Friday, May 31, 2013

Smells like Gentrification

Apparently DC was awash in urine before 2006. In a discussion today of what the DC Public Library system was like before the arrival of outgoing Chief Library Ginnie Cooper, the Post hauled out the gentrification talking point of the year: the past was full of urine and urine smells, the new gentrified future will be clean and fresh-smelling:

Whoever said “without libraries, you have no civilization” had obviously never confronted a D.C. public library circa the early 2000s. Odd-smelling places, many of them, and not in a musty literary way but in a stinky dog pee way, with curling carpet and yellowy leaking ceilings, and the sense that whatever book you sought might be on the shelves, or might be propping up a window air-conditioning unit. Walking into a branch felt less like entering a monument to knowledge than like entering a semi­finished basement in need of a good wet vac.
Cooper spent the past seven years "mucking out the libraries of the nation’s capital." The urine theme appeared again a while back in the Washington City Paper in an article praising the new, upscale Hawk and Dove: "The original place was dark and rotting, the smell of urine persistent and legendary." Generally, the press presents DC of the past as a place of ruin, mold, rot, chaos, and -- bizarrely -- urine. Those living here before 2006 or maybe even before 2013, they seem to suggest, were poor guardians of the city and our only hope comes from whom? 

Why does the press smell urine when it talks about DC's past? What does urine mean in these accounts? Here are some thoughts:
  • Anthropologist Mary Douglas famously argued that dirt was "matter out of place"; when one talks about dirt or, in this case, urine and muck, one is actually arguing that the social order has been disrupted and must be reestablished. The perception of urine smells reflects a desire to 'purify' the city and reestablish a much older order, such as of the segregated 1890s 'disrupted' by civil rights, and/or create a new gentrified order.  The Washington City Paper wrote in an article about the new Canal Park: "The skaters in Canal Park are simultaneously bringing back the area's distant past -- people are thought to have skated on the canal that ran through the area in the 19th century -- and helping it shake off its recent history." What recent history do they want to "shake off"? The Post's suggestion that DC lacked "civilization" before 2006 also supports this interpretation of the function of urine as a justification of gentrification.  
  • Where are all the DC Public Library staff in this story who worked for decades in the libraries, the staff who probably developed the vision that Cooper realized and worked with her to implement it? 
  • Why does the Post specify that the urine smell comes from dogs? Interestingly, dogs and dogs parks are often seen as signs of gentrification. Gentrifiers, in fact, may use their dogs to establish their separation from others. According to University of Paris sociology professor Sylvie Tissot, "gentrifiers actively use public spaces, such as dog runs, to create social boundaries, to exclude others as well as to define insiders. Spatial boundaries allow them to distinguish themselves from the poor ethnic minorities, and 'deviant' populations..." Was it the gentrifiers who brought the dog urine into the District? 
  • In the past, did dogs get into the library and urinate everywhere? Or were the past users of the libraries supposed to be like untrained dogs? 
  • Maybe the press is obsessed with urine smells because it has renifleurism, a disorder involving "sexual arousal by odor; arousal by the smell of urine"? They are horrified by urine but somehow are drawn to it?
  • What is the smell of gentrification? Is it the smell of victory?

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?

Sat., June 8: 36th Annual Peter Bug Day

36th Annual Peter Bug Day
"Unity in the Community"
Saturday June 8, 9am to 7pm
The 36th Annual Peter Bug Day starts (at 18th & E Streets SE) with a parade, winding through the neighborhood and ending up at Peter Bug Way (the 400 block of 13th Street SE). There will be live music (jazz, R&B, Gospel, Doo-Wop, African Drums, etc), food and fun.

Monday, May 20, 2013

Gentrification in DC

Here is a re-creation of a presentation I gave a couple of weeks ago on Gentrification in DC. The most interesting part of the presentation are the income and race maps, which you can fast forward to in Sections I and II. Main points: 1) Gentrification has changed over time, from its beginnings in the 1950s to today. Today in DC, much gentrification is mobilized by large developers, global investors, and the complete reconstruction of certain parts of town, as opposed to early forms organized by local real estate concerns and local groups of homeowners.

2) Gentrification is overlaid upon already existing racial segregation in DC and elsewhere. Many people don't recognize that racial segregation was a new trend around 1900. Racism has expressed itself in many ways over the course of American history, but racial segregation is relatively new. We see racial segregation and divided cities emerging around the world starting in the 1890s (see Carl Nightingale's tour-de-force Segregation: A Global History of Divided Cities). The maps in this presentation show that DC is very much a divided city.




P.S. Some corrections:
1) I said that 29,000 residents were displaced from Southwest DC during urban renewal in the 1960s. I should have said 23,500 residents were displaced then.

2) I said that the first Home Rule government began in 1974, but the first Home Rule mayor, Walter E. Washington, began his term on January 2, 1975.

3) The sociologist I mention is Kevin Fox Gotham (not Keith as I say in the video). 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

DC Historical Studies Conference honored

On Monday, the Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies was honored with a DC Historical Preservation Award. Mayor Gray and the DC Office of Planning's Historic Preservation Office honored this volunteer-led professional conference, of which I am happily a part, on its 40th anniversary! Our conference committee includes: Matthew Gilmore, chair (holding the award in the photo below); Brett Abrams, Johanna Bockman, Jeffrey Donahoe, Mark Greek, Stephen Hansen, Ida Jones, Chris Klemek, Jennifer Krafchik, Jane Freundel, Levey, Adam Lewis, Jenny Masur, John Muller, John Richardson, Gary Scott, Kimberly Springle, Mary Ternes, Ruth Trocolli, and Kim Zablud. The other awardees are listed here.

Here is the conference committee looking fabulous:

DC Historic Preservation Awards

This year's conference will take part on November 14-17, 2013 here in DC. The theme for the 40th Annual Conference is “Marching on Washington,” covering a diverse  range of anniversaries: the 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington, the 1973 initiation of modern Home Rule, the centennial of the 1913 Woman Suffrage Procession, and the sesquicentennial of the Emancipation Proclamation. The panels will also cover a wide range of other DC Studies topics. Our keynote speaker will be Professor Kate Masur from Northwestern University's history department. She has written a great book on DC (that I reviewed) and numerous wonderfully controversial op-eds.

I really wanted to attend the awards ceremony, but that evening I had already planned a "Gentrification Observation" with the Cities & Globalization Working Group at Foggy Bottom. This observation involved not only seeing the gentrifying sites, but also visiting Lindy's Red Lion (a bar on the working-class-DC circuit and the student circuit) and District Commons. One member of the group suggested that our group should not longer provide business to gentrifying restaurants, even if the purpose is only to study them. An interesting point.

P.S. And here are the sponsors of these awards. Developers, bankers, and so on. What does this mean about the historic preservation awards? Might buildings be given higher priority than the people in and around those buildings?

Landmark Partner

Capstone Partners

Keystone Partners

Cornerstone Partners
Carr Properties
Hartman-Cox Architects
Quinn Evans Architects

Foundation Partners
The Christman Company
Holland & Knight LLP
Martin Ditto
Forest City Washington
SK&A Group
Wagner Roofing
Zuckerman Gravely

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

PeterBug Day Update

I have heard from a reliable source that PeterBug Day has been moved from May 18th to June 8th, 2013. I'll check to make certain about this and provide any further details later. Right now, we're at the end of the semester and we profs are overwhelmed with work, especially the glorious task of graduating our students.