Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Gentrification

Bicycling


We need empathy and understanding, around bicycling, gentrification, and much more

Like many parts of our nation where many different people coexist, there are divides in the Washington region. Like many places that are changing, groups of people can direct resentment or intolerance at each other.


Bicycle and car photo from Shutterstock.com.

In many neighborhoods, new, more affluent residents are moving in, disrupting an existing social fabric that endured when many turned their backs on such communities. Likewise, the social order of our streets, where cars had almost exclusive use of the street save for delineated side sections for pedestrians, is giving way to a new one where multiple kinds of vehicles share space.

In both cases, new social norms are still catching up to our changing city. But it's easy for all of us to see another group, all visibly different in some way from ourselves, and lump them together. That goes for cyclists looking at drivers, drivers looking at cyclists, longtime older residents versus newer younger residents, or many others.

In a new column, Courtland Milloy says that "the bicyclists" in the area have "nerve" for, among other things, "fight[ing] to have bike lanes routed throughout the city, some in front of churches where elderly parishioners used to park their cars." And he specifically mentions me for pointing out a "Trampe" bicycle escalator as one tool which might be useful on 15th Street.

The Trampe is so far from an actual, serious, actionable proposal that it's not worth debating, but Milloy is also alluding to the fight over the M Street cycletrack and Metropolitan AME church. That was a prime example of groups of people not speaking to one another or building bridges.

Some church members felt that cyclists were interlopers trying to remake the fabric of a city that is only desirable because of the churches' hard toil when others were abandoning central DC. At the same time, some newer residents too readily dismiss churches' needs and concerns by pointing to laws concerning parking which don't match a more unwritten social understanding that had been established for many years.

Church leaders told city officials that a bike lane was a nonstarter and rebuffed bicycle advocates' requests to meet and talk. Some bicycle riders belittled churchgoers for living outside the city. And so on.

It's easy to denigrate others, but harder to understand why they feel aggrieved.

There's plenty of injustice, and it's right to be outraged

Milloy points out:

I recall in the not-so-distant past when the city's bikers weren't newly arrived, mostly white millennials but black juveniles whom D.C. police frequently stoppedat least in neighborhoods that were being gentrified. Stopped for riding on sidewalks. Stopped for riding in parking lots. Now that kids like them are being moved to the outskirts of the city, if not out altogether, the District government is bending over backward to make Washington a more "biker-friendly" city.
Milloy highlights two failures of society here. First, police disproportionately stop young black males on the street. That means that that black youth who, for example, smoke marijuana are far more likely to be arrested than white youth. Black youth who break rules in school are far more likely to end up having the criminal justice system deal with the issue and possible punishment, while white youth far more often get a stern talking-to and a promise from parents to make sure it never happens again.

This sort of disparity is absolutely unconscionable. Mounds of books, articles, blog posts, and more have and will be written about this issue. We must not tolerate it.

This has little to do with bicycling. Bicyclists in DC are in fact probably very likely to support reforms to these injustices.

Second, it is entirely true that affluent groups of people tend to get more of what they want. They push for city services with more success. They lobby for zoning and historic preservation restrictions to protect elements of their neighborhoods and push change to other communities without this power.

Bicycling has long been an activity for two groups: those who can't afford cars and those who can, but choose to ride anyway. Now that the latter is growing quickly, there is new political support for bicycle infrastructure.

But you'd scarcely find a single member of that second group who feels that the lanes should just go in expensive neighborhoods. Bike lanes do not discriminate among who can ride a bicycle in them.

Cyclists, like many others, want to be safe first

Cyclists are precisely the group who want to see more bike lanes in Ward 8. Cyclists aren't looking to win some sort of battle about the soul of the city. They're looking to get where they want to go more easily and safely.

Yesterday was also the sixth anniversary of Alice Swanson's death. She was crushed under a garbage truck at Connecticut and R. Let's not forget the real human toll that traffic crashes can cause. And let's also not forget that people in poorer neighborhoods die or suffer in many ways as well, and often their families lack a voice to speak about their injustice.

Bicycling generates an odd juxtaposition where the typically most privileged members of our societymostly young, often white, primarily male, highly-educatedget to know what it is like to be a minority and feel threatened. Nikki Lee wrote that "cycling is awfully similar to being a woman," because random interactions are usually safe but every so often could be dangerous or fatal; small obstacles can be far larger just for you; and if something happens to you, society will probably blame you, the victim.

It also gives these privileged people (myself included) a chance to be reduced to a single adjective. To have peopleeven respected ones like NPR's Scott Simonassume something about you because of a superficial characteristic they can see.

There are jerks among every group. Some are riding bicycles. Some are driving. Some are white, black, old, young, gay, straight, trans, tall, short, athletic, bookish, long-haired, or like Milloy, sporting mustaches.

It's difficult to see past surface categories and understand people as people rather than as symbols of some group.

How about some bike lanes in Ward 8?

Milloy also says that "So far, more than 72 miles of bike lanes have been carved out of city streets. There are virtually none in Ward 8, by the way, which has the lowest income and highest number of children of any ward in the city."

There should be bike lanes in Ward 8. Unfortunately, DDOT planners have often tried to suggest bike lanes in projects, like the Great Streets program a few years ago, and hear angry residents say things like, "You just come in here with ideas and don't listen to us," and, "We don't want any bike lanes in our neighborhood."

The Washington Area Bicyclist Association has been working to address this with its outreach east of the Anacostia River. Black Women Bike has been trying to dispel racial and gender stereotypes. But a few programs won't dispel misconceptions overnight. We need far more dialogue and interaction, on bicycling, on gentrification, and on much more.

I would like to work toward building these bridges across the divides in our city and region. I would love to work with Courtland Milloy to achieve that, and emailed him to reach out last night. Former DC council candidate John Settles has been talking about convening conversations among disparate people in DC.

I hope that if we can find the right venue for conversations, the readers of Greater Greater Washington, and of Milloy's column, will participate, not to point fingers at another side or deride their misconceptions, but actually to learn from each other and let understanding win over hatred.

Development


Dead ends: Tenant activists against housing

Ben Ross has published a new book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. Greater Greater Washington will be reprinting a few excerpts from the book.

Ward 3 Vision is organizing a talk with Ross on Thursday, June 12, 7 pm at the Tenley-Friendship Library, 4450 Wisconsin Avenue NW. Then, have a drink with Ross, Ward 3 Vision members, and others at Public Tenley, where you can buy a signed copy.

In rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods, ... tenant advocates often fall back on a purely defensive approach and oppose new construction in the neighborhood. This strategy rests on a seemingly straightforward logic.


Photo by eightprime on Flickr.

Real estate prices are always a matter of locationbuildings are expensive because they're near expensive buildingsso keeping out new buildings, which will always charge a higher rent than the older ones around them, helps keep housing affordable.

The means of stopping development is a political coalition of tenants and nimby homeowners. This alliance is surely an odd basis for left-wing politics, but a school of academic theory justifies it as such. The idea is that neighborhoods are defending themselves against an exploitative and nearly all-powerful "growth machine."

The fuel that drives the machine is profit, derived from the excess of the "exchange value" realized when land is redeveloped over the "use value" enjoyed by its current residents. This logic dovetails nicely with the greedy developer mantra of more conservative suburban homeowners.

Growth machine theory has the merit of focusing on the exercise of political power, something that is glossed over in much establishment writing about land use. It explains, moreover, why urban renewal and downtown expressways were so hard to stop in the 1950s and 1960s.

But the theory is less useful in current circumstances. For one thing, it exaggerates the power of the growth machine. Developers would surely, if allowed, build their high-rises in prestigious close-in neighborhoods like Beverly Hills, Grosse Pointe, and Georgetown. Condos would be easier to sell there than in the run-down areas where local governments now let them build.

For another, the concept of use value misconstrues the motivation for resistance to growth. Nimbys acquire higher status by means of conspicuous waste; what zoning protects is not the use of land, but its disuse.

A variant of this theory that emphasizes the role of lower-income neighborhoods as centers of resistance to capitalism is popular among neo-Marxist writers. Aiming to understand the global forces behind recent economic trends, they focus on the role of banks and real estate developers in urban change and downplay the role of individual gentrifiers. The single-family zoning of suburban homeowners has little relevance to their concerns and is often taken for granted.

The focus on gentrification shifts the political base for affordable housing. Tenants themselves do not mobilize on the abstract issue of future land use as they do for the immediate protection of rent control. Meanwhile, support grows more intense among the gentrifiers themselvesfor some grass-roots advocates of affordable housing, opposition to gentrification begins with a desire to keep the neighborhood just the way it was when they moved in. Sympathy for low-income residents comes only afterwards.

At their worst, local struggles against gentrification have less to do with the poor than with protecting the brand image of poverty in a newly hip neighborhood. Local activists seize on neo-Marxist theory to denounce all change as the evil machinations of the multinational elite. Here there is an echo of pro-sprawl libertarians like Randal O'Toole and Joel Kotkin. One group hails nimbys as enemies of the urban cultural elite; the other welcomes them as partners in the struggle against global capital.

Either way, the rhetoric serves a similar purpose. It provides a rationale for alliances that would otherwise be hard to square with the locally fashionable political ideology.

