Much has been written about the changes to H Street NE (aka, the H Street Corridor, the Atlas Distract), from the praiseworthy to the cautionary, and even an article solely discussing and analyzing all the other stories being written on the subject! These articles range in their characterization of the situation and use words from “rediscovery,” “revitalization,” “unease,” and “divide,” but all agree: Gentrification has arrived on H Street NE.
And me? Where do I fit into this conversation? Let me introduce myself: Hi! My name is Ellys and I am a gentrifier of H Street. I moved to DC two years ago from NYC and into a house on 8th and F St. NE. My roommate had previously lived in a small garden apartment in Eastern Market and when her lease was up, she decided to cross East Capitol in search of a place a little bigger, a litter cheaper, and maybe even above ground.
As we were driving around on a weekend scouting trip for apartments, my friend was quick to point out that by simply crossing a street, we had made the transition between where was safe and where I was cautioned I shouldn’t be walking alone at night. I was very surprised by the geography of DC, particularly how close the “good” neighborhoods were to the “bad”. The houses looked the same on both sides, but there was definitely a feeling of shift. The streets on the north side of H were dirtier; there were empty and dilapidated houses, the front lawns not as well maintained. At that time, H Street itself was a mess; most of the buildings were empty with huge for sale signs on shuttered, graffiti-decorated windows, it wasn’t a surprise when the street lamps came on in the evening and some did not, or to see the homeless sleeping in alleys and doorways.
However, there were signs of change and it happed very quickly. With Gallaudet University pushing south and the Hill community pushing north, that area in between, the “no-man’s land” is slowly being squeezed out. Real Estate developers, H Street Community Development Corporation, and the city were scrambling to capitalize on this up-and-coming community. It seemed that over night, planters and trees were being placed along the street, every weekend another restaurant or bar was having a grand opening, and the streets were being torn up in preparation of a promised trolley route, which will use H Street to connect Chinatown and the Orange line Minnesota Avenue metro station.
With all this rapid change, there is definitely tension and upheaval. Personally, I’ve been vocally harassed and told to leave the neighborhood, yelled that I was unwelcomed and should go elsewhere. My home has been robbed and my car broken into. Don’t get me wrong, I grew up in NYC and understand that these things are part of living in the city. However, I don’t go running to tell my mother either!
I guess the short of it is I don’t know how I feel. I love my neighborhood. I’m excited by the changes but am very aware that these come with a cost. I hold a certain amount of white guilt while also acknowledging that I am now spending my money in an area when it would have gone elsewhere. I love the community I moved into and yet I also know my presence is the direct cause of its change. Who am I? I am a gentrifier.
Want to further explore this topic? Come to the Mammoth Forum “Gentrification Is…” this Sunday, August 7th following the 3pm performance. The forum will examine a range of perspectives on gentrification, and begin touching on the complexities of the issue as it is playing out in the DC area. The panel will feature:
Justin Maher, PhD candidate in American Studies at the University of Maryland.
Edward Jones, long-time resident of Bloomingdale neighborhood.
dany sigwalt, third-generation Washingtonian, youth worker, filmmaker and interactive/web artist.
~Ellys Abrams, Assistant to the Managing Director