Housing Complex

One More Thought on Lumen8 Anacostia: The Feeling of Losing Control

Planting a flag, indeed.

While I was busy contemplating transienceElahe Izadi over at WAMU did some reporting at last weekend's Cherry Blast, taking the temperature of partygoers just setting foot in Anacostia for the first time. For many, the experience was a boost over the psychic barrier created by perceptions of poverty and danger. That wasn't necessarily the point of Cherry Blast—the Pink Line Project's Philippa Hughes emphasized that it was mostly about finding an available warehouse to show off the city's cultural side—but it's probably the only event that's had that kind of effect on as many people at once.

That kind of mental shift among river westerners, which was more tangible the previous weekend at Lumen8 Anacostia's daytime kickoff party, has a couple of effects on river easterners. On the one hand, Mike and Patsy Wiley moved to Anacostia from Northwest D.C. about six months ago—looking for a cheap house in a neighborhood on its way up—and thought the pop-up street party was fantastic. "I thought it was great," Mike said, as they stopped on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, pointing at the ramshackle structure parked on top of the warehouse. "They had a Busboys and Poets! Everything’s on the uptick." 

Charles Wilson, who's lived in the neighborhood for about five years now and runs the Historic Anacostia Block Association, hears those reactions among some people he talks to. But he also hears something different: A distinct unease about the gentrifiers at the floodgates.

“I think we all want change, but we want to be able to control what that change looks like and feels like," Wilson says. "It felt a little bit like we were losing control of how we want that change to happen.”

He remembers living in Trinidad, and how the H Street festival brought folks from other parts of town, which was soon followed by an influx of newcomers. It's a common pattern, of course; others remember the old U Street and Columbia Heights. Nobody has a problem with more residents, per se—but what would it mean if Anacostia went that way too? "Any time the face of a neighborhood changes, the issues of top priority change," Wilson explains. "You gotta be careful what you ask for. Can you have it both ways? I don’t know."

The thing that really bothers Wilson, and others in his circle, is the notion that all these newbies are what's needed to revitalize the neighborhood. They passed around a blithely boosterish Huffington Post piece, which took all the activity as a sign that in a few years, "we'll treat Anacostia as just another normal corner of our unique and rapidly evolving capital city."

It struck Wilson as vaguely imperialistic. “We can to go H Street and change it, and we can come to Anacostia and change that," he said, paraphrasing the attitude. “I think that type of entitlement bothers people. If you want to come in and be a part of it, okay. But don't come in thinking you’re going to make us better because of your skin color."

Fair enough. Current residents need to be convinced that new businesses are there to serve them, not just newcomers. But the thing is, more residents of any skin color would better the case for retailers and restauranteurs to come locate there, which everybody says they want.

As it happens, Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal tells me he's talking to the owner of Uniontown Bar and Grill about working out some sort of deal for the space. It's far from finalized, but evidence of solid interest nonetheless. And a Shallal outpost, as anyone familiar with the Busboys effect knows, would make the kind of change that starts to stick.

Photo by Lydia DePillis

  • dud

    The Church of the Home Mortgage Interest Deduction is just practicing without anymore repression at City Paper, yea? Do they write you guys a check to help hype every real estate bubble the lobby here blows, aiding the city in ignoring poor people, or is it delivered directly to your office? Besides the use of comic sans as the font in this article, perhaps you'll change the format of the dead tree paper to a 1-page glossy soon. Those oh so contemporaneous real estate agents will be convinced you're still doing something edgy, I'm betting on it.

  • a change gon’ come

    Let's not be too innocent about the arrival of an arts festival in Anacostia. As reported in your own paper (http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/artsdesk/general/2012/01/27/anacostias-lumen8-is-temporium-crazyin-a-good-way/) Arch Development has explicitly developed not-pop-up arts spaces in Anacostia as an invitation to those west of the river. I'm not saying that's a good or bad thing, but the idea that the festival just happened here because of a coincidence of empty buildings is unnecessarily naive.

    Having said that, I tried to find a place for an adult meal on H Street last St. Patrick's Day. No go. So I share Charles Wilson's concerns, above. I don't know if it occurs to DC's new arrivals, but East of the River might be more interested in becoming more like Woodley Park than another Adams Morgan, U Street, or H Street. In other words, not a bused-in playground for Westies.

    I'd be happy to see more middle-class folks moving in, and the appropriate businesses and services opening up to serve them and the long-term residents. There's a lot that's lovely over here. That includes the people who already live here. So please do come and integrate yourselves, which means going through the transition of being the stranger in the village, making friends, rather than the conquering hero remaking the place in one's own image.

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  • MJ

    Yawn. How many times have I heard this song?

    “I think we all want change, but we want to be able to control what that change looks like and feels like," Wilson says. "It felt a little bit like we were losing control of how we want that change to happen.”

