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Thesis Final

Thesis Final

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Alex Baca / Senior Honors Thesis, Fall 2010 / American Studies Department
The University of Maryland, College Park / Adviser: Dr. Mary Sies

Development, &
Displacement in




Riding the 90: Stages of Gentrification in Washington, D.C....................................................2
About This Paper........................................................................................................................7

Statement of Thesis and Arguments: Gentrification Without Displacement....10

Review of the Literature: The Dirty Word........................................................12

Methods and Sources......................................................................................16

Anacostia’s History: From Uniontown to Urban Renewal...............................20

Anacostia’s Present: Anacostia Now................................................................27

Mapping Anacostia’s Amenities......................................................................33

Data Analysis..................................................................................................37

“Why Do You Like Your Neighborhood?”: Interviews Inside Anacostia................................37
Interviews Outside Anacostia..................................................................................................53
Community and Institutional Meetings..................................................................................
Popular Discourse....................................................................................................................

Gentrification and Urban Policy in Washington, D.C......................................64

The 2010 Mayoral Election......................................................................................................64
Inclusionary Zoning.................................................................................................................67
Tax Caps, Affordable Housing, and Boosting Homeownership..............................................70
Jobs and Workforce Training...................................................................................................73
Small Business Development...................................................................................................74


“One City”.................................................................................................................................76



Riding the 90: Stages of Gentrification in Washington, D.C.
The most efficient way to reach Anacostia from my apartment around Meridian Hill Park is
via the Green Line metro. More often, however, I find myself taking the bus.

The 90 and 92 bus lines are two of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s

They begin at the southern base of the Duke Ellington Bridge, in Adams Morgan,
and end at the Anacostia and Congress Heights metro stations, respectively.

A trip on the 90 bus—particularly in the middle of the day, when I was most likely to be
heading to Anacostia to conduct interviews or take a walk around the neighborhood—is a
vastly different experience than riding one of the city’s commuter lines, such as the G8 or
the L2. The latter are usually quiet, and empty out after the morning and evening rush
hours. They deposit their passengers, who are largely white and middle class, downtown,
and ferry them home at the end of the day.

The 90 buses are almost always standing room only. Bus rides are frequently raucous; the
silence that can pervade an evening ride on the 42 bus, between Mt. Pleasant and Metro
Center, is rarely present. The ridership is almost entirely African American, and I have often
found myself to be the only white, female passenger on board. I expect a variety of amusing,
and occasionally lewd, come-ons—“Hey, snowflake” is a popular one—as well as the
questions indicating that I’m not the typical 90 bus rider. On more than one occasion, I’ve
been asked, “Do you know where you’re going?” or “What are you doing on this bus?”

The buses traverse through three of Washington, D.C.’s four quadrants, and several
neighborhoods in various stages of vitality, development, transition, and growth. I step onto
the 90 bus at 15th and U Streets Northwest, a block away from 14th and U Street, which is
arguably the most popular nexus of nightlife in the city. It continues down the busy U Street



“U Street-Garfield Metrobus line to be discussed at public forum,” last modified May 17, 2010. Last
accessed November 11, 2010. ReleaseID=4454>.

corridor-cum-Florida Avenue, which passes through Shaw. The neighborhood was a burnt-
out shell after the 1968 riots, and struggled to rebuild in the decades after as the crack
cocaine trade swept through.2

Though there are still a fair amount of vacant lots and
buildings in disrepair, the neighborhood is unquestionably on the upswing. The intersection
of Georgia and Florida Avenues is bustling, and the area has become something of a “theatre
district,” with the renovation of the historic Lincoln Theatre3

now underway. In any
discussion of the U Street corridor and Shaw, it’s hard to not use the term “gentrifying.”4

Further down Florida Avenue is Bloomingdale, a small neighborhood filled with stately,
three-story Victorian rowhomes. A vicious battle over a local coffee shop’s attempts to gain a
liquor license brought many cries of alarm regarding gentrification. Oldtimers were grossly
unhappy that Big Bear Coffee, which has a largely white, young clientele, wanted to serve
beer and wine, and successfully convinced the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission5


block the request.6

A frequent oldtimer insistence was that a coffee shop serving alcohol
would encourage public drunkenness, a problem that has substantially tapered off since



Jaffe, Harry and Sherwood, Tom. Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. New
York, NY: Simon & Schuster. 1994.


Baca, Alex. “Howard Theatre Restoration May Mean Major Music Venue for Shaw.” Washington City
Paper Arts Desk
, July 15, 2010. Accessed November 11, 2010. blogs/artsdesk/music/2010/06/15/howard-theatre-restoration-may-mean-a-major-music-venue-for-
shaw/> and DePillis, Lydia. “Howard Theatre Set to Break Ground in August.” Washington City Paper
Housing Complex
, June 14, 2010. Accessed November 11, 2010. blogs/housingcomplex/2010/06/14/howard-theater-set-to-break-ground-in-august/>.


Cherkis, Jason. “Jamal Coates, victim in U Street shooting: A gang life in gentrified D.C.” TBD,
September 29, 2010. Accessed November 11, 2010. coates-victim-in-u-street-shooting-a-gang-life-in-gentrified-d-c--15763.html>.


“The Advisory Neighborhood Commissions consider a wide range of policies and programs affecting
their neighborhoods, including traffic, parking, recreation, street improvement, liquor licenses, zoning,
economic development, police protection, sanitation and trash collection, and the District’s annual
budget. In each of these areas, the intent of the ANC legislation is to ensure input from an advisory board
that is made up of the residents of the neighborhoods that are directly affected by government action. The
ANCs are the body of government with the closest official ties to the people in a neighborhood. The ANCs
present their positions and recommendations on issues to various District government agencies, the
Executive Branch, and the Council. They also present testimony to independent agencies, boards, and
commissions, usually under the rules of procedure specific to those entities. By law, the ANCs may also
present their positions to Federal agencies. “Neighborhood Democracy.” Last accessed November 10,
2010. .


DePillis, Lydia. “With Liquor License, Trailblazing Big Bear Runs Into Thicket.” Washington City Paper
Housing Complex
, May 12, 2010. Accessed November 11, 2010. blogs/housingcomplex/2010/05/12/with-liquor-license-trailblazing-big-bear-runs-into-a-thicket/>.

businesses have cautiously opened in Bloomingdale.7

The neighborhood’s first sit-down
restaurant, Rustik, serves wood-fired pizza, beer, wine, and cocktails to little objection,8


was much celebrated upon its opening in 2010. Bloomingdale has seen an influx of
wealthier residents than average, many of whom are white families, in recent years.

The bus turns left on North Capitol Street and cuts across P Street Northeast, swinging
through the notoriously snarled intersection of Florida and New York Avenues. The
neighborhood, formerly known as Swampoodle9

(a nod to the glut of Irish residents that
once occupied long-gone tenement homes), surrounds Union Station and has been tagged
as “NoMa,” for “north of Massachusetts Avenue.” Sirius-XM Radio, the District Department
of Transportation, and Fedex, among other large corporations, have set up headquarters in
NoMa at the base of New York Avenue, and new, high-end condominiums spring up
frequently. A Harris Teeter grocery store will open in Winter 2011.

Reconfiguring itself on Florida Avenue Northeast, the bus passes Gallaudet University and
the southern half of Trinidad, once the front lines of Rayful Edmonds’ drug trading capital
in the 1980s.10

Until recently, Trinidad was witness to dozens of shootings yearly.11

It’s now

a quiet, if secluded, neighborhood that backs up to Bladensburg Road, which is lined with



Gitlin, Elle, “ANC5C versus Big Bear, Round 2,” In Bloom (blog), May 12, 2010. Last accessed November
11, 2010. .


DePillis, Lydia. “Corner, Meet Pub: How Rustik finally ended a neighborhood prohibition—and what’s
next.” Washington City Paper Housing Complex, October 13, 2010. Accessed November 11, 2010.


“The Historical Society of Washington, D.C.: Guide to Neighborhood History Resources,” last updated
June 2007. Last accessed November 11, 2010. Neighborhood_History_Resources.pdf#xml=http://pr-dtsearch001.americaneagle.com/service/


Jaffe, Harry and Sherwood, Tom. Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. New
York, NY: Simon & Schuster. 1994.


“The Trinidad neighborhood around Morse and Montello was gripped by the crack epidemic during the
1980s and early 1990s, becoming one of the most dangerous in the city. However, residents who stood
watching police question youths near the site of the shooting said Trinidad has since become more quiet.
The community has a neighborhood watch, and residents recently started a garden club. ‘It’s not a
hellhole. The crime comes and goes over time,’ said Michelle Gandy, who has lived in the area for 16 years.
The biggest problems, she and others said, are caused by people who come from outside the area.”
Aizenman, N.C. and Alexander, Keith L. “Police to Step Up Patrols After Violence: 4 Dies, Others Injured
in 2 Nights of D.C. Shootings,” Washington Post, April 27, 2008. Last accessed November 11, 2010.

used-car lots and vacant properties. Two-story rowhomes with front porches sell for around

The route then turns sharply south on 8th Street Northeast, where it crosses H Street
Northeast. H Street has not gentrified in stereotypical sense; that is to say, those with more
monetary capital have not necessarily purchased property and thus increased the cost of
living in the neighborhood. Rather, H Street has seen a commercial gentrification. A wave of
bars and restaurants, beginning with the Argonaut, took advantage of the ability to cheaply
rent buildings equipped with kitchen space and established liquor licenses. Many of the
buildings were vacant to begin with. These newer, trendier businesses like Little Miss
Whiskey’s Golden Dollar, Sticky Rice, and the Palace of Wonders generally attract a
younger, “hipster” crowd, but exist in tandem with pawn shops, a Downtown Locker Room,
a medical supply shop, and several fast-food businesses. The District Department of
Transportation selected H Street as the first location to be outfitted for the forthcoming
streetcar system, and construction has mangled the roadway for the past two years. The
streetcar line, which will run from Benning Road Northeast down H Street, is expected to be
completed in 2015.13

Though it has been met with some trepidation, most residents—
oldtimers and newcomers alike—seem interested in having an additional mode of transit.14

As the bus continues south on 8th Street Southeast, it hits Eastern Market and Barracks
Row, the two significant commercial strips in Capitol Hill, the city’s largest neighborhood
and largest historic district.15

The Eastern Market building was rebuilt in 2009, and the
market now operates on weekends. Vendors include Bowers Fancy Dairy Products, Canales



“Redfin: Find Washington and Baltimore Area Real Estate,” last accessed November 11, 2010. www.redfin.com/search#!search_location=trinidad%2C%20dc>.


“Streetcars4DC,” last updated October 25, 2010. Last accessed November 11, 2010.



Hatchard, Geoff, “Streetcar details revealed at open house in Trinidad,” The District Curmudgeon
(blog), April 21, 2010. Last accessed November 11, 2010. streetcar-details-revealed-at-open.html>.


D.C. Historic Preservation Office and Kimberly Prothko Williams. Capitol Hill. Washington, D.C.: D.C.
Historic Preservation Office, 2003. Last accessed November 11, 2010. planning/frames.asp?doc=/planning/lib/planning/preservation/brochures/capitolhillbroch.hi.pdf>.

Delicatessen and Quality Meats, and Fine Sweet Shop.16

Barracks Row, which won a
National Main Street Award in 2009 from the National Main Streets Program,17

is filled

with high-end restaurants and speciality shops. Barracks Row’s transition was a fast one.
Ted’s Bulletin, a breakfast restaurant modeled after a New York subway station, replaced a
rundown hardware store in 2010. Real estate in Capitol Hill has long been expensive, but
the explosion of retail and commercial establishments nearby has only increased property

After crossing the 11th Street Bridge, the 92 bus will turn left onto Good Hope Road
Southeast, where it will pass several empty storefronts, a small strip mall, the brand new
Anacostia Library, a block of public housing projects, and several single-family homes
before its terminus at the Congress Heights metro station. The 90 bus continues south on
Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue Southeast, past the neighborhood’s commercial strip that,
while sizable, is filled with empty storefronts and is noticeably missing the staples of a
community downtown, particularly a grocer. It pulls to a stop at the Anacostia metro
station. I typically disembark at the Anacostia Library if I ride the 92 bus, or across from Big
Chair Coffee on V Street Southeast (currently, the neighborhood’s only sit-down restaurant).
The Anacostia metro station is a short walk from Big Chair Coffee, and about 15 or 20
minutes away from the library.

The bus ride from my apartment to Anacostia takes about a half hour, and longer if there’s
any kind of traffic congestion. The metro ride, from the U Street/African American Civil
War Memorial/Cardozo station to the Anacostia station, and subsequent walk is only about
20 minutes. But, I find the 90 bus ride for my fellow passengers. I’ve had the pleasure of
actually talking to those who ride the bus with me, something that rarely occurs on what one
might deem a more “civilized” bus heading to downtown from Upper Northwest. On various
occasions, a performance has captivated the entire bus’s attention—my favorite of these



“Eastern Market Merchants,” last accessed November 11, 2010. < http://www.easternmarket-dc.org/>.


“National Trust for Historic Preservation: Great American Main Street Awards 2009: Barracks Row
Main Street,” last updated 2009. Last accessed November 11, 2010. resources/case-studies/gamsa/2005/barracks-row-washington-dc.html>.

occurrences was a man freestyling about his EBT card points18

and “drinking my liquor from
a plastic bottle.” I also enjoy the view. The 90 bus traverses through some of the District’s
most unique neighborhoods, all of which are in various stages of transition. Anacostia, at
the very end of the 90 bus line, is a fitting conclusion to the journey.

Boys look over the Frederick Douglass housing projects, June 1942 (photo: Library of Congress).19

About This Paper
I chose to write about gentrification, development, and displacement in Anacostia after
much deliberation. When I began considering what and where I wanted to research, the
only inclinations I had were toward my interest in urban planning and Washington, D.C.,
which I have lived in close proximity to for most of my life. I eventually settled on studying
“gentrification.” It was a word I had heard tossed around lightly in popular discourse and
dialogue as well as in the news, and it was used so frequently that there didn’t seem to be a



“Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) is an electronic system that allows a recipient to authorize transfer
of their government benefits from a Federal account to a retailer account to pay for products received.”
“USDA Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program,” last updated November 5, 2009. Last accessed
November 11, 2010. .


