The Shay and other elements of "new" Shaw. Image by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

A MetroPCS store at 7th Street and Florida Avenue NW in DC has been playing go-go music on outdoor speakers since 1995. Now, it's stopped after a resident of a new, fancy apartment building complained.

According to Rachel Kurzius in DCist, T-Mobile, which recently bought MetroPCS, told owner Donald Campbell that he had to stop the music. Campbell told Kurzius that a resident at the Shay, a high-end apartment building in the area, threatened a lawsuit if the sound didn't stop.

This unnamed person's behavior runs deeply contrary to urbanist values (and they're just being an ass, too). It's like the people who move into a neighborhood and start calling the police on young black girls selling lemonade or people hanging out on porches or street corners when that's what they've always done.

We believe that cities should be for everyone, and we need to build new homes to meet the demand while helping long-time residents avoid displacement. But newcomers to a neighborhood, particularly a long-time black neighborhood and a historic epicenter of the city's black performing arts community, need to be sensitive to the culture and customs of the places they're coming into.

Editorial board member Dan Reed wrote,

One of my favorite poems by Thom Gunn, the late gay poet who lived and wrote about San Francisco during the AIDS epidemic, is “All Do Not All Things Well,” about his neighbors who fix cars in their driveway and, at one point, left a disembodied engine out on the street, dripping oil everywhere, pissing off the realtor who “wanted to clean up the neighborhood/to sell it.”

I think of him when I think of my uncles, who live in the 4-unit apartment building my grandfather bought in Petworth in the 70s, and also fix cars in the backyard. Their building today is surrounded by flips and white folks in expensive cars who slowly ride through the alley, just glaring at my uncles and I when I come to get my brakes changed. I am grateful that nobody has called the cops on two 60-something men replacing their nephew's brakes on their property, but I also know they weren't particularly concerned about the brakes.

A few months ago I would have probably said something about “one of the lessons about living in a city is learning to be around other people,” but it's obvious that some people have to learn that lesson more than others. For many marginalized communities in the city, simply *occupying space* can be seen as an affront, regardless of what they're doing - the kids who used to sit on the Portrait Gallery steps in Chinatown and were chased off, people shooting off fireworks in the summer (I knew someone who lived in Park View and used to tweet at the MPD every time this happened near her house). The loud music playing at 7th and U was just an excuse. It's not just the activity - it's the presence.

A block away, "old" Shaw. Image by Ted Eytan licensed under Creative Commons.

Displacement comes in many forms. The most immediate is when a building owner redevelops a property into something unaffordable to existing renters. Another kind, however, is “cultural displacement,” when rising costs and changing demographics push out businesses and activities that make up a place. The corner bodega closes and an artisanal grocer comes in. The barber who cuts coarse hair leaves and the salon specializing in thinner hair comes in. The people who played soccer in a park for years get booted because other people set up a more organized league that got permits.

Urbanists believe we should be able to build mixed-income, mixed-race communities that are home to all kinds of people, but that takes work and isn't easy. It requires being supportive of long-time activities even if they're culturally unfamiliar, and public policy to help existing businesses stay. That's not happening yet here at 7th and Florida, where Kurzius quoted local business owners like John Goodwin, owner of the diner Torrie's, who said, 'Our base has left the area.'”

So jeers to this person at The Shay, and everyone else who said something similar. A Shay spokesperson told Kurzius, “There have been complaints about the music being extremely loud, but it’s not just The Shay. It’s people who live all over or are visiting the area. It’s not The Shay that has the issue.”

According to the article, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Robb Hudson said the issue hasn't come up at ANC 1B, though fellow commissioner Anita Norman argued it has been “such a problem for years.” Ward 1 councilmember Brianne Nadeau tweeted that “a small business playing go-go in Ward 1 is a thing we should celebrate.”

In this case, a resident of a new building appears to be the main problem, but this happens even in neighborhoods without new buildings where old row houses turn over to new owners as well. That's why opposing new housing doesn't stop the problem. The image at the top might show new, luxury mid-rises while the next image shows smaller buildings, but small buildings can get super expensive too, and often have.

We need to add more housing not just in “gentrifying” areas, but established, wealthy, white, exclusive ones. Which is important but politically difficult. Meanwhile, let the cell phone stores play their go-go. And be a reasonable human being about other cultures, noise in the city, and just getting along.

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.