Revitalization in stages: Anacostia
The Post has another story on Anacostia, "Black professionals leading the charge of gentrification across Anacostia." With regard to the thesis as expressed in the headline, again I think it's important to think about "gentrification" in a more nuanced fashion than what typically occurs. From the article:
“I used to think it was about race — when white people moved into a black neighborhood,” said lawyer Charles Wilson, 35, president of the Historic Anacostia Block Association. (Wilson ran against Marion S. Barry Jr. in the 2008 Ward 8 City Council race.) “Then, I looked up the word. It’s when a middle-class person moves into a poor neighborhood, and I realized, I am a gentrifier. I couldn’t believe it. I don’t like that word. It makes so many people uncomfortable. The g-word.”
Dasher and the community's other entrepreneurs are not without their critics. Anthony Muhammad, an Advisory Neighborhood Commission member who is Muslim, was concerned that Uniontown would be serving alcohol and challenged Dasher's liquor license, delaying the restaurant's opening by several months.
In an interview, Muhammad raised concerns that Dasher, who signed a 10-year lease, and some of the younger professionals who are moving into the area were not sufficiently committed to the area.
"We've seen people come and go before," Muhammad said. "I just would like to know how long she will be in this community . . . and whether this is the type of business, one that serves alcohol and is surrounded by four churches and a school, we need to embrace."
In a blog entry, I wrote this:
People do come and go.
Part of it has to do with the attainment of critical mass and the ability of a group of people to overcome the inertia and force of disinvestment. People leave when they don't feel these forces can be overcome. (The article discusses factors that have contributed to the development of critical mass, without using that term.) But not understanding what contributes to this ebb and flow [of change] is a failure in part of the leadership capacities of people like Mr. Muhammad.
That point, about the attainment of critical mass of a group of people able to change a community, can be extended and sliced and diced by demographic. It needs to be further extended.
The attraction of nonmajority populations to "gentrifying" neighborhoods is a function of critical mass, comfort, and relative safety. Neighborhoods around Capitol Hill were attractive to new residents (north of Stanton Park, north of H Street, lower Trinidad in later stages, Lincoln Park, Hill East, etc.) even if apparently seemingly unsafe, because Capitol Hill was a relative stable community on which to build and extend outwards.
For many years I've joked that I wished that I had Elijah Anderson's Code of the Street to read as a primer before I moved to Washington in 1987, because moving to a neighborhood (north of H Street NE) at a time when only a handful of whiteys lived there ended up being traumatic. I got my clock cleaned in many ways in terms of crime. When you are that much different you are a target, not unlike how the process is described by Anderson.
As the white population in the city increases, I predict that in later stages of black "middle class" in-migration to Anacostia, that a critical point will be reached when non-African American residents of choice start moving in in significant numbers as their concerns about safety are assuaged. That's at least 10 years away probably, a little faster maybe, if plans for Poplar Point come to fruition.