U Street: Progress and Place in DC

The Frank D. Reeves Center is an essential part of the conversation in the U Street neighborhood, one that often turns to simultaneous fears of development and neglect. In turn, such discourse falls within the citywide debate on gentrification. The surrounding neighborhood, known as the U Street Corridor, has a storied history that dates back to the late 1800’s. The implementation of Jim Crow laws throughout Washington D.C. led to a “city within a city” being formed. African American residents were cut off from the culture and society of downtown, and proceeded to create their own. The neighborhood saw the work of African American architects creating still-standing structures such as Minnehaha Nickelodeon Theater and the Industrial Savings Bank. Barred from downtown clubs, residents created their own music scene that spawned some of the most recognizable artists in America, including Duke Ellington, Pearl Bailey and Emma Fitzgerald among many others. In 1948, the city was desegregated and residents spread throughout the northwest, but U Street remained at the center. Everything changed when Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee, resulting in widespread rioting throughout DC. Recovery didn’t pick up until years later, when the Frank D. Reeves building was constructed and metro access was given to the neighborhood through buses and a subway station. Today, the neighborhood is largely recovered and more diverse than ever, with housing of various levels and an active nightlife. While the neighborhood has been renewed, the ongoing transition to high-end housing, retail and restaurants may threaten its culture and community, leaving U Street with an uncertain future.

Upon first emerging from the metro escalator, my first thought is of how different this area looks from its historical name of “DC’s Black Broadway.” My first sight is the Starbucks and gourmet pizza eatery at the metro’s entrance. Across the street is the famous Lincoln Theatre, home of Nat King Cole, flanked by a consultancy firm. Walking west towards the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center the change in character becomes ever more evident. Each side of the road is lined with luxury boutiques and upscale eateries while small businesses flounder. A single mural of Paul Robeson, an African American Civil Rights activist and singer, is painted on the bricks with his quote “I make no separation between my work as an artist, and my work as a human being.” It is unlikely that he would have considered the pricing-out of residents in exchange for upper class professionals and the closing of local businesses in exchange for high-class restaurants to be suitable inheritance of his work for equality. An interesting, but soon to disappear structure on this path is what appears to be an affordable tenement. At this time it is in the process of being demolished or converted into a Rite Aid pharmacy. The scaffolding is coated in graffiti that is telling of the consciousness of the street. A recurring red stamp read “Rent is Due.” A stylized phrase read “Carpe Diem.” Amharic inscriptions remained unintelligible to me save for a few borrowed Arabic letters, but no doubt contributed to the rhetoric of the corner. Past the doomed housing were four men loitering outside of their local store, eyeing high-class passersby with suspicion and gloom.

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Finally, the Frank D. Reeves Center appears on the next corner. It’s an impressive 8-story building from a different era than these commercial centers and luxury apartments. It was opened in 1986 by Mayor Marion Barry in an effort to demonstrate the care of the district government in the affairs of the U Street neighborhood; which was still recovering from the 1968 rioting. In it, representatives of local departments such as transportation and emergency services maintained offices, providing relatively easy access to the government. It hosted events and cultural celebrations that gave the neighborhood a sense of community that would be unavailable without such a central and open common space. Today, it performs largely the same function, but increasingly is the home to local non-profits such as the DC Center for LGBTQ Advocacy. While the function remains similar, its operation has begun to change. The building is quiet save for an EMT certification class and the lunchtime migration of minor officials. The outside is host to a great number of people waiting for buses and for the crosswalks to change signal. A single stand offers halal street food to what remains of the African diaspora. Half a dozen homeless individuals crouch near the edge of the building, conversing and fighting the cold. Many appear that they would wish to lie down and escape the wind but every column and niche in the building is covered in sinister-looking spikes to discourage rest. The side of the building yields scant views of a small garden and playground shielded by a tall and thick metal fence: “For Official Use Only.”

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The columns of the Frank D. Reeves Center present a noble facade to a potential visitor. In the style of much Washington D.C. architecture, concrete, marble, glass, and steel are combined to produce a veritable Parthenon for each public structure. As I pass under the columns and through the steel and glass, I’m immediately greeted by a security checkpoint manned by 4 guards. I place my phone and wallet in the ceramic bowl as I ponder what this means for visitors without my privilege. Just as I expect, I’m asked no questions and receive no comment except for how nice my ID picture is. For others, this may not have been the case. A security checkpoint might be imposing or threatening, instantly deterring individuals from the services and community on the other side. I collect my items, reorient myself, and enter into the atrium.

