Housing Complex

Harry Jaffe Flip Flops on Change

Neighborhood change: It's a tricky topic. People feel different ways about it. But widely-read metro columnists should probably figure out a coherent philosophy before dashing off opinions, right?

Not according to longtime D.C. writer Harry Jaffe, now with the Examiner. Jaffe leads this morning's column:

Change is coming in Washington neighborhoods. It's driven by natural, cyclical shifts that have remade cities even before the Romans set up camp along the Tiber River. It's coming quickly; it can't be stopped.

Then he describes Ward 8 activist Ab Jordan's criticism of white families moving their kids into neighborhood schools, and continues:

Change is coming to Anacostia. The city has relocated offices to Good Hope Road. Homeland Security is setting up on Martin Luther King Boulevard. New condominiums and apartments are rising. No doubt some white folks might move in. Memo to Jordan: Anacostia was white until the 1950s.

True, when white students choose public schools, on Capitol Hill in particular, some black families from other neighborhoods might get pushed out. This is difficult and painful and can create conflict. But it's the inevitable byproduct of change.

But wait! Jaffe wasn't so sanguine about that kind of change last week, when he bemoaned the 14th Street NW "riot corridor" becoming "condo canyon":

The riots of 1968 that burned 14th Street started a half-block north when a brick went through the Peoples Drug store, then spread to the corner of 14th and U. The neighborhood declined for two decades. The Metro came in 2000. Pioneers moved into apartments. Artists and writers took up residence over small bars and restaurants.

Now there seems to be a condominium going up on every corner. A developer has dug a huge hole across from the Black Cat indie music hall for 100-plus condos. Buildings are rising behind chain-link fences everywhere.

There are still plenty of storefronts that remind us we are in an urban village: Yum's Carryout, a check-cashing store, Sam's Pawn Shop, an empty lot here and there. They give the place that lovely, disheveled look and edgy feel. I fear the street will be sanitized soon.

Jaffe expresses a wish for the city to put the brakes on neighborhood retailers like Ruff & Ready and Pixie's being displaced.

If the city would enforce district zoning rules that seek to protect local flavor, landlords might not be able to stuff their retail spaces with bars and restaurants. Otherwise, developers looking to make a buck will make 14th Street just like the nightly free-for-all that has made Adams Morgan grimy, dangerous and less livable.

But isn't that just another form of the change Jaffe says today is inevitable? Displacement from more expensive neighborhoods is often what causes less expensive neighborhoods to develop, after all. Midcity retailers even asked for those very zoning rules to be changed to allow for more bars and restaurants, figuring they'd help the shops that now don't have daytime traffic.

You can't try to stop the later stages of gentrification in one area and tell another to accept its beginnings.

  • http://twitter.com/elcolin Colin

    "that lovely, disheveled look"

    It's not lovely, it's gross. Defending Yum's carry-out? Really?

  • Skipper

    Jaffe is one of the laziest columnists in DC. It's no wonder he works for the Examiner.

  • drez

    Is there really any discord in this "philosophy"? In one case, he notes that neighborhoods that were once segregated (by law or by choice)are now becoming integrated. In the other, he notes that a retail corridor is becoming more residential.
    True, change is at the heart of both things, but it's a very different type of change.

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    Jaffe is an idiot. His advancing Tourette's shines through in his columns. He actually said in a column within the past 12 months that "Mama Coles" was still open on lower MLK. It has been closed for years.

  • Dubster

    Jaffe knows what time it is, Lydia.

    Give the guy some credit (and a little respect wouldn't kill ya either).

  • Anacostia Alumni

    That's a clear example of what AB Jordan was saying about their perceived "entitlement" rights. They can say one thing over here and something else over there when talking about the same thing and its alright. They can't have it both ways. Go ahead Ab, "say what you mean and mean what you say" like you have always done.

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  • Hillman

    The whites in DC school article would have been funny if it hadn't been sad.

    Hard to believe in 2011 we have people saying kids of a certain race aren't welcome in public schools.

  • mnm

    Am I missing something here? Seems like you're being way too harsh on Jaffe.

    He accepts that as some wealthier families move in, some poorer families will have to move out. But families that stay get a more diverse community and improved schools, which he thinks outweighs the bad.

    At the same time, he doesn't want 14th street to turn into a Crystal City because Crystal City sucks and no one interesting wants to go there.

    Maybe this is incoherent if everyone is either pro or against. But surely the issue of neighborhood change has more nuance than that.

  • Eric

    mnm: Crystal City=land of chain restaurants; 14th Street = no chains. You seem to be unfamiliar with the subjects being discussed.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @drez @mnm

    Sure, they're different situations. I happen to agree with Jaffe on the Anacostia instance (it would be hard not to). But the thing is, whiter/wealthier people moving into underserved areas is part of the same phenomenon that's driving high end condos and sleek bars into 14th Street. In fact, I'd argue that one might not happen without the other. The people priced out of Midcity--or those, like Jaffe, who prefer their neighborhoods with some grit--will go invest in more marginal neighborhoods, and make them better. Maybe they'll even still visit 14th Street on the weekends, just like people who can't afford to or don't want to live in Georgetown sometimes go there for fun and leave.

    The reason the Crystal City parallel makes no sense is that 14th Street isn't built to become Crystal City, just like it's not built to become Adams Morgan. There's no GHETTO < -----> GEORGETOWN continuum along which all neighborhoods must slide; each evolves in its own way.

  • Drez

    I took the thrust of Jaffee's 14th St column the about the strip losing retail (albeit gritty retail) and not about the area gaining new, relatively wealthy, residents.
    But perhaps I'm mistaken.