This can be accessed online through the Library of Congress at the following address: www.loc.gov/pictures/item/fsa1998023687/PP/>.

substantial or consistent definition attached to it. When I began to read seminal works on
gentrification, I realized the gap in the term’s use and definition wasn’t limited to popular
discourse. It was a problem in academia, too; I discuss this disconnect and inconsistency in
the “Review of Literature” section. My research also drastically changed my perception of
gentrification. I began this project believing that gentrification was unquestionably negative,
but have since developed the belief that it is a completely separate process from its truly
problematic counterpart, displacement; I discuss these two terms in the “Methods” section.
I wanted to explore the term “gentrification” through a specific place. After turning over
several neighborhoods often referred to as “in transition” in Washington, D.C., including
Fort Totten, Brookland, and Bloomingdale, I settled on Anacostia. Anacostia is commonly
referenced as an unsafe, unstable neighborhood with little to offer, and I was interested in
exploring whether or not that belief was true. The neighborhood is located in Ward 8, in the
Southeast quadrant, neither of which have very good reputations of safety. Anacostia itself,
however, possesses quality housing stock, is a designated historic district, has a distinct
“downtown” area (regardless of whether or not the storefronts there are filled), and has
excellent access to public transit (via multiple bus lines, the neighborhood metro stop, and a
forthcoming streetcar line). If any neighborhood in Southeast or Ward 8 is to gentrify, it will
most likely be Anacostia. Rather than examine a neighborhood that has already reached
advanced stages of gentrification,20

such as Columbia Heights or the U Street corridor, I
wanted a chance to look at a neighborhood that might gentrify in the future, and see
whether or not any viable solutions to mitigate displacement might be revealed as I went
about my research.

My analysis of gentrification, displacement, and development in Anacostia has been
informed by not just my research, but also by my personal positioning. My dad is a
mortgage banker, and I’ve grown up to view owning property as superior to renting. I
needed to be flexible in my application of this value to Anacostia, because many residents
there rent their apartments or homes. I am, likely, worlds away from many residents of
Anacostia in terms of my education, family structure, and social class; I grew up in a stable,



Brown-Saracino, Japonica, A Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation,
and the Search for Authenticity
(Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010).

upper-middle-class family and was given the chance to attend college. I live in Washington,
D.C., but I don’t live in, or close to, Anacostia; I live in the U Street corridor, the first place
that comes to mind for many familiar with D.C. if the topic of gentrification comes up. If I
were to move to Anacostia, I would likely be regarded by longtime residents as a “gentrifier.”
I’m not planning on doing so, but regardless, I was undoubtedly considered an outsider by
my interviewees and by local residents when I attended community meetings. These factors
may have influenced what my interviewees felt comfortable discussing with me, discussed in
the “Research” section, and the conclusions that I have drawn about Anacostia and similar
neighborhoods, discussed in the “Conclusions” section. However, I believe that I was able to
manage my differences with the neighborhood and that what is written in this paper is an
accurate representation of Anacostia, and the people who live there.

I present this paper as my senior Honors thesis through the American Studies department
at the University of Maryland, College Park. The work contained here is the result of almost
two years’ worth of reading, researching, and writing (on Anacostia specifically and on the
larger topic and concept of gentrification), as well as participation in the required courses
AMST340 (Dr. Jo Paoletti, Spring 2010) and AMST388P (Dr. Mary Sies, Fall 2010). This
paper also reflects my chosen concentration area within the American Studies department,
which is urban studies, history, and planning. The academic requirements for that
concentration area were satisfied through the courses GEOG434 (Dr. Richard Russio,
Spring 2010), GEOG410 (Dr. Mila Zlatic, Spring 2010), HISP619F (Dr. B.D. Wortham-
Galvin, Spring 2010), and AMST629F (Dr. Christina Hanhardt, Fall 2010). Additionally, I
relied on my internships—at the Washington City Paper, Washington, D.C.’s local
alternative weekly paper (January 2010 to present), and the National Trust for Historic
Preservation, a national 501(3)(c) non-profit that is “dedicated to saving historic places and
revitalizing America’s communities”21

(June 2010 to present)—for resources, exposure, and

access to events and activities in and around Anacostia.



“The National Trust for Historic Preservation provides leadership, education, advocacy, and resources
to save America’s diverse historic places and revitalize our communities. The National Trust for Historic
Preservation is a prive, nonprofit membership organization dedicated to saving historic places and
revitalizing America’s communities.” “National Trust for Historic Preservation: About,” last updated
2009. Last accessed November 11, 2010. .

Behind the fence is the Children of Mine missionary nonprofit (photo: Alex Baca).


Gentrification Without Displacement
Christian Lander’s Stuff White People Like and David Brooks’ Bobos In Paradise are two
very funny books. They are satirical in their astute observations of the particular
idiosyncrasies of, respectively, upper-middle-class, white culture, and upper-middle-class,
not-necessarily-white culture. Lander, for example, discusses ski trips, independent
bookstores, and pet salons with coffee shops attached. Brooks devotes several pages to the
phenomenon of Whole Foods, and their propensity to demonstrate how many organic
products they stock any given day.

Much of what Lander and Brooks satirize has become the stereotypical image of
gentrification. I feel safe in assuming that most jokes made about gentrification involve
upper-middle-class white folk moving back into the city, and bringing with them specialty
wine bars and shiny, new condominiums. But that isn’t necessarily what gentrification is, or
what it looks like. Beyond this stereotypical image of the process is something even more
complicated. That is, the mention of the word “gentrification” signifies something entirely


different to every individual, based on their race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, age, and
so on.

Reporters often use the term to describe any type of change in a neighborhood that is not
imminently negative. On the glut of local D.C. blogs, it’s rare to find a post about
gentrification—or something that ties in closely with gentrification, such as a new
condominium project—without also finding a slew of negative comments. It’s dropped in
casual conversation when, for example, a sit-down pizza place opens up in a neighborhood
without any sort of similar dining establishment. As cities begin to match the suburbs in

gentrification is as prevalent of a buzzword as ever.

The problem is that no one really knows what it means, and it’s hard to tell if and when
gentrification is actually happening if there is no stable definition for the process.
Academics rarely seem to agree on a definition of gentrification, and in popular discourse,
the word is often used jokingly or sarcastically.

Anacostia is a small neighborhood in the eighth ward of Washington, D.C.. It is, like dozens
of other neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8, geographically cut off from the rest of the city by
the Anacostia River, a long-polluted and highly toxic body of water. But Anacostia has its
merits: It is a designated historic district, can boast the tourist attractions of the Frederick
Douglass House and the Anacostia Community Museum (a Smithsonian outpost), is well-
situated on bus lines, a metro line, and is next up for the installment of a streetcar line, and
has the bare bones of a commercial corridor. Old and new residents alike share a sense of
pride of living in the neighborhood. Rents are much cheaper on the east side of the



“As our cities become more urbanized, the shaping of great outdoor spaces with cafes, tree lined
boulevards, plazas, public fountains and pocket parks, become the humanizing elements that enrich our
urban fabric. In Houston, where we have no zoning, it seems quite contradictory that our public spaces,
for the most part, are shaped by private hands.” Ziegler, Scott. “Back to the city: Has suburban sprawl lost
its sizzle—even in Houston?” CultureMap, June 30, 2010. Last accessed November 11, 2010. culturemap.com/newsdetail/06-30-10-back-to-the-city-has-suburban-sprawl-lost-its-sizzle/>.

Barrett, William P. “Back to the City—For Retirement.” Forbes, September 15, 2010. Last accessed
November 11, 2010. city-retirement-places.html>.

Anacostia River, and with waves of young professionals choosing to work, play, and live in
D.C., Anacostia is poised to see some changes.

Gentrification—which I define here as an influx of bodies that possess a certain level of
capital into spaces with comparably less capital—could help Anacostia become a better place
to live and work, not just for new residents, but for longtime residents, too. The increase of a
population with more money to spend on anything from home improvements to goods and
services might entice businesses to the anemic Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King,
Jr. Boulevard corridors. Diversity, whether it be race-, ethnicity-, or class-based, will make
for a healthier and more sustainable community. As long as residents who have called the
neighborhood home are not financially displaced against their will, I believe that
gentrification can help Anacostia and neighborhoods like it.

To summarize, I argue in this paper that gentrification and displacement are two individual
processes. Though they almost always intertwine, I keep them separate here to indicate that
I believe it is possible for gentrification to occur without displacing longtime residents on a
massive scale. I believe that gentrification is likely to occur in Anacostia based on some of its
attractive characteristics, like historic housing stock and easy access to public transit; the
research I undertook for this project occurred “pre-gentrification.”


Despite the frequent use of “gentrification” in everyday speech, it’s almost impossible to find
it a stable definition. In Gentrification, Loretta Lees, Tom Slater, and Elvin Wyly define the
word as “the transformation of a working-class or vacant area of the central city into
middle-class residential and/or commercial use” (Lees, Slater & Wyly, 2008: xv). But more
telling, perhaps, is their dependence on two definitions by geographer Neil Smith, whom
they quote as saying, “‘By gentrification I mean the process by which working class
residential neighbourhoods are rehabilitated by middle class homebuyers, landlords, and
professional developers. I make the theoretical distinction between gentrification and
redevelopment. Redevelopment involves not rehabilitation of old structures but the


construction of new buildings on previously developed land’ (Smith, 1982: 139” (Lees, Slater
& Wyly, 2008: 9). But just as neighborhood growth and development is in no way static,
gentrification’s definition required an update. The authors again defer to Smith, writing this
time eighteen years later, who states that gentrification is “the reinvestment of CAPITAL
(emphasis in original) at the urban centre, which is designed to produce space for a more
affluent class of people than currently occupies that space.”

The term, coined by Ruth Glass in 1964, has mostly been used to describe the residential
aspects of this process but this is changing, as gentrification itself evolves (Smith, 2000:
294)” (Lees, Slater & Wyly, 2008: 9). Neil Smith himself extrapolates on this shift in The
New Urban Frontier: Gentrification and the Revanchist City
, in a chapter entitled “Is
Gentrification a Dirty World? (Smith, 1996: 30-47). Like Lees, Slater, and Wyly, Japonica
Brown-Saracino borrow a definition in A Neighborhood That Never Changes:
Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search for Authenticity
. Her text states that
gentrification is “an economic and social process whereby private capital (real estate firms,
developers) and individual homeowners and renters reinvest in fiscally neglected
neighborhoods (or towns) through housing rehabilitation, loft conversion, and the
construction of new housing’ (Perez, 2004: 139)” (Brown-Saracino, 2009: 4).

Alexander von Hoffman presents an opposing view of gentrification. He does not deny
anything presented by Lees, Slater, and Wyly, Brown-Saracino, or Smith, but rather
assumes that the processes they describe are natural to neighborhood development. House
by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America’s Urban Neighborhoods
precisely the process of investment in fiscally neglected neighborhoods through case studies
of New York, Boston, Chicago, Atlanta, and Los Angeles, but argues that that process was
necessary to the survival and vitality of neighborhoods within those cities (von Hoffman,
2003). von Hoffman addresses gentrification as part and parcel of a neighborhood’s
identity: “An array of economic and social forces—such as prosperity, immigration, and
gentrification—has helped rejuvenate inner-city neighborhoods, creating both opportunities
and problems” (von Hoffman, 2003: 4). Rather than emblazon the term as something
remarkably destructive and worthy of prevention, von Hoffman assumes that gentrification


will happen and includes it as a term natural to neighborhood process and change;
essentially, he states that gentrification without displacement is a positive force.

Similarly, Lance Freeman, in There Goes the ‘Hood, explains that gentrification is not as
simple as many previous scholars have made it out to be:

“Slater points out the need for scholars to explore how gentrification impacts the
residents living there, but he also assumes that displacement and other hardships
will be the primary experience for the residents of gentrifying neighborhoods. But
the experience of gentrification might be more nuanced than that. Indeed, the
stories of political contestation hint at gentrification being more complex than it
was typically portrayed. For example, writers on gentrification in various
communities...illustrated the many competing interests in these neighborhoods
that did not always neatly cleave between long-term residents and the gentry,
allowing one to infer that not all of the residents were necessarily opposed to
gentrification. By focusing on the political contestations, however, experiences of
every resident was muffled by the din of political conflict.” (Freeman, 2006: 6).

The definition of gentrification that I propose below is similar to that used in Gabriella
Gahlia Modan’s Turf Wars: Discourse, Diversity, and the Politics of Place, which examines
gentrification in Mt. Pleasant, another D.C. neighborhood. In a footnote to her first chapter,
she explains:

“Briefly put, gentrification is the ‘upscaling’ of a neighborhood. It is a process
whereby poor neighborhoods with well-built but generally rundown hosing stock
gain new, comparatively more well-off residents. This results in individual and
commercial housing rehabilitation and investment, which drives up real estate
prices and displaces the original, poorer residents who cannot afford increased
property taxes. Gentrification prototypically occurs in central city neighborhoods,
although this is not always the case. (For other definitions of gentrification, see
David Ley (2003: 2527) and Robert A. Beauregard (1989: 1).” (Modan, 2007: 31).

Though I agree wholly with Modan’s assessment of gentrification as a process based in the
changeover of a neighborhood’s housing stock, she also does not divorce displacement from
gentrification. Though her definition indicates that displacement is one result of
gentrification, it does not explicitly separate the two terms. This continues the conflation of
gentrification and displacement that is so common in popular discourse.


I find the distinction gentrification and displacement critical because studies have indicated
that the two processes are not intrinsically intertwined. In certain cases, long-term residents
of gentrifying neighborhoods are not displaced at the perceived rate (Freeman, 2005), and
studies are slowly acknowledging displacement as “limited (and sometimes counter-
intuitive)” (Newman & Wyly, 2006). As such, I want to be clear that I consider gentrification
and displacement are two separate processes. I wish to define gentrification in this paper as
a process that diversifies a neighborhood through an influx of non-standard elements;
specifically, populations of a higher economic class, but also populations of different races
and ethnicities, and new types of businesses and housing.

In Samuel Delany’s essay “...Three, Two, One, Contact: Times Square Red,” from Times
Square Red, Times Square Blue
, he discusses the need for “contact” (defined loosely as
events that “yield their payoff in moments of crisis [Delany, 1999: 125]) and diversity in
spaces, urban or not:

“City planners, architects, and the people who commission them must be alerted
to the long-term benefits—the social necessity—of designing for diversity: Large
and small must be built side by side. Living spaces, commercial spaces, eating
establishments, repair spaces, and entertainment spaces must all be intermixed.
Large businesses and offices must alternate with small businesses and human
services, even while places to live at all levels, working-class, middle-class, and
luxurious, large and small, must embraid with them into a community...What I
and many other small voices are proposing is that we utilize unconsciously the
same principles of socioeconomic diversity through which those pleasant,
various, and stable neighborhoods that were never planned grew up naturally.
Purposely we must reproduce those multiform and variegated social levels to
achieve like neighborhoods as ends. If our ideal is to promote movement among
the classes and the opportunity for such movement, we can do it only if we create
greater propinquity among the different elements that make up the different
classes. That is diversity. Today, however, diversity has to claw its way into our
neighborhoods as an afterthought—often as much as a decade after the places
have been built and thought out.” (Delaney, 1991: 178-9).

