A City Plagued with the Incurable Disease of Gentrification

Once a location for young christian men to learn how to live a life with a healthy body, mind, and spirit, the Young Men’s Christian Association now attracts many people who are using it as a cheap, subsidized gym. Most YMCA’s have de-emphasized their traditional christian rooted values, but continues to provide an environment intended to strengthen a community, and provide support for all. When a YMCA closes you are left to ask the question: why? Is it because they have helped the community and it has gotten better? Is it because they are struggling to make money and don’t find the location economically feasible? Or is it because of mass gentrification? Gentrification forces the majority of lower-income families out of the neighborhood; those few who are left in the community are left voiceless, surrounded by upper-class people who don’t stop to worry about their needs in the communities. The YMCA is a fundamental part of many families lives, of many different backgrounds. The DC area has increasingly become diversified, as more people are coming into the city for job opportunities thus slowly increasing the property taxes around them. This increase in property tax pushes many lower-income people out of DC and into the suburbs. This push is one of the reasons that the Nation’s Capitol YMCA branch closed – it was no longer needed as a place to provide a location for a healthy mind and body, but rather a cheap gym membership. The closing of the YMCA is an example of the mass gentrification that is facilitated by the city and causing the displacement of low income people.

The spread of gentrification is causing the displacement of many people. While some researchers have experienced gentrification to be the displacement of poor disadvantaged people; in DC gentrification is more specific to the migration of African Americans to different parts of the metropolitan area (Jackson). One part of the YMCA’s mission statement says “giving back to neighbors and those in need is our responsibility as neighbors, colleagues and citizens” (YMCA). How can they do that if gentrification is forcing them to move away? The YMCA should be at the forefront of the gentrification problem in DC. Higher-end gyms supported by the increase in young affluent members of the community is what caused the Y’s membership to drop (Stein). A souring 11,000 members once utilized the YMCA’s vast programs; however right before the National Capital branch closed they had only 3,400 members (Stein). I believe this is a cause to the overpowering gentrification of the area.

After the closing of the National Capitol location, the YMCA suggested that loyal members utilize the Anthony Bowen location; when opening its doors in 1915 was the first African American YMCA (Hallett). It is ironic how these gentrified people, mainly African American, are being displaced and forced to use the same location that was specifically made for them in the early 20th century. The Shaw area, where one of the previous YMCA’s was located, preserves its longlasting location for non-profits in the area. Eleven other non-profits surround the YMCA, one of them being For The Love of Children, a 30 year old non-profit, dedicated to helping families and children (Wheeler). Shaw is a location for many people who experience gentrification to find as a safe haven. Small businesses, new restaurants and new families have moved into the area over the past decade (Wheeler). As of right now these new families have helped improve the livelihood of a broken area that was once full of empty buildings. Sooner or later it will be an avid location for young, predominantly white, affluent people to move into. These new residents will cause there to be an increase in property tax forcing many of those small businesses and restaurants to close their doors. These closings will cause for a new redevelopment of the area, a byproduct of which is major tension between the “new and old inhabitants” of the community (Chan). There has been a steady increase of redevelopment and gentrification in cities all over the nation.

The National Capitol YMCA isn’t the first to close because of gentrification. In Tulsa Oklahoma a YMCA suffered the same fate. The downtown area in Tulsa has experienced its own wave of gentrification causing property taxes to go too far up for the YMCA to stay in the area. The company that bought the location turned it into an 82-unit apartment complex. The company said that its main target was young people who want to live in the downtown area but don’t want the long term commitment of a house (Clanton). There is a very thin line between development and gentrification where development allows for current residence and new residence to grow together, gentrification pushes out those who are unable to keep up– causing them to lose their home and historical roots. We also saw similar problems when we looked at Cabrini Green in City of Rhetoric. Cabrini Green is located in the projects which, “have been described as ‘warehouses for the poor’” (Fleming 152). These people didn’t want to be seen as useless to the overall city, so they asked for work and improvement in their neighborhood. Another idea that was proposed was to incorporate some people from Cabrini Green into another neighborhood; however, they believed that neither party would fully get what they needed, marginalizing one group of people in said neighborhood. In the end the people of Cabrini Green said that all they wanted was, “nothing more nor less [than]: ‘to secure a competency and live on their own surrounded by their families’” (Fleming 176). I believe this request could be said for all neighborhoods that are either projects or are home to people of the lower class. The problem with the way that we go about changing a neighborhood is by creating new housing and jobs that brings in affluent people thus gentrifying the area. The line of gentrification is so thin and it is very challenging not to pass when introducing new people to a neighborhood that are in a completely different socioeconomic class than those who currently inhabit it.

DC is full of injustices and economic hardships making it harder for people of the lower socioeconomic status, specifically African Americans. There has been an increasing rate of White-to-Black racial changes and conflicts in DC because of these injustices. The African American population in DC has just hit around 50% in the last five years, with an increase in both hispanics and whites (Jackson). The average income of DC residence based on race has slowly increased through the years, “with black families having a median household income of only $46,815 in 2012, compared with $173,255 for white families” (Jackson). This gap is part of the problem that leads to gentrification; when you try to incorporate mixed race neighborhoods, this wage gap is what leads to tensions and ultimately pushes out the lower income people. The gentrification is not only causing a displacement in people but literally segregating communities by race again. This increase in displacement decreases the stability of black neighborhoods, causing many of them to lead to dealing drugs or other forms of illegal activity to make ends meet (Jackson). As this gentrification increases there is a direct link between commercial displacement as mortgages are two times more likely to be declined by a black family than a white family (Cook). The decline of mortgages is another factor that causes more affluent white families to move to homes that lower class families cannot afford; in turn this causes an increase in the area’s property taxes. The increase in property taxes is what forces other lower class people to have to move out and what caused the YMCA to close their National Capital branch.

