Fairfax Village. Photo by moelauher on Flickr.

Why do so many stories about displacement, gentrification, and other housing shifts concentrate on this neighborhood instead of the many others east of the river?

Our contributors continue their discussion about the recent NPR story and displacement versus gentrification with some thoughts on how Anacostia is unusual among neighborhoods on its side of the river.

Veronica Davis writes:

Anacostia has become the poster child neighborhood for urban renewal, but the Anacostia story cannot be extrapolated to the rest of what lies East of the River. While some areas East of the River face challenges of blight, poverty, and high crime, that is not the “East of the River story.” 

Neighborhoods such as Hillcrest, Penn Branch, Dupont Park, Benning Heights, and Fort Davis have remained middle class enclaves throughout their history.  These neighborhoods pride themselves on their civic engagement, well-kept homes, and relatively low crime.

Geoff Hatchard says:

Why do media reports about east of the river so often focus on Anacostia, to the detriment of other neighborhoods in wards 7 and 8?

For a unique point of view, let’s look at the housing stock. All things considered, there are many choices that go into purchasing a house, but they include length and type of commute, size of house, type of house (rowhouse, apartment building, detatched, etc.), schools, and nearby amenities (grocery, bars, restaurants, other retail).

Many of the neighborhoods in ward 7 and 8 that have detached houses, like Hillcrest, Penn Branch, and Washington Highlands, also lack retail, have low-performing schools, and are at least perceived to require an automobile trip to get to employment centers.

If given a choice, many buyers will choose a place elsewhere that also has detached homes where they’ll have to drive, but might have better schools and more retail nearby. We seem to have an unlimited supply of that type of housing stock in the metro area.

Anacostia (and Fairlawn, for that matter, but how many consumers of the Washington Post, local TV, and NPR have ever heard of Fairlawn?) has rowhouses. There is a limited supply of them in the metro area, especially older, solidly constructed rowhouses. Outside of some DC neighborhoods and Old Town Alexandria, there aren’t any, and most are not cheap.

Comparatively, though, the rowhouses in wards 7 and 8 are cheap. If people want that kind of housing, and they’re not wealthy, they’re going to be looking there for a home (or in Trinidad, or other neighborhoods outside the favored quarter).

People are realizing that neighborhoods built in that manner (close houses, porches or stoops in the front, less reliance on the automobile) tend to be pretty nice places to live.

Due to their relative scarcity, supply and demand kind of dictates that the prices in these neighborhoods will continue to rise. Business owners will see the interest and will open stores to cater to the new money coming in.

That increased interest will draw the interest of the media. That’s why we see stories about Anacostia, and not about houses selling in Fort Dupont or Marshall Heights.

Is it fair that the people who have lived there for years have not been catered to by businesses in the same way? Of course not, but that’s another story on its own.

The fact that Anacostia has a commercial district that can be quickly turned into something like 14th and U NW, it’s the closest neighborhood to the area west of the river, and its easily-recognizable name which matches a river and a Metro station certainly doesn’t hurt.

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.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC’s Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff’s writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer.