Views expressed in opinion columns are the author’s own.
A study by the National Community Reinvestment Coalition showed that Washington, D.C., has the highest “intensity” of gentrification among American cities. This should come as no surprise to anyone who has been in and around the District for the past 10 years.
Gentrification is a structural injustice that cannot be easily defeated through individual action. Regardless, gentrifiers have a moral responsibility to lessen their impact on their adopted communities.
D.C. has always had a transient population thanks to the draw of the federal government. But over 20,000 low-income black D.C. residents faced displacement from their neighborhoods between 2000 and 2013, while housing costs rose and wages remained stagnated. New residents are also making their presence known in a way that endangers minority and low-income populations’ cultures and security.
Two recent incidents underscore the extent of gentrification’s impact on D.C. culture. In late March, a T-Mobile representative told Donald Campbell, to silence the go-go music he’d been playing on speakers outside his Shaw Metro PCS store since 1995. The representative said a complaint had been made by a resident of a nearby luxury apartment complex.
Go-go is a D.C.-born funk subgenre, and Campbell’s music came to be such a part of the neighborhood that some residents wondered if the store had closed when it ceased. Thankfully, D.C. residents rebelled and took to the streets for several days in Shaw to protest the music’s silencing and to celebrate D.C. culture.
In the same neighborhood, Howard University has long stood as a sanctuary for black students from around the country. Shaw is a historically black neighborhood in a city once known as Chocolate City for its majority-black population. The black population in Shaw has declined from 78 percent in 1990 to 44 percent in 2010, according to census data.
Recently, Howard students have grown tired of new Shaw residents treating their university’s quad — known as the Yard — like a public park. While Howard has an open campus, it’s still a special space for black students. Using its central gathering place to walk your dog when the city is rapidly becoming whiter is just openly disrespectful.
Rather than quietly correcting his behavior, one white resident of nearby Bloomingdale said, “They’re in part of D.C., so they have to work within D.C. If they don’t want to be within D.C., then move the campus.” This attitude, while not surprising, is absolutely unacceptable.
The political and economic forces regulating the housing market are largely responsible for the violence of gentrification. But new residents are responsible as well, and there are small ways they can lessen their impact on their new neighborhoods.
Learn and respect your new neighborhood’s history and unspoken rules. Neighborhoods are pre-existing ecosystems with their own sights, sounds and smells. Don’t erase them. Patronize locally-owned small businesses rather than Whole Foods and Sweetgreen. And think long and hard before calling the cops — don’t invite police brutality into your new neighborhood because you’re unsettled by someone sitting on your stoop.
D.C.’s neighborhoods are vibrant and full of history and culture. New residents can respect and appreciate the culture, or they can move to the suburbs.
Emily Maurer is a junior environmental science and policy major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.