work. Some scholars I spoke with also said that they were energized by the conference, by the excitement of so many people working so rigorously on social research. As people, for example, discussed their datasets and statistical findings or displayed quotations from the many people they had interviewed, you could feel the excitement in the air.

I had the great opportunity to hear a presentation on poverty measures by sociologist Diana Pearce of the University of Washington. According to Pearce, when we say that someone is living in poverty, we mean that someone's income does not adequately cover their basic needs. In other words, poverty is income insufficiency or income inadequacy. In the 1960s, Mollie Orshansky developed the official federal poverty thresholds based on USDA food budgets. Pearce argued that the federal poverty line (FPL), however, has not raised to reflect the real costs of living and does not take into account that it costs more to live in some places than in others. According to her website:
The federal poverty level (FPL) is based on USDA food budgets that meet minimal nutritional standards. Because families in the 1950s spent an average of one-third of their income on food, it was assumed that multiplying the food budget by three would result in an amount that would be adequate to meet other basic needs as well. Since its creation, the FPL has only been updated for inflation. FPL thresholds reflect the number of adults and children, but they do not vary by age of children, nor by place.
As a result, federal and state agencies, as well as foundations, have to make "work arounds," such as setting food stamp eligibility at 130% of the federal poverty line.

To fix these problems, in 2010, the federal government implemented the Supplemental Poverty Measure (SPM), which takes into account the real costs nationally (through the Consumer Expenditure Survey) of basic necessities and geographical differences in, specifically, housing costs. According to the Census:
Thresholds used in the new measure will be derived from Consumer Expenditure Survey expenditure data on basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing and utilities) and will be adjusted for geographic differences in the cost of housing.
Pearce argued that the SPM still does not deal with the real costs of basic needs. So, she has put forth the Self-Sufficiency Standard (SSS), used by many government agencies:
The Self-Sufficiency Standard defines how much income a family of a certain composition in a given place needs to adequately meet their basic needs -- without public or private assistance.
The SSS measures whether income adequately covers basic necessities (food, shelter, clothing, utilities), health care, and work-related costs (transportation, taxes, and child care). If income adequately covers these costs, then that person is self-sufficient and not living in poverty.

Of the many interesting things that the SSS reveals is that most (78-85%) households with incomes below the Self-Sufficiency Standard have at least one worker, and half of these households includes a full-time worker. The Recession has especially hit these working poor households.

At this link, you can find the SSS for your state. For DC, the SSS is $21,224 for a single adult and $38,151 for an adult and an infant: 

One can understand these high self-sufficiency wages when we think about the high cost of child care and housing, as well as food, in the DC area. You can also use a calculator to figure out whether your personal income is adequate for a location (like Ward 6 in DC) and whether you are eligible for public assistance. We can thank Diana Pearce for clarifying the issue of poverty. Now, what can be done about income insufficiency in Ward 6? 

P.S. See my previous post "Who are the poor in Ward 6"? 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Cooperatives in Ward 6

DC and Ward 6 have been unusually fertile places for cooperatives of all sorts. At the Coop DC website, you can see a list of the current, past, and future cooperatives. In Arthur Capper public housing from 1970, there was the MLK food coop. Around 221 11th St SE [correction: 219 11th SE], the Furies collective lived and published their magazine in the early 1970s. We now have the Capitol Hill Energy Coop, many preschool and daycare cooperatives (such as Capitol Hill Babysitting Co-op, Capitol Hill Cooperative Nursery School, Capitol Hill Learning Group, Capitol Hill Cooperative Play School, G Street Cooperative Playgroup, Gan Shalom Cooperative Preschool, Jenkins Hill Child Development Center), and housing cooperatives especially in SW (such as Tiber Island and Harbor Square cooperatives). In the building pictured to the left (736 7th St SE), the Women's Community Bakery Collective worked from 1979 to 1992. Below are some details from a preliminary history written by Vernice Woodland. If you remember other cooperatives in the area, let me know. Thanks!

Women's Community Bakery Collective, 1976-1992

By Vernice Woodland. The Community Bakery, Inc. as incorporated in Maryland in May 1976 and for a couple of years operated in Hyattsville, MD as the Women’s Community Bakery. In September 1979, the business moved to DC…. 736 7th Street, SE. From 1979 through 1992, the business operated at this address. A two-story building, the bakery was on the first floor where the production and packaging took place, bakery office, employee space on the second floor. The business also had a delivery truck for deliveries...This is one of the few producer cooperatives located in DC at that time…they baked whole-grain breads, rolls, muffins and a few other bakery goods to grocery stores and restaurants. Their major operations were the preparation and baking of the products, packaging and delivery to regular customers. The bakery described itself as a “non-profit, community-owned businesses” – a women’s collective.. community ownership referring to the community of workers. The business also gave surplus products to social service groups including shelters, and a limited retail business with neighborhood residents, particularly those families located in what I think used to be the Carroll and the Arthur Capers (sp?) Housing that used to be located in the M Street SE area as well as the Potomac Gardens and Kentucky Court communities... Interesting group – they closed in 1992, not because of declining business… the principals were tired, wanted to do something else, and couldn’t find anyone to take over the business...

