Wednesday, May 19, 2021

The Spiritual Destruction of Gentrification

Yesterday I was reading the oral history of John Harrod, who directed the Market 5 Gallery, a community art space in the North Hall of Eastern Market, from 1973 to 2009-2010 or so. Market 5 has a fascinating history. In 2007, there was a huge fire in Eastern Market, but Market 5 amazingly avoided the fire, in part due to an effective firewall between the North and South Halls. But other forces may have also provided assistance...

Market 5 organized the weekend markets and vendors at Eastern Market. Among the vendors are psychics. The oral history has two very interesting segments regarding the psychics:

LEWIS: So, the psychics claim they stopped the fire?
HARROD: Because of their power, the fire didn’t come into the North Hall! [laughs] (p. 30)

HARROD: Have you ever been there and looked up in the ceiling, the trusses in the ceiling?
LEWIS: Uh huh.
HARROD: The psychics tell me that there’s a pyramid shape that’s up there.
LEWIS: Oh really?
HARROD: Yeah. Which means that the Gallery is protected by, according to them, the strength of the pyramid—a sign that is found so many places in nature. Did you know that?
LEWIS: Exactly. (p. 36)
According to this view, the psychics and symbols protected the space. As is clear from many documents, Market 5 had a spiritual presence and energy. As I will discuss in future posts, the Capitol Hill/Southeast area has had a vast landscape of spiritualities protecting spaces and people. 

However, gentrifying forces use disasters and shock to displace obstacles in their way, even those with protection. Often, such obstacles are completely destroyed and the space left vacant in an attempt, it seems, to destroy and erase the spirits. Also gentrifying forces may take advantage of chaos without plans for the space. Even though it escaped the fire's physical destruction, Market 5 Gallery was evicted and never allowed to return. Gentrifying forces took advantage of the fire to evict Market 5 and replace it with a homogeneous, predictable, almost empty space, a space without spirit. Here is Market 5 Gallery from a video in 2008 as they are being moved out:

Market 5 Gallery in 2008,

Here is the same space today (my photos taken this morning):

Still a pretty space, but Market 5 was erased and replaced with a spiritually empty space. A space ready for whom or for what?

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Public Housing Reunions

Today I came across an article by several amazing sociologists -- Marcus Anthony Hunter, Mary Pattillo, and Zandria F. Robinson (Georgetown!)-- and the brilliant Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, which really captured what is going on in Ward 6 in DC. In this article "Black Placemaking: Celebration, Play, and Poetry," they explore the ways that African Americans in Chicago have made meaningful, creative, celebratory, playful, pleasurable, and poetic experiences in hostile places. The authors focus on four case studies: black public housing reunions, black lesbian and gay nightlife, black Little League baseball, and the black digital commons. 

Ward 6 is filled with similar cases. Arthur Capper Recreation Center hosted a wide range of sports, including the Washington Stonewall football team, as well as a wide-range of other teams that competed throughout the city. Towards the end of 8th Street, SE, Bachelor's Mill, Back Door Pub, Phase 1, and many other locales continued a vibrant black lesbian and gay nightlife in the area. What especially resonated with me was their discussion of public housing reunions (pp. 39-43)!

Even though the buildings were destroyed by the DC government with federal support, the former residents of Arthur Capper public housing remain a community and have regular reunions. As in Chicago, the Arthur Capper community has a Facebook group with 1,400 members. Other public housing projects also do this, both those projects that are now gone like the Eastgate Gardens (their Facebook group has 2,100 members) and those current public housing projects like Potomac Gardens and James Creek. In Chicago, as discussed in the article, former public housing residents celebrate annually at the site of the former projects or at parks nearby or elsewhere in the city. The Arthur Capper community has held annual reunions in nearby Garfield Park and other parks in the DMV. The wonderful Sherman Mills invited me to the annual reunions. I wrote about one several years ago (here), and Sherman Mills and I put together a special website about the Arthur Capper community. The "In Loving Memory" section is particularly insightful with its photos and names of those who have passed. 

The authors of the article about Chicago explore the living communities of current and former public housing residents. The authors write:

At the height of their occupancy in the 1970s, Chicago’s family public housing was officially home to over 137,000 people, most of them African American (Hunt, 2009: Table 1). The actual number might have been up to 40 percent higher than that (Venkatesh and Çelimli, 2004: 28). In 2012,the population in family public housing in Chicago was just over 23,000 (Chicago Housing Authority, 2012: Appendix 2). Despite this drastic population loss, the disappearing of black public housing residents was unsuccessful. Even the children of former residents proclaim their public housing lineage: ‘Me & my pops at the Robert Taylor Homes reunion/ he grew up in building #4101/had to capture that’, writes one young woman about a photo of her and her father in front of a mural of her father’s building and the title ‘Robert Taylor Family Reunion.’
The authors further reflect, "As long as these memories are rehearsed, shared, spoken, and envisioned then the projects and the black families and communities that they housed will not die." Do members of the Arthur Capper community agree ? How do these and other displaced communities continue to live in DC and what does this mean for DC?