I look around and am impressed by the display of local artwork. What draws me the most is a life-sized sculpture of a baby elephant. Its anatomy was not its greatest quality as the way in which it was adorned. From differing angles, one can see Lady Liberty contort into view upon its ear and body. Closer inspection of its skin reveals images of billowing smoke and twisted steel. Block characters read “9/11.” proceed to take photos from various angles of this beautifully ingenious sculpture before a guard prohibits me from taking anymore. More security has transgressed upon aesthetics.

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Passing the atrium brings me to the utility of the building. To the right is a glass cubicle housing an NGO providing advocacy for the African LGBT community. On the balcony of the next floor I see various fire and EMT trainees participating in a seminar. Apart from these two entities, I thought I might be the only life in the building. I head to the opposite end and pass an unlocked glass security door to board an elevator. I wish to go to the top floor and get a commanding view of the neighborhood.

6th Floor: Restricted.

5th Floor: Restricted.

4th Floor: Restricted.

I go up to the third floor. Greeting me is an office of DC transportation and a room of locked doors with scanners. I head back down to the second floor where I had seen the paramedics training and see them filing out down the stairs. I follow the path and exit through a side door that brings me into a beautiful garden with a fountain and playground. It is surrounded by a high fence that offers limited views of the surrounding neighborhood. I wonder who could use this park and why, as well as who might never see it.

U Street is soon to be left very different, as the DC government prepares for the demolishment of the Reeves Center in favor of redevelopment. This is part of a proposal to the property to Akridge Invested, a real estate developer, in exchange for 38 million dollars and a stretch of land at Buzzard point. The purpose of this will be to construct a stadium in Buzzard Point and allow the Reeves Center to be demolished and the property redeveloped. The discourse is regarding the nature of the center’s replacement as well as its impact on the future of the U Street neighborhood.

In June, Akridge president Matt Klein stated that the new development would be composed of high-end housing with retail units on the ground level. This is common to the trends of gentrification occurring in similar neighborhoods and represents a clear desire for profit over community fulfillment. The timeline for this was originally to see a fully constructed “New Reeves” by the end of 2016. This has been pushed back due to a variety of reasons. One is the amount of community discourse on the project. Another is conflict with DC United, the owner of the stadium project in Buzzard Point. Akridge led local businesses to prevent the stadium from receiving zoning, claiming that its current design stifles economic growth and damages the area by preventing thru-traffic. DC United responded by claiming Akridge was attempting to force itself to receive a greater share in retail derived from the project. Nevertheless, it has halted work on both projects, with the stadium projected to open in late 2018.

A benefit of the halted construction of the stadium and demolition of Reeves is a chance for the community to voice its input on the project. In the original public proposal meeting in 2013, facilitators opened to questions and concerns from the public. One common concern was the fate of community events such as the weekly farmers’ market that occurs in the recessed plaza in front of the center. Residents feel that this event and other programs are an essential part of the community. One even desired this square to be designated as a historic civil rights marker. Another very common concern is what will be done with the services that currently operate out of the center. Multiple individuals expressed a need for the daycare to continue, even if it changes location. People also wondered about the Department of Real Estate Services the post office, and the Office of Latino Affairs among others. These services are necessary not only for residents, but from individuals across the city that require consultation and assistance.

City council members entered the discussion in 2014 when they expressed their desires for the nature of the new structure. Jim Graham met with constituents who were united in their disdain for the prospect of another high-end condo, instead desiring daytime traffic and business and the preservation of Reeves’ services. He threatened to block the solidification of any plan without the needs of his constituents being met. Similarly,  Council Member Tommy Wells stated that “the No. 1 priority should be that they’re leveraged to create more affordable housing.” DC zoning laws require 8 percent of housing units to be for low-income residents, but Wells and others claim that this is far from enough.

