Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Anacostia, in my experience.

My reaction to NPR's Morning Edition story yesterday. The segment, titled "D.C., Long 'Chocolate City,' Becoming More Vanilla", was written by Alex Kellogg, and is available in audio and article version by clicking the linked text.

Mr. Kellogg’s story was a dishonest portrayal of the changes that are happening in Anacostia. First, his 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 PG County than one he was considering near Anacostia. Second, he attempts to prove 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.

If Mr. Kellogg were interested in writing honestly about what’s going on in Anacostia, I’d suggest he step back from the canned story that’s been told before about every other neighborhood, look around, and realize a few key points he missed the first time: 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 – something that will surely add to the look and feel of the neighborhood and make it more attractive – and you’ll find that 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.

for more, read WAMU 88.5's blog DCentric: And Now, Another View of Anacostia, from David Garber, Greater Greater Washington's GGW discusses: Gentrification in Anacostia, part 1, and We Love DC's NPR’s take on Anacostia: Whitey Is Coming


The Advoc8te said...

Great post. This has been my experience also and in my opinion a much better (and accurate) story.

Ralph J. Chittams, Sr. said...

Also, persons living west of the Anacostia River are coming East of the River to frequent the mentioned establishments and others: Yes Organic, Thai Orchid, and Ray's the Steaks. All of this bodes well for East of the River communities.

Joseph said...


Caitlin said...

"I agree." "Good job with Anacostia, Mr. Garber." "Nice job expressing your thoughts." "Stink it, NPR." "You're right - we do need to stop being so concerned with skin color." "It's almost the Civil War all over again... color, color, color." "Well written post." "Hopefully the news will become more truthful." "You should e-mail this to NPR."
-Comments from Miss Staples' 4th and 5th graders.

Ren said...

Thought the story about the guy and the house was bizarre.

Yes, he could be so depressed about how he was forced out (to buy a more expensive house elsewhere) that he can only rarely bring himself to come back to visit his own family 20 minutes from where he lives, but the story, and the fact that the house ended up costing more made my brain spin a little.

Anonymous said...


I'm usually an NPR fiend, but that "story" was disappointing. Maybe the reporter was on a deadline that was more important than balance & accuracy.

Missing the true catalyst - ECONOMICS - for the easy & inaccurate distinction - "race" - is for Fox News or some inferior outfit. But not NPR. Hopefully they and their WAMU affiliate will step up.

Thanks for your words.

Stephanie, from Navy Yard said...

In order to better visualize (and find out the facts) on the predominant race of the River East community, take a look at map created by the New York Times, which used the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to map America, block by block. Tells an interesting story.

Drpolisci said...

It is East of the River. Folks moving to Anacostia and other parts of South East think they can just change a name that has been around for a long time because it makes them feel better. I live East of the River!

Brad Gasper said...

I hope to come visit anacostia someday! Great post!

Anonymous said...

I hope Congress yanks every dime that goes to support NPR. Why should taxpayers support a communist agitprop radio network? Makes no sense at all. Ask your congressman to pull funding.

As for DC, I liked it when I visited but don't think I went to that neighborhood that was profiled. Cool town though.

Anonymous said...

The latest headlines from the DC "blogosphere":

White Bobos Stomp Their Feet And Downplay DC's Gentrification And Black Flight

White Bobos Bristle At Demographic Truths, Insist They're Not "Racist Displacists"

White Bobos Whine And Then Transmit Boring Bobo Micro-Whines In Their Twitter Feeds

[I'm just a suburbanite jerk who came here from the wapo "buzz" post covering this little tempest in a teapot]

Anonymous said...

I don't know much about demographics east of the river, but I can definitely tell you that blacks and hispanics have been moving out of neighborhoods like Shaw, Columbia Heights, Eckington because of the explosion of jobs and opportunity that lead to a lot of persons moving to DC. And let's not kid ourselves, the majority of the new residents are white. Now you being upset with the story does not negate the fact that DC is becoming less of a Chocolate City. Call it what you want, but reality is reality. Now I'm not blaiming THE MAN or anything, but its troubling.

Anonymous said...


you continue to insist on missing the point.

the real issue IS NOT RACE. it's ECONOMICS.

the racial makeup of the district of columbia or it's racial changes isn't the point.

what's really changing are some of the ECONOMIC demographics.

the people who are gentrifying are middle class or wealthy. what the person who writes this blog is patiently trying to tell everyone is that though the majority of gentrifyers moving to Anacostia are Black, the real issue is economic. not race.

those terrible people who are putting up those 'keep DC a chocolate city' signs know good and well this is an economics issue, but they're clearly opportunists because in spite of their knowledge they still reinforce the stereotype that says this is a Black-White thing.

please refrain from falling for that ignorance, lol.

my brother, who is Black, was one of many Blacks who started gentrification of Anacostia years ago. this behavior is typical for both middle class transplants like we are and native Washingtonians who are Black and middle class or wealthy who want to make a good investment. just because poor Blacks are made more visible by the media and Blacks with means are more dispersed among the population doesn't mean most Blacks are poor. it's just numerically untrue.

again, please don't fall for it.

this issue is an ECONOMIC one. no one is "forced out" or "moved in" because of "race."

