My current apartment building is like a mini United Nations, there are so many different races and ethnicities living here. What’s strange, however, is I don’t see these people around the neighborhood, only in the building. The neighborhood I live in — upper NW DC — is one of the whitest, yuppiest places you’ve ever seen, full of women in yoga pants sipping lattes outside starbucks midday and nannies pushing babies around in elaborate strollers and little children in private-school uniforms clamoring and giggling down the street every day at 3:15 p.m.
Before moving to DC, however, I lived in a neighborhood that was much more racially mixed, at least between black and white. It was the kind of historic “streetcar suburb” that was once all white until all the white people fled to the further suburbs and it became all black until all the 20- and 30-something white hipster types (including significant numbers of gay male couples) decided it was the cool part of town and moved back in. At least that’s the most simplistic storyline, and I’m gonna stick with it for now.
Anyway, the neighborhood is now in the process of becoming “hip” (although it seems to be a very slow process). I don’t know why, but talking about the neighborhood like this always struck me as a bit strange and insulting, for some reason. Still, other than that, I didn’t much think about it. There were abandoned corner shops on every corner, so maybe some new business moving in would do some good. Housing in the area was still very cheap, so I don’t think neighborhood families were getting priced out. There would be an act of violence — a body showed up in the dumpster behind our neighbor’s house — and we would worry for a few days. There would be development plans that residents didn’t approve of — a Wendy’s moving in, for instance — and for a few days, everyone would get up in arms about just what kind of neighborhood this was going to become. Mostly, the old residents and the new residents just sort of co-existed, and everyone seemed to have respect for what really was a truly lovely neighborhood.
Now I know H-Street NE here in the District is a bit different. We’re not talking about one hipster bar moving in (as in my neighborhood), we’re talking about a whole slew of them. We’re not talking about a smattering of kids — maybe 50 on the busiest night? — hanging outside said bar, but hundreds trotting up and down H-Street, or smoking outside of Rock and Roll Hotel.
This whole long introduction, however, is really just my incredibly convoluted way of leading up to my statement that I think this Washington Post writer covering the whole H-Street gentrification process is being just a bit too precious about it:
Do the newcomers shop at Murry’s: Your Neighborhood Food Store, where you go in one day looking for white grape juice and a clerk asks whether he can help you? And you tell him what you want and he says they only have what they have and what they have is not white grape juice. And you turn to leave and he yells, “But I can make some for you if you want me to.” He smiles. And you wonder whether the newcomers would catch that kind of humor, appreciate that kind of street wit that doesn’t come with a degree.
Oh, us college kids, with our irony and intellectual humor! Couldn’t possibly understand the simple street wit of an H-Street grocer… gag. I’m not sure who the writer is trying to insult more, the newcomers or the residents. Although, really, what can you expect from an article that opens with this:
If you were eight blocks past uncertainty, three steps from neglect, five houses down from hope, and you just saw a white man with ear buds rollerblading past a crack house without looking up, would you know what street you were on in the City?
I have to admit, it draws you in, I guess, and seeing as that’s what leads are meant to do and all that, I suppose you might call this one good. But really …. five houses down from hope? Yet towards the bottom of the first page, the writer, DeNeesh L. Brown, finally brings up some interesting points (I suppose I buried the lead in this post; I can’t get too mad at Brown for doing the same).
Change bringing with it newcomers, who want to fix things, change them into their own image. Bringing issues: stratification, generalizations, classism, police presence, rising rent, rising taxes, two-way streets becoming one-way, an invisible squeeze on loiterers, pushing them gently but insistently until they are no more. And the new neighbors push for a “quality of life” ban on single-sell alcohol, and the request turns into a discussion about race. And someone is complaining about Cluck-U Chicken, arguing it was not the kind of sit-down restaurant they wanted. Some neighbors say war has been declared on black Washington. And the neighborhood school gets new landscaping. Giant metal flowers grow. And there is a man hired to sweep H Street. So there he is on a sunny afternoon, trying to sweep the street with a broom.
The article goes on to give some interesting anecdotes about race and class tensions on the street, and seemingly random violence. But then, just as you’re getting into it, more preciousness (emphasis mine):
Courtney Rae Rawls, 26, a bartender at the Argonaut Tavern, is one of those enigmatic people to whom lonely souls gravitate for conversation, inspired or not. She pours drinks, integrating brown liqueurs and white liquor.
Brown liqueurs and white liquor? See? Different colors? Like the people on the street? See? Get it?
And the short white man laughs.
And the tall black man walks east on H Street.
He bends to pick up a dime on the sidewalk, and 13 pennies fall out of his pocket.
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