Evidenced above is the competing interests of the community and profit. Change is inevitable in any built environment as people move, economies change, and generations go by, but it is not ipso facto to the detriment of the community. It can’t be argued that change itself is good or bad, but only that it will occur. It is not necessary for the community to be gentrified, its residents forced away and its culture eliminated. The transition is in the hands of the polity of U Street, with choices to be made and priorities to be set. Will they allow a purely for-profit venture to occur on the site of the much-beloved Frank D. Reeves Center, or will they participate in the system, negotiate with the parties and strike a deal for the benefit of all? One of these futures might be a U Street of glass and steel, filled with high-end boutiques, expensive restaurants, and astronomically-priced condominiums. No generational residents will be in sight, and the new community will likely be unaware of the storied past on which they now settle. Another, brighter future sees historical buildings preserved, a music scene restored, mixed-income residents sharing a commonplace, and a “New Reeves” providing the events and services that brings them all together.


 

Works Cited

DeBonis, Mike. “Reeves Center Concerns Could Complicate Soccer Stadium Deal.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 18 Dec. 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/mike-debonis/wp/2013/12/18/reeves-center-concerns-could-complicate-soccer-stadium-deal/?utm_term=.5995326528cb.

“Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center.” Justice for Janitors DC: A Digital History, Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor, Apr. 2013, georgetownlaborhistory.org/collection/places/frank-d-reeves-municipal-center.

Goldchain, Michelle. “The D.C. Real Estate Market, According to a U Street Realtor.” Curbed Washington DC, 15 July 2016, dc.curbed.com/2016/7/15/11773402/dc-narratives-koki-adasi.

“Great Places in America: U Street NW, Washington DC.” American Planning Association, 2016, www.planning.org/greatplaces/streets/2011/ustreet.htm.

“Greater U Street Historic District.” National Parks Service, U.S. Department of the Interior, 2010, www.nps.gov/nr/travel/wash/dc63.htm.

Haynesworth, Shellée M et al. “Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project.” Black Broadway on U, 2016, blackbroadwayonu.com/.

Lerner, Michele. “Stylish Lofts near U Street Live up to Their Name.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 1 Dec. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/realestate/stylish-lofts-near-u-street-live-up-to-their-name-a-ladder-leads-to-a-half-floor/2016/11/30/63dfe75a-aa9c-11e6-8b45-f8e493f06fcd_story.html?utm_term=.5fb76b2ba9d4.

Najarro, Ileana. “Frank D. Reeves Center’s Glory Days Long Gone, Locals Say.” The Washington Post, 8 Aug. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/frank-d-reeves-centers-glory-days-long-gone-locals-say/2014/08/08/c20fbebc-1e7c-11e4-ae54-0cfe1f974f8a_story.html?utm_term=.8485b589e4a8.

O’Connel, Johnathan. “Escalating Feud over Stadium Design Threatens D.C. United’s Plans.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 13 Oct. 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/news/digger/wp/2016/10/13/escalating-feud-over-stadium-design-threatens-d-c-uniteds-plans/?utm_term=.09657ffb6a54.

“Paul Robeson, a Brief Biography.” Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility, University of Chicago, 2004, www.cpsr.cs.uchicago.edu/robeson/bio.html.

“Reeves Center.” DC.gov, Washington DC, Department of General Services, 2013, dgs.dc.gov/page/reeves-center.

Thorne, Oakleigh J et al. “Summary Appraisal Report: Frank D. Reeves Center.” Land Value Panel, 11 Dec. 2013.

Wiener, Aaron. “Wells: Affordable Housing Must Be Part of D.C. United Deal.” Washington City Paper, 10 Jan. 2014, www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/housing-complex/blog/13123884/wells-affordable-housing-must-be-part-of-d-c-united-deal.

Wiener, Aaron. “What Would Replace the Reeves Center in the D.C. United Deal?” Washington City Paper, 27 June 2014, www.washingtoncitypaper.com/news/housing-complex/blog/13124168/planned-14th-and-u-development-begins-to-take-shape.

*All photographs property of author

An Interactive Development

The online presence of the Frank D. Reeves Center is a single page on the site of Washington DC’s city government. Listed under the Department of General Services, the property’s listing showed the information for the DGS Office on the 8th floor and documentation regarding the city’s proposal to sell the property to a developer along in exchange for 38 million dollars and a stretch of land at Buzzard point. The purpose of this will be to construct a stadium in Buzzard Point and allow the Reeves Center to be demolished and the property redeveloped. The limited information on the ongoing operations of the Center may be an indicator of it being phased-out as a service provider.