Identifying gentrification as the underlying issue brings the issues of transportation and development to the fore. Other things in poor neighborhoods keep wealthy newcomers out toocrime and bad schools, for examplebut it is hard to argue for their preservation.

An activist may think, as one Chicagoan told an interviewer, that crime helps keep his neighborhood from becoming "too nice," but few long-time residents agree. Targeted instead are light rail lines and new buildings on vacant land. In themselves they displace no one, but as triggers of change they seem as threatening as condo conversions and they are much easier to stop.

For tenants, who certainly have a direct concern for affordability, coalitions with nimbys lead to a dead end. Changing city neighborhoods cannot be preserved as low-rent refuges unless the demand for urban living is soaked up somewhere else. New urban downtowns would have to be built in the wealthy areas where CEOs live and jobs cluster.

But the alliance with nimbys makes it impossible to challenge snob zoning within the same political jurisdiction. And by legitimating resistance to change, it reinforces the status quo elsewhere.

The wealthy inevitably play the exclusion game more effectively than the poor. Pent-up demand is funneled into the surviving remnants of an older urbanism. The price of the existing housing stock soars.

This dynamic of gentrification has gone furthest in San Francisco, where soaring housing costs accompany tight building limits. The best-paid jobs are in Silicon Valley office parks, so reverse commuters' cars crowd the streets of once-poor neighborhoods.

Transit


Behold how the Purple Line corridor is changing

When built, the Purple Line could dramatically improve transit commutes in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. To explore that and other changes the line will bring, researchers created a series of maps including this one of the "commute shed" of each Purple Line station, or how far you can get on transit before and after it's built.


All images from the Purple Line Corridor Coalition.

Two weeks ago, the Purple Line Corridor Coalition organized a workshop called "Beyond the Tracks: Community Development in the Purple Line Corridor" to bring different stakeholders together and talk about ways to prepare for changes along the future light-rail line between Bethesda and New Carrollton, which awaits federal funding and could open in 2020.

The coalition is a product of the National Center for Smart Growth at the University of Maryland, which hosted the workshop. Members of the group include nonprofit organizations, developers, and local governments in Montgomery and Prince George's counties. At the workshop, they looked at examples from cities like Minneapolis and Denver, which recently built light-rail lines.

The 16-mile corridor contains some of the region's richest and poorest communities, in addition to major job centers and Maryland's flagship state university. When it opens in 2020, the Purple Line will help create the walkable, urban places people increasingly want. However, rising property values could potentially displace small businesses and low-income households. To illustrate and explore these issues, the Center for Smart Growth produced a series of awesome maps.

Like the DC area as a whole, the Purple Line corridor is divided from west to east, with more jobs and affluence on the west side, and more low-income households on the east side. Many of the estimated 70,000 people who will ride the Purple Line each day in 2040 will come from communities in eastern Montgomery and Prince George's county to jobs in Bethesda and Silver Spring.

But today, getting between those areas can be difficult and time-consuming, whether by bus or by car. It's no surprise that many commuters along the eastern end of the Purple Line have one-way commutes over an hour.

These maps, and the map above, show the "commute shed" of three Purple Line stations, or how far you can get on transit in an hour. In all three cases, the Purple Line opens up huge swaths of Montgomery, Prince George's and DC to each community. While the Purple Line only travels through a small portion of our region, it adds another link to our existing Metro and bus network, meaning its benefits will go way beyond the neighborhoods it directly serves.

But better access comes with a price, namely rising property values. The revitalization of downtown Silver Spring has resulted in higher home prices in surrounding neighborhoods because of the increased demand to live there. But Silver Spring and Takoma Park still have substantial pockets of poverty, meaning that low-income residents may not be able to afford to stay in the area once the Purple Line opens.

There are two ways to ensure that neighborhoods near the Purple Line remain affordable for both current and future residents. One is to protect the existing supply of subsidized apartments. Many complexes near the Purple Line have price restrictions for low-income households, but they will expire before it's scheduled to open in 2020.

The other is to build more new housing near the Purple Line. New homes are usually expensive, but increasing the supply of housing to meet demand can result in lower or at least stabilized prices. We're starting to see this in downtown Silver Spring, where thousands of apartments have been built in recent years. But Montgomery officials reduced the number of new homes allowed in Chevy Chase Lake and Long Branch due to concerns about changing the character of each neighborhood.

There are a lot of great and interesting communities along the Purple Line. But many of them are dramatically different places than they were even 10 years ago. They'll be different in 10 more years, whether or not the Purple Line is built. We can't preserve these places in stone, but we should try to ensure that the people who enjoy and contribute to these places can stick around in the future.

Events


Events roundup: How can longtime and new residents coexist?