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Capitol Hill Vigilantes

In 1963, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) published this brochure (the cover is shown to the right), calling on Hill residents to become "vigilantes": "If the 'Hill' is to be stabilized and preserved, that is just what we must become, and what we must remain."(1) The brochure reproduced a speech given to the CHRS on May 13, 1963 by Tony P. Wrenn, archivist at the National Trust for Historic Preservation. But who or what are Hill residents to be vigilant of? Who or what are they supposed to be looking out for?

Vigilantism has long had negative connotations.(2) Vigilantes seek to take justice into their own hands, outside the law. The larger man in this drawing is wearing a coonskin cap, quite popular in the 1950s from tv shows about Davy Crockett, Daniel Boone, and their frontier vigilantism against Native Americans. The brochure's speech calls on Hill residents to be "pioneers," suggesting that the Hill was a frontier or the Wild West. The KKK and other groups also practice vigilantism through violent intimidation of people they perceived as threatening outsiders. On Capitol Hill, our historical neighbor Bernard L. Henning (802 4th St NE) made famous his song "The Bilbo Bill (Every Man a King)," which was a "condensed summary of Senator Bilbo's white Supremacy Speech delivered to the Mississippi Legislative in 1944."(3) Segregationist and white supremacist views had their followers in DC and on Capitol Hill. While the CHRS probably did not support such ideas, especially by 1963, the brochure did present vigilantism, which already had lots of historical baggage, in a positive light.

The brochure seems to assume a white reader. The drawing has five white people, along with an attentive dog and a (distracted?) cat, confined to a solitary row house on top of a grassy hill. Of course, we know that Capitol Hill row houses are generally lined up right next to each other very close to the sidewalks and streets. So, this image suggests a feeling of isolation and siege. From the history of CHRS, we know that there were fights against highway construction and various kinds of urban renewal projects. In the brochure's text, the speaker refers to residents of Roslyn, NY who are fighting against "undesirable industrialization, rampant road-building programs, and the spread of the apartment building." Yet, the text speaks much clearly for vigilance against "slums": "It will prevent any chance of deterioration in the future -- the possibility that a district will ever become a slum."

On the one hand, if the Hill is declared a "slum," then it might be demolished by the government, as in Southwest DC. The woman in the sundress is watering her flowers as part of this vigilant activity. On the other hand, she and the guy with the binoculars are on the lookout for something else in the distance. The term "slum" had racial connotations at this time. As discussed by a Western Michigan University sociology professor in the late 1950s, white urban residents had long perceived a "Negro invasion" and sought through various means to halt this "invasion," not due, at least in the minds of Northern whites, to overt white suprematist views but for "economic" reasons. Among whites, there was a view that African American entering "white" neighborhoods -- "pioneers"? -- would lower housing values (an incorrect view, in fact) and also would bring the deterioration of housing stock and slums with them. In the brochure, the speaker pleads his audience to keep alert of what is going on in the neighborhood, organize the neighbors (such as by the petition that the older woman is holding but also through being tough on zoning regulation), write the histories of the houses (to re-narrate the neighborhood not as a slum but as a historically significant, respectable (white?) neighborhood), and prod politicians into action. The speaker calls for vigilante action "or you will have no future."

So, of what or whom are Capitol Hill residents being called to be vigilant? Those who supposedly bring the slums? Is this 1963 brochure expressing the new form of racism that developed because KKK-style racism became unacceptable, especially in DC: a racism built instead on notions of "culture," "local history," and "economics"?

(1) "Capitol Hill Vigilantes" speech by Tony P. Wrenn, archivist of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, to the Capitol Hill Restoration Society on May 13, 1963, P0958, Kiplinger Research Library, The Historical Society of Washington, DC.
(2) From the Oxford English Dictionary:
1890 N. P. Langford Vigilante Days i. xiv. 181 "In the name of Vigilante justice [some men] committed crimes which...were wholly indefensible."
(3) "Uncle SAP Worldwide Santa Claus" song/poem and "The Bilbo Bill (Every Man a King)" song copyrighted by Bernard L. Henning, discussed at the Dec. 9, 1947 meeting
of the Southeast Citizens Association. GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society records, MS2009, Box 34, mainly Folder 14, Southeast Citizens Association.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

The Rise of Ward 6 Residential Segregation by Income

On Wednesday, the Post reported on a Pew Research Center report on rising residential segregation by income in the United States. Basically, it said that those with higher incomes were living more with those with higher incomes, and those with lower incomes are living more with those with lower incomes. However, the majority of people still live in middle-income or mixed-income areas. The take away is that income inequality has continued to increase since about 1967 and people are living in ever more economically homogeneous areas.

One issue that is not explored in the report is that DC and Ward 6 have areas with extremely high incomes, extremely high incomes on a national scale.
The DC median household income is $58,526, which means that half of the population makes above this amount and half of the population makes below this amount. The US median household income is $51,914. Census tract 9.01 in NW (between Nebraska, MacArthur, Massachusetts Avenues) has the highest median household income in DC and likely one of the highest in the US -- $213,000 -- which means that 50% of the households in that census tract make more than $213,000. In DC, there are 8 census tracts with a median household income over $130,000. In Ward 6, we have two census tracts with among the highest median incomes in the city, more than those in many Georgetown census tracts. Census tract 67 and Census tract 81 are two of these eight very wealthy census tracts (see map below). Census tract 67 has a median household income of $141,000, while next-door census tract 81's is $132,000.