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DC’s Gentrification and a Reporter’s Case for the Positives

"Borderstan""14th Street NW" "People Walking"

14th Street NW: The two sides of gentrification in DC. (Luis Gomez Photos)

From Rachel Nania. Check out her blog, Sear, Simmer & Stir. Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania, email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com. 

The topic of gentrification in the District is generating some buzz — as it often does. Last week, the Root DC’s Stephen A. Crockett Jr. introduced us all to the term “swagger jacking,” which then triggered a slue blog posts (including our own) on the subject of DC’s economic, cultural and racial shift.

Shortly after Crockett’s piece, The Atlantic published a follow-up story that exposed a series of counter arguments to Crockett’s commentary. In the article – “The Politics of the Urban Comeback: Gentrification and Culture in DC” – writer Garance Franke-Ruta argues that DC’s developmental boom [aka: gentrification] should not be seen as such a bad thing.

Yes, DC is changing; but the once dubbed “Chocolate City” has been undergoing this major transition for more than a decade. And according to Franke-Ruta, development in the city (especially in the U Street area) is not to blame for the loss of DC’s black population – that happened long before the “culture vultures” swooped in with construction cranes and hipster ambiance.

“A close look at the Census data shows that black population loss in the neighborhood actually slowed as gentrification picked up, dropping almost in half from the previous decade’s rate,” writes Franke-Ruta.

The article also emphasizes the importance of the District’s continuing development for tax revenue and population retention purposes. (I don’t know about you, but I am sick of being referred to as a “transient city.”) Encouraging revitalization, development, small business establishments and residential space in DC (especially in the U Street corridor) has been a major priority for the District’s last four mayors.

So there you have it – two sides of the city’s decade-long great divide. Crockett longs for a city that dodges a disheartened sense of “faux black ethos,” while Franke-Ruta longs for a less dodgy city. Is one argument better than the other? And is there a way for the city (and for U Street) to continue to develop and evolve in a way that pleases the majority of the District’s residents?

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Follow Nania on Twitter @rnania; email her at rachel[AT]borderstan.com.

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