Forty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. That night, a wave of violence and looting destroyed the commercial main streets in Shaw, Columbia Heights, H Street, Capitol Hill, Anacostia, and others.

Map of the 1968 riots. From Ten Blocks from the White House via Rob Goodspeed.

Forty years later, after a generation of disinvestment in urban areas, stores are just now coming back in many of these neighborhoods. Capitol Hill’s 8th Street was restored more quickly, while H Street is experiencing the start of a renaissance, and DCUSA just opened in Columbia Heights.

But a giant complex of big box stores won’t replace a historic main street. Critics of the H Street “great streets” funding say that it only promotes big box stores and large developments. New buildings will never equal old row houses like those that house businesses on U Street. The riots left deep scars which, no matter how gentrified some of these neighborhoods become, will be visible forever.

For more on the riots, see Rob Goodspeed’s sociological analysis, Ten Blocks from the White House, or Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. (Like The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York, it brings a little cheer to my heart to see how far we’ve come since book subtitles talked about the “Fall of New York” (in 1978) or the “Decline of Washington, D.C.” (in 1994).)

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.