Tag Archives: Neighborhoods

Neighborhood Spotlight: Southwest Waterfront

Ok, so full disclosure here: Prior to my fabulous tenure here at Woolly, I was a Fellow in the Media Relations department at Arena Stage. I started last August, just about a week or two after the Arena staff moved into the new Mead Center for American Theater. The building was gorgeous, we were gearing up for exciting homecoming and opening gala festivities, and I got lost…A LOT. I actually remember my first week of work there was a Washingtonian photographer doing a photo shoot, and I was supposed to show him up to the costume shop and then down to the costume storage area. I had absolutely no idea where I was going, and hence was pretty embarrassed (I saw the same photographer again later in the season and he remembered the incident…sigh).

But anyway, my first day of work at Arena was also my first day ever going to Southwest DC. (And I was no newcomer to the city, having spent four years at GWU). I quickly realized that the Waterfront neighborhood of Southwest was this sort of wasteland—it took me forever to get there on the metro, and lunch options in the area? Forget it. For the entire time I worked there it was the Safeway at the metro stop, the Subway across the street…and that’s it. (Let alone it took 30 minutes to get a sandwich at either location, but that’s neither here nor there). While I’m a fan of Cantina Marina, that was virtually the only place around to grab a bite or a drink after work with coworkers, and it was only open in the warmer months of the year.

As my fellowship continued, we learned from staff members (and a huge feature in The Washington Post) about the plans for development in the neighborhood and some of the challenges faced, such as preserving Arena’s amazing views of the city, and making sure that any development in the area wouldn’t tamper with that. And progress has definitely been made: a new restaurant Station 4 has opened, The Washington Kastles tennis team opened a new stadium there, and community events are starting to be planned, such as this SW ArtsFest planned for fall 2011. But there definitely is still a long way to go. The redevelopment plan is called “The Wharf,” a $1.5 billion project to redevelop the Southwest Waterfront neighborhood over the next 10-15 years. This SW blog has a great overview of these plans, which include residential units, hotels, office space, retail stores, museums, farmers markets, and more.

Since I no longer work at Arena and am not personally witnessing many of these changes anymore, I decided to ask former Woolly Intern (and current Concessionaire) Paul Kappel what he thinks about living in the Waterfront neighborhood of Southwest:

Redevelopment can take many forms, but for my neighborhood, the little quadrant of Southwest DC, it has had both profoundly positive and negative consequences. Southwest has been my home for just over a year now, and over these months I have seen a number of important changes stemming from a recent redevelopment project along 4th Street SW, the Wharf development on the waterfront, and Arena Stage’s new center. For the most part, the changes along 4th Street have been the most profound, with the recent opening of the delicious Station 4 restaurant and bar, and what is arguably the nicest Safeway in the city. This single block on 4th Street, which was until recently non-existent, is quickly becoming a new center of activity for our neighborhood.

But where was the old center of the neighborhood?

That question is from what I can tell, a difficult one to answer for any resident of Southwest, as the entirety of what can been seen now: the neighborhood’s soaring concrete apartment towers and the Soviet-Russia-esque L’Enfant plaza complex are the product of a failed redevelopment from the 1950s. Somewhere around that time, Congress decided that a then-thriving Waterfront community was blighted and in stark contrast to the gleaming marble just a few blocks north on the National Mall. In an effort to “cure” the city of this supposed cancer, new plans were drawn up by modernist architect I.M. Pei, and nearly every building and street was erased from the map forever and replaced with a utopian vision for the future.

From the mid-1800s through the turn of the century, this community offered work and shelter for freed slaves as well as for European immigrants. For decades, African Americans, Italian immigrants, Eastern European Jews, and others worked side by side in this working class neighborhood, rich in cultural traditions. Pictured here: Shulman’s Market located at N & Union Streets, a grocery store operated by a Jewish Lithuanian family. (For more info click here).

In a sense, this is exactly what the residents of Clybourne Park fear, when the prospect of new development moves into the neighborhood.

Today, the result of that redevelopment left Southwest split in half by I-395 with a federal center to the north, and our small neighborhood to the south, largely severed from the rest of the city. What is exciting, however is that recent redevelopment of the misaligned former redevelopment has been done more carefully and with a care for maintaining the neighborhood’s many charms, like the Maine Avenue Fish Market (a holdover from before the 50s). This current smart redevelopment plan and the projects that have already been completed are encouraging and certainly leading a sort of Southwest renaissance. This time, we’re not erasing history, but embracing it for the better.