Maria said...

Exactly, Genx.

@anonymous: did you even read what David wrote? He is not talking about Columbia Heights, Shaw, etc. He is talking about the way Anacostia is developing. Most of it is being led by black people, not whites. The majority of new people moving East of the River are black, so what's happening our our side of town is shaping up differently than what you may have seen other places. I have no idea how it will evolve going forward, but the point is that the race/gentrification narrative does not describe what's going on now.

Robert said...

First off, great post David. There were a few things that struck me in the NPR story as well as in the responses in the comments:

1. Like others who've posted, I scratched my head at the characterization of the guy as being priced out of the neighborhood when he ultimately purchased a more expensive home in PG. But I expect the price wasn't that much more expensive, and we shouldn't be too glib about the fact that he got 5 bedrooms in PG versus the 2 he would've gotten in Anacostia. That's a pretty big difference. When I was searching for my first home back in 2007, I wanted to buy in Anacostia but practically everything in my price range (around 300K) was old and would require work or was a "closet condo". I ended up buying in PG for a little more - like the guy in the NPR story - but it was for something brand new, right next to a metro stop, and w/ more room than anything I saw in Anacostia for a similar price. I didn't want to leave Anacostia either, but I felt I got more value for my money in PG. This may be what was the case here.

2. Even if the majority of those buying in Anacostia now are still black, it seems pretty obvious to me that the white proportion of those new homeowners is larger than it was before. So the rate of white influx into Anacostia is increasing. I think diversity is a good thing, so I welcome it. But it surely can't be that hard to see how for people who have been here for a long time, who have stuck with the neighborhood through times that were a lot worse than they are now, and who now can't afford to get here what they can get elsehwere for a comparable price might feel a bit aggrieved about that.

3. It makes little difference whether the gentrification is racial or economic in nature. The sticking point may be that those reaping the benefit are people who weren't here to build it up to what it is becoming now.

With that being said, I felt like there were stock generalizations about gentrification in the NPR story, as well as in the responses by commenters, and probably in my response here as well. I often feel like discussions of the issue are often framed in the same, old way that never really gets to the truth of it, maybe b/c too much of it is anecdotal and not enough hard data.

I dunno, just my two cents ...

United States Police Hub said...

What a shallow and hollow excuse of a post I was not surprised by your denial and deflection regarding race after you made a fool of yourself on NPR..

Gentrification is yet another example of white privledge that still stings and contaminates our nation...Only when white folks appear or move into a venue then the area becomes revelant and important..

This backward cultural racial movement is often offensive and reflects a contempt for the existing residents..This contempt for the old neighborhood by the new imports never helps nor cultivates consenus or good neighbors..

staff writer said...

i think it's crystal clear that everyone, regardless of economic status, deserves to live in a safe, clean, vibrant neighborhood.

since such change to Anacostia didn't occur with any amount of rapidity until outsiders brought their resources, we're presented with a choice:

1. continue to ignore Anacostia and wait until the indigenous residents make it a safe, clean, vibrant neighborhood. this way, they won't be "forced out" of the neighborhood they have lived in for so long.

2. allow outsiders with resources not possessed by the residents to come in, draw attention to the area, clean it up, bring more businesses to it, make it an attractive neighborhood, and risk former residents being priced out.

for those who continue to insist this is a racial thing, and those who say the long-time residents have a right to be suspicious because their neighborhood is changing without their input ... what is your solution?

i really want to know.

AnacostiaQUE said...

We need a no skill economy for a no skill labor market. There is a CDL driver school near Poplar Point. Drivers are always needed and you don't need a degree... Of course, that might mean moving...

Investorman said...

Hi guys,
Mr Blogman..thanks for the site..i just stumbled here and have some pressing questions. Can your or anyone answer these 2 questions for me since you are the experts of anacostia?
1) The howard road academy school on howard road has a recently fenced block across it as if its ready for some construction soon. Does anyone know what that is about.

2) The new behemoth construction going on at suitland pkwy and MLK..makes those townhouses at the top look like toys. What is that gonna be? I guess you can tell am a potential investor and like to know the street- talk.
Thanks guys and go DC go anacostia!

Chelsea said...

Excellent response! This particular NPR piece by Mr. Kellogg was grossly unscientific, sensationalized and in general, a piece of s*&t. Very disappointing compared to NPR's usual reporting.

Brian said...


This is a new project that is bringing another new Department of Homeland Security complex to our neighborhood.