Sometimes my job is horribly depressing. I work in areas that most of my acquaintances barely even realize exist. Some might say I now have knowledge of a place that no girl who lives around the corner from 32nd St NW has any business knowing. My backyard is full of multi-million dollar mansions, but I spend my days driving around what really is the ghetto.
A lot of people I know consider Mount Pleasant to be the ghetto. Those people are mostly the new yuppies — and suddenly, it is once again hip to be a yuppie, as long as you deny that is what you are and live within walking distance of a \”cutting edge\” (read: recently gentrified) area like the U Street corridor. Darlings, Mount Pleasant is not a ghetto. It\’s diverse and fragrant, what Adams Morgan used to be before the condos moved in and the prices on all the available local cocktails were jacked up. These same people are probably the ones who voted for Anthony Williams the second time around. The devil comes in many disguises, which is why he can be so hard to identify during the campaign season. Corruption comes in many colors and flavors. Sometimes it wears a bowtie.
Mayor Williams promised to revitalize the city and return to it the glory that DC had before the \’68 riots. He vowed to help the citizens by bringing in new jobs and refining public services. People would benefit from the increase in city revenue and the surplus would be used to finance housing, health services, transportation, and education. What Williams failed to mention was that he meant only for Whitey.
That photo was taken in 2000 in one of the neighborhoods I work in, in the public housing wasteland between East Capitol Street and Benning Road. The area lies between Marshall Heights and Benning Heights, located in Ward 7, Cluster 33. It has the highest violent crime rate in DC, but only 3% of the total DC population lives within the lines of the Cluster. The average median household income in this area is $27,792, versus $43,001 as the AMHI for the entirety of the city. The discrepancy between neighborhoods is outrageous.
Williams promised to \”make life better\” for the residents, particularly in these neighborhoods where the landscapes vaguely resemble the living conditions of war pocked countries. Oh, I forgot — we are at war. And DC is still declaring the War on Poverty. With atrocities like these, someone should do something, right? But despite the campaign promises and reigning rhetoric, the prevalence of destitution and violence persists.
I took the above photo today, in the same neighborhood (two blocks away) as the above photo Amy Cody took in 2000. I would have done a little \”rephotography\” and taken the photo from the same location, but I refuse to point my camera at unsuspecting little ones. From across a highly fenced in playground, someone sticking a little black camera out of the side window of their car looks strikingly similar to someone hanging out of the side of the car with a small semi-automatic gun in their hands.
J.C. Nalle Elementary is located in a neighborhood that is 98% African American*. As of 2001, 100% of the student population was black and 79% of the student population was receiving free or reduced price lunches (figures may have changed slightly since)*. Nalle is the second \”full service\” school in the country. Three of the infamous transgender murders have taken place within a block of this school in the past ten years. In February 2001, George H.W. Bush visited the school in order to use it as an example for his campaign against racial profiling, however Nalle receives no benefits from the federal government under the No Child Left Behind act. The DC Public School board budgeted $1.5 million for \”improvements\” to Nalle which were to begin in the fiscal year of 2003, but at least on the surface and according to the violent crime rate and evident poverty in the area, none of the improvements have yet to be administered.
According to the Strategic Neighborhood Action plan for Cluster 33, the Department of Housing and Community Development decided to use the Housing Act of 2002 to \”acquire\” vacant and \”tax delinquent properties to create more housing opportunities.\” In the same document it is stated that the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs \”will prioritize the abandoned buildings identified by the community to establish time frames for action.\” When was that action supposed to be in effect, after the 2004 election? I have been unable to find information on the supposed time lines.
I have been visiting this neighborhood for months and yet the dozens of abandoned apartment buildings remain as they were more than a year ago: partially occupied by squatters, overrun by vandals and weeds, and standing right next to other people\’s homes, schools, and playgrounds. The only difference between now and a year ago is that over the past few months signs advertising elegant apartments and semi-expensive condos — complete with computer rendering of the planned properties — have gone up in front of some of the abandoned buildings. The city\’s plan is to \”acquire\” the once privately owned properties, knock them down, and then build living spaces that few, if any of the neighborhood\’s current residents can afford to live in. One by one, these buildings are being taken over by the city in order to be sold to the highest bidder, who always seems to be a developer with the new breed of yuppies in mind.
The most startling thing is that these same yuppies are often the very ones who claim to dislike gentrification and what it is doing to the city. Now that they can no longer afford to live in Mount Pleasant, however, they are moving further out. The city and its cohort developers hope to make Ward 7 one of the new places to be. The city thinks the best thing to do about low income housing is to eradicate it, thereby forcing the residents to go elsewhere. New buildings will solve the problems of the current decay, at least according to some urban planners. The area is still lush and green, and if the abandoned buildings are destroyed and replaced with bigger money, surely the bigger consumers will follow. The area is conveniently located halfway between the Beltway and downtown DC. Playground designation and historical sites are plentiful. Most of the streets are still in relatively good condition. Just that little pesky problem of the residents.
Pesky problem? What pesky problem? Just kick them out, it\’s not like anyone will notice. DC\’s 30% white population barely even knows the other 60% exists, let alone where it lives. And like New York residents, people in DC are always on the look out for cheaper real estate, no matter what the actual cost. If Williams and his administration gets their way, Marshall Heights and Benning Heights could be the next Capitol View and Woodridge, Capitol View and Woodridge will be the current Edgewood and Eckington, which are rising up to take the place of Shaw and Petworth. Only ten years ago Shaw and Petworth were what is now Ledroit Park and Mount Pleasant. It\’s like urban dominos, instead the white dots are taking over the outer black spaces and making them vacate to another game of Life.