By Tanzi Barbour
The Washington Post published a poll asking readers to rate D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) on her performance as mayor during her inaugural term. I, along with the largest majority of the vote, gave her a “C”. I know this is going to sound weird, but for me, a native Washingtonian, it’s not enough that the city is thriving financially when it means getting rid of the “soul” that made D.C. “our city.”
I’m not a fan of all parts of this new D.C. I see the construction of new condos and mixed-used buildings and as a person with an MBA degree, I understand the need and importance of economic growth of a city. I get that the changes we’re seeing have been part of the urban planning of this city for a long time. I remember getting excited hearing that we were going to have different types of grocery stores within walking distance, and new restaurants to try new delicacies. However, what I did not anticipate was the robbing of our city’s soul. Gone are the days when I felt comfortable in my city. I could travel from Anacostia (where I lived) to uptown on a bus without feeling nervous, even though there may have been some questionable characters on the bus. This was OUR city and there was an unspoken code – “You don’t bother me and I won’t bother you.” It was safe.
I’m not a fan of gentrification if it means that my neighbors lose their homes. I’m not a fan of any system that requires people to move out and move on without a care as to where these same people will go or end up. Furthermore, I am not a fan of a city that boasts about its high bond ratings but yet, less than 30% of its students can read or compute. I feel like our attention is in the wrong place. Every time I drive past a construction site in the city, I wonder how many people – low-income black and brown people – were evicted to make room for million dollar condos? I wonder where they are now?
There was another article in the Washington Post about the closing of the former DC General Hospital that is now the city’s largest homeless shelter. It’s closing to make room for a possible Amazon distribution center. There are 250 families in this shelter – all of whom will be displaced – children included. And while there are six smaller shelters being built around the city for these families, only three will be ready when DC General closes down. That’s only room for 130 people. Where will the others go?
Maybe I’m grasping at straws here, but it feels like every time there’s some type of change in this city, the poor and the meek get the boot. They are the forgotten people. In a lot of ways, we are creating their sunken place. Some of these families were born and raised here too. Some of them have watched this city go through its transformation without them in mind. And as they are on their last hope for housing – a homeless shelter – once again, they are not included in the plans. Their hope and future are dismal.
My mother still lives in Anacostia. She’s an activist in her community. In fact, just recently she attended a meeting to stop the building of storage facility directly across the street from her house. This construction will remove her view of the water in the park. It will bring unwanted traffic to the small corner where she lives. When asked how the storage business will benefit the community, the corporate representative said, “If you need an extra closet, we’ll be there.” That was such a gentrified thing to say! How far removed do you actually have to be to understand that they don’t want an extra closet! They want to keep their neighborhood the close-knit, viable community that it has always been.
When others come in and try and tell us that we want something different, it makes us not want to befriend you. It makes us angry that we seem to be losing this battle of being true to our culture versus being sold out in the name of progress. And because of that, our mayor deserves a C. It would have been a C minus, but the poll didn’t have that option.