The Washington, DC region is great >> and it can be greater.

Posts about Gentrification

Development


This graph shows which parts of our region are walkable, affordable, and equitable

The Washington region is blessed with many walkable places. But with more and more people hoping to live and work in them, some are more affordable and accessible to a wide variety of people than others. A nifty analysis from GWU looks at which walkable areas in the region are the most affordable and equitable over a wide variety of factors.


Scatterplot by the author.

The scatterplot above shows the combined economic and social equity score for 50 walkable urban places in our region, or WalkUPs, a phrase my research group coined when we first started measuring this in 2012. The chart below summarizes how we find and define WalkUPs.

In the plot, the economic index is a weighted average of rents for office, retail, and multifamily residential buildings (per square foot), compared to a region-wide average for the baseline and discounted for vacancy; the social equity index is a five-part index based on transit-accessible jobs (10%), housing supply (15%), percentage of income spent on housing for a household earning 80% of the area median income (40%), percentage of income spent on transportation for same (20%), and public space per capita (15%).

These places are the site of the most intense and rapid development and demographic pressures and changes in our region, and it often seems like these two metrics are in direct conflict in those circumstances. However, we've identified some special places in our region that are at a "sweet spot" for both investors and residents. Those places are in the upper right quadrant of the plot.

Places in the upper left quadrant have relatively higher rents than the region as a whole, but lower social equity scores. But it's interesting to note that there are places, even in the geographic northwest of DC, that score high on both indices, such as Friendship Heights. In these places, while rents are high, lower transportation costs help keep them within reach for average renters (note: this analysis does not include for-sale housing).

The quadrant where walkability, lower rents across product types, and equity meet is in the lower-right hand corner. Silver Spring scored number one of established WalkUPs on equity, and it's affordable too! Housing hunters, take note.

This plot is a snapshot of 2015. The really interesting question is where our region is trending. The future sustainability of many of these places, especially suburban TODs, and many "emerging" WalkUPs that we've identified, hinge on the future of transit in our region. As Metrorail struggles and the Purple Line remains tied up in court, where market demand for walkability will land is an open question. Local jurisdictions whose budgets are supported by property taxes should take note, however, that walkability and value remain inextricably intertwined. All the places on this plot are walkable, and command significant premiums over a region that is mostly...not...yet?

If you'd like to hear more about this analysis, I'll be presenting these findings at an Urban Land Institute event this Wednesday, September 21. Or, stay tuned for a forthcoming report.

Development


How five local businesspeople would tackle gentrification on 14th Street

As recently as ten years ago, DC's bustling 14th Street corridor was riddled with crime and blight. Its rapid transformation is one version of the same story you can find all over the District. How can change of this magnitude serve existing communities rather than displace them?


14th Street NW in 2014. Photo by Ted Eytan on Flickr.

On August 6th at The Studio Theater, a panel of speakers hosted by The Washington Post gathered to discuss this challenge, providing personal insights into how rapid transformation can be better managed and implemented so that it benefits everyone.

The panelists included Busboys and Poets owner Andy Shallal, Mindful Restaurant Group owner Ari Gejdenson; Erik Bergman, a director of operations with the Neighborhood Restaurant Group; JBG Companies vice president Evan Regan-Levine; and Meridith Burkus, the managing director of Studio Theatre. Local Washington Post columnist John Kelly moderated the discussion.


The panel. Photo by Tina Revazi.

The panelists discussed two separate (but interrelated) forms of gentrification. One is economic gentrification. In the context of the discussion, economic gentrification is the result of unsustainable costs of living due to the regulatory climate imposed by local government (for example, the expensive and unsubsidized cost of purchasing land).

Evan Regan-Levine summed up this challenge "How can we pair smart legislation with the desire to have the private sector invest in and redevelop neighborhoods without destroying that fabric?"

Then, there is cultural gentrification. In the context of the discussion, cultural gentrification is the result of residents feeling marginalized and unwelcome in their own neighborhoods, with their interests being superseded by surrounding business interests. To that end, businesses moving into newly developed neighborhoods hold a level of responsibility for ensuring that members of the community are welcomed and included.

Better public policy can shape the outcomes of economic gentrification

"A city is not a bank, it's not a business. It really needs to think in terms of 'What is our responsibility?'" said Andy Shallal. "First and foremost, it is for the citizens. And it's not just the new people moving in. It's the people who have lived here. Gentrification isn't gravity...it happens because it's intentional. It's intentional by the city, it's intentional by government."