I believe that, if it provides the kind of diversification Delany describes, gentrification could
be a good thing. If it is promoting cultural exchange and continually including diverse


groups, gentrification could and should be regarded as a positive process. In Anacostia,
gentrification would create “meeting points” (Hall, 2004) between different races,
ethnicities, and cultures. It would diversify the existing class dynamic, bringing new and
viable economic factors. And, it would encourage better, more positive perceptions of the
neighborhood. In this paper, I argue that gentrification has the potential to be beneficial in
Anacostia because of these promotions of cultural exchange.


I began my research for this paper by reading extensively about gentrification. Once I had a
better conception of how the process was and is presented in academic settings, I felt
comfortable concluding that there was very little consistency among those presentations—
see "Review of Literature: The Dirty Word" for a longer discussion on this topic. I had no
desire to add yet another definition of gentrification to the already existing pile, but felt that
none of the frameworks I encountered were suitable for what I considered "gentrification."
The definition that I established—the influx of a population into any given space that
possesses less social and financial capital—was shaped by the inconsistencies that I found
between texts I selected for this paper. Those texts included Loretta Lees’ Gentrification, A
Neighborhood That Never Changes: Gentrification, Social Preservation, and the Search
for Authenticity
, and Brett Williams’ Upscaling Downtown: Stalled Gentrification in
Washington, D.C.

House by House, Block by Block: The Rebirth of America’s Urban Neighborhoods by
Alexander von Hoffman and There Goes the 'Hood: Views of Gentrification from the
Ground Up
by Lance Freeman were the texts that I found most aligned with my opinions
about gentrification. The former argues that gentrification is not a negative process if it does
not displace longtime (and often low-income) residents, and the latter argues that, in the
context of Harlem, New York, displacement as been perceived as large scale, but that is not
necessarily the case. Both von Hoffman and Freeman’s arguments heavily inform this paper.


I relied on a large canon of historical texts about Washington, D.C. James Wennersten's
Anacostia: The Death and Life of an American River was essential to understanding the
environmental impact of community development on the Anacostia River, and in turn, the
neighborhood of Anacostia. Howard Gillette’s Between Justice and Beauty: Race, Planning,
and the Failure of Urban Policy in Washington, D.C.
provided particular insight to the
process of urban renewal that became the sole focus of planning institutions in Washington
in the 1960s and 1970s. Tom Sherwood and Harry Jaffe’s Dream City: Race, Power, and
the Decline of Washington, D.C.
was critical in understanding the racial, social, cultural,
and class tensions in the city throughout the 1980s and 1990s. Dream City also carefully
tracks the impact of Marion Barry’s leadership east of the river. For a general history of
Washington, D.C., I relied on Keith Melder’s City of Magnificent Intentions, David L. Lewis’
District of Columbia: A Bicentennial History, and Howard Gillette’s Southern City,
National Ambition: The Growth of Early Washington D.C., 1800-1860

Anacostia Bank, location now unknown, in 1947 (photo: Library of Congress).23



This image can be accessed online at the following address:


Many of the conclusions that I draw in this paper were shaped predominately by two urban
policy texts: William Julius Wilson’s The Truly Disadvantaged: The Inner City, the
Underclass, and Public Policy
, and Peter Dreier’s, John Mollenkopf’s, and Todd
Swanstrom’s Place Matters: Metropolitics for the Twenty-first Century.

Also essential were the Washington Post historical archives, accessible electronically from
the University of Maryland's library. I began with searches for “Uniontown” and followed
with searches for “Anacostia” and “east of the river.” Census data calculated specifically for
Washington, D.C.’s wards, census tracts, zip codes, and neighborhood clusters, from
Neighborhood Info D.C., was indispensable.

The most substantial amount of research specifically related to Anacostia that I undertook
was a series of oral interviews with residents of the neighborhood, as well as with
individuals affiliated with the neighborhood. Typically, I would conduct interviews in
Anacostia, at either the public library or Big Chair Coffee & Grill, the neighborhood's sole
sit-down restaurant. Interviews ran between thirty minutes and an hour. I spoke with a local
blogger; an Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner; a local activist who made a bid for the
Ward 8 council seat in 2008; the media outreach team from the Anacostia Watershed
Society; a white, middle-aged woman self-identified as lesbian new to the neighborhood;
and the communications director from W.C. Smith, a local development and property
management company. These interviews were considered heavily for the information
presented in this paper, and were also edited into five- to seven-minute podcasts for my
internship with the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

It is clear that my interviewees represent a middle-class population. This sets them apart
from the majority of residents in Southeast, as well as Anacostia. I was unable to establish
any substantial connections with any longtime residents of the neighborhood that might
have led to a formal, oral interview. Many residents, upon hearing that I was writing a paper
about Anacostia for the University of Maryland, were recalcitrant. Other connections fizzled
out when a potential interviewee would not or could not answer their telephone. To


compensate for this gap, I made a point to attend as many public, institutional meetings as
possible and observe the behavior, opinions, and individuals present. My accounts of some
of those meetings—which included District Department of Transportation open forums and
Advisory Neighborhood Commission monthly meetings—were occasionally incorporated
into blog posts for Washington City Paper's Housing Complex blog, which covers real
estate, development, and urban policy in Washington, D.C. In addition to institutional
meetings, I also attended events specific to the neighborhood. These events included several
gallery openings between the Vivid Solutions and Honfleur Galleries, as well as a launch
party for a neighborhood branding campaign called Eat Shop Live Anacostia. While mere
attendance and observation is no substitute for a formal, recorded oral interview, I feel
confident that I was able to understand some of the concerns facing longtime residents,
which do certainly include gentrification, displacement, and rising rents.

I also paid attention to local blogs in and around D.C. While reading blogs was not a part of
this paper’s “formal” research, doing so was incredibly useful to gain a public perspective of
how Anacostia is viewed. I consistently read DCist, Prince of Petworth, and the Washington
City Paper
blogs, which cover the entire city. I also paid close attention to the small crop of
local blogs east of the river: And Now, Anacostia, Congress Heights on the Rise, Anacostia
Yogi, and other blogs listed with the R.E.D.C. blog service. Though anonymous commenters
on blogs are certainly not reliable sources of factual information, it was interesting to see
what kind of reactions posts about events, projects, and occurrences in Anacostia generated.
Many of those reactions were negative, and solidified my hypothesis that the majority of
those that know what Anacostia is don’t view it positively.

My own blog, Good Hope Anacostia, served as a place to post ideas and receive feedback.
While I did not have the kind of comment base that comes with large sites like DCist and
Prince of Petworth, I established a rapport with some of my regular readers. Updating my
blog also provided me with access to those who were interested in my work. An interview
with W.C. Smith’s communications director, for example, arose from my writing for my
blog. I also established contact with the author of the oral history website People’s District
and producers of the Kojo Nnamdi show.



Anacostia is a neighborhood in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 8, located in the Southeast
quadrant of the city. It was established in 1854 as Uniontown, one of the first—and only—
subdivisions of the L’Enfant City (Keith Melder, in City of Magnificent Intentions, contends
that Uniontown was indeed the first)24

: “Before the Civil War, residential development
outside Georgetown and the L’Enfant city concentrated in just a few small pockets. In 1854
an early Washington developer, John Van Hook, laid out the community of Uniontown in
an effort to attract as residents workers located just across the Anacostia River at the Navy
Yard. The effects of the war, in addition to the financial panics of 1857 and 1873, slowed
development there, however” (Gillette, 1997: 73).

The Frederick Douglass House, Cedar Hill (photo: Flickr User DC Tourism).



Melder, Keith, City of Magnificent Intentions: A History of Washington, District of Columbia (Silver
Spring, MD: Intac, Inc., 1997).

The neighborhood, like the Navy Yard, was segregated to whites only. Unsurprisingly, the
neighborhood was quite hostile to African Americans,25

but a black population east of the
river was not nonexistent. Most notably, abolitionist Frederick Douglass defiantly
purchased an estate, Cedar Hill, overlooking the neighborhood’s downtown, in the late
1800s. Today, Cedar Hill is a National Park Service National Historic Site.26

Additionally, a

brochure from the D.C. Historic Preservation Office notes that “the earliest of several
settlements—the town of Good Hope—developed in the 1820s around a tavern on the
southbound road on the heights above the bridge to the Navy Yard. In ‘The Anacostia Story,’
historian Louise Hutchinson documents the ways in which some Anacostia slave families
were able to buy their freedom and become independent farmers, artisans, and craftsmen.
Many of these African Americans settled in the Good Hope area.”27

A short “Editor Post,” or, letter to the editor, by W. Lee White is entitled “Origin of
Anacostia: Suburb on Eastern Branch Was Founded Under Name of Union Town.” It
appeared in the Washington Post on April 17, 1905, almost two decades after Uniontown
became known as Anacostia, and reads as follows:

“An article in a city paper of the 10th instant recounting the death and career of
John W. Van Hook, one of the founders of Uniontown, now Anacostia, D.C., is
suggestive of what, it seems to me, ought to be put on record, for the reason that
the geography and material facts touching the true history of that, the largest and
most flourishing suburb of the Capital, ought to be better known, especially by
members of the press.

Prior of 1853 or 1854 the property was owned and cultivated as a farm and
market garden by Enoch Tucker, who during one of those years sold it, about 100
acres, to John Fox, John Van Hook, and John Dobler, who subdivided it into
streets and lots and called it Uniontown.



Washington Post, “Hanged for a Brutal Deed: Fifteen Hundred People Witness the Execution of a
Negro at Uniontown,” Washington Post. December 13, 1901. Page 8.


Toogood, Anna Coxe. “Frederick Douglass Home, Cedar Hill: Historic Grounds Report & Historical
Data Section.” National Park Service, 1968. historic_grounds.pdf>


D.C. Historic Preservation Office. Anacostia Historic District. Washington, DC: Historic Preservation
office, March 2007. < http://www.planning.dc.gov/planning/lib/planning/preservation/pdf/
anacostia_historic_brochure.03.07.pdf>. Last accessed December 2, 2010.

The post-office had previously been established under the name of Anacostia, but
the first post-office there bore the name of Buena Vista, which, however, survived
but a very short time.

Uniontown originally embraced but a comparatively small part of its present
area. It was bounded by Monroe, Harrison, Taylor, and Jefferson streets. Among
other provisions set forth in its charter, the founders thought proper to prohibit
negroes from ever acquiring title to a lot there. This accounts for the fact that it
has remained, notwithstanding the change of status of that race, almost
exclusively a white man’s town.

A notable fact is that one of the founders of this place, through his misfortune,
had to surrender his beautiful and spacious home to the Freedman’s Bank, and a
negro, the late Fred Douglass, became its occupant and owner. Some twenty
years ago, realizing the awkward situation growing out of the difference between
the name and the post-office and town in which it was located, they were, by act
of Congress, through the agency of your correspondent, made synonymous.”28

Mr. White’s citizen account of the neighborhood’s history was subsequently augmented by
an additional letter to the editor, from an H.E. Bowman, who insisted that the name change
resulted from confusion on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad.29

Either way, Uniontown was

indicated as “Anacostia”30

on an 1887 map of the District of Columbia.

The suburb continued to develop and flourish as first horse-drawn, and later electric,
streetcars connected Anacostia to downtown Washington. New construction was designed
to “boom Southeastern property”31

by covering over the malaria-breeding swampland



White, W. Lee. “Origin of Anacostia,” Washington Post. April 17, 1905. Page 9. proquest.umi.com.proxy-um.researchport.umd.edu/pqdweb?
e=HNP&TS=1288290600&clientId=41143>. Last accessed December 2, 2010.


Bowman, H.E. “Anacostia and Uniontown: Confusion Results from Conflicting Names Used by the
Railroads,” Washington Post. October 26, 1903. Page 9. um.researchport.umd.edu/pqdweb?
e=HNP&TS=1288290600&clientId=41143>. Last accessed December 2, 2010.


“Nacotchtanke, the largest of the three villages, was spread out along the southeast side of the Anacostia
River near the present site of Bolling Air Force Base and Anacostia Park. The people of this important
trading community were called Nacostins and Anacostines. The area south and east of the river and the
river itself are now called Anacostia, after the first inhabitants.” (from “National Park Service: Anacostia
Historic District,” last accessed November 10, 2010. ).


Washington Post, “Many Small Sales Have Kept the Brokers Busy, Expected in Southeast,” Washington
. June 15, 1902. Page 23. index=66&did=257922912&SrchMode=1&sid=2&Fmt=10&VInst=PROD&VType=PQD&RQT=309&VNa
me=HNP&TS=1288293354&clientId=41143>. Last accessed December 2, 2010.

known as the “Anacostia Flats.”32

The development of homes over the flats produced still-
standing examples of Italianite architecture. The town’s main streets bustled with
commerce during the first quarter of the twentieth century:

“Early on, business in Anacostia clustered around the intersection of Monroe
Street (later Nichols Avenue, now Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue) and Harrison
Avenue (now Good Hope Road) at the north end of town. Duvall’s Tavern and
George Pyle’s Grocery, as well as blacksmith and carriage shops catered to both
residents and travelers passing through. The arrival of the streetcar and the
location of the streetcar stop near this intersection spawned even more
commercial activity. By the turn of the century, a thriving commercial district
extended down both streets beyond the intersection. Hardware stores, grocery
stores, and drugstores all vying for business emerged to face the main avenues.”33

The “downtown” area also had a competing grocery store that doubled as a post office,
schools, churches, banks, and the Anacostia Inn. Life in Anacostia hummed along with little
drastic change, but functioned well to serve the neighborhood’s residents. James
Wennersten, in Anacostia: The Death and Life of an American River, writes, “After the
Depression and World War II, growth came to the Anacostia only in fits and starts, mostly
in response to urban renewal elsewhere. Well into the 1940s much of the community was
still rural. One social indicator provided a perspective on the changes taking place. In 1949
the most serious crime reported was ‘cattle rushing’” (Wennersten, 2006: 139). Relatedly, a
search of the Washington Post archives unearths a slew of baseball statistics for the local
team. Assuredly, Anacostia was a sleepy suburb of downtown Washington, D.C. for the first
half of the twentieth century.



Melder, Keith.


D.C. Historic Preservation Office. Anacostia. Washington, D.C.: D.C. Historic Preservation Office,
2007. Last accessed November 11, 2010. planning/lib/planning/preservation/pdf/anacostia_historic_brochure.03.07.pdf>.

