Photo by M.V. Jantzen on Flickr.
An NPR Morning Edition story yesterday, entitled “DC, long ‘Chocolate City,’ becoming more vanilla,” discussed demographic shifts increasing the proportion of white residents of DC and profiled two people who recently moved out of Historic Anacostia.
The two are Robert Adams, who is black, and David Garber, who is white. The story quickly touched off criticisms on Twitter from many of our contributors, who feel the story missed the mark.
Here are edited-together responses from three contributors, including Garber, one of the two subjects of the story. Garber is now the ANC commissioner for the Near Southeast/Navy Yard/ballpark neighborhood, just across the river from Anacostia, and blogs at And Now, Anacostia.
Erik Weber says:
The same hackneyed story line pops up in the left-leaning, intellectual press over and over, like this recent story in the Atlantic.
It goes like this: admiration over an old neighborhood’s attractive urban form; consternation and lament for its previous neglect; hope at recent glimmers of revival; and subsequent hand-wringing that one’s current attention and interest is driving “all those poor people” out of their homes. It’s like a ‘90s pop song formula.
Eric Fidler adds:
This alleged displacement story is not truly one of displacement. The man (or his wife, as the story suggests) wanted a bigger house, and that’s fine. If you don’t want to spend more money, but want a bigger house, you typically will have to move farther out where the prices per square foot are lower.
This is not unique to Anacostia, and I’m frustrated that NPR portrayed the man as being “displaced” when the real reason that he moved is that he (or his wife) wanted a bigger house and did not want to pay much more money. That’s a common story as to why people move farther out, but this anecdote doesn’t support Morning Edition’s claim that white people are “pricing out” this man.
David Garber says:
First, Kellogg’s evidence that black people are being forced out is based entirely on the story of one man who chose to buy a larger and more expensive house in Prince George’s County than one he was considering near Anacostia. Second, he claims that Anacostia is becoming “more vanilla” by talking about one white person, me — and I don’t even live there anymore.
On a personal note, I was disappointed that he chose to sensationalize my move out of Anacostia, which had absolutely nothing to do with the much-reported-on break-in that occurred at my 2009 holiday party. In fact, I moved eight months later, was very transparent about my reasons for doing so, and am still working (and hosting parties) in the Anacostia neighborhood.
I’d suggest he and other writers step back from the canned story that’s been told before about every other neighborhood, look around, and realize a few key points.
Anacostia, and the River East community in general, is becoming more and more economically diverse, but mostly at the hands and monthly mortgage payments of black professionals, not white ones.
Check out the Historic Anacostia Block Association or River East Emerging Leaders, and you will see a very impressive mix of people, the majority of whom are black. Patronize Anacostia’s newest businesses, Big Chair Coffee and Uniontown Bar & Grill and you will meet the friendly (and black) owners.
Take in a meeting of the Friends of Logan Park/Old Market House Square, a group run out of St. Philip the Evangelist Episcopal Church that is working to rebuild the park at the heart of Historic Anacostia. That will surely add to the look and feel of the neighborhood and make it more attractive. Most of the members involved in this effort, although quite age diverse, are black.
But hold on. Pause. Are we really still getting worked up about skin color?
White people are moving into Anacostia. So are black people. So are Asian people, Middle Eastern people, gay people, straight people, and every other mix. And good for them for believing in a neighborhood in spite of its challenges, and for meeting its hurdles head on and its new amenities with a sense of excitement.
And good for the countless residents who have stayed in the neighborhood through its worst times, many of whom are glad to see signs of progress. A few months after I moved into Anacostia, my next-door neighbor — an amazing woman who raised her family in the house adjoining mine, and for years dealt with heavy drug activity and physical neglect next door — told me “you know, this is the first summer in a long time that I’ve felt comfortable sitting on my front porch.”
If that’s the kind of change that’s coming to Anacostia, then amen and hallelujah.
Erik Weber continues:
The real story is not about displacement in Anacostia but rather the lack of it. Any other neighborhood so centrally located, with its tight-knit urban fabric, historic properties, proximity to Metro and literally dozens of bus routes would be ripe for displacement were it anywhere in the city other than east of the Anacostia River.
The city has run out of neighborhoods that already possess all these, indicated by the shift of development and real estate speculation to H Street NE in anticipation of a future rail line.
Why has Anacostia been spared the “gentrification” that Logan Circle and Columbia Heights, U Street and Hill East have undergone? In that question lies the real story.