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Tuesday, January 01, 2008


I like living in Columbia Heights, and part of the reason is that it hasn't been completely gentrified. It has some of the amenities that come with gentrification (e.g. a nice new Giant grocery store, a few good restaurants), but still retains its character and the amenities that come along with a "real" neighborhood (e.g. a good taqueria, a small hardware store). Of course, the problem with gentrification is that it's never satisfied with going partway. Once a neighborhood has the sort of cluster of expensive condos that have sprung up around the Metro stop here, the inexorable economic forces of development tend to conspire to condo-fy and Starbucks-ilate everything else in the "up-and-coming" area.

There does seem to be little bit of tension in the neighborhood between its traditional residents and the newcomers. According to Wikipedia's listing of our 2000 census racial demographics, Columbia Heights is "58 percent African American; 34 percent Hispanic; 5.4 percent white; and 3.1 percent other." Those are basically pre-development figures, so if I had to hazard a guess, I would suspect that the white population (the overwhelming majority of people moving into the condos) has risen to 20%; I also suspect that the Hispanic numbers are a little low. Actually, when I say there's some tension, I guess what I really mean is that some of the new yuppie residents appear to wish the lower-income residents would just hurry up and move somewhere else. I'm afraid that the somewhat-natural tendency to want to live around people who are like you has been supercharged by an obsession with real estate values among recent arrivals for whom buying their condo was as much about playing the real estate market as finding a place to live. There's recently been a small wave of violent crime around 14th St, which is apparently due to disputes among "crews" (basically, small gangs) of minority youth, and reading the comments about it on Columbia Heights News, a lot of people seem to have downright racist views on the subject, and the subtext to these comments is property values.

Columbia Heights News in general is a site that speaks to that very narrow segment of the neighborhood's population, and sees everything in terms of real estate development. They have a very specific, very boring vision for the future of the neighborhood -- for instance, speaking enthusiastically of "the neighborhood's first Starbucks" opening recently, blithely assuming that we ought to have a bunch of them. What really got me to come and start ranting on my blog, though, was reading the site's coverage of a potential Whole Foods Market in a new development by the Metro station. The whole thing is ridiculously self-centered. The Giant Food is diagonally across the street, and despite one of the commenters calling it a "pit of despair," it's actually a very nice grocery store (though I admit they should hire more cashiers). When it started to look like there would be a Ross discount clothing store instead of the Whole Foods, the site was utterly disdainful about having something like a discount clothing store, which would be very useful to the majority of the neighborhood's residents. They mounted a petition to Whole Foods, and started an email campaign as well. One article discussed their disappointment that Whole Foods had not been convinced, even though "Nearly every email was extremely heartfelt." 332 heartfelt emails to the corporate office of a yuppie grocery store? Ugh, get a grip. I should also mention that the largest Whole Foods in the DC metro area is 1.3 miles south on 14th St.

Anyway, I guess I'm not really sure where I'm going with my rant. This closed-minded view of the neighborhood that's driven in large part by property value considerations is really aggravating. I realize that people actually do want to shop at Whole Foods, have Starbucs, etc., but if a huge portion of their assets wasn't tied up in the value of their condos, I don't think they'd be so insane about it. However, I've got to say that even though I won't need to go there often, I am looking forward to the Target that will be opening soon in that development.

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