The Shaw area was once known throughout Washington D.C. as a place where gang violence and drug deals took place; however, the neighborhood has seen a remarkable reversal. After years of progress and change, the Shaw district has become a center point for revitalization. However, the residents of the area must ask themselves if this effect due to a change in the attitude of the people or is this effect from gentrification. The gentrification that has been taking place throughout the Shaw district has caused a shift in the environments that people interact with every day. Gentrification has caused the Shaw community to see a dramatic change because the people, homes, and business of the area have changed significantly since the 1990s, which has caused the areas to lose its original identity. First, the people who lived there have changed because as the wealthier neighborhoods began to fill up, and the residents needed to find cheaper homes, which were located in areas like Shaw. Secondly, new homes and were constructed by realtors to seize the opportunity with the wealthier residents moving in open a new market for easy profits. Finally, new businesses emerged as this area become a prime location to expand and make a profit from the new residents. All of these factors combined have lead to the current gentrification that has been occurring throughout the area for the past several years. However, everything that has been happening in the Shaw area can be attributed to the migration of rich, white people into the district.
The impact of gentrification on the Shaw community is mainly due to the large movements of affluent, white families into the neighborhood. Communities are defined by the people that live in them. The culture and the traditions that exist in a community are developed from years of individuals residing in the area. These traditions eventually define the neighborhood through its art, music, or yearly events. However, gentrification changes these community practices because as new people come into the area and the former residents leave new traditions are created, and old ones are forgotten. It is important to analyze what has caused these migrations to begin moving into the area. Gentrification is initiated by an overflow of the wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods in other areas of cities. Thus, this overflowing causes the next generation to seek new housing to raise their families. For example, Dupont Circle was once known as a neighborhood for the LGBT Community; however, the most current generation has left the area and has begun moving into the U Street and Logan Circle areas because of available housing (Giambrone). This trend would make sense because according to the U.S. census the population of D.C. has risen by 5.2% from 2000 to 2010, most of which has been mainly due to the growth of the white population (Hyra). Thus, the residents move into areas, such as Shaw, since the housing is cheap and available. However, the new people in the neighborhood cause severe impacts besides a simple change in demographics. The Shaw area was once a place that was filled with a large majority of people of color until the aspects of gentrification began to take place in the area. The individuals who are entering the areas are often wealthy and often desire to live in housing that reflects their upper-class style. With these new people coming into the Shaw area they will “seek to establish new norms, behaviors, and amenities that align with their desires”(Hyra). These traits can be seen throughout the Shaw area. For example, in an article from the Washington Post, an interview discussing the changes that have been happening throughout the Shaw area quotes how the area has all “new people, people with money. All our customers are gone” (Fisher). This belief reflects the effects on the gentrifying community perfectly because even though the shops may remain there their customer’s basis will change. Those relationships that are built through years of living near each other disappear. This trend is much more pronounce than one would usually have believed because according to the U.S. Census from 2000 to 2010 in the Shaw district alone the population grew by 17% and Caucasians are now the dominant race in the area because they make up around 55% of the population (Hyra). To elaborate, in Shaw from the 1970s to 2010, the total population of African Americans dropped by 57 percent (Hyra).When neighborhoods undergo these changes so drastically, residents will lose their attachment to the area because new buildings are created, which destroy former gathering places, or neighborhood shops disappear due to the newer business that can out compete them. Thus, since the area no longer represents what the original residents were attached to, they will “opt to leave economically transitioning neighborhoods, converting them rapidly into homogenous enclaves, instead of integrated, mixed-income neighborhoods” (Hyra). While the influx of new people entering the Shaw neighborhood is necessary for gentrification to take place, the realtors who are constructing the new apartment complexes or houses equally contribute to the gentrification.
After the new residents begin to emerge into the Shaw neighborhood, realtors began to follow, which has accelerated the process of gentrification quickly. As previously stated, when wealthier people start to enter the Shaw neighborhood, they also bring with them all of their wealthier life tendencies, such as their desire for expensive houses and clean neighborhoods. Thus, when realtors realized this effect they quickly moved into the Shaw neighborhood to purchase either empty lots or cheap housing at very low prices. In return, the realtors would then construct very expensive houses or apartment complexes in their place for the incoming residents who could afford to live in these wealthier buildings. These more expensive buildings also impact the community by themselves. As many are aware, a property’s value is based on the condition of the property itself; however, it is also impacted by the surrounding properties around. This situation means that if the house next door is a new and expensive home than your property value will increase. This effect impacts the community because many of the people who live in Shaw rent their homes, so when the property values begin to increase their rent rises because the owner begins to charge more. In Shaw alone, the average house value is around 570,000 dollars, which is an increase of over 230% increase since 2000 (Washington).
A problem arises from this situation because many of the residents can not afford to have their rates go up. Thus, they are forced to leave their homes, and more wealthy white people move in causing this trend to continue to happen more and more frequently. However, it was not just the realtors who would solely contribute to these new development projects. The government would also help with funding for the massive apartment complexes being constructed because they see it as a benefit to the area. Another aspect that the government contributes to the revitalization of the area is by rebuilding its infrastructure. Public works projects to fix areas through the “Great Streets” project (Great). This project is designed to “multi-year multi-agency commercial revitalization initiative to support existing small businesses, attract new businesses, increase the District’s tax base, create new job opportunities for the District residents, and transform emerging corridors into thriving and inviting neighborhood centers” (Great). The “Great Street” project is being implemented mostly in areas such as Shaw, H Street, and U Street, all of which are undergoing gentrification (Great). This system may seem like an overall good project because it “increases tax revenue” and “attracts new business;” however, it is naive to believe that this project is not contributing to gentrification. The larger tax revenue is not coming from the original residents that live there because they are being forced to leave. Therefore, the increased tax revenue is coming from the new and rich residents that are moving into the area. This effect only contributes to gentrification in these areas. For the year 2016, the D.C. government allocated over 750,000 dollars to fund this project alone (Fiscal). So despite the other impacts of gentrification on the area, the government views it as an overall improvement for the city. However, there may be