Shops on Nicholls Street, circa 1919 (photo: Library of Congress).34

The critical change in Anacostia’s demographics was a result of the sweeping urban renewal
policy enacted in the neighboring Southwest quadrant. The National Capital Regional
Planning Council (which removed “park” from its name as the urban renewal project went
underway) and several related agencies proposed a total clearance of the tenements that
housed thousands of the city’s poor—to be replaced with an interstate freeway. Though the
slum clearing faced much opposition, House District Appropriations Subcommittee
Chairman William Natcher of Kentucky told the National Capital Transit Administration
administrator Walter J. McCarter that “funding for the subway would be withheld if the
District highway program failed to go forward” when it looked like McCarter might swing
the vote against the construction of I-295 (Gillette, 1997).

Initially, those that had filled the tenement homes in Southwest made their way toward the
Northeast quadrant, home to many middle- and upper-middle-class African Americans. The



Accessible online at this address: .

urban renewal project in Southwest and consequent migration also coincided with a wave of
white flight (Gillette, 1997: 152). White residents of Southeast dashed to suburban Prince
George’s County, just across the border, leaving shells of neighborhoods. Gillette writes that,
“...the large number of displaced Southwest residents began to flood into other black areas,
ultimately spilling over into predominately white neighborhoods, such as Anacostia, just
across the river from Southwest” (Gillette, 1997: 165). Literature from the D.C. Historic
Preservation Office indicates that, despite increased and updated connectivity to the
western side of the river, urban renewal severely damaged the community and
infrastructure that had previously existed within Anacostia (described by the D.C.
Preservation League as “one of Washington’s richest collections of small scale working class

“The Depression and Word War II brought significant change to Anacostia. A
large portion of the vigorous Barry’s Farm community was demolished to make
way for a low-rise public housing development. More homes were lost and the
community was fragmented when the Suitland Parkway was routed through it.
Although the construction of the Anacostia Freeway, the dual 11th Street bridges,
and the Frederick Douglass Bridge helped connect Anacostia to the rest of the
city, the bridges, their ramps and ensuing traffic detracted from the semi-rural
setting and historic character of the area. As urban renewal proceeded in other
parts of the city, particularly the redeveloped Southwest neighborhood, large
displaced populations were relocated in Anacostia in newly and often poorly
constructed apartment buildings set down in what had been open fields. Much of
this was public housing. The needs of the new residents far exceeded and
overwhelmed the resources of the small community.”35

By 1970, Southeast and Anacostia were almost entirely African American. More and more
low-rise housing projects and garden-style apartments were constructed, often shoddily.
The scandal-ridden Marion Barry’s ascent to power came in the 1970s, when he demanded
trash service for neighborhoods east of the river. Barry went on to employ youths from
Southeast in his Summer Youth Employment Program. He has served two terms as mayor
of Washington, D.C. and will enter his third as councilmember, representing Ward 8, this
year. Barry often makes statements that imply that he is the only elected official that cares



D.C. Historic Preservation Office. Anacostia. Washington, D.C.: D.C. Historic Preservation Office, 2007.
Last accessed November 11, 2010. lib/planning/preservation/pdf/anacostia_historic_brochure.03.07.pdf>.

about Southeast, Ward 8, and the neighborhoods within.36

However, it is inarguable that his
jurisdictions took a serious hit from the city’s crack cocaine epidemic while he was in office,
and have yet to fully recover.

Crack cocaine hit Anacostia and the surrounding neighborhoods hard. A profile of Fairlawn,
just to the east of Anacostia, in the Washington Post says this of the neighborhood, which
resembles Anacostia greatly: “Crack cocaine arrived in the neighborhood in 1987, and ‘it’s
alive and kicking now,’ Holmes said. With drugs came crime, and the neighborhood
deteriorated. The old community code of watching out for everyone’s kids began to fray, the
dropout rate rose, and those busy streets gradually turned empty. A methadone clinic
moved onto Good Hope Road where small businesses once stood.”37

Though the entire city

fell into decline in the 1980s, Southeast, including Anacostia, fared the worst. The
neighborhood is still struggling to recover its reputation in the wake of the drugs and

It is interesting to compare the development of Anacostia to the development of
Georgetown, the District’s only other neighborhood with comparable waterfront access.
Georgetown is home to Georgetown University, pricey real estate, and exists a mecca for
upscale shopping and out-of-town visitors; the Potomac River has been deemed “healthy.”38
Anacostia was all but ignored—many residents refer to it as the city’s “dumping ground” for
all things bad. The Anacostia River, so hazardous that it qualifies for a Superfund site
designation from the Environmental Protection Agency, is also representative of this



“Barry says his home ward, which is almost entirely African American and has extremely high poverty
and unemployment rates, has long been the city’s “dumping ground.” Making it more diverse will likely
involve expanding across the Anacostia into the whiter, richer Southwest, Barry said. ‘We can’t go south,’
Barry joked.” Suderman, Alan. “Census Violence: Redistricting Ward Boundaries Could Fracture D.C.
Council.” Washington City Paper Loose Lips, October 27, 2010. Last accessed November 12, 2010.


Abrams, Amanda. “Optimism is alive in Southeast D.C. neighborhood of Fairlawn.” Washington Post,
October 22, 2010. Last accessed November 11, 2010. article/2010/10/22/AR2010102202334.html>


Davis, Veronica. “Environmental Inequality in Washington, D.C.: A Comparison of the Neighborhoods
Along the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers,” paper presented to the faculty of the graduate school of Cornell
University. January 2004.

The Anacostia Historic District was designated by the D.C. Historic Preservation Office as
such in 1978. It is currently the only historic district east of the Anacostia River, or in Ward
7 or 8. The historic district made the D.C. Preservation League’s 2005 list of most
endangered places:

“The Anacostia Historic District represents the plight of working class African
American urban neighborhoods in the District—communities where economic
revitalization is long in coming. Despite the presence of the National Park
Service’s Frederick Douglass Home and the nearby Smithsonian Institution’s
Anacostia Museum, the deteriorating buildings and blighted landscape stand as
unfortunate witness to decades of disinvestment. There are a number of vacant
lots and many buildings are in serious need of rehabilitation due to owners’
neglect and lack of financial resources.”39


The word “Anacostia” is often used to describe all of the neighborhoods across the Anacostia
River (one of the textbooks cited in this paper, Keith Medler’s City of Magnificent
, actually makes this mistake). In fact, “east of the river” includes two wards (one
of which, Ward 7, actually straddles the river and includes parts of the Northeast quadrant)
and dozens of neighborhoods in addition to Historic Anacostia: Barry Farm, Bellevue,
Benning, Benning Heights, Buena Vista, Burrville, Capitol View, Congress Heights,
Deanwood, Douglas, Dupont Park, Eastland Gardens, Fairfax Village, Fairlawn, Fairmont
Heights, Fort Davis Park, Fort Dupont, Garfield Heights, Grant Park, Greenway, Hillbrook,
Hillcrest, Kenilworth, Knox Hill, Lincoln Heights, Mahaning Heights, Marshall Heights,
Mayfair, Naylor Gardens, Penn Branch, Randle Highlands, River Terrace, Sheridan, Shipley
Terrace, Summit Park, Twining, Washington Highlands, Woodland/Fort Stanton.40

It is

important to note that Anacostia is a single neighborhood located in Ward 8, in the
Southeast quadrant of Washington, D.C. The term does not apply to anything but that
singular neighborhood.



“D.C. Preservation League’s Most Endangered Places for 2005: Anacostia,” last accessed November 11,
2010. .


“Neighborhood Info D.C.: Neighborhood Clusters,” last modified April 2010. Last accessed November
11, 2010. .

A historic home slated for renovations (photo: Alex Baca).

Also worth mentioning is that Anacostia’s boundaries are not stable. It is easiest to assume
that the boundaries established by the historic district designation are the neighborhood
limits, but, as noted above, elements associated with Anacostia do fall outside of those
boundaries. This paper discusses some of those elements, such as the Anacostia metro
station and the Sheridan Station development. Additionally, some interviewees live outside
of the historic district’s boundaries. For the purposes of this paper, “Anacostia” falls within
the historic district boundaries, but also includes the area between the westernmost border
and the metro station (see the following “Mapping” section).

The perceptions of the neighborhood, and the instability of its name and boundaries, have
done significant damage. A recent scene from the television show Bones shows three
characters discussing the dangers of Anacostia—and comparing it to Kabul.41

Bloggers and

journalists reacted strongly to this wholly negative portrayal, rightly remarking that not only



“‘What do you know about Anacostia?’ ‘It’s a neighborhood about a mile and a half from here: seedy,
prostitution, lots of gangs, bad activity...why?’ ‘Anacostia? That’s a really tough part of town.’ ‘Not
compared to downtown Kabul, it’s not.’” “And Now, Anacostia: Anacostia on Bones,” last updated
November 5, 2010. Last accessed November 11, 2010. anacostia-on-bones.html>.

is it a disservice to Kabul to be compared to a neighborhood in Washington, D.C., but that
Anacostia is truly not as dangerous as it is made out to be.42

Bones’ general portrayal of all
D.C. neighborhoods is
questionable—it is, after all, a
fictional TV show. However,
the sentiment described above
is not too far off from the
popular perception of not just
Anacostia, but of Southeast
Washington. When I discussed
with friends and
acquaintances that I was
studying Anacostia, they
would often react with an
over-the-top concern for my
safety. Though I freely admit
that I wouldn’t walk around
Anacostia alone at night, I feel
the same about my own
neighborhood, which is
generally regarded as highly
gentrified and relatively safe. In fact, crime rates in areas in the U Street corridor are similar
to Anacostia. Because the U Street corridor is a popular nightlife destination and quite busy
during the day, many people refuse to acknowledge, or have difficulty understanding, that it



Orvetti, P.J, “Boning up on Anacostia,” District Daily on NBC Washington (blog), November 6, 2010.
Last accessed November 11, 2010. Anacostia-106865228.html>.

is nearly as dangerous. The map to the right indicates that similar amounts of crime occur
across the city’s eight wards and seven police precincts.43

Anacostia today has improved drastically. The streets are clean, and some storefronts along
Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue are filled. Big Chair Coffee, the first
sit-down restaurant that anyone can remember,44

has been a boon to the neighborhood.
Uniontown Bar, the second proposed sit-down restaurant along Martin Luther King, has
been in the works for some time now. The owner has repeatedly pushed back the opening
date due to difficulties in the permitting and liquor licensing process.

Several groups with the intention to better the neighborhood have been established. The
largest and oldest of these groups is ARCH, which “strives to act as a catalyst for cultural
revitalization...by creating a home for arts and artists, cultural organizations, and
compatible businesses as a means to fulfull its objectives of community-based economic
development, revitalization, and sustainable living neighborhoods.” ARCH has been in
Anacostia for nearly 20 years and has backed the opening of several local businesses.
ARCH’s mission takes on the Richard Florida-esque theory that the cultivation of a “creative
economy” can better a neighborhood.45

Other groups have cropped up in the past year or two and include the Historic Anacostia
Block Association (HABA) and REEL (River East Emerging Leaders). A branding campaign
called Eat Shop Live Anacostia (ESL Anacostia) was revealed in September 2010 and is now
underway; it is affiliated with ARCH and made possible through a grant from the District
Department of Housing and Community Development, whose headquarters are located in
Anacostia, just over the 11th Street Bridge. For the most part, the groups exist to organize



District of Columbia Crime Policy Institute and the Urban Institute, “Small Number of Blocks Account
for Lots of Crime in D.C.,” November 2010. block_1.pdf>. Last accessed December 2, 2010.


Samuelson, Ruth. “Big Chair Coffee—Anacostia’s First Stand-Alone Coffee Shop That Anyone Can
Remember—Opened Today.” Washington City Paper Housing Complex, January 11, 2010. Last accessed
November 11, 2010. chair-coffee-anacostias-first-stand-alone-coffee-shop-that-anyone-can-remember-opened-today/>.


“ARCH Development.” Last accessed November 12, 2010. .

and promote events, like gallery openings at the Vivid Solutions or Honfleur Galleries, and
many of their staff and volunteers overlap. HABA in particular has made some strides in
physically improving Anacostia: The group was responsible for securing historic homeowner
grants, available to homeowners in D.C.’s historic districts, and distributing them amongst
residents. The grants helped several longtime residents restore some features of their

This house replaced its simulated-stone facade with wooden siding with a historic homeowner grant
(photo: Alex Baca).

Sheridan Station, outside of the proper boundaries of the Anacostia Historic District but
across the street from the Anacostia metro stop, is currently under construction. The
development is a HOPE IV project and is under the auspices of developer William C. Smith.
When completed, there will be residential units and ground-floor retail, which is slated to
include a health clinic. The District’s other HOPE IV project, Capper/Carrollsburg, has
come under much criticism for displacing longtime residents that fall below the poverty

Those difficulties have been exacerbated by the Federal Department of Housing and
Urban Development’s difficulty in sticking to a realistic timeline for construction. Though



Wilson, Charles. Interview by Alex Baca. Digital recording. Anacostia Library, Washington, D.C., July



Walton, Ellie and Wild, Sam. Chocolate City. 2007.

HOPE IV cannot be discussed without making mention of its criticisms, the program does,
at the very least, replace public housing that is regarded as excruciatingly sub-standard and
often dangerous.48

The streetcar line construction that has so affected H Street NE will be making its way to
Anacostia within the next decade. The “trolley,” as many in Anacostia call it, is greatly
anticipated—even a casual conversation about the neighborhood’s future will steer toward
excitement for an additional form of transportation. There has also been a suggested
extension of the District Department of Transportation-run Circulator bus into Anacostia.
The Circulator routes are limited-stop and connect neighborhoods (such as Adams Morgan,
Woodley Park, U Street, and Logan Circle), and could be a helpful addition to the many
Metrobus routes that run through and around Anacostia currently.

Perhaps the largest change that will confront Anacostia in the near future will be the
relocation of the Department of Homeland Security from its current campus in upper
Northwest. DHS will move into the historic St. Elizabeth’s Hospital campus, previously a
mental institution. St. Elizabeth’s—or, St. E’s—is actually in Congress Heights, about a mile
east of Anacostia. Though the agency has made many efforts to preserve the historic nature
of the campus and buildings, it will be a closed, secure area. A closed campus has had little
impact in upper Northwest, but there is a possibility that one might severely cleave DHS
operations and relationships from the surrounding neighborhoods. It is understandable that
DHS needs an extremely high level of security. However, the sprawling St. Elizabeth’s
campus had incredible potential to serve as a vibrant and accessible community resource.
For example, it was rumored that The University of the District of Columbia might have
occupied the campus; if so, it would have been much easier for local residents to engage
with the space and take advantage of what UDC offers. DHS’s move will no doubt encourage
some DHS employees to move to Southeast, and many may find themselves attracted to
Anacostia’s sturdy and charming housing stock. DHS employees are atypical of the average
Anacostia, Congress Heights, or Washington Highlands resident. Though the influx of



Cisneros, Henry G. and Engdahl, Lora. From Despair to Hope: Hope VI and the New Promose of
Publich Housing in America’s Cities. Brookings Institution Press: 2009. Washington, DC.

capital and presence of a population with a disposable income might attract some much-
needed goods and services to Southeast, it may also arouse the suspicions of current
residents. DHS at St. Elizabeth’s has the potential to help the neighborhood, but the rapid
move may disrupt what is already a delicate environment.