The website as a whole is very clean and accessible, with a lot of features that allow users to easily find information and interact with the site’s architecture. The drop-down menus have a wealth of information on a variety of topics such as services, contracting, construction, sustainability, properties, and jobs. It even has a blog, where the last post is dated to the previous April, but is nonetheless an interesting feature. Another intriguing device is a built-in voice readout that allows users to listen to the text on each page. Their feedback tab has a lot of points that presumably allow citizens’ concerns to be voiced.

Another interesting aspect is the amount of connections that the DGS makes to outside media. The left column of the page has links to many social media providers including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Plus, and Youtube. Many of these accounts especially Twitter, are very active and allow citizens to connect with the organization. A link below the accounts is “Ask the Director,” where visitors can fill out a form for sending to the organization. All of these features show the department’s commitment to active engagement with the DC community.

The information for the proposal is included in two documents on the page, both from December of 2013 and in reference to a community meeting. One is the presentation given at the community meeting and another is a page aggregating comments and questions from those who attended. The presentation explains how the “New Reeves,” whatever might replace the building, should contribute to the U Street community in the same way that its predecessor did. The planners envision a mixed-use building that is composed of retail space and multi-family dwellings. It also explains the rationale for the demolition of the previous building. They recognize its years of service to the community, but also cite the grievances of its inefficiency of space, aging structure, and deferred maintenance.

The record of the meeting shows the concerns of the community members through a 51 point list. Recurring points include expressions that the farmer’s market, daycare, Department of Real Estate Services, and other programs should remain on the site. Others call for the new site to foster greater business participation in the neighborhood.

Within this information is the timeline for the future of the Reeves Center. It states that it was supposed to be transferred to a developer in late 2014. It then says that the new center would be completed by late 2016. It is clear that this is quite behind schedule as the current building still stands and is offering services. The DC United Stadium that was meant to coincide with the deal was also slated for opening in 2016 but a Washington Post article shows that disagreement over its design has pushed the opening until 2018. Perhaps the redevelopment of the Reeves Center has been delayed in the same manner. However interactive and functional the website of the DGS, it is for naught if the department does not maintain an active dialogue with the community. This is especially true when the fate of a beloved neighborhood landmark is in question.

Losing to Progress: Inside a U-Street Landmark

The columns of the Frank D. Reeves Center present a noble facade to a potential visitor. In the style of much Washington D.C. architecture, concrete, marble, glass, and steel are combined to produce a veritable Parthenon for each public structure. As I pass under the columns and through the steel and glass, I’m immediately greeted by a security checkpoint manned by 4 guards. I place my phone and wallet in the ceramic bowl as I ponder what this means for visitors without my privilege. Just as I expect, I’m asked no questions and receive no comment except for how nice my ID picture is. For others, this may not have been the case. A security checkpoint might be imposing or threatening, instantly deterring individuals from the services and community on the other side. I collect my items, reorient myself, and enter into the atrium.

I look around and am impressed by the display of local artwork. What draws me the most is a life-sized sculpture of a baby elephant. Its anatomy was not its greatest quality as the way in which it was adorned. From differing angles, one can see Lady Liberty contort into view upon its ear and body. Closer inspection of its skin reveals images of billowing smoke and twisted steel. Block characters read “9/11.” proceed to take photos from various angles of this beautifully ingenious sculpture before a guard prohibits me from taking anymore. More security has transgressed upon aesthetics.

Passing the atrium brings me to the utility of the building. To the right is a glass cubicle housing an NGO providing advocacy for the African LGBT community. On the balcony of the next floor I see various fire and EMT trainees participating in a seminar. Apart from these two entities, I thought I might be the only life in the building. I head to the opposite end and pass an unlocked glass security door to board an elevator. I wish to go to the top floor and get a commanding view of the neighborhood.

6th Floor: Restricted.

5th Floor: Restricted.

4th Floor: Restricted.

