Mapping Commonplaces: Community & Inclusivity in Thomas Circle


TL;DR: I did a lot of research and made this.

Initially, I began my Complex Local System at the Westin Hotel, formerly the Vista Hotel, after choosing this location from the list of S Street Rising locations. I was not sure how much I could work with the hotel alone, so I slowly expanded my focus to the entire Thomas Circle area. On my final visit to the area, I entered still confused about any topoi in the area, but uncovered some small, hidden features of the area that were ultimately all linked. I thus uncovered the topoi of community and inclusion.

The first instance I stumbled across these topoi was when visiting the website of the Luther Place Memorial Church. One of the main pages on this site is an “About Us” page, which also includes an “Our Mission” page. One of the things these pages stressed was that the Church was open to LGBT individuals, and hosted LGBT weddings. I thought about the stark contrast this was to most church doctrine. I knew that this church was unique in how accepting it was.

I also visited the website of the church across the street, the National City Church. This Church is home to the “Thomas Circle Singers” choir. The choir is grounded in social justice. Again, on the advertised mission on the website, the choir indicated that it sought to promote ideals of unity and inclusion, and advocated for issues in the locality.

After visiting the websites of these two churches, I knew I wanted to do some exploring. So, I visited the site again, and walked around; this time focusing on the churches.

I walked around the Luther Place Memorial Church, and noticed many people stopping to take pictures. I went to see what they were photographing and found this painting (for a deeper analysis, read the blurb under the image). Clearly, this church is dedicated to progression and unity, as epitomized in the painting. The church made a number of choices when putting that painting up. First, they decided they wanted the painting to be public, and thus, they wanted it to draw attention. Second, they decided to portray Dr. King with a halo, which is a depiction reserved for saints and other holy persons. As a devout Catholic, I was a bit rattled by this, but I determined that this was the point. The church intended for this to be a point of controversy.

I continued walking around the church, and found this pole behind the church, which offered messages of peace in several languages. The library box epitomizes the importance of community in the area. The box is unlocked and available to everyone, which furthers the ideals of community and inclusivity.

I turned again to research more about the area and church and discovered the N Street Village, a homeless shelter run out of the Luther Place Memorial Church. The organization sought to “minister to the wounded of the city” following the riots that erupted in the area after the assassination of Dr. King in 1968. Again, the authors of this website made distinct choices about how to depict their program. They are not advertising their program to those who will directly use it since they are homeless and likely without internet access, and thus, the website’s statements are intended to appeal to the community.

The area as it appears now and all the aforementioned examples are very recent examples of this locality. Until the 1990s, this area was crime-ridden, bleak, and “the divide.” 14th Street, which traverses the circle, stood as the physical boundary between the “good” and “bad” parts of the city. Moreover, in the late 70s and early 80s, this area was particularly impacted by the D.C. crack epidemic and prostitution, due in part to laxed trials and enforcement efforts. I have used articles from The Washington Post as snapshots into the culture of the area at the time and to chronicle the massive transformation this area underwent.

My final project combines both the Post timeline and “map” of the topos into a single presentation. My hope is that the viewer can come to appreciate the massive transformation the Thomas Circle area underwent, and how from that transformation, community and inclusivity became the driving forces of the local community.

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