Though it is not likely that Anacostia will see the kind of rapid, sweeping changes that have
characterized the U Street corridor and Columbia Heights, I feel confident in stating that the
neighborhood will look different—statistically, physically, and economically—in five or ten
years. Longtime residents are, understandably, fearful of gentrification and displacement,
but many are also excited by the prospect of better transit, better amenities, and the filling
of vacant lots. Anacostia’s challenge will be no different from that of thousands of
neighborhoods: How can change benefit the community without severely disrupting it—and
those who it could benefit most?


To better understand and demonstrate precisely what amenities were and were not present
in Anacostia’s two commercial corridors, I undertook several different mapping exercises.
Here, I hope to provide visual demonstrations of where Anacostia is located, what exists
within Anacostia, and how what within Anacostia compares to what’s outside of it
(particularly in the terms of business and retail).

The map below49

shows the boundaries of Anacostia’s historic district, as established by the
D.C. Historic Preservation Office in 1978, and the boundaries of what is colloquially referred
to as Anacostia. The historic district is the darker area. What I call the “social boundaries” of
Anacostia are shown in light blue. These “social boundaries” come from indicators in my
interviews and casual conversations. The historic district boundaries are generally regarded
as the neighborhood’s boundaries, but many that say they live in Anacostia do not live



This map is accessible online (through Google maps) at this address:


within the historic district. The “social boundaries” that I’ve drawn include additional
housing along Howard Road SE, the Anacostia metro station, the Anacostia Library, and
Thurgood Marshall Academy, a public charter school.

It’s also important to understand what resources are actually available within, and
immediately outside of, Anacostia. This map from the American Observer of American

was created in 2009. It provides a good visual demonstration of how many
grocery stores are concentrated in different parts of D.C. (and the parts of Maryland and
Virginia that border the District). It also shows only two grocery stores, both Safeway, east
of the river—one is on Benning Road and one is on Alabama Avenue. This map omits the
Giant, also on Alabama Avenue, and the Yes! Organic Market in Fairlawn on Pennsylvania
Avenue. These two stores opened in the past year. Still, neighborhoods east of the river are



Coffey, David. “Searching for Grocery Stores in Southeast,” American Observer: American University's
Graduate Journalism Magazine. February 18, 2009. searching-groceries-southeast>. Last accessed December 1, 2010.

not privy to the same access afforded to those that live in the rest of the city—especially in
Upper Northwest.

An isolated view of the major, “one-stop shopping” grocery stores51

east of the Anacostia

river is shown below.



I am referring to brand-name supermarkets like Giant or Safeway that provide not just food, but
necessary supplies for the home. The small grocery store referenced in the following interview with David
Garber is not well-stocked enough to qualify as a one-stop shop.

Grocery stores are of particular interest because they generally provide one-stop shopping
for necessary goods and services, like food and household supplies. Additionally, while
certain goods and services certainly exist in Anacostia, one would travel outside of the
neighborhood frequently to take care of the majority of their needs, whether social or
material. The subjects that I interviewed all specifically stated that they wanted to see more
anything happen in their neighborhood. However, all four spoke predominately on the topic
of restaurants and bars (rather than retail). There was a strong sense that my interviewees
would rather be spending their money in their own neighborhood. Currently, Anacostia
does not necessarily allow them to do so. The map below indicates the available dining
establishments in Anacostia.52



This map is accessible online (through Google maps) at this address:



“Why Do You Like Your Neighborhood?”: Interviews Inside Anacostia
This paper expands on the interviews conducted as research for my senior Honors thesis
through the American Studies department. Parts of this paper will appear in the final draft
of my undergraduate senior Honors thesis, “Good Hope: Gentrification, Development, and
Displacement in Anacostia.” In it, I attend to address the themes that emerged through four
interviews with residents of the Washington, D.C. neighborhood of Anacostia, a community
east of the Anacostia River in the District’s Ward 8 that was the topic of my undergraduate
thesis. These four predominant themes are the desire for increased access to amenities in
Anacostia’s downtown, the desire for better leadership and representation, the
neighborhood’s reputation, and the sentiments of hope or hopelessness.

My intention was that the subjects of these interviews would be entry points to a larger body
of conversations with many more neighborhood residents. However, because of time


constraints and difficulty in establishing relationships with a broad spectrum of Anacostia
residents, the material here is what I’ll be focusing on in this paper. I conducted two
additional interviews with individuals who were not residents of Anacostia. Their responses
are not transcribed and analyzed here, though I do make reference to them in order to
reinforce the reoccurring themes I explore.

All interviews were conducted throughout the summer and fall of 2010. They typically lasted
between a half hour and an hour. I tried to have a casual dialogue with my subjects; though I
would have the kinds of questions I wanted to ask in mind before an interview, I began by
asking interviewees what they did and didn’t like about living in Anacostia. The
conversations typically moved organically, on their own, from that starting point. Some
were more interested in discussing what kind of commerce they’d like to see, while others
wanted to talk about how they were perceived because they lived in Anacostia.

Though this framework—or lack of framework—in my questioning allowed for my
conversations with subjects to go in many different directions, some consistencies can be
extracted. After listening, transcribing, and reading the transcriptions of my interviews, I
was able to identify the desire for increased access to amenities in Anacostia’s downtown,
the desire for better leadership and representation, the neighborhood’s reputation, and the
sentiments of hope or hopelessness as predominate, prevailing topics in my four interviews.
In this paper, I address how each subject discussed the four topics and interpret what might
be done in Anacostia to improve upon or address those topics.

David Garber is a white male in his late twenties. Garber grew up in Northern Virginia and
found himself lost in Wards 7 and 8 as a summer intern for architecture firm Duany Plater
Zyberk. A few years later, he moved to Anacostia in 2007 when he realized that buying a
house in the neighborhood was as affordable as renting an apartment in other parts of the
city. Garber recently sold his home and moved just over the 11th Street Bridge to Near
Southeast, where he was elected to the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission in the
November 2010 election. Despite living in Ward 6, Garber is still a presence in Anacostia.
He works as a house flipper there (though it must be said that his projects are less about


making money and more about restoring the quality of the neighborhood’s housing stock)
and was one of the first to rent office space the Hive, a new collaborative workspace project
opening in Anacostia this month.

Gregg Justice is an African American male in his early thirties. He moved to D.C. eight years
ago because of a job transfer; he lived in Hillcrest, another neighborhood east of the river,
because a friend had bought a house there. When he decided to buy a place of his own, he
looked in Anacostia, and lives in The Overlook, a development funded in part by Bank of
America in conjunction with the city. Justice serves on the local Advisory Neighborhood
Commission and was re-elected to his seat in the November 2010 election. He works as a
consultant in D.C.

Charles Wilson is an African American male in his early thirties. He spent part of his
childhood in Prince George’s county, but moved around and traveled often with his father,
who was in the military. Wilson made a bid for the Ward 8 council seat in the 2008 election,
but split the vote between the three other candidates challenging incumbent Marion Barry.
He is now a neighborhood activist that serves on the board of several community
organizations including the Historic Anacostia Block Association (HABA) and the River East
Emerging Leaders (REEL). Wilson was also elected to the local Advisory Neighborhood
Commission in the November 2010 election. He works as an accountant in Virginia.

Lisa Turgeon-Williams is a white lesbian female in her late thirties. She is not native to
Washington, D.C. but has lived in the area for over a decade. Turgeon-Williams and her
partner were living in Virginia, but wanted to move into the District, where they would be
afforded more rights as a same-sex couple. They settled on Anacostia after a friend gave
them a tour of the neighborhood; they couldn’t afford most other neighborhoods within the
city limits. Turgeon-Williams lives just outside the boundaries of the historic district, but
considers herself to be a resident of Anacostia. She works for the National Trust for Historic


All subjects are homeowners. With the exception of Garber, who owns his own businesses,
all are in professions that can be squarely defined as white collar. All hold college degrees.
All are within about a decade of each other in age, from late twenties to early thirties. None
have children. None were born in Anacostia; all made the decision to purchase property and
live in the neighborhood. They are in conflict with the demographics of Anacostia’s
population: As of 2000, 97% of Anacostia residents were African American, 38% were below
the poverty line, 22% were unemployed and 33% did not hold a high school diploma, 20% of
teen mothers gave birth and 70% of households were female-headed with children.53
Though it’s important to demonstrate that my interview subjects do not represent
Anacostia’s majority—or the demographic that is stereotypically portrayed as living in
Anacostia—it is also important to remember that that doesn’t render their opinions and
thoughts on the neighborhood in which they’ve chosen to live invalid.

A. Main Street: The Desire for Increased Access to Amenities in Anacostia’s Downtown

Anacostia’s commercial corridor is composed of storefronts along Good Hope Road and
Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard. Walking north along Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard,
one will pass a charter school, a fish fry carryout, a convenience store, a hair salon, a
barbershop, the Salvation Army’s headquarters in the District, a soul food carryout, an art
gallery and print shop, a Jamaican carryout, a veterinary clinic, a bar currently under
construction, a coffee shop with sit-down space, and an equipment rental business. On
Good Hope Road there is a small grocer, an outpost of the non-profit Bread for the City, and
farther down, the Anacostia Library. Though this may sound like a lot, there are still plenty
of empty storefronts dotting the two corridors.

I identified the desire for increased access to amenities in Anacostia’s downtown as the
primary, fundamental concern represented in my interviews. My subjects indicated that
they’d like more sit-down restaurants where they could bring friends and meet their
neighbors. Second to this was the desire for a nearby full-service grocery store (the closest is
over a mile from Anacostia’s center) or better-stocked corner stores.


53 Neighborhood Info DC. “Cluster 28: Ward 8/Historic Anacostia Profile.” Last modified April 22, 2010.

David Garber: “A lot of people are scared of more density when neighborhoods
are developing, especially in a neighborhood like this where things aren’t above
three or four stories. People are scared of new residents, they think it’s gonna
bring traffic and things like that, but we need to have a lot more residents in this
neighborhood. It is mostly single-family homes. For us to get retail, we just need
more people on the streets. I’ve heard statistics that Martin Luther King has more
lunchtime people than even U Street, but they don’t have any place to go, so they
all drive to Barracks Row to eat lunch. I don’t really think that’s true, but...we do
need more places. We need a good grocery store. The little supermarket isn’t
horrible, but it hasn’t been renovated since 1972 and it looks like you’re walking
into That 70s Show, and it doesn’t feel like a lot of people want to go shopping for
their regular groceries. There’s movement right now toward buying that lot,
building apartments and having space for a grocery store on the ground floor. I
totally support that. There’s...with the redevelopment of “downtown Anacostia,”
there’s supposed to be a grocery store, a movie theatre, like, 1.2 million square
feet of new development which, I don’t know, that’s a number of years down the
road. I think that good models for development are out there, and I’d love to see
it become a mix of Barracks Row and Glover Park—not huge storefronts, I don’t
want to see huge buildings everywhere, I don’t want that to be the character of
Anacostia, that’s gonna happen, so there has to be residents here that are fighting
tooth and nail to make it somehow fit in or at least be human-scale...the Glover
Park Whole Foods has a small storefront, but it’s a big store, and there’s lots of
locally-owned businesses, restaurants, around it, with renovated storefronts.
Anacostia right now isn’t a place where a ton of young people live...I’ve said this
before, on the record. I think this neighborhood needs some gentrification, if only
to provide economic diversity to the neighborhood because right now, anybody
that’s come here, you can’t really use the argument...it’s unfair to the people who
live here now to say that we should have better stores and services. If we only
have corner groceries with, like, Funions and blue-flavored Mountain Dew, then
we’re totally doing ourselves a disservice if we say we shouldn’t strive to provide a
better option.”

Gregg Justice: “Hopefully, we can get more retail and create the desire for them
to come out of that complex, come down into the neighborhoods and shop and
spend some of their capital in our neighborhoods. That is what I would like to see
—I would like to see more retail, I would like to see more sit-down restaurants
and and shops because as it stands, I don’t shop in the neighborhood. I go out to
Maryland or out to Virginia and I think it’s unfortunate because the District loses
a lot of tax revenue, because I’m not the only one. I think the majority of the
young professionals have the same mindset...I’ll go over to the Navy Yard,
because they have so many goods and services. I would like to see the same thing
here in my neighborhood so I don’t have to cross over the river to get the services
that I desire. I think that development will help speed that process up. Retail
recognizes that there is disposable income, even though this ward, even though
the average median income is the lowest...we’re just the lowest in everything bad,
and the last in everything good!”


Charles Wilson: “I would definitely like to see some more changes in
Anacostia. Some of these abandoned homes you see—I want to see them
renovated and families living in them, taking care of the homes and the yards. I
definitely want to see more amenities within my neighborhood, where I can go
get a bagel or a sandwich or a coffee down the street from my house rather than
having to drive to Maryland ors Virginia or somewhere else in D.C. I definitely
want to see more youth involved and doing positive things in the community.”

Lisa Turgeon-Williams: “A restaurant. We were supposed to have one open in
August, but it’s still not there and it doesn’t look like it’s gonna happen anytime
soon. You always wonder what happened, what wrench was thrown into the
process. It’s very hard to make things happen here. I think it’s because an
unknown element steps in and makes it hard for the process to continue—I think
part of it is D.C. being so dysfunctional, and part of it’s corruption. So, I’d love to
have a restaurant, a bar, a place to meet.”

Both Garber and Turgeon-Williams stated that they went to Eighth Street, also known as the
Barracks Row Main Street, just south of Capitol Hill when they wanted to dine, drink, shop,
or socialize with friends outside of Anacostia. Justice indicated that he’d rather drive to
Virginia, Maryland, or elsewhere in the District because the grocery stores east of the river
did not meet his standards. Wilson also mentioned driving to Virginia. Though there is
something to be said of the planned development in Anacostia that has been quashed by the
economy—notes Garber, “When I bought here, I thought the development was all
happening, like Poplar Point and Martin Luther King, this whole downtown area, it’s still
scheduled to be redeveloped, but it was a lot more imminent in 2007 than it is now, and, so,
the streetcar has sort of been coming next year for the past five years. I don’t know, it turns
out that the change has been happening slowly and trickling in, but it’s been quality stuff
that’s been coming. Like, Big Chair Coffee, and the bar next door”—it’s unfortunate that,
right now, the neighborhood is losing what could be a steady stream of hyper-local revenue.
Clearly, all four subjects would prefer to spend their money in their neighborhood, but feel
forced to go elsewhere because of a lack of choices.