    Aren't you guys in control right now? Go for it!

  • oboe

    If only there were a way to transform a neighborhood into Georgetown, but without adding any new middle-class residents!

  • Johnny

    I think the sad thing about the way gentrification goes down in DC is the terrifying sameness of it all. 10 years from now what will set each neighborhood apart from one another? Itll just be a bunch of yuppies sitting in Busboys talking about how their house was such a great investment because they bought before the busboys came in. DC will be the boringest place around.
    And "a change gon come" I think Adams Morgan sadly IS the next woodley park.

  • styglan1

    Re: a change gon' come - Clearly you didn't try very hard on St. Patrick's Day because I was there for six hours and had three "adult" meals - we ate inside, seated, with a server and real cutlery at the Argonaut (delicious honey coated onion rings) for an early lunch; had a mid-afternoon snack of both savory and sweet slices of pie at Dangerously Delicious (with a petite side salad to boot) as well as fancy metal cutlery and a nice environment filled with families and elderly; then closed things off with a big sushi dinner at Sticky Rice. And others in our party also had delicious sandwiches at Taylor Gourmet or chicken at Popeyes.

    You throw out weak arguments to try oppose change that are thinly veiled in "us versus them" or "new versus old" arguments. Keep worrying because that won't slow the tide of change. I remember coming to H street seven years ago when I first landed in DC and thinking I had arrived in Skid Row. Now I see a vibrant, mixed and diverse community of old, new, young, single, couples, families and I love it. There is only one way to go - forward.

  • Stefan

    Lydia, why don't you ever write (sympathetically, as you do for this tiresome issue) about the other side of gentrification? I have family in P.G. County in a town that has seen dramatic changes as a result of newcomers, mostly former DC residents. Property values are way down, crime is up, and I think it's fair to say that the old residents have lost "control what that change looks like and feels like." Where's they sympathy for those folks? Or does sympathy only go one way (and to one race)? Maybe, as "a change gon' come" (8:48am) suggests, the older residents in my family's town should force the newcomers to go "through the transition of being the stranger in the village" (whatever that means), rather than just allowing them to live freely.

    Or maybe everyone should just think about all sides of the issue before they starting spewing nonsense about somehow preserving neighborhoods for people of one color or one socioeconomic demographic.

  • oboe


    A good part of adult, middle-class life is "boring". Just sayin.

  • jimbo


  • Don23

    The ex-Mayor-for-Life is going to be on the bridge, stopping any Asians from coming into his Ward 8.

  • NoNotReally

    "I think the sad thing about the way gentrification goes down in DC is the terrifying sameness of it all. 10 years from now what will set each neighborhood apart from one another? "

    what? hipster U street, vs frat boy Admo, gay Dupont, preppie Gtown, trendy single H Street, stroller set and empty nesters in south Capitol Hill, anarchists in Petworth. Catholics, etc in Brookland,...

    I know, I know, all those white people look alike.

  • free

    Stefan- get over yourself and your white whining.
    Prince George's County's BLACK middle class residents have suffered from the of displaced poor DC residents. Your preoccupation with your family and race is not real.
    Anyone sympathetic to the decline of PG county couldn't ignore the lose to professional blacks (many of whom are from Maryland and the South- not DC).
    The Anacostia issue is not another case of the blacks getting sypathy and if you weren't so blindly racist- you'd see that your family and ALL middle class Marylanders would benefit from being sympathetic to poor blacks in SE beign targetted by yuppie/hipster whites who don't want to live with "those people" but will do it if it means 2-5 years of telling relatives about crack heads and walking in groups for protection at night until teh neighborhood "changes" to white and select hipster black.

  • free

    ARCH, Honefleur Gallery and others are runiing a fabulous white liberal scam. Kudos! They are like those old fashioned white missionaries in Africa who you don't hear about for decades, then you go there and find they control thousands of acres of land and live in beautiful homes. All well earned for their service and suffering living amongst the blacks.

    This isn't even the normal neighborhood changes. The working class and lower middles class whites who once lived here were not forced out. Most of them left the second blacks moved in or left to become middle and upper class. These areas were black and fairly stable (with home owners) for 20-30 years. Barry's Farm Project and the 60's riot being the exceptions. Whites didn't have to leave when they did.
    The take over of Anacostia and East of the River is far worse since poor blacks were forced into these areas by people needing a dumping ground to take over the north and west areas. The whites who are moving into Anacostia do not so it without knowing what they are doing to the people. Its that " I can make an omlet and not admit to breaking a single egg" thing.
    I don't care about habitually poor, low life, section 8 types. I worry about people like me. After spending decades battling the lowlife blacks for a home, I will NOT being lose it to hipster whites who want to teach me how to read so that maybe one day I can afford to live in my old apartment.

