At the East of the River Community Forum on Sustainability last week, old residents, new residents, black people, white people, middle class people, lower class people, students, professionals, retirees, childless, parents, grandparents, pastors, community leaders, and more discussed the theme, “Gentrification east of the river.”

“Gentrification” is one of the most overused, misused, abused, over-utilized, misapplied word in the US, especially in DC. Nevertheless, it is always there during any discussion about change in the city.

We agreed that long-time residents have left and new people have moved in. We also agreed that communities, like life, are constantly changing. After much debate, we identified two types of change: organic and inorganic.

Organic change means change that happens in a community naturally. Some long-time residents leave an area because they want to leave. It could be for a job opportunity, need for change of scenery, wanting to downsize after the children leave the home, wanting more space for a growing family, desire to be closer to loved ones, and the list goes on. People move into a community for the same reasons some people move out, in addition to affordability and others. Organic change usually just happens. There is nothing specific that causes it.

Inorganic change is artificial change. There is a systematic and purposeful effort of some sort that is a catalyst and some times the force behind the change. For example, the redevelopment of Barry Farm from solely public housing to a mixed-income, mixed-use development is an example of an inorganic change. There is a specific plan that will intentionally change the landscape of that community. Some residents will return once the project is complete, however, there is a reality that some residents will be relocated to other parts of the District.

Are either of these types of change good or bad? Is one better than the other? And does it matter?

As my group learned after our 5-hour pow-wow in a corner, trying to pontificate an answer to these questions distracts from more important issues. One of those is “economic development,” a theme I will address in the next part.

Cross-posted at Life in the Village.

Veronica O. Davis, PE, has experience in planning transportation, urban areas, civil infrastructure, and communities.  She co-owns Nspiregreen, LLC, an environmental consulting company in DC.  She is also the co-founder of Black Women Bike DC, which strives to increase the number of Black women and girls biking for fun, health, wellness, and transportation.