The District is changing rapidly as many people, including many young professionals, want to move to walkable, bikeable, transit-oriented neighborhoods. That is also creating tension with long-time residents worried about themselves or their neighbors getting pushed out or favorite businesses closing. What can we do to build harmony rather than conflict?


Diverse hands image from Shutterstock.

The Washington Interfaith Network (WIN) is holding a forum about this very issue tonight, Thursday March 6, 7-9 pm at All Souls Church, 1500 Harvard St. NW. It will feature longtime residents and new residents who share the same concerns about housing affordability, transit, and more, along with candidates for DC mayor.

Also, get your zoning update questions answered at open houses, get an update on Red Line repair progress, and more after the jump.

WIN's Drew Bongiovanni writes,

[DC's demographic change] has created in our city a constant tension, a perception that DC is split between new and long-term resident, between have and have-not, where residents of differing age, race, and class do not see one another as neighbors. The voice of the media often insists that new and native DC residents are at odds, pitting these communities against one another by warning that they do not share the same vision for the city.

The action is about seeing whether DC residents can meet that tension head-on and unify around common interests such building affordable housing, ending homelessness, creating living wage jobs, and building a better transit system that better serves all residents.

WIN seeks to ... bring together young voters who share rooms and split rents on Capitol Hill, the families that move into the suburbs, and the seniors who are all struggling to afford housing in the District. To bring together the 18 year-old that has found themself without a place to sleep and the recent college graduate who has moved to the city for their very first job. To organize the rider of a city bus and the bus driver to work together to demand a better transit system. To discover the common ground between the young couple that worries they will need to move from the city to raise kids to those whose roots to this city are too deep for them to ever imagine leaving.

More details are on this flyer.

Zoning update open houses: DC's Office of Planning is holding a series of open house meetings for residents to discuss the proposed changes to the zoning regulations. You can talk to OP staff about the changes on a one-on-one basis to learn more about the proposals. Go here for the draft zoning regulations.

Here is the schedule for the remaining open houses:

  • Friday, March 7, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Tuesday, March 11, 4-8 pm at Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 4-8 pm at Deanwood Recreation Center, 1350 49th Street NW.
  • Friday, March 14, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Saturday, March 15, 10 am-2 pm at Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS, 2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
  • Friday, March 21, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Friday, March 28, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
Women and transportation webinar: The American Planning Association is hosting a free webinar on issues facing women who work in transportation. The webinar is on Friday, March 7 from 1-2 pm. To register, go here.

Get a Red Line progress report: Next week, hear about Metro's work to rebuild the Red Line from deputy general manager Rob Troup. He'll be speaking at the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. As always, ACT meetings are free and open to the public.

Organize for 16th Street bus lanes: The Coalition for Smarter Growth is kicking off a campaign for a dedicated rush hour bus lane on 16th Street, where half the people move by buses which get stuck in traffic. Join them for a happy hour from 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U on Wednesday, March 12.

Speak up for King Street bike lanes: The King Street bike lane saga continues at the Alexandria City Council meeting on Saturday, March 15. Show your support for pedestrian and bicycle improvements with fellow walkers and bikers, and the Coalition for Smarter Growth. The public meeting is 9:30 am-12 pm at 301 King Street #2300 in Alexandria. If you'd like to speak at the meeting, please RSVP through CSG.

Arts


Come see Clybourne Park, then talk about it with us

In 2011, we organized a group outing to see Clybourne Park, the award-winning play about gentrification in Chicago, at the Woolly Mammoth. Come see it with us again next month in Arlington!


Image from the Arlington Players.

The Arlington Players will stage the show for its local community theater debut Sunday, February 9 at 2:30 pm at the Thomas Jefferson Community Theatre in Arlington. Then, we'll have an open discussion with the director, cast, and some of your favorite GGW contributors.

The play opens in 1959, in Chicago's Clybourne Park neighborhood, the same time and place depicted in Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun, before jumping to the present. It weaves themes of race and gentrification with dialogue on zoning and commute times.

A white family is moving out, and one of their neighbors is concerned because they sold the house to what the neighborhood's first African-American family. 50 years later, the neighborhood is almost exclusively black, and now a young white couple has bought the house and plans to replace it with a McMansion. Not surprisingly, the characters show no comfort in addressing the big issues that lay before them, preferring to dance around them as much as possible.

The theater's located at 125 S. Old Glebe Road, a little over a mile from both the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stations. It's also accessible by Metrobus routes 10B, 23A, 23C, and 4A as well as ART route 41. You can purchase tickets here. And if you can't make our outing, you can still catch the play between January 31 and February 15 at 8:00 pm on Friday and Saturday nights and on Sunday afternoons at 2:30 pm.

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