Part of the responsibility falls on government to make diverse and affordable development feasible for developers.

It starts with the price of housing, which is driven by the cost of land. And cost of land is, to a degree, controllable by government.

Communities are marginalized when they are displaced from their homes, so if housing could be made more affordable, the level of displacement would decrease. In an attempt to level the playing field, government needs to be held accountable for ensuring that all residents can afford to live in DC, while balancing the power of developers and special interest groups.


14th and U Streets NW in 1950. Photo by Addison Scurlock.

One way to create more affordable housing is through public-private partnerships between developers and the city government.

"We have been really willy-nilly about giving away public property, and I think that's been one of the problems. You have to hold the city accountable, and say, 'You cannot give away land unless you do some really serious concessions.'" said Shallal.

An example of such a concession is subsidizing the cost of affordable housing, so that the burden of charging reduced rates for affordable housing doesn't rest squarely on the shoulders of private developers.

"The Housing Trust Fund has $100 million, but it needs to at least be doubled," said Shallal. "And there is money, this is the time. The city has almost $2 billion in surplus. This is the moment to say, 'Let's invest and let's plan for the future', otherwise we're going to sit and have this same conversation next year, and the year after, and the year after."

While the Housing Trust Fund was infused with nearly $100 million during last year's budget process, there's still lots of remaining work to be done to ensure the fund ultimately helps those who need it most.

Businesses share responsibility for welcoming members of existing communities

"The government can play a role, but I think we have to play a role as well", said Meredith Burkis, regarding the need for local businesses to be conscious of their impact on existing communities.

"One of the things we've been doing over course of the last year is asking how [The Studio Theater] can play a role in that challenge. We all have to have a commitment to understanding that there are people who have been here, it's their community. What role can we play in that community? There's not one answer. Government, yes, has to play a role. But we have to make it a priority too."

There are many examples of how this can be put into action. It starts, as Shallal pointed out, with raising awareness of cultural divisions and proactively working to avoid them.

Shallal stated, "It's not just about a business opening and saying 'I'm successful, I'm doing well'. It's about a business saying that success doesn't stop at the bottom line of a dollar, but it stops at 'Am I really representing and feeling good about being here, can I walk outside my door and have my head raised up high, and feel like I'm not contributing to the destruction of somebody else's life or culture?' That's the question that us as business owners have to ask ourselves every single day."

The construction of the menu itself at Busboys and Poets is an example of maintaining this awareness. Initially, Shallal hired a chef who put together an upscale menu that would likely leave many members of the local community feeling disregarded.

"I looked at the menu, and half of the things on there I couldn't understand let alone would want to have on the menu. In order for us to be accessible to the neighborhood, we had to have food that [customers] feel comfortable ordering without having to feel stupid about looking at the menu."

"In order to be friendly to the neighborhood that you're coming into, you can't just parachute into it. You need to build from the bottom," Shallal concluded.

This is a powerful truth to be acknowledged when it comes to new businesses planting roots in revitalized neighborhoods, if they hope to embrace the past while welcoming the future.

Education


Gentrification isn't the only reason DC's test scores are rising

Student performance in the nation's capital has increased so dramatically that it has attracted significant attention and prompted many to ask whether gentrification, rather than an improvement in school quality, is behind the higher scores. Demographic change explains some of the increases in test scores, but by no means all of them.


Photo by US Department of Education on Flickr.

We drew this conclusion after analyzing data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), known as the "nation's report card," which tests representative samples of fourth- and eighth-grade students in mathematics and reading every two years.

NAEP scores reflect not just school quality, but also the characteristics of the students taking the test. For example, the difference in scores between Massachusetts and Mississippi reflects both the impact of the state's schools and differences in state poverty rates and other demographics. Likewise, changes in NAEP performance over time can result from changes in both school quality and student demographics.

DC's school demographics have changed substantially since 2005. The NAEP data show that the proportion of white and Hispanic students in DC has roughly doubled, while the proportion of black students has declined. The question is whether DC's sizable improvement is the result of changing demographics, as some commentators claim, or improving quality.

Changing demographics are only part of changing test scores

Our analysis indicates that, based on the relationships between demographics and NAEP scores in 2005, demographic changes predict a score increase of four to six points between 2005 and 2013 (the data needed to perform this analysis on the 2015 results are not yet available).

But the actual score increases have generally far outpaced the gains predicted by demographic change alone. For example, in fourth-grade math, demographics predicted a four-point increase, but scores increased 17 points.