Anacostia has the infrastructure for a walkable “downtown” or traditional “Main Street.”
There are few parking lots and the retail corridors are considerably dense. Few other areas
east of the Anacostia river have this kind of infrastructure, and it would greatly benefit not


just Anacostia, but the neighborhoods that surround it. If there were to be an increase in
amenities, like sit-down restaurants and grocers and stores that stocked essentials,
Anacostia might be able to contain some of the revenue that its residents currently spend
elsewhere. Though new establishments might bring with them the concern of displacement
of existing establishments or increase in property taxes for homeowners, the benefits of an
improved “Main Street” corridor for Anacostia far outweigh the negatives. Additionally,
because so many storefronts are empty, displacement is not as likely as it would be in more
business-saturated areas of the city.

B. Mayor for Life: The Desire for Better Leadership and Representation

Marion Barry is likely the District’s most recognizable public official. Ridden with scandal
and best known for claiming that “Bitch set me up!” when he was caught smoking crack on
video, Barry has served three consecutive terms as mayor, a fourth non-consecutive term,
and six non-consecutive terms as the Ward 8 councilmember.

However, the good that Barry has done for east of the river neighborhoods—as a young
activist in the 1970s, he secured trash service in Anacostia and close-by areas when there
was none, and started the Summer Youth Employment Program—has been overshadowed
in recent years. Barry might have come out of the crack scandal triumphant, but Ward 8 is
not a shining example of a councilmember’s positive dedication. Though Barry gives Ward 8
a presence on the City Council, he is not a good advocate for his ward. Currently, his antics—
like awarding contracts to girlfriends, which resulted in his censure—are more recognizable
than his achievements.

With the exception of Garber’s interview, there was an extremely powerful desire for better
leadership and recognition in Anacostia. Though not all four interviewees addressed Barry’s
representation of the ward, I felt it absolutely critical to include this theme because Justice,
Wilson, and Turgeon-Williams approached the subject so passionately. Additionally, Barry
is a polarizing figure. The three subjects felt that, though older residents loved and
respected him because of his ability to secure trash service, or because he secured them a
job through the Summer Youth Employment Program, he needed to be replaced with


someone better-equipped to secure for Ward 8 the benefits and attention that have been
afforded to other wards. Though Wilson’s rhetoric is not as strong as Justice’s and Turgeon-
Williams’, his actions might speak louder: In 2008, he challenged Marion Barry for the
Ward 8 council seat.

Gregg Justice [responding to “You’ve talked about a lack of representation for
Ward 8 and Anacostia. What would you like to see improved in that regard?”]:
“Different leadership, as a whole. It’s known, it’s not a secret, everyone knows we
don’t have the best representation and that’s why we’re left behind in so many
things. A good leader would make sure that this community is served first. It’s
not about talking, it’s about doing. I think people...certain councilmembers, like
ours in place,54

what he’s done historically...I don’t know what he’s doing now. I
don’t see it. I don’t know how connected he is to his community other than the
people he says he sees on the street and gives five or ten dollars to. To me, that is
not leadership. That’s a placeholder. Until the community as a whole, those that
vote, understand and figure out the reason why the ward is the way it is,
continues to be in last place, has a lot to do with the leadership, it will only stay
this way for so long because he can’t live forever. So then, someone else,
hopefully visionary, a younger person, can kind of help to shape or define, create
a new vision. I think what exists here is a lot of hopelessness. What the current
councilmember provides is an emotional hope to a hopeless people, so he speaks
to their emotions and they get excited and some of them...he gave them summer
jobs and put them in positions, but look at where the ward is now! I have a hard
time understanding...I have a great appreciation for him after seeing that movie
about him on HBO but I’m looking at the state of the ward now, and I’m seeing, if
you were mayor for several terms and you’ve been a city councilmember, I’m
trying to understand why it’s taken so long to get decent grocery stores that sell
healthy foods and get sit-down restaurants and get all the things that make it
more desirable...I don’t subscribe that it’s okay to do that. The leadership lacks—I
just think the wrong people have been put in place. We need real leadership here.
I so desire that. I think the councilmember represents that, but I’m not sure what
he actually does. If it’s the last and the worst, it benefits the city to make it better.
When you go to the hospital, the last and worst gets the most attention first, and
they get more of it. You have a headache, you’re gonna have to wait a little longer,
but if you have a gunshot wound, and we got plenty of those, you need a certain
type of trauma treatment. I don’t think the ward has been given that because the
image and the leadership communicates to other wards that you get what you



Justice is referring here to Marion Barry. Barry served four terms as the District’s mayor and multiple
terms as Ward 8 councilmember. He has been on the D.C. Council representing Ward 8 continuously
since 2004 (from the Council of the District of Columbia, “Marion Barry: Biographical Information,”
. Last accessed December 2, 2010).

Charles Wilson: “I also ran for the Ward 8 city council seat about two years ago
and through that experience, I realized there was a whole lot of other young folks
living in Ward 8 that I didn’t know. What I decided to do was to bring them
together to create a new organization called the River East Emerging Leaders.
This organization is, for the most part, comprised of a lot of young people who
live in Ward 8 and Ward 7. It’s designed to do the same thing [as HABA]: Get
people out and keep them involved in the community. We’ve been at that now for
a year, so we’re about to go into the next phase, where we’re bringing in the new
board and putting down some concrete goals for the organization. [Responding
to “Why did you run for the city council seat?”] I became frustrated. I felt that
things could get a lot better than what they were. I felt that I was a candidate that
could actually do that. I’m not the kind of guy that sits back and watches the
parade go by. I want to be part of the parade. That’s pretty much why I ran. Even
though I didn’t win in vote totals, I leaned a lot and grew as a person and through
that created REEL. [Responding to “Would you do it again?”] I would definitely
do it again. It was a great learning experience—a lot of work, but if you have the
right team and the right people working with you, it’s something that’s very

Lisa Turgeon-Williams: “I’d love to have really good representation for
Southeast, instead of Mr. Barry. I’d love to have some new thoughts and energy
and excitement that would actually fulfill at least one percent of the promises that
have been given to Southeast for all these years, for all those patient, patient
neighborhoods that have been there, but haven’t had a voice.” [Responding to
“How do you feel about your ANC?”] Um, I think they’re trying. I think anyone’s
that’s willing to put themselves in that situation, they’re trying. They’re also kind
of caught up in that continuation of what I’ve just talked about, so they’re doing
what they can...Nothing happens in Anacostia without money changing hands,
especially with Marion Barry. It’s a baffling thing, living there. I actually asked a
friend of mine who has lived there for a long time, “What is the deal?” You know,
could you just hit people over the head anymore about how corrupt he is? My
friend said they asked the same question of their neighbors, and they told her he
got trash pickup, back in the day, when no one would come across the river and
the trash was in the street and it was rotting. He treated them like human beings,
but I think he’s done such a good job of manipulating people. He’s certainly used
that part of the city as much as he can, and that’s a shame. I really think until he’s
gone, the change is not going to happen, or at least won’t happen very quickly. He
obviously has a suit of armor when it comes to going to jail! He gives Fenty a hard
time, I’m not big on Fenty, but you give him a hard time, but look at you! So
much money has disappeared. It’s almost like, I hear people being frustrated with
third-world countries, like, all this money has been donated to Haiti, but where’d
it go? Well, those people are all corrupt, but that’s Ward 8. People with the best of
intentions, and thousands of millions of dollars in programs and projects has
been funneled into Ward 8, over and over again, but someone’s put it in their
pocket, or their friend’s pockets. It’s not just Barry, it was the Redskins, with that
one theatre, right down from my place that’s now a school. They collected


millions of dollars in fundraising through golf tournaments and all kinds of
things to rehab this theatre and make it a youth center, but they sold it and now
it’s a school. Where do you think the sale of the property went? It’s unbelievable
that people just keep getting battered down and Barry takes advantage of that,
you know, he says, “These people are corrupt and I’ll stand up for you!” and
people believe him. One of my neighbors! They love Marion Barry, and he won
like 70% of the vote. Until he’s gone, I don’t see a change. He’s the type of guy
that’ll be around forever. You don’t wish ill will on anyone, but he’s just kind of
like a cat with nine lives. He’s gonna be around longer than me. My guess is that
if he ran for mayor, he might win.55

The prevailing sentiment seems to be that if Ward 8 wants to improve in even basic ways—
like having better access to amenities—it first needs better leadership. An able
councilmember could secure economic benefits, like tax abatements, and bring positive
attention to the ward in ways that would improve its reputation (see the following section).

To their credit, both Justice and Wilson are active in leadership roles: Both will serve on the
local Advisory Neighborhood Commission beginning in January 2011. Advisory
Neighborhood Commissions can enact a lot of change at a hyper-local level, but a true
change in representation needs to occur in the City Council. But, as noted above, Barry is a
polarizing figure well-loved by many of Ward 8’s residents—the majority has continued to
elect him despite his significant shortcomings. This puts my interview subjects, who feel
strongly that Barry needs to go, in opposition to the majority of Anacostia and Ward 8. I
might say that they represent a new generation of Anacostians—they chose to live in the
neighborhood (rather than being born there), and thus, find themselves uncomfortable with
the status quo.

C. Bad Activity: The Neighborhood’s Reputation

Anacostia is not the first place that comes to one’s mind, by any stretch, when discussing
safe neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. This is largely due to its history. When a large-scale
urban renewal project in the neighboring Southwest quadrant displaced thousands of
tenement dwellers in the mid-1960s, they settled in the closest available space: Anacostia.
At the same time, a wave of white flight swept the city, and the white, blue-collar Navy Yard



Turgeon-Williams, Lisa. Interview by Alex Baca. Digital recording. Dupont Circle, Washington, D.C.,

September 2010.

workers that had composed the bulk of Anacostia’s population fled to Prince George’s
County. In order to deal with the rapid influx of poorer residents, dozens of garden-style
public housing complexes popped up amongst Anacostia’s stately single-family homes.
Crack, heroin, and other drugs swept through the city in the 1980s and 1990s, doing
significant damage to the then-largely ignored neighborhoods east of the river. This trade
brought with it violence, and despite Marion Barry’s mayorship, little was done to inspire
investment in—or provide any help at all—east of the river. Anacostia and its surrounding
communities are often referred to as the city’s “dumping grounds” for trash transfers,
halfway houses and group remediation homes, and struggling non-profits.

Anacostia’s boundaries are not stable. It is easiest to assume that the boundaries established
by the historic district designation are the neighborhood limits, but elements associated
with Anacostia do fall outside of those boundaries. For the purposes of this discussion,
“Anacostia” falls within the historic district boundaries, but also includes the area between
the westernmost border and the metro station. Anacostia is not the sum of all parts east of
the Anacostia river, despite, as Garber’s discusses below, the Washington Post’s tendency to
treat it as such. Anacostia is a singular neighborhood with an individual identity, separate
from the dozens of other east of the river neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8.

David Garber: “You know, I wish DC would actually make official
neighborhood boundaries! They have those in Chicago. But here, it’s just
understood boundaries, but that’s, I think, that’s been my biggest thing for the
blog and my activism and advocacy of the neighborhood, trying to get people to
understand what and where Anacostia is. The media’s been getting better about
this recently. People just understand Anacostia to be the entire area east of the
Anacostia River. I’m not against names merging, although I am more protective
because I live in Anacostia, but people just don’t know anything about this side of
the river so when something happens, for the most part, when bad things...when
things are reported on east of the river, it’s usually negative things. For the past
few years, the media hasn’t done a good job of saying where things are other than
saying, “Anacostia,” even if it’s three miles away from Anacostia. The funny thing
is, “Southeast” isn’t used to describe stuff that’s close to Capitol Hill, even though
Capitol Hill is in Southeast. When friends say bad stuff about Southeast, I ask
them if they’re talking about Eastern Market. I try to be respectful of people’s
opinions about Anacostia because I grew up in this area and I understand most
people think of it as being a place that they get lost in and get scared of, or, just,


you cross the river and you have absolutely no idea where you are. There isn’t a
lot here to get excited about if you don’t live here, so I don’t expect people from
the rest of D.C. to just come over here all the time, but I would love for it to just
become an option for people when they’re looking for a place to buy or open up a
business, so they’ll say, “Oh, yeah, Anacostia, that’s what I’m thinking about,” like
people say they’re thinking about H Street. We need more residents...”

Gregg Justice: “I think the bad things here are sensationalized. Good news
doesn’t sell. I see the bad things on the news, but not in my neighborhood. I
don’t, I’m not involved in that type of activity...” (in response to “In the future,
how would you like Anacostia to be viewed as by the rest of the community?”): As
a desirable community, as one that is just like any other community in the
District of Columbia. A desirable community, a place to live, work, and play
where there are good things happening—a place to be visited, something that
contributes to the District of Columbia in a positive way, that makes a difference
in the lives of its people, that helps them overcome the obstacles. I would like for
it to be a stop. Those buses that come for tourists? They don’t come! I’d just like it
to be a place that’s desirable, not just for the people that live there because they’re
poor, but because it has some things that are to be seen, witnessed, to be valued,
like the Frederick Douglass Home and the Anacostia River, even in its raggedy
state...a place where people want to come, not where they’re forced to come.
People live here because of necessity, not because they want to, even though it
could be so desired. People are terrified to come, even when they’ve never been
here! When they hear Anacostia, and Ward 8, Southeast, I think a lot of people
think Southeast, they think Ward 8, it’s all Southeast. I like hidden treasures, but
I’m a professional, and my small part, in addition to being an ANC, is changing
the image here. I wear a suit, I go to work...I want this to be a space, that people
can say, “I want to go east of the river, I want to go to Ward 8,” instead of “We
have to have a meeting over there?” I’m not ashamed to say I live in Ward 8 by
any stretch. There are more good things that happen here than bad, but they play
up the bad and it becomes breaking news.56

Charles Wilson: “It’s going to take some work and it’s going to take more than
just REEL. It’s going to take a lot to make it happen. I’ve always said Ward 8 is
bigger than just one person, so, you know, it’s going to take some work, but it can
be done. I’ve always believed that Ward 8 has the necessary resources and people
already living here to improve the quality of life. This is about tapping into that
talent...Southeast D.C.—we get a very bad rep over here, but in reality it’s a much
more close-knit community than any other I’ve lived in.”