  • free

    There is this hispanic comedian- whose name I forget- who joked that crime was his friend because it made sure he could keep his 2 bedroom apartment for $600 a month.
    Funny and true. He was a poor kid, poor teen, poor young adult and father, and now struggling comedian.
    There's no room for any of this in a crime free, "revitalized" area. Struggling white artist making pretentious felt scarves and dyed silk sh*t and paying $4 bucks for coffee- hell yea!
    Crime, crack, and Marion Barry has protected me from becoming homeless or a newcomer in a bad neighborhood in Maryland. The fear people like me feel in SE is not paranoia or backwardness. Whites are throwing parties and grinning at our demise.
    Throwing art parties that we can see and are not REALLY invited to is all very "let them eat cake". A shame. I love art and gallery openings. I'm low income according to the under $32,000 marker. But I was a member of MOMA until I couldn't manage the renewal.
    Even I know I'm not invited to the party..

  • a change gon’ come


    Happy your meals worked out for you. We had reservations at H Street Country Club but were deterred by the noise level downstairs and up. Similarly at Granville Moore's. Similarly at a pho place nearby, where they tried to be accommodating but were also planning to leave the sound up high in a locked office so the bartender could attract some crowd after the manager left. That felt like sufficient effort to our party of six, who wanted to be able to speak at dinner without shouting. Doorpeople were empathetic to our wishfulness, but it was clear what the purpose of the day was.

    I have to add that I have a hard time imagining a "diverse, happy, vibrant" neighborhood where the response to concerns about neighborhood development is "get over it." But if all you saw on H Street before was Skid Row, it makes sense that all you'll see now is stuff you consider good. And that is exactly my concern over here.

  • Stefan

    To "free" (hilarious name considering your opinions), go back and read my post and then read your post and consider -- objectively -- which is filled with more vile, racist hatred. The point of my post is that people are free to live where they want to live and nobody should be made to feel like an interloper based on their race, net worth, etc., no matter the effect that they have on their new neighborhood. It's clear that you disagree, to put it mildly.

  • Hillman

    The easiest way to avoid the displacement of gentrification is to buy your home.

    Some have lived in these areas for decades and have never bought their homes.

    Despite ample opportunities.

    For them I have no sympathy.

    Home ownership can suck. It's hard work, fixing your own roof.

    But if you put that off on someone else while you choose to rent, then you don't get to complain when you are displaced years later.

    Of course this isn't a universal solution, but it would go a long way in keeping people in their neighborhood.

  • Hillman

    So, Free, why can't you start your own party?

  • Cap City Records Panhandler

    If gypsy yup-yup imperialists and fascists of all hues and ethnicities can save Anacostia's crumbling historic homes and faded/vacant retail corridor than so be it.

    ARCH is one of the many groups that's been holding land/property in Ana for decades --> i.e AEDC, dc gov't, etc. Even though the psuedo faux grunge wannabe radical statement making art and photo galleries leave a lot to be determined at least they're doing something which is more than most.

    Keep the bread in your community. If people have issues with controlling the direction of their neighborhood they need, yes - need, to get it together and open up their own book store, bicycle shop, health foods store, Ledos, Tryst type spot (not loud Uniontown with awful service), etc.

    Give this yungin some cheese with his whine!

  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com The Advoc8te

    @Cap City Records Panhandler

    "ARCH is one of the many groups that's been holding land/property in Ana for decades --> i.e AEDC, dc gov't, etc. Even though the psuedo faux grunge wannabe radical statement making art and photo galleries leave a lot to be determined at least they're doing something which is more than most."

    Really John? Really?

  • http://artofward8.blogspot.com/ Charles Wilson

    I appreciate all the comments. If anyone would like to read my complete thoughts on this subject please visit my blog and read my post on Lumen8Anacostia. Please click the link: http://www.blogger.com/blogger.g?blogID=7849317964009989265#editor/target=post;postID=6632576863173549192

  • free

    To Stefan-
    read your own post. YOU brought up race and clearly suggested that the CP article was about preserving poor blacks ("one race") in DC and their hoods without considering the "other side". What is the other side of poor, black and DC residents?
    If you felt that everyone should be allowed to live where they chose, you wouldn't have mentioned or even noticed that property values were lowering BECAUSE of former DC residents of "one race".
    As I pointed out, part of the argument to protect DC residents of certain race and income is that they will be forced out of their homes under very bad circumstances and will land in other people's back yards.
    So your whiny criticism of the City Paper article and its cautioning against gentrification of Anacostia is only hurting you and yours in Maryland. You and the protectors of "one race" and certain incomes have similar goals- keep poor DC residents in the neighborhoods they live and grew up in (at least until these people have the skills to leave willingly and as stable citizens).