The figure below shows predicted and actual score increases for all four tests for DC schools overall (including charters) and the traditional school district (DC Public Schools). Only in eighth-grade reading scores at DC Public Schools do demographic shifts explain more than half of the score increase.


Graph from the Urban Institute.

To be sure, our analysis does not account for all potentially important demographic factors. In particular, we do not include any measures of family income. Though researchers often use eligibility for free or reduced-price lunch as a proxy for determining income level, changes to who is eligible make this measure unreliable. With the eighth-grade scores, we did attempt to use parents' education as a proxy for socioeconomic status, but our results did not appreciably change: changes in demographics still did not account for changes in academic performance.

The bottom line is that gentrification alone cannot explain why student scores improved in Washington, DC, a conclusion that echoes previous analyses using publicly available data. DC education saw many changes over this period, including reform-oriented chancellors, mayoral control, and a rapidly expanding charter sector, but we cannot identify which policy changes, if any, produced these results.

And despite the large gains, DC NAEP scores still reveal substantial achievement gaps—for example, the gap between average scores for black and white students was 56 points in 2015; the gap between Hispanics and whites was 49 points.

In other words, much work remains to be done.

Here's how we drew our conclusions

Our analysis of student-level NAEP data from DC, including students from charter and traditional public schools, compares the increase in scores from 2005 to 2013 with the increase that might have been expected based on shifts in demographic factors including race/ethnicity, gender, age, and language spoken at home. The methodology is similar to the one used in a new online tool showing state NAEP performance (the tool excludes DC because it is not a state).

We used restricted-use, student-level data from NCES to generate these results. (That means that researchers have to get special permission to access files that have scores on a kid-by-kid (but de-identified) basis, whereas most people would have to use data that averaged for entire states and cities (by subject and year).

We measured the relationship between DC student scores in 2005 and the student factors of gender, race and ethnicity, age, and frequency of English spoken at home. We then predicted what each student's score in 2013 would have been if the relationships between demographics and scores were the same in 2013 as they were in 2005. We then compared the average predicted score of the 2013 test-takers (relative to the 2005 average score) to the actual 2013 score (also relative to the 2005 average score).

We tried model variants that included special education status, limited English proficiency status, and eligibility for free- and reduced-price lunch. Including these variables tended to lower the predicted score change (indicating that an even larger portion of the score changes came from non-demographic changes). However, because these variable are also subject to district and school-level definitions (direct certification/community eligibility may have increased the numbers of FRPL-eligible students, for example), we chose not to include these variables in our prediction, and focused only on demographic changes.

Crossposted from the Urban Wire.

History


Before moving to DC, Walt Whitman was a Brooklyn house flipper

One of Washington's many adopted sons, Walt Whitman is among the most decorated figures in American literature. A lesser-known fact about Whitman is that he wrote one of the earliest descriptions of speculative real estate development, displacement, and gentrification.


Walt Whitman around 1855. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Whitman's essay, "Tear Down and Build Over Again," was published in the November 1845 issue of The American Review. From the perspective of a housing supplier, he explored urban redevelopment, aesthetics, and the attachments to place longtime residents have.

What makes Whitman's essay unique besides its early date is that it was written not by a housing reformer or displaced resident, but by an entrepreneur making money from the creative destruction of New York City neighborhoods.

"Let us level to the earth all the houses that were not built within the last ten years," Whitman wrote in 1845. "Let us raise the devil and break things!"

Penned more than a century before the Housing Act of 1949 introduced urban renewal to aging and distressed city neighborhoods, Whitman was writing on the eve of his brief career in Brooklyn as familiar urban character: the house-flipping gentrifier.

According to University of Cambridge literary historian Peter Riley, Whitman was itching to get into a booming Brooklyn real estate market. Riley examined Whitman's notebooks and analyzed "Tear Down and Build Over Again" to contextualize how the poet jumped on the real estate "speculative bandwagon."

Between 1846 and 1855, notes Riley, Whitman bought and built several properties. Profits from redevelopment and house flipping allowed Whitman to buy an un-mortgaged home for his family and financed publication of Whitman's first book, Leaves of Grass, in 1855.


Brooklyn row houses around 1935. Photo from the New York Public Library.

Though written 118 years before sociologist Ruth Glass introduced the word "gentrification" to popular and academic discourse, Whitman's essay clearly captures the subject's supply and demand dimensions and the social costs—better housing, good investments (positive) and displacement and alienation (negative) wrapped up in the process.

In modern terms, Whitman effectively described neighborhood upgrading through reinvestment resulting in displacement and the churn of properties from the less wealthy to better off residents.