I go up to the third floor. Greeting me is an office of DC transportation and a room of locked doors with scanners. I head back down to the second floor where I had seen the paramedics training and see them filing out down the stairs. I follow the path and exit through a side door that brings me into a beautiful garden with a fountain and playground. It is surrounded by a high fence that offers limited views of the surrounding neighborhood. I wonder who could use this park and why, as well as who might never see it.

The interior of this building showed me how the provision of services to the community can simultaneously alienate some of those individuals. I felt entirely comfortable entering this large government building and passing a security check, but I can imagine various alternatives in which that would be highly intimidating. My research led me to believe that this building serves as a location for community meetings and events, but now I see little evidence beyond the utilitarian offices and locked security doors. Can these services be provided while simultaneously creating a commonplace for all who desire it?img_1267

Design and the Gender Revolution

In “His & Hers: Designing for a Post-Gender Society,” Suzanne Tick makes a case for the employment of gender-neutral design by modern interior designers. She states that “Identity is no longer clearly defined as female or male, but by increasingly visible manifestations of sexuality or lack thereof.” Being one of the United States’ leading textile designers, she has the background to speak on the issue and the primacy to affect real change in the industry.

Tick describes a new era in the societal perception of gender. She states that “masculine and feminine definitions are being switched and obscured”*, and that individuality in identity are being widely accepted in many realms and institutions. Examples include the now commonplace appearance of androgynity, college students abstaining from identification on gender forms, and middle school students asking for unspecified or nonconforming identification. It is in her view that designers must keep up with the progression of institutions such as education if the field is going to stay relevant and appropriate.

She argues that designers must cleanly break from the modernist school of the twentieth century. She explains how this school is influenced by male thought from both the creative and the user ends. Male designers are creating public spaces that will be ultimately controlled by men. This means that the men who control office spaces and other structures will have their needs addressed while others must conform to the style. As women achieve parity in the workplace and nonconforming identities become commonplace, design must change to reflect the needs of the new demographic. This can be done through the employment of gender-neutral aesthetics. She demonstrates how this is already occurring in fashion, as female clothing takes on a masculine cut and male makeups become acceptable. Examples of its implementation occur elsewhere, such as the furnishing designs of Nika Zupanc and the art of Ernesto Artillo. With regards to interior design, she sees a public desire for the incorporation of nature, open floor plans, and soft texturing of colors and materials.

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The Public Restroom of this Century

In “Making Bathrooms more Accommodating” by Emily Bazelon, she advocates for greater acceptance of accommodation in the realm of bathroom equality. The central assumption of this is of a shift in the view on the concept of accommodation from one group making compulsory changes for the benefit of another to an idea of mutual concessions. This concept is explored through a brief history of the public restroom and anecdotes of concessions at different levels.

Emily Bazelon states that one of the most basic needs of a human individual is “to belong.” This belonging is often solidified by personal and public acknowledgement of membership in a particular group. For transgender individuals this often manifests in using the bathroom of their choice without threat or discomfort. In addition to the practical necessity of being able to fulfill their physiological needs, the use of their preferred bathroom signifies membership in their identified gender. It is difficult to gain acknowledgement as a female if regulation requires a transwoman individual to only use the male restroom. This is a reason for which the bathroom debate has reached such fervor: it requires society as a whole to acknowledge the existence of non-conforming gender identities and to put them on the same level as those in the binary system.

Other examples in the history of the public bathroom show similar meanings for the acceptance of particular groups in society. The first iteration is the creation of female facilities in public places. This was significant in that it meant society acknowledged the increased role of women in the public sphere and the requirement for their comfort at offices, libraries, and other spaces. It might be said that this was an accommodation to the increasing numbers of women in these spaces. Since the institution of gender-specific public restrooms, they have come to be recognized as an immutable aspect of public life, and even have taken on a culture of their own. Women’s bathrooms are seen as respites from the male world, where females can socialize without judgement of their male counterparts. Men’s restrooms on the other hand, are characterized as dirty and impersonal, where socialization is frowned upon. In regards to efficiency, women often lament that men’s restrooms move quickly or remain empty through the use of urinals while women wait in long lines for stalls.

Another instance of accommodation was the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. This legislation created means for disabled individuals to access public spaces that would otherwise bar them due to features such as stairs and complicated doors. In the bathroom, it creates a larger stall with bars and a private sink. This bill did not receive much backlash and has been successfully implemented throughout the country.

