A documentary by professors at American University and George Washington University examines gentrification in the U Street area, Columbia Heights and Petworth.
The documentary, called Dog Parks and Coffee Shops, aims to make locals aware of how income inequality and buying decisions can hurt integration.
“Back in the day, Washington D.C. was America’s first city with a Black majority population, and many neighborhoods were predominantly Black,” says a narrator in the film’s trailer. “Today, many of those same neighborhoods have experienced significant demographic shifts.”
Sonya Grier, a marketing professor at AU and a co-producer of the documentary, said that consumption habits are one of the largest source of headaches in rapidly changing neighborhoods.
As the notion goes, gentrifiers move in to traditionally low-rent neighborhoods, open middle class destinations such as dog parks and coffee shops, and in the process cause tension among longtime residents by way of rising rent and a higher cost of goods.
“If you have people living in separate consumption worlds, that doesn’t support harmony, integration and unity within communities,” Grier said. “It supports what we observed, what we call faux diversity.”
Grier, who lives north of Petworth in Brightwood, said the idea for the documentary came from a trip she and co-producer Vanessa Perry, a marketing professor at GWU, took to U Street. The two professors noticed that, despite the racial diversity of the neighborhood, people of different ethnicities weren’t actually mixing.
Instead, groups of similar people tended to go to the same destinations. On the outside, Grier said, neighborhoods like U Street and Columbia Heights might look diverse. But walk inside businesses and restaurants and the crowds tend to be more homogenous. And that, she said, can lead to problems.
“One of the issues we identify in the film is that there’s not a lot of interracial discussions in these areas and that can lead to mistrust,” Grier said. “In the Shaw neighborhood, they have a campaign to get people to say hi to their neighbors. The fact that they need that campaign actually says a lot.”
The documentary will be part of the Reel Independent Film Extravaganza at the Angelika Pop-up Theater at Union Market next weekend. The filmmakers will also hold a free screening and discussion of the film at the Northeast Neighborhood Library at 330 7th St. NE at 2 p.m. Oct. 11.
Grier said she and the other filmmakers behind the documentary hope to use it as a tool to spur discussions between old and new residents and across racial lines.
“Something is going on where people aren’t interacting,” she said, “and we hope the film can act as a stimulus to get people talking about these issues.”