The Washington Post and the Kaiser Foundation have been conducting polls with residents about how they have fared through the recession and what they think about local political, economic and race issues. One of the topics addressed in the most recent poll, which was sent only to D.C. residents, had to do with gentrification. Since this is an issue near and dear to my own heart, I decided to make this installment’s video on gentrification in my own neighborhood, Petworth. I talked to customers at Sweet Mango Cafe, a Jamaican-style staple that has been in the neighborhood for 24 years. I went to Qualia Coffee and to the neighborhood’s Friday farmers market, which is only in its second season. I talked to folks on the street and in their homes. I got a variety of opinions, but no one seemed really fired up about the racial aspect of all this. Folks are definitely upset that development is driving prices up to the point that some residents can’t afford to live in the neighborhood anymore, but they don’t seem to blame white people for this. In fact, Richard Shores told me he’s never seen different racial groups get along so well as he sees these days. However, one complaint I heard voiced several times, though I was unable to include it in the video, was that a lot of white people coil up when they pass by black folks. Bruce King said he just wants people to be friendly and say hello.
Another interesting nugget I was not able to include in the story was the history of the neighborhood that King gave me. He moved to Petworth when he was six years old in the 1950s, just before Brown v. Board of Education. He told me Petworth was a majority white neighborhood at that time and his was the only African American family on his street when he moved in. However, he said Petworth quickly began to shift to a majority black neighborhood soon after his family moved there. He thinks it has something to do with people moving out of the southwest quadrant when new interstate highways were being built and relocating in Petworth. D.C.’s rapid embrace of school integration following the Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education probably had a lot to do with it as well. King says since he lived in Petworth as a child and grew up around white kids, he has no problem with the racial shift happening in the neighborhood now.
White residents are very aware of what their presence means for Petworth. Emily Roberts, who didn’t make it into the video, said she knows young, white professional residents like her are driving up property values and the cost of living in the neighborhood. She talked about the importance of having mixed-income housing in Petworth so lower income residents are able to stay as higher-income residents like herself move into the area. Some young African American residents like Craig Draggs are worried about the same things. Draggs, who has lived in Petworth his whole life, doesn’t want to have to move to Maryland because he can’t afford to stay in his neighborhood. He says he works hard, pays his taxes and deserves to be able to continue living here.
I have lived in Petworth for four years now and I’m in the process of buying a condo here. I love this neighborhood because it’s diverse and full of people with long, rich histories in the area. There are dive bars, an organic market, the coffee shop and other yuppie-like offerings that I really enjoy. But there is also culture and there are roots that reach far back. This isn’t the typical transient D.C. neighborhood where young professionals stop in only for a short stay. Everyone has their reasons for living where they live, but I must say I’m quite happy with where I call home.
The article written in response to poll results can be read here. Information about tonight’s “Behind the Headlines” forum can be found here. The last video I made for this series, about an unemployed homeless man in Prince George’s County and a retired man facing the possibility of foreclosure, can be found here.
Special thanks to intern Margaret Chetham Williams for her help with some of the audio for this project.