Emily Bazelon and activists argue that reasonable accommodation for transgender individuals is to allow them to use the restroom or locker rooms of their own choice. This has become a contentious issue as many women argue that it is simply a modern example of men imposing their will on women and having the all-female enclave of the public restroom be shattered by people with male anatomy. Another concern is that regardless of identity, transwomen maintain their male advantage of a higher average strength, leading to safety concerns. The author argues that “it’s about relatively small adjustments made for the sake of coexistence,” proposing that more unisex bathrooms can be established and privacy curtains can be put in locker room showers. She claims that this is helpful for all people who may have concerns of privacy or fears of undressing in front of others.

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Exterior Description of the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center and Surrounding U Street Neighborhood

The U Street neighborhood is one in transition. Upon first emerging from the metro escalator, the first thought is of how different this area looks from its historical name of “DC’s Black Broadway.” The first sight is the Starbucks and gourmet pizza eatery at the metro’s entrance. Across the street is the famous Lincoln Theatre, home of Nat King Cole, flanked by Ben’s Chilli Bowl and a consultancy firm. Walking west towards the Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center the change in character becomes ever more evident. Each side of the road is lined with luxury boutiques and upscale eateries while small businesses flounder. A single mural of Paul Robeson, an African American Civil Rights activist and singer, is painted on the bricks with his quote “I make no separation between my work as an artist, and my work as a human being.” It is unlikely that he would have considered the ousting of residents in exchange for upper class professionals and the closing of local businesses in exchange for high-class restaurants to be suitable inheritance of his work for equality. An interesting, but soon to disappear structure on this path is what appears to be an affordable tenement. At this time it is in the process of being demolished or converted into a Rite Aid pharmacy. The scaffolding is coated in graffiti that is telling of the consciousness of the street. A recurring red stamp read “Rent is Due.” A stylized phrase read “Carpe Diem.” Amharic inscriptions remained unintelligible to me save for a few borrowed Arabic letters, but no doubt contributed to the rhetoric of the corner. Past the doomed housing were four men loitering outside of their local store, eyeing high-class passersby with suspicion and gloom.

Finally, the Frank D. Reeves Center appears on the next corner. It’s an impressive 8-story building from a different era than these commercial centers and luxury apartments. It was opened in 1986 by Mayor Marion Barry in an effort to demonstrate the care of the district government in the affairs of the U Street neighborhood; then still recovering from 1968 rioting. In it, representatives of local departments such as transportation and emergency services maintained offices, providing relatively easy access to the government. It hosted events and cultural celebrations that gave the neighborhood a sense of community that would be unavailable without such a central and open common space. Today, it performs largely the same function, but increasingly is the home to local non-profits such as the DC Center for LGBTQ Advocacy. While the function remains similar, its operation has begun to change. Security checkpoints due to criminal concerns create a barrier for those without government identification or who seem “out-of-place” for the structure. The building is quiet save for an EMT certification class and the lunchtime migration of minor officials. The outside is host to a great number of people waiting for buses and for the crosswalks to change signal. A single stand offers halal street food to what remains of the African diaspora. Half a dozen homeless individuals crouch near the edge of the building, conversing and fighting the cold. Many appear that they would wish to lie down and escape the wind but every column and niche in the building is covered in sinister-looking spikes to discourage rest. The side of the building yields scant views of a small garden and playground shielded by a tall and thick metal fence: “For Official Use Only.”

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Annotated Bibliographies

Najarro, Ileana. “Frank D. Reeves Center’s Glory Days Long Gone, Locals Say.” The Washington Post, 8 Aug. 2014, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/frank-d-reeves-centers-glory-days-long-gone-locals-say/2014/08/08/c20fbebc-1e7c-11e4-ae54-0cfe1f974f8a_story.html.

The Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center was opened in 1986 by Marion Barry and served to indicate government interest in a neighborhood that was still struggling to recover from the 1968 riots. The building houses many departments of local government and is the location of many community meetings and local events. A plan existed in 2014 to sell the building to a developer along with property at Buzzard Point for the construction of a stadium in exchange for 30 million dollars. Many local residents see this as being disrespectful to the memory of Frank D. Reeves, a former law professor at Howard University and an advisor to John F. Kennedy. Additionally, neighbors fear that this removes a valuable common space that will likely be replaced with luxury apartments, further gentrifying the area.

This article is of utility because of its recency, methodology, and source. Being of 2014, this article provides a modern perspective on an area that has been serviced by the building since 1986. Its methodology includes interviews of residents and background on the area which provides unique perspectives. The source being the Washington Post indicates reliability and accurate reporting due to the reputation of the publication.

 

Bridenbaugh, Thomas D, and Adam Gooch. “Summary Appraisal Report: Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center.” DC Land Value Panel, 11 Dec. 2013, http://lims.dccouncil.us/download/31817/b20-0805-q5-a-1-reeves-appraisal10.pdf.

This report is published in anticipation of the possibility of future deals for the sale of the property. It is produced by the Land Value Panel headed by Thomas D. Bridenbaugh and Adam Gooch. It contains various assessments of the private and public value of various aspects of the building and the property as well as provides detailed diagrams of its floor planning and structure. It is useful in visualizing the quantitative aspects of the building in contrast with the qualitative views of its neighbors and users.

 

“Black Broadway on U: A Transmedia Project.” Black Broadway on U, Black Broadway on U, LLC, 2016, http://blackbroadwayonu.com/.

Shows the history and importance of the U Street Neighborhood, what is colloquially known as “Washington DC’s Black Broadway.”

Schindler’s Theory of Architectural Exclusion

In Sarah Schindler’s publication, “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination And Segregation Through Physical Design Of The Built Environment,” she identifies the features of city design that intentionally and unintentionally contribute to the exclusion of so-called “undesirable” populations. These often include people of color and the poor. Regardless of intentions, this form of social engineering leads to the division of racial and class identities in ways that are difficult to reverse.

Schindler describes three ways in which cities what she describes as “regulation.” The first two are blatantly obvious to viewers of most backgrounds: the use of laws and ordinances, and the use of threats and intimidation. The third is what she terms as the theory of “architectural exclusion.” The first two are clear and unveiled attempts at discrimination, making them easy targets in civil rights suits and activism. Architectural exclusion is much more difficult to address because its causal effect on regulation requires much deeper investigation to ascertain (1942). In many cases, the architect or urban planner is not even acting on conscious biases, but rather on the mandate to improve efficiency in the city. Schindler identifies two major categories of urban features that contribute to exclusion. These include physical barriers to access as well as transit system placement (1953).

Physical barriers describes a wide array of specific features but all share in the fact that, by design or externality, they hamper a specific group’s access to another area. Often it is the case that lower-class citizens and people of color are unable (without significant effort) to reach attractions or neighborhoods that are designed for and populated by upper-class, caucasian residents. Schindler cites the example of a road in Long Island leading to a popular local beach (1953-1954). When an architect was tasked with designing bridges over this roadway, he lowered them to the point that it would be impossible to fit city buses under them. Thus, he was able to exclude the large group of citizens who rely on public transportation, usually people of color and the poor. Biographical evidence points to racial bias as being the largest motivator of this architect.

While this anecdote suggests racial motivations behind this decision, most related barriers can be attributed to oversight or overridden priorities such as efficient traffic flow. An example of this is the construction of one-way roads in residential areas to support continuous travel while coincidentally making neighborhoods more confusing and unnavigable by outsiders (1969). Another example of this is the lack of pedestrian infrastructure that allows foot traffic through the expressways that so often divide minority communities from commercial and recreational centers (1954-1955, 1965). This may be described as being for the purpose of public safety or efficiency but nonetheless is effective in what may constitute a “blockade” of minority communities.

The other major method by which architectural regulations are made is the placement and operation of metropolitan transit systems including buses, subways, and light rail systems (1960-1961). Rationally, access to public transit would be beneficial to residents, but many upper-class citizens actively campaign against metro systems to prevent an influx of undesirable groups into their communities. This affects job access, recreational activities, and commercial opportunities for lower-class citizens and people of color. Another administrative option to enforce exclusion is the imposition of parking permits on residential streets (1972-1973). This prevents outsiders from accessing a community without express allowance by a resident and restricts the ability to travel freely throughout the city. Both of these features are common to many American metropolitan areas such as New York, Detroit, Chicago, Los Angeles, and Washington D.C.