In other words, Whitman was describing gentrification.

Whitman did have concerns about redevelopment

Though clearly writing as an unabashed capitalist housing producer, Whitman also recognized that the people displaced from the older homes had strong attachments to the properties and to the neighborhoods where they lived.

"Then fled tenants from under roofs that had sheltered them when in their cradles," he wrote. "And had witnessed their parents' marriages—roofs aneath which they had grown up from childhood, and that were filled with the memories of many years."

As Whitman was writing about the loss of old buildings and familiar places by their occupants, he also expressed some disdain for new construction in ways remarkably similar to how contemporary Americans write about McMansions:

"Then there are those who would go farther to view even Charlotte Temple's grave, than Mr. Astor's stupid-looking house in Broadway… To such, greatness and goodness are things intrinsic—mental and moral qualities. To the rest of the world, and that is nine-tenths of it, appearance [emphasis in original] is everything.

He was also witnessing the birth of historic preservation

Whitman also was writing at a time when American culture was developing its own sense of national heritage. By the 1850s, a "Cult of Washington" had emerged that elevated the Revolutionary War hero and first president to near-mythical status.

Besides writing what may be the earliest chronicle of American gentrification, Whitman also captured the birth of America's historic preservation movement. In addition to memorializing Washington through monument construction, there were growing numbers of people concerned about the disappearance of places associated with George Washington.

"… when we bethink us how good it is to leave no land-mark of the past standing, no pile honored by its association with our storied names, with the undying memory of our Washington, and with the frequent presence of his compatriots," Whitman wrote about a decade before efforts began to buy and preserve Mt. Vernon.

"Tear Down and Build Up Again" is an important and relatively un-recognized chronicle of the birth of early American urban redevelopment written by one of the nation's most important poets.

Development


2015's greatest hits: South Park weighs in on gentrification with "SoDoSoPa"

To close out 2015, we're reposting some of the most popular and still-relevant articles from the year. This post originally ran on October 5. Enjoy and happy New Year!

As more people seek urban living, communities around the country are trying to meet the demand. That even goes for fictional places like South Park, which skewers gentrification this season with a new neighborhood called "SoDoSoPa":

In last week's episode, the town decides to redevelop the poor part of town into a trendy arts and restaurant district called "SoDoSoPa" in order to attract a Whole Foods. This fake ad for the community, complete with shots of sleek lofts, fancy restaurants, and bearded hipsters, could pass for lots of places in our region.

The episode also looks at how revitalization projects impact the people who already live there. South Park's mayor reassures Kenny's blue-collar family that she'll listen to their worries about the development. Instead, SoDoSoPa uses Kenny's blue-collar family as a marketing tool, advertising its proximity to "historic Kenny's house." Kenny's little sister asks her dad why they can't go outside to enjoy the cleaned-up neighborhood, and he replies that they can't afford to.

The video inspired a lengthy thread on Reddit's South Park board asking commenters to name their city's "SoDoSoPa" neighborhood. Naturally, one commenter suggested NoMa for the DC area, in addition to other redeveloping areas, including downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, and Tysons Corner.

What depictions of urban issues on TV have you enjoyed recently?

Development


South Park weighs in on gentrification with "SoDoSoPa"

As more people seek urban living, communities around the country are trying to meet the demand. That even goes for fictional places like South Park, which skewers gentrification this season with a new neighborhood called "SoDoSoPa":

In last week's episode, the town decides to redevelop the poor part of town into a trendy arts and restaurant district called "SoDoSoPa" in order to attract a Whole Foods. This fake ad for the community, complete with shots of sleek lofts, fancy restaurants, and bearded hipsters, could pass for lots of places in our region.

The episode also looks at how revitalization projects impact the people who already live there. South Park's mayor reassures Kenny's blue-collar family that she'll listen to their worries about the development. Instead, SoDoSoPa uses Kenny's blue-collar family as a marketing tool, advertising its proximity to "historic Kenny's house." Kenny's little sister asks her dad why they can't go outside to enjoy the cleaned-up neighborhood, and he replies that they can't afford to.

The video inspired a lengthy thread on Reddit's South Park board asking commenters to name their city's "SoDoSoPa" neighborhood. Naturally, one commenter suggested NoMa for the DC area, in addition to other redeveloping areas, including downtown Silver Spring, Bethesda Row, and Tysons Corner.

What depictions of urban issues on TV have you enjoyed recently?

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City
CC BY-NC