  • free

    Cap City records-
    you wrote:
    "Keep the bread in your community. If people have issues with controlling the direction of their neighborhood they need, yes - need, to get it together and open up their own book store, bicycle shop, health foods store, Ledos, Tryst type spot (not loud Uniontown with awful service), etc"
    That is part of the problem with outsiders. You think that anyone who doesn't ask for a a bike shop and a hipster bookstore is lazy and backwards. That is yuppie ideology. These are low income to lower middle class nieghborhoods and SHOULD BE. Not everyone has to make $80k a year deserve a home! We on ward 7 and 8 have been demanding grocery stores, public libraries, playgrounds, and the like! Sorry we don't want a coffe shop! I guess that's what makes us ghetto.

  • free

    why should I have a party in my neighborhood?!
    Are you f*cking stupid?! I bet the neighborhood you and your parents grew up in didn't have -or need- art parties and hipster galleries to be a neighborhood! Most people's hometowns were not established on bar crawls and microbrew nites.
    Why the hell should I have to fight for my community using YOUR trendy standards?
    As for home ownership, you don't know what you are talking about! Anacostia has been used as a dumping ground for poor and dysfunctional people from other parts of DC and the South for years. That is not our fault! The Anacostia area was not desirable to you people so you had no trouble relegating the poor,social service dependent, mentally ill , and homeless to "help" centers in our area. But this forced many middle class blacks to leave(just as high rents and community regulations forced whites out of their spots in other parts of DC) and home owners who stayed in Anacostia grew old. This area has long had a problem with outside owners of properties sitting on homes and renting (smartly for THEM). Black community advocates have been fighting these absentee landlords and the DC government owning (and not using property) for decades. And it has only been in the past 5 years that the DC government has really made funds for low income home owners available. Before, they put out notices and you showed up only to find that spots and funds for grants and low interest loans were VERY limited.
    We are furious that whites still have an easier time getting a response than we do, but it is not due to lack of complaining.
    Lets be honest, your kind always say "those people didn't do anything with what they had, so take it from them." That is as old as the now extinct Anacostia Indians.

  • free

    BWT- Hillman-
    Anacostia and Congress Heights have Unifest and Congress Heights days complete with music and parades! And there are block parties and other neighborhood- TRULY neighborhood events.They are not fancy (except for Unifest) but they are legitimate.
    Sadly, these are not the "right kind" of parties for your kind and therefore do not constitute a commnunity or community event.

  • free

    Thanks to all you folks who think pretentious bookstores, art galleries, coffee shops,sports bars, and strict community rules on the color of store awnings and the height of hedges -are what make a legitimate neighborhood.
    Funny thing is, when you douches get those neighborhoods established you trip over yourselves trying to get out and find somewhere else to drink beer and coffee. That's when blacks and poor people have to hear how stupid WE are to not have art galleries and coffee shops.......
    {PS-I wonder what made a neighborhood before Starbucks and FRIENDS, and SEX IN THE CITY set the standard?}

  • PleasantPlainer

    In terms of gentrification, DC does have something that no other place I have lived has. I don't know precisely what it is, but it has something to do with the fact that in other early gentrifying cities (e.g. Boston, S.F.), people didn't know what gentrification was, but they new it was something with potentially negative consequences that need to be kept under control. It doesn't stop it, but the right mix of supportive programs and services developed and implemented in partnership with the community, can mitigate against the negative to some degree. I stumbled across this article while reading about the Union Market on Urban Turf. I went to their website and watched the video. I used to live in that neighborhood and I was like wow. You have got to be kidding. These guys want to create an instant Meat Packing District, just add water. Seeing that, and reading this perspective, and these comments, are making me realize that it is the extent of money, and power concentrated in DC that is running rampant on our neighborhoods. Long time community members for the most part can't absorb and adjust to that intensity and pace of change, and while it took Italian families many years to struggle with and decide to cash out on their North End former tenement housing heritage that added vital character and immigrant energy to the city, in DC it's on steroids and Red Bull. And, the speculation adds an interesting twist as property owners buy and hold until they can command top dollar. It's an economic dance and balancing act in DC, and the hype is disruptive as once thriving neighborhoods fell into decline and the people who stayed are now "forced" out and can't enjoy or participate in the renewal. I have hope that Anacostia might be different and that the power and money will give it space to evolve gracefully. The first Taylor was cool. Now as I see them sprouting everywhere I am dismayed and bewildered. It is, my friends, a sandwich shop, with the illusion of a Litteri's - does anyone actually buy groceries at this place at those ridiculous prices? And do they still bring the bread from Philly as the little, local Catania Bakery off of N. Capital St struggles to find customers? Sorry, but much of the hipster distressed and industrial bling we see is a facade. I am glad Bus Boys is taking it slow in Anacostia. Otherwise, what's left?

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