Some of the project renderings for “The Wharf,” courtesy of: http://www.swdcwaterfront.com/

~ Brooke Miller, Press and Digital Content Manager and Paul Kappel, Southwest Resident & Woolly Concessionaire



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Gentrification Is…

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

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Neighborhood Spotlight: Bloomingdale

Today’s neighborhood of Bloomingdale is located just outside the original boundary of the city of Washington as designed by Maj. Pierre L’Enfant in 1792, and residential development started in this area about a century later. Located just east of LeDroit Park, the lands that comprise the residential blocks of Bloomingdale at that time were utilized for a variety of light industrial uses. Boundary Street, today Florida Avenue, was the dividing line between paved, planned streets and the country, where a variety of landowners maintained orchards, large country estates, and a mixture of commercial properties.

One of the first uses for the area was for train yards and transportation routes into and out of the city of Washington. And in 1889 one of only two flour mills in the city was built in this neighborhood, as pictured below.

Residents at the time complained that the industrial activity in the neighborhood precluded promises of a prospering residential community. However, since then the neighborhood has changed drastically. Here’s one perspective from our Box Office Supervisor Bryan Joseph Lee who currently lives in Bloomingdale:

IF YOU BUILD IT, or Creating a Community in Bloomingdale

How do you build a sense of community? It’s a huge question, one that varies from neighborhood to neighborhood. In Clybourne Park, the discussion of community building centers around the integration and redevelopment of a single house. In Bloomingdale, the DC neighborhood I’ve called home on and off for the last three years, I think the growth of community has centered around something equally as tangible: shared public spaces.

Good public spaces are key to a healthy neighborhood because they provide neighbors a place to relax, have fun, and see one another face to face. For generations, Bloomingdale and nearby Ledroit Park and Eckington maintained a sense of identity due to their close proximity to Howard University’s campus. But without a bustling nightlife (like U Street) or a large commercial center (hey there, Colubmia Heights), Bloomingdale has relied on shared public spaces like parks, churches, recreation centers, markets, and cafes to further develop its community atmosphere.

Ask anyone in the ‘dale and they’ll tell you the heart of our neighborhood is Big Bear Cafe, a mom-and-pop coffee shop on 1st and R NW. In addition to exceptional espresso and free wifi, Big Bear also hosts a vibrant community bulletin board and a Farmer’s Market on the weekends.  When you sit for hours at Big Bear, you’ll run into friends, coworkers, and neighbors. You’ll hear about a local ANC meeting or sample some locally-sourced produce that’s incorporated into the lunch special. Local artists are featured on the walls, and on some afternoons you might hear about an open mic or pop-up concert taking place on the patio. As far as community building goes, I can’t think of a more central location in this or any other DC neighborhood.

Bloomingdale’s public spaces don’t stop at Big Bear. The newly-opened Rustik features one of the best brunches in DC, and Windows Cafe and Timor are great places to find local and organic produce. The newly-revitalized public park on 2nd and V is a great companion to the Common Good Community Garden. There are hidden gems, like Crispus Attucks Park (which is actually funded and maintained solely by the neighborhood and private donations) and a number of smaller corner stores and markets. Our neighborhood might not be huge, but there are tons of places for neighbors old and new to meet and talk with one another.

Winston Churchill once said, “We shape our public spaces, thereafter, our public spaces shape us.” It’s definitely true in Bloomingdale. Public spaces have gone a long way towards building a real sense of community in our neighborhood.

~ Bryan Joseph Lee, Box Office Supervisor

Bloomingdale history credit of: http://www.bloomingdaledc.org/history_brief.htm


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Who Am I in my Neighborhood?

As the opening of Clybourne Park approaches I sit here in my kitchen in Takoma Park pondering the question posed by last season’s production, “is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?” Takoma has long been considered a multicultural, liberal/radical, green enclave, which seemed perfect for a bohemian/rasta artist/academic like myself. Yet, I think about how few of my neighbors I actually know. The ones that I do know are young, African-American (mostly), professional couples like my husband and myself. I know only one white family on my block—again a young professional couple and they have since moved. I know none of the elders. I know only one of my Latino neighbors because she provided child care for our next door neighbors, and only one working-class family, the demographic that comprises the majority of our community. Although this isn’t necessarily all bad considering that getting to know your neighbors through service can be an effective unifying force.

Just a few weeks ago our new next door neighbors lost their dog, an adorable yorkie named Mason. I had never really spoken to them, but I had certainly spoken to Mason who spends a fair amount of time tied up between our two yards much to my dog’s chagrin. However, returning home one Sunday evening around ten or so, I saw my neighbor sitting on the front steps in tears. I finally learned her name (Carla), which was enough to make my husband and I spend the next hour or so scouring the neighborhood for her dog. It isn’t the first time. There was the beagle that I returned to his yard at least once a week before his family moved. So the question for me is not only “is your neighborhood Clybourne Park?” but who am I in my neighborhood?

~Sybil Roberts, Clybourne Park Humanities Scholar

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