The fact of the matter is that it is difficult for many people to live in DC; it is increasingly a more pleasing area causing many affluent people to want to live there. DC is not the only city that is going through this; Manhattan, Boston, as well as many others are becoming hospitable for only the very affluent people (Bates). Bates tells us that, “a larger amount of revenue is brought into a city where tax-payers’ money can pay for the additional amenities to make a city more attractive and progressive” (Bates). These amenities that make a city more “attractive” and “progressive” are the same mechanisms banking on the higher taxes that affluent people are able to pay. The city is facilitating this mass flood of gentrification as they are only worried about getting tax money to improve the DC area. These amenities are great for creating an influx of tourism, followed by an increase in businesses sales. That being said, it is pushing more and more of the lower income homeowners out of the city, as they are not what the city wants its tourists to see. The city wants these affluent people to make the neighborhoods surrounding the desirable tourist locations more appealing, and to give the feeling that they are in a safer neighborhood. The closing of the YMCA to make room for new residence and businesses is not something that the city would try and stop as it will continue to progress the city forward. The YMCA location was called the National Capitol, was but a five minute walk from the Dwight D. Eisenhower building, and maybe another five minutes away from the White House – a large tourist location. The Anthony Bowen location is a mile in the opposite direction of any major tourist locations, and is surrounded by a near all black community.

DC was not always seen as an appealing city to travel to, it was known as the murder capitol of the world at one point (Jackson). The District has since then improved on many levels; it has cleaned up its drug infested streets and brought jobs to many. That being said, there is still a long journey ahead of them before it is a stable city that is meeting the needs of all that are living in it. It has slowly seen an increase of segregation again as more and more neighborhoods are becoming gentrified areas. The city itself has experienced more racial diversity at the same time as an increase in racial segregation, caused by gentrification (Jackson). This segregation has pushed away places like the YMCA to make room for higher end, more expensive gyms. The city has allowed this to happen as the increase in affluent families has lead to an increase in taxes for amenities that they want to include. While the city and these affluent families are getting what they need and what they want, the lower income neighborhoods are barely getting what they need to survive. The city continues to put its money in improving the areas that tourists visit, and turn a blind eye to the parts of the city that actually need help in developing and improving the lives of those who live in it.

Its ironic how the African Americans in DC have been pushed back to use the YMCA that was originally created for their use. It is especially ironic that it is being done in a way where the city is regressing back to the times of segregation which is extremely evident through the closing of the National Capitol YMCA. The District is not the only city that is experiencing the closure of the YMCA’s as an effect of gentrification. Tulsa, Oklahoma for example has also experienced a similar situation. The YMCA there closed to make room for more apartments that were out of the price range for many who had previously lived there.

Gentrification is a displacement of individuals, however it is easily seen on a larger scale when major corporations set to help those in need have to close their doors and move as well. As seen through the example of Cabrini Green, the people that live in “the projects” don’t want to move. They just want to be able to have a sustainable environment where they can have local shops and amenities without affluent people coming in only to displace them again. Gentrification is a considerable attack on DC as seen by the closure of the National Capital YMCA, with little support from the people in charge.


Works Cited

Bates, Allyson M. The Impact of Gentrification on Low-Income Individuals in the Washington, DC, Metropolitan Area, Howard University, Ann Arbor, 2012.http://proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1356693498?accountid=8285.

Chan, Corey. “District of Change: Gentrification and Demographic Trends in Washington, DC.” Chicago Policy Review (Online), 2014.http://proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1547937984?accountid=8285.

Clanton, John, and Former downtown Tulsa YMCA being transformed into affordable apartments By KEVIN CANFIELD World Staff Writer TulsaWorld.com . “Former Downtown Tulsa YMCA Being Transformed into Affordable Apartments.” Tulsa World, 24 Oct. 2015, http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/local/former-downtown-tulsa-ymca-being-transformed-into-affordable-apartments/article_b1e5fd5f-ff65-547f-ac16-7d87618b9f77.html.

Cook, C. (2013). The displacement of displacement: New-build gentrification in washington, DC (Order No. 1538506). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1399597249). Retrieved from http://proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1399597249?accountid=8285

Fleming, David. City of Rhetoric: Revitalizing the Public Sphere in Metropolitan America. Albany, SUNY Press, 2009.

Hallett, Vicky. “YMCA Anthony Bowen’s Long History in D.C.” Washington Post, The Washington Post, 3 Sept. 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/ymca-anthony-bowens-long-history-in-dc/2013/09/03/d75084fe-10e6-11e3-bdf6-e4fc677d94a1_story.html.

Jackson, Jonathan. “The Consequences of Gentrification for Racial Change in Washington, DC.” Housing Policy Debate, vol. 25, no. 2, 2015;2014;., pp. 353-373doi:10.1080/10511482.2014.921221. Retrieved from http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/10511482.2014.921221

Stein, P. (2015, Oct 08). YMCA to shutter facility downtown amid rising competition from gyms. The Washington Post Retrieved from http://proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/1719883519?accountid=8285

Wheeler, Linda. “Preserving A Century of Service in Shaw; Historic YMCA Finds New Community Role.” The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 1998. http://proxyau.wrlc.org/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/408406760?accountid=8285.

“YMCA National Capital – CLOSED.” Welcome to YMCA National Capital – CLOSED | YMCA DC, www.ymcadc.org/branch.cfm?bid=11.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *