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Gentrification in History: Washington D.C.


Photo courtesy of RentCafe

We'd like to take a step back a bit and talk about an area that a few of us here at Urban Biz have actually lived in and seen for ourselves over the past few decades.


Washington D.C. has been the top of the list when it comes to gentrified neighborhoods over the last 80 years.

Studies say that 1940 was when gentrification started a rapid takeover in the nation's capital. Entire neighborhoods were bulldozed in the southern quarter where most low-income residents resided.  These areas were described as the “slums”, of D.C., and became a major focus to make way for redevelopment.  Minority-owned businesses eventually closed their doors as developers moved in resulting in vast displacement issues.  Plus, property values and rents rose with the prospect of new development, so longtime residents could no longer afford to stay.  

"Gentrification isn’t just something that happens, it is a cycle" as reported by Sabihya Prince, an artist/anthropologist/and community organizer with Empower D.C.  "The cycle begins with neglect in low-income communities that results from lending discrimination and redlining”.

In short, redlining is the systematic denial of various services by federal government agencies and is a major factor in deciding which area large companies decide to develop in. You can learn more about redlining in NPR’s "A Forgotten History of how the US government segregated America”.  It’s an interesting read and puts a lot into perspective.  As of 1970, redlining was made illegal but suspect to still be a major factor in decisions for development. It has also resulted in the Fair Housing Act, a Civil Rights Act passed in 1968 to outlaw discrimination in both rental and sales of housing.


In regards to how it came to be in the district, "The biggest reason so many people were able to move in was because there was a city-run effort to develop the parcels of land over the Metro, condemn nuisance properties, increase taxes on buildings left vacant for years, and push for new construction on the plethora of empty lots that peppered the neighborhood, the 1968 riots' ancient scabbed over scars."


-Via the Atlantic.com post of Gentrification and Culture in D.C.-

Photo of 1968 D.C. riots via the Washington Post


In 1968, riots began in D.C. following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. resulting in a decline in African-American residents.  This is marked to be the pivotal moment where gentrification took over the capitol as buildings burned and small businesses were looted.


We recommend reading more of the story of Lee’s Flower Shop included in this story by WTOP.com.  Lee’s storefront is a black-owned small business that opened in 1945 in the U-street area of D.C.  It was spared in the riots after the owner wrote “Soul Brother” across the windows to signify to the rioters that it was black-owned.  Fires lit up around the block, but Lee’s was spared and still operates to this day.  We found them on Instagram if you’d like to show your support to the business, as well as spread the word if you know anyone in the D.C. metro area that could use their services.


In recent reports, D.C. is no longer on the highest incline nationally for gentrification however, just like most major metropolitan cities, it isn't slowing either. Our message is "development without displacement" and we will continue to do our best to help, even if it's just one business at a time that has earned its place in its own city, to thrive.


Thank you for reading,


Urban Biz Media Team




References obtained by these sites:

https://wtop.com/dc/2019/04/its-primarily-racial-dc-has-the-most-intense-gentrification-in-the-country-study-found/#:~:text=When%20did%20this%20cycle%20of,to%20make%20way%20for%20redevelopment.

https://www.npr.org/2017/05/03/526655831/a-forgotten-history-of-how-the-u-s-government-segregated-america


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