The built environment carries with it a rhetoric that often goes unnoticed by the residents it affects. Nevertheless, it remains an integral part of the lives of millions of urban individuals throughout the world. Ostensibly, urban design may have the aim to increase efficiency and maximize economic output, but professionals in the field must maintain awareness of the externalities of architectural regulation that fragment communities and segregate groups into stratas of class and race.

Space in Political Theory

In chapter 2 of David Fleming’s City of Rhetoric, he contends that contemporary political theory largely ignores physical place in its conception of the Citizen. In this conception, the citizen is viewed as one in a sea of spaceless, homogenous entities. Fleming posits that modern advancement, rather than leading to the rapid de-spatialization of politics, has in fact reaffirmed the importance of space and place in the public. In view of this, past theories must be responded to in order to confront our shifting reality.

Fleming claims that the societies of Athens in its height, Venice, Genoa, and early Rome are the manifestations of Republicanism in its purest practical form. It is a temporal and geographic representation of the State in which the highest virtue and greatest responsibility of the individual is the active participation of the citizen in civic life. In fact, this is crucial as the political arguments of the individual are meant to steer society as a whole in new directions. This theory can no longer be wholly applied to any current society as it largely runs antithetical to what we now identify as the human right to act as an individual rather than a servant of the “common good.”

Liberalism would argue that societal direction and individual freedom comes not from argument and political action, but rather from laws, institutions, and procedures. The most salient objective of the individual is not participation in civic life, but enrichment and happiness in private life. A republican citizen works for the common good while the liberal one works toward their own ends.

Both of these theories maintain the importance of place in society. In a Republic, space is a small community in which all citizens are familiar with their fellow community-members. Life occurs in the public arena of forums, parks, squares, and stages. The conception of individual life is constant public discourse by which to ensure collective self-governing of the society by ethical and interested citizens. The spatial aspect of liberalism is private. It occurs in homes, at jobs, and in the pursuit of personal interests. This means that the places of liberal societies are insulated from its politics rather than guiding it.

Fleming argues that neither of these theories quite explain the postmodern societies in which we now live. Fleming believes that interconnection and intersectionality is the spatial aspect of today. This is the phenomenon of the network, decentralized yet interacting horizontally and vertically in a flexible structure of shifting and changing parts. It is the pivot to the digital age that brings the network into society. Fleming identifies three key spatial features of this new era: globalization, diaspora, and multipositionality. Globalization is the movement of entities across the points of a network. In the physical world this entails the global transfer of information as well as capital, labor, and products. Diaspora is the constant shift in demographics as migrants and tourists attain relative ease of access across the world. Multipositionality is the shift to identity as being varied and contradictory within each individual. This revolution in the components of society requires an equally revolutionary theoretical framework with which to understand it.

Commonplace Book: Entry 2: The Conversation

I mentioned in chapter 1 that we needed to cultivate public subjects who are capable of imagining themselves as situated within many complex networks. Not only are we all located within a specific home-work nexus, but we are also located within regional, national, and global networks. Furthermore, each of us is situated within transhistorical and transspatial networks of place. The choices we make for ourselves have effects on future times and places that do not only parallel our own lives. Thinking through these networks demands an ability to imagine the incongruent and asymmetrical networks within which our agency is lodged.

-“Distant Publics, Development Rhetoric, and the Subject of Crisis,” Jenny Rice

The passage doesn’t follow the “they say/I say” format because she compares her current point to that of the first chapter. As this passage occurs later in the publication, it does not necessarily present an alternative viewpoint.


The built environment is characterized by man-made physical features that make it difficult for certain individuals—often poor people and people of color—to access certain places. Bridges were designed to be so low that buses could not pass under them in order to prevent people of color from accessing a public beach. Walls, fences, and highways separate historically white neighborhoods from historically black ones. Wealthy communities have declined to be served by public transit so as to make it difficult for individuals from poorer areas to access their neighborhoods.

-“Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination And Segregation Through Physical Design Of The Built Environment,” Sarah Schindler

The wealthy communities say that they do not want public transportation service in order to prevent poorer individuals from entering, while I say that this in an unfair way to make it difficult for certain individuals to access the build environment.

This follows the “they say/I say” format because it offers two different points of view in the passage, one from the author and another from a third party.