Lisa Turgeon-Williams: “I walk to the metro and back every day. We don’t
walk after a certain time—probably around seven, 7:30, later in the summer but,
after that, it’s the witching hour. And, I would argue that, even though we have a



Justice, Gregg. Interview by Alex Baca. Digital recording. Anacostia Library, Washington, D.C., July


certain element of drug sales right down the street from us, at Section 8 housing
—it’s not surprising, people are living in horrible conditions and have to make
money—I think a lot of the bad stuff down there is actually coming in from other
areas, when people come in to purchase drugs and the sales aren’t going well. The
people that live there, I say hi to. I don’t see that as the biggest issue. Sometimes,
Southeast gets a rap but people coming in from other areas might be creating
some of that. You need to be smart, but I don’t say that I feel less safe living there
than when I used to live on T Street, near U, with friends—over there it’s worth
knocking someone down and stealing their wallet. People don’t have a lot of
money in Southeast, so usually it’s a crime with a drug deal, or a gang crime,
maybe break-ins. I just don’t leave stuff in my car.”

The misconceptions of Anacostia are numerous. It has to deal with the trope of violence,
drugs, and crime that is attached to almost all other neighborhoods east of the river. It also
has had the misfortune of its name being applied to all neighborhoods in Wards 7 and 8 east
of the Anacostia river. This likely stems from media coverage: When covering crimes, the
Post will typically refer to a crime scene by the unit block, street name, and quadrant.
Anacostia is the most recognizable neighborhood besides Capitol Hill in the Southeast
quadrant (possibly due to its status as a historic district)—so, many violent crimes become
associated with Anacostia, even though it is largely free of all but the occasional petty crime.

This is a reasonable explanation as to why banks are hesitant to grant loans to potential
entrepreneurs and homeowners. Anacostia’s reputation and economics combined indicate
that it is a risky neighborhood, and banks might see defaulted loans if they take a chance.
Unfortunately, this contributes to a lack of commerce along Anacostia’s main corridors and
decreases the number of people that might invest in the neighborhood.

Anacostia is also cut off from the rest of the city by the geographic boundary of the
Anacostia river. Its reputation doesn’t necessarily encourage D.C residents to cross that

My subjects indicated that they’re proud of their neighborhood and want to be able to share
how they feel about Anacostia with those that don’t live there. All of them are happy about
where they’ve chosen to live. However, that might be surprising to someone whose opinions


of Anacostia are based only on its stereotype. That surprise is a hindrance to Anacostia’s
future development.

D. Good Hope: The Sentiments of Hope and Hopelessness

The full title of my undergraduate senior Honors thesis is “Good Hope: Gentrification,
Development, and Displacement in Anacostia.” The title comes from the name of one of
Anacostia’s two crossroads, Good Hope Road. Interestingly, the topic of “hope” arose
specifically in two of my interviews, and were alluded to in the remaining two.
“Hopelessness,” or a “lack of hope,” was used to describe the housing projects that dot
Anacostia’s landscape of mostly single-family, detached homes. Though my subjects tread
carefully around fully excising the public housing complexes, they do indicate that what
goes on there is somewhat unsavory—not just for themselves, but for the people who live in

“Hope” was used to describe my subjects’ feelings for Anacostia. Many believe that
development is coming soon, that more people will move in, and that Anacostia will be
considered a place to go, rather than a place to dread going.

David Garber: “[Responding to “Why did you decide to flip the house you
bought here?]
In a neighborhood like this, where the housing stock is so
distressed, it’s a good way to just give it a facelift. It’s funny, a lot of the houses
here are still vacant and in really bad shape. A lot of the houses are being redone
are built on empty lots or renovated empty houses. [Responding to “Can you talk
about your blog?”]
I would love to make that more of a priority, but it’s funny, I
started it as sort of a manifestation of me caring about the neighborhood and
wanting to see it improve. That’s still been a part of it. That’s still why I keep it
up. When I started it, I worked in a job I didn’t enjoy and that’s when the
blogging was most active. Now, I’m spending more of my time actually doing—I
think—real improvements to the neighborhood and spending my time, like, now
I’m on the board of ARCH, so I’m putting my energies toward these real-life
things. Sometimes, I think I’m really letting my blog go, but then I realize I’m still
doing stuff, and that’s why...I’m actually renovating houses here. I think it’s cool,
though. It’s definitely more of a resource for the people that don’t live here rather
than the people that do live here.”

Gregg Justice: “I think a lot of crime and a lot of dangerous activity is promoted
because if you’re hopeless and everything around you is hopeless, then what are


your options? Your education has failed you, and there’s only so many things you
can do. I don’t subscribe that it’s okay to do that.”

Charles Wilson: [Responding to “Would you want to see more restoration of
housing stock?] Oh yeah, we’ve got a long way to go. It’s a beautiful neighborhood
but when you have blighted homes that have been sitting like that for years, it
takes away from the integrity of the neighborhood. [Responding to, “Is it easy to
get in touch with owners and convince them to work on their houses?”] Yeah.
People were really excited because of the programs. Things had slowed down
quite a bit, but hopefully when the economy picks back up... [Responding to, “Are
there plans for blighted properties?”] Right now, we’re just trying to bring
attention to the homes through the city. The city has taken steps to take
ownership of some of the properties.”

Lisa Turgeon-Williams: “I’ve been to a few meetings, and that’s the number-
one thing. I don’t really say a lot at those meetings, for obvious reasons. I
haven’t...I could live there for 40 years and couldn’t say I’m truly from Anacostia.
They’re worried, really worried. I’m hopeful that with the Census coming
through, that’ll make a difference, in the not too distant future, of companies
using that data to take another look at Anacostia to come in here. It’s a tough one.
People will have to be displaced to move forward—a crappy-looking Section 8
apartment on the main strip won’t fly here. But, where will they go? And I think
that’s more of a national issue. There has to be a better way than how we run
Section 8 housing. I think it starts with pride. You can’t have pride living in
places that are so horrible. There’s a huge, iron door on the building that’s down
below me, a huge, iron door that you have to open just to get into your apartment,
and who wants to live with that? And, they don’t want to live there! They will
need to be moved, or it will need to be renovated, but then greed comes in,
because someone wants to make money on it. The Canadians have a great
housing system, I think, because it’s mixed income, and mixed use. A friend of
mine is a realtor in Vancouver and some of the mixed housing there is amazing.
When you put the same lack of hope together, how is that going to work out?
When you put folks together that have a sense of pride in their...where they live,
that’s going to grow...you often hear that community is oh, so white, and that’s
not diverse, but you can say the same thing: That community is so black, there’s
no diversity there. You can make the same argument, it’s the same thing, but I
think people forget that, and don’t want to talk about majority-black
neighborhoods, even though that’s how it is. It’s not fair why it is, because they
were put there, and Anacostia used to be all white, it was segregated, and people
started to leave, and the crack wars decimated most of D.C., and it left the
struggling women with the kids. It’s interesting, though. We have a lot of African
American couples in our little community that decided to move here to Anacostia,
because they did want to make a positive presence in this neighborhood and raise
their kids here. I think that’s a good sign. That’s also change in higher salary
earners and their families...If you really want to see change happen in your


neighborhood, it’s not going to happen with one more halfway house. If you really
want retail to come, it won’t come next to a halfway house.”

Justice and Turgeon-Williams both evoke the sentiments of “hope” or “hopelessness” in
their rhetoric in relation to the difficulty of public housing in the neighborhood. Though
Garber and Wilson do not explicitly use the terms “hope” or “hopelessness,” they indicate a
sense of pride in the neighborhood that stems from the maintenance of property. The
Historic Anacostia Block Association, which Wilson is involved with, worked to secure
historic homeowner grants for improvements to homes in Anacostia and by most accounts,
the improvements were a success. Part of that success could reasonable be due to
homeowners taking a sense of pride in where they live—the “hope” that can come with
investment in a neighborhood.

All subjects, however, reference the neighborhood’s welcoming character (this is addressed
partly in the above section). They are proud of where they live and feel a great fondness for
Anacostia. Their rhetoric indicates that they’d like others to feel what they feel.

Interviews Outside Anacostia
I discuss below the reactions that my research for this paper garnered amongst my friends
and acquaintances. To summarize, those that I know were largely confused as to why I was
studying Anacostia. It was this reaction that compelled me to speak to subjects that work,
but don’t live, in and around the neighborhood.

I contacted Brent Bolin, the advocacy director for the Anacostia Watershed Society, after
following him on Twitter for several months. Growing up between Annapolis and Baltimore,
Maryland left me with a deep understanding of how a body of water—and the health of that
body of water—can impact the livelihood of the communities that exist in proximity to it.
Given the startling differences between the development of Georgetown on the Potomac
River and Anacostia and other neighborhoods along the Anacostia River, I felt that Bolin
could provide some unique insight.


Can you talk about the river’s health and what it means for the neighborhoods
that are in contact with it?

It’s such a prevalent part of the community. I mean, it’s big, it’s there, you can see
it, there’s a big park next to it, but it’s just hard for people to enjoy it in the way
that they should be able to because of all the challenges it has with, you know,
toxics and bacteria and trash and runoff. It should be an amenity for all along the
river, all the people that live there in the community and in the watershed as a
whole. You know, people should be able to use the upstream creeks and the
downstream main stem of the Anacostia of itself and that can’t happen in all
those places because of pollution. Under the Clean Water Act, you want to try to
get your rivers to be swimmable and fishable, and we’re really not either right
now. You definitely can’t swim and the fish advisories say you can eat a certain
small amount of fish every year but [pause] you probably really shouldn’t. There’s
people out there who live in the community that are out there fishing because
they like to fish, or they like to eat the fish, or because they need to fish and eat
the fish and that should be...if somebody who is having a hard time is
enterprising and wants to go out and catch fish so they have something to eat,
they should be able to do that. It’d just be like, what if Rock Creek Park, all the
trees were dead? Or, the National Mall--well, I guess the Mall does look like crap
there, but--it’s just all that stuff. These resources aren’t valued the way that they
should be. The Anacostia is just one example of that. I think what we’re trying to
tell people is that, hey, you need to treat this as a resource. Hey developers, you
need to build in a way that preserves the health of the river, not contributes to its
decline. It’s just showing people that what happens upstream matters

Do you get a positive reaction from what you do?

Absolutely. I know people who have grown up around the river their whole lives. I
know a guy who learned to swim in Watts Branch, which is one of the tributaries.
You can’t do that now and that’s a shame to think that all these kids that live in all
these communities throughout the watershed can’t play and swim and have fun
in the creeks and streams and the river because it’s not clean enough. That’s
just...that’s not the way it should be. We shouldn’t be building our roads and
malls in such a way that takes away that resource. A healthy community needs to
have economic health, environmental health, you need to have jobs, you need to
have good businesses, and it’s just about promoting all of those things together.

What is the geography of the river like?

What a lot of people don’t realize—so there’s 82% of the land area that feeds into
the river is in Maryland, in Montgomery and Prince George’s County. There’s a
long northwest branch that goes all the way up to Sandy Spring, and there’s the
northeast branch, that comes down from Laurel and Colesville through Paint
Branch. Those two meet at Bladensburg, Maryland, which was a deep-water port,
a bigger port than Baltimore. When Europeans came and cut down all the forests
to plant tobacco, the river silted in and now the Anacostia has about a three-foot
tide...the first five miles, to the CSX bridge at the northern end of Anacostia Park,


there’s a train bridge that’s really low across the water that divides the river into
“upper” and “lower,” and that upper section is really beautiful. There’s nothing
built on it. In Maryland and DC, you’re on parkland. It’s just really green, filled
with plant and animal life. Bald eagles, foxes, more herons and egrets, there’s
beavers, osprey—they’re predators, so you need to have some sort of health in
your ecosystem to support those predators. No one really knows it’s there, and
even fewer people have been out on it to enjoy it.57

On a pontoon boat trip with Bolin down the river, I was lucky enough to see the upper and
lower branches of the Anacostia for myself. While beautiful, the river is clearly in bad shape.
Trash pools on the banks and runoff floods the shallow depths after thunderstorms. Because
the Anacostia is highly toxic and the D.C. government has delayed cleanup efforts in order
to make way for further development, the Environmental Protection Agency is currently
considering declaring six sites along the river as Superfund.58

One of those sites is Poplar
Point, once considered as a potential location for the D.C. United soccer stadium. Poplar
Point currently sits vacant and unmaintained, despite recurring interest in its development.

I spoke also with Carol Chatham, the director of communications for William C. Smith, a
development company well-known throughout the city. When Chatham contacted me after
reading my blog, Good Hope, I asked her if she would be interested in talking to me.
William C. Smith is currently developing the Capper-Carrollsburg HOPE IV housing project
in Near Southeast, the subject of the independent documentary Chocolate City. The film
does not name the company, but portrays it as an “evil” entity. This certainly reflects the
public sentiment that often surrounds developers. Speaking with Chatham afforded me the
opportunity to parse out how things work within a development company. Though only one
interview with one person from one development company is certainly limited, it was
important to me that I speak with someone representing the corporate side of neighborhood

What do you think about Anacostia?



Bolin, Brent. Interview by Alex Baca. Digital recording. Capitol Hill, Washington, D.C., July 2010.


Baca, Alex. “EPA to DC: Clean Up!” Washington City Paper City Desk, September 10, 2010. www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/citydesk/2010/09/10/epa-to-d-c-clean-up/>. Last accessed
November 30, 2010.

The reason that I think Anacostia is so interesting is that that seems to be where
sort of the artsy people are sort of collecting. There are three or four galleries
there. It’s also historically interesting, and a lot of the architecture is beautiful. I
think that the young urban professionals are finding out, “I can go to Anacostia, I
can get a really great-looking place to live and it’s still affordable,” right now, and
of course, the people who have been there for a long time and who are living at
poverty level and are disenfranchised are very intimidated by this movement
because they think that they’re gonna get pushed out of the neighborhood. We get
that all the time when we go to community meetings. People live in really
deplorable situations and yet, it’s very scary to them when a developer comes in
and wants to redo the housing. One of the things we have to do, whenever we
start a revitalization project, we always start by meeting with the community so
that they know we’re not building this for anybody else, you’re gonna stay here,
we’re not going to raise your rent, you deserve better living conditions than you
have right now. There have been a few projects that we’ve done, especially in the
Villages at Parklands, where we’ve actually had to move people out of the
apartments that they’re in because they’re in such bad shape. If you need to rip
out bathrooms and kitchens and especially if you need to put a new roof on...what
we’ve done is moved them somewhere else on the property and when their unit is
finished, if they want to come back to that unit we’ll move them back. But, I’m
seeing, there’s been a lot of pushback on the developers, but in reading the blogs,
there’s a lot of pushback on the new residents and the people who have been
there for a long time, especially the people who have been community activists,
because they feel like they’ve done the groundwork, and now these young people
are coming in and taking credit for what they’ve already done or tried to put
things in a new direction, and I do think there’s been a lot of pushback from the
people who have lived there. I think there’s a strong sense of distrust. I went to a
community a few weeks ago for the Oxon Run Community Association about a
park near their neighborhood...the first question I got was, “So you want to take
city land, give it to a developer, and make hundreds of millions of dollars?” And,
no! We’re going to spend the money fixing it up this park, and it’ll still belong to
Parks & Rec. We’ll gift it to the community, to the city. It benefits us, because we
do a lot of work in the neighborhood and we have a tremendous amount of
money invested there and everything we improve improves the value of the
property we own there. But, it was very difficult for me to make this group
understand that we weren’t taking anything away from the community. The
renderings showed fences around part of the park for a baseball backstop, and
they told me I was trying to keep the community out, but have you ever seen a
baseball field without a fenced-in backstop? It won’t be locked, either. Parks &
Rec will patrol it. But, right now, people park their cars there, and you don’t want
that to happen when you’ve put in a quarter of a million dollar baseball field.
Even the body language, you know, it said, I don’t trust you, you’re a developer,
you’re going to take the resources out of the community. It’s nearly impossible for
us, and we can tell our story over and over again.

Can you tell me more about W.C. Smith’s presence in Southeast?


I’m the communications person. You know, until Homeland Security opens up, I
think we’ll be the largest employer in Ward 8. Thirty-eight percent of our 800
employees—most of those are on site—live in Ward 8. We have, I think, last count
was 278 who worked in Ward 8 at properties there...sixty percent of our
workforce is African American, and 70 percent is minority. The people who are
naysaying about this white guy’s company coming in here and raping the
community and taking resources out, we create a lot of jobs. A lot of the jobs we
create are for the people who live in the community, and we support and mentor
them. At the Giant [on Alabama Avenue], when we built that, Giant agreed that
they would have a concentrated effort to hire from within the community...a lot of
people didn’t understand that if your boss is telling you want to do, they’re not
disrespecting you...a lot of people were quitting or being asked to leave. We
talked to Giant, hired a consultant that came in and worked with the employees.
We paid his salary for four months, and I think that really saved a lot of people’s
jobs. I think there are a lot of good stories out there about developers. We’re not
the only one doing good things, but there’s so much negative, it’s hard to get that
story out. It’s hard to make people understand that we don’t want them to leave.
We’re not trying to make people to go to Prince George’s County. We’re
rehabbing these apartments and we need people to rent them! I just want to tell
them, “Stay here!” ...It’s so rewarding to work here because I can’t do what I do
here on a personal budget. People come to us all the time for money and if at all
possible, we don’t turn them down...we moved into this building [in Navy Yard]
about six and a half years ago, when this neighborhood was just empty lot after
empty lot after empty lot. Our building was downtown, but we said we should be
walking the walk, if we were working in depressed neighborhoods.

What else are you doing around Anacostia?

We are doing Sheridan Station, on Suitland Parkway across from the Anacostia
metro, and that’s a HOPE IV project, so we competed for the site with developers
throughout the country. That will be mixed-use and mixed-income. The
Children’s Health Projects vans will have a permanent health clinic. The health
clinic at THEARC gets used all the time, so it’s going to be fantastic. We will be
doing Skyland [in Ward 7], but that project has been stalled for a long time. We’re
doing the retail, and another development is doing the housing. Our other
projects are on Mississippi Avenue, where we have very large two-bedroom
apartments. They’ll be finished in November, maybe, to start showing. There’s
also Trenton Terrace, which was very troubled. It was completely vacant,
everyone had moved and it was in disrepair, so we took it down and now the land
is vacant. It’s across from Oxon Run Park, which I talked about earlier. But, I
think we’re going to do condominiums. We see that need, because the rental
housing has pretty much stabilized. But, there are people who have incomes, and
they want to buy, and they don’t want to leave the community.

Do you think that that resulted in any way from W.C. Smith’s efforts?

Well, I think that we were pioneers, and other developers did follow. Henson
Ridge, which is also a HOPE IV...they came into the market after we were there


and after the neighborhood were sort of stabilizing. I think the shops at Alabama
Avenue really helped. People had to take multiple buses to get to the grocery
store, in Maryland, before that.59

Just the fact that you can go to IHOP and sit
down and have lunch. There wasn’t anything before. There were check cashing
places, but no banks, and there are two banks there now. Because Congress
Heights doesn’t really have a downtown, like Anacostia, it’s hard to get that
community cohesiveness like Anacostia has. I think that’s one of the beauties of
Anacostia. I’m so encouraged by the young people that are moving in and really
taking responsibility of their neighborhood, and wanting to make it better than it
already is.

When W.C. Smith obtains a property, what comes after that?

If the city controls the property and wants to sell it to a developer, you have to go
through an RFP process [request for proposals] that asks for pro formas and a
preliminary design plan. The District has requirements about having minority
partners on all of the projects that they let. We are so fortunate to have a couple
of people we’ve partnered with in the past. You have to form a legal entity. That
costs a lot of money, and you might not get the project, but if you do, you then
flesh out the architecture drawings. Then, you have to file for permits, and that
can take a long time, especially if you apply for a variance. Concurrent with that,
you can start getting your drawings out and getting bids from contractors. We
aim for 50% minority workers and contractors. Then, you can start doing the
land work. Generally, you’re two years into the project now. Then, you put in
streets, water, sewer, gas, and then you can start building. During this whole
process, we’re having community meetings and in most cases, we have a charette
so that community leaders can come in and hear what people want. It’s really
interesting. A lot of people tell us they want grass all the way around, not just in
the front, but all the way around. It’s hard to do that when you have to make the
density work. Close to the metro, at Sheridan Station, you want that to be more
dense so people can walk to the metro. It’s a long and involved process, and when
you start building, you have to start selling or leasing them.

Do you see people wanting to move back [referring to Chatham’s earlier
statements about how former residents are offered to return]?

Yes, we do. We absolutely do. And I think that’s really interesting. One of the
things we do is a program that has project-based Section 8 vouchers. HUD
[Department of Housing and Urban Development] will not allow most people to
live on Section 8 properties if they have felony convictions, or if they’ve been
involved in drug activities. All of the people who have to leave those properties
have to reapply to come back. In those instances, if we do find people who have
had felony convictions, we can’t let them come back, because of HUD. We try to
find them someplace else to go but, barring that, a good percentage of the people
want to come back...in the early 90s, we tore down 400 units of boarded-up



Chatham, Carol. Interview by Alex Baca. Digital recording. Anacostia Library, Washington, D.C.,

September 18, 2010.

multi-family housing at Parklands, and bought 210 townhomes. It’s kind of funny
because at the time, we planned to sell them for $100,000 and people told us,
you’re absolutely crazy to think that people in Ward 8 would pay $100,000 for a
townhome. Well, we sold all 210 ahead of schedule and now, resales have been in
the $300,00s. But, most of these people were first-time homebuyers...a lot of
people now have sold and gone to a single-family home because they’ve started a
family, but they’ve got all that equity. That’s generational wealth that generations
of families didn’t have before. Interestingly, after the families who bought the
townhomes moved in, we continued to get calls from people if their paint got
scuffed up, or their lightbulbs burnt out, because they’re so used to calling the
landlord. We didn’t think about that up front! You know, we gave everybody a
little kit with caulk, and weatherstripping, but we didn’t even—it didn’t occur to
us that if you’re a generational renter, you might think the person you bought
that house from is gonna come back and, you know, fix your weatherstripping
after three or four years. It’s been an interesting, eye-opening experience for me.

When you go in and you’re working with people, and renegotiating to move
people back in, how does that work?

Our development and property management people work together to do that.
Normally, what we do is keep the rent at the same rate it was before they moved.
There’s rent control in the District, and it’s complicated, but you get a good deal.
When someone moves, you can raise the rent to a percentage of the highest rental
rate in that building, but it’s a very small percentage. The city allows every year
for you to raise the rent 3% or something. What we attempt to do, if at all
possible, and I think we’ve been really successful at it, is move people back in
with the same rent they have before they left. A year later, you take the same rent
increase you would’ve taken. I think that’s been really comforting for people to
understand that they have a new bathroom and new kitchen, but it won’t cost me
more right away. But, we’re not always welcomed with open arms, because they
think we’re gentrifying. I think that the negative viewpoint of gentrification is
that it overprices everything so much, it raises the prices of everything, so people
who lived there can’t afford to live there any longer. But, in fact, if property values
increase—and of course, if you’ve invested in property, you want those values to
increase—but, the trick is that the development needs to be done sensitively
enough so that there’s still affordable housing. I think that’s being done.

Community and Institutional Meetings
I was not able to sit down, one on one, with a longtime resident of Anacostia. Though I had
hoped that my conversations with community leaders might lead to a personal interview
with a subject that had a longtime relationship with and residence in the neighborhood, no
leads came to fruition. Potential subjects would not or could not be reached by telephone,
and many were hesitant to be interviewed. Understandably, the presence of a white, female


University of Maryland student whose work involves carefully watching the goings-on in the
neighborhood would cause recalcitrance.

Because the oral interview portion of my research was conducted in the six months prior to
the due date of this paper, I may not have had sufficient time to develop a relationship with
longtime residents of Anacostia. With more time, perhaps the body of oral interviews at my
disposal may have become more diverse. I realize that this is a sufficient flaw in my research
and have tried to ensure that the conclusions I draw about Anacostia do account for the fact
that I was not able to spend as much time with longtime residents.

To mitigate this problem, I attended as many public, institutional meetings as possible to
observe who attended and what was said. This was largely an informal activity—that is to
say, I did not record anything or take detailed notes—but it allowed me to better understand
the concerns of longtime residents that felt it worthwhile to attend public, institutional
meetings within Anacostia. Occasionally, I reported on these meetings for Washington City
; my coverage appears predominately on the paper’s Housing Complex blog.60

Nothing could substitute for the kind of oral interviews I conducted with my subjects, but
attendance at these meetings was critical to my understanding of how Anacostia residents
viewed the presence of public officials in their neighborhoods.

Several major points of interest of longtime residents emerged in these meetings. Most
notably, I only heard one or two people speak out against the proposed streetcar that will
connect Anacostia to Minnesota Avenue. This is interesting because many news reports
have led readers to believe that the community is totally opposed to the streetcars. In fact,
residents felt that the new transit system would put Anacostia on the same level as the other
neighborhoods slated to receive streetcar lines, such as H Street NE and Mt. Pleasant. The
streetcar signified worthiness and seemed to reward residents for putting up with what they
often view as a lack of services or attention from the city government. Additionally, the



“Housing Complex: Alex Baca,” last modified July 15, 2010, blogs/housingcomplex/author/abaca/>. Last accessed November 30, 2010.

streetcar is an attractive alternative for the many elderly residents that do not own cars or
would prefer not to drive.

Longtime residents also expressed interest in more amenities along Anacostia’s commercial
corridors. Often, individuals would discuss what the neighborhood used to be like, and what
kinds of goods and services used to exist along Good Hope Road and Martin Luther King
Boulevard. Now, a full-service grocery store requires two bus trips. The one corner store is
poorly stocked. The few carry-outs hold their own, but a sit-down restaurant, in addition to
Big Chair, seemed appealing.

Though these responses are largely positive, in that they indicate a desire on the part of
longtime residents to see growth and change in Anacostia, public meetings were not entirely
smooth-running. Often, residents would have trouble understanding maps, charts, or
diagrams brought by public officials. It was often difficult to keep people on topic. Given the
opportunity to speak to public officials often gave rise to a litany of complaints that were
often unrelated to a meeting’s subject, or out of the jurisdiction of the meeting’s leaders. In
some cases, social and cultural values conflicted. At a meeting regarding the redevelopment
of a city-owned lot designated historic, a handful of longtime residents showed up to the
location an hour before the advertised starting time. They took it as a sign of disrespect that
the building, the DHCD headquarters, was locked. The meeting, by all accounts, went
downhill before it even started.

There is a real fear of displacement present. This was acknowledged in my interviews when I
asked my subjects to reflexively consider their position in the neighborhood, and it is a
palpable sentiment at any public meeting. However, I am not able to determine whether this
stems from real evidence or a belief in the popular narrative of gentrification and
displacement. There is plenty to indicate that other DC neighborhoods—almost all of which
are west of the river—have seen a staggering amount of displacement. However, nothing
visibly demonstrates that residents of Anacostia have actually been displaced by forceful
means such as eviction or an unaffordable rent increase.


Additionally, I was not privy to any conversation that would indicate racial, class, or age-
based biases against new residents in Anacostia. Such biases are often associated with
longtime residents of a traditionally low-income, marginalized neighborhood. I would not
be surprised if longtime residents viewed newcomers to Anacostia as problematic for one
reason or another, especially given that gentrification has been a buzzword in D.C. for quite
a few years now. However, I want to make clear here that I can neither confirm nor deny the
existence of those sentiments.

A lack of one-on-one interviews makes it difficult for me to pinpoint precisely what longtime
residents of Anacostia want, but I can conclude from the public meetings that I observed
that they would like their lives to be easier. “Easier” seemed to mean anything from less
encumbered by public meetings seeking opinions to a nearby one-stop grocery store. It will
take more time and research to determine how to make longtime residents feel comfortable
in a transitioning neighborhood, but I feel confident in stating that more amenities and
services in the easy-to-access “downtown” corridor of Anacostia would benefit longtime

Popular Discourse
It would be impossible to discuss this research without a brief look at how friends and
acquaintances reacted when I explained what I was doing. Most were confused that I had
chosen to explore a neighborhood “over there” that was regarded as “dangerous,” and
populated by residents who are, by all accounts, quite unlike me.

However, I also received a lot of enthusiasm from those that I spoke to on a more
professional level. My supervisors at the National Trust for Historic Preservation cited my
research interests as one of the reasons that they were interested in hiring me. I was allowed
to develop the oral interviews that I conducted for this project into a series of five- to seven-
minute podcasts for the Trust’s iTunes channel. Colleagues at the National Trust also
encouraged and assisted my research by putting me in touch with acquaintances of theirs
with knowledge of Anacostia. Similarly, my internship at Washington City Paper allowed
me to attend events east of the river and see my coverage of those events published. I had


access to reporters and editors who have long paid attention to neighborhoods in Wards 7
and 8; those individuals became indispensable resources when I needed to talk casually
about what I was doing and what problems I was encountering.

I found that one of my best and most reliable resources for this project was to simply talk
about it. This proved useful at community meetings, where longtime residents felt they were
in an appropriate situation to speak to me. It also proved useful outside of Anacostia. Many
of my conversations with my friends, acquaintances, and colleagues eventually came around
to what I was doing for my senior thesis. Most people that I talked to—even if they had
suspicious about Anacostia—provided useful insight on how they viewed communities in
Southeast DC and what they thought about gentrification in and around the city. I am
indebted to this colloquial dialogue for allowing me to flesh out, without pressure, some of
the issues surrounding the topics of this paper.


The Big K liquor store and adjacent properties were subject of a recent meeting that unsettled many
longtime residents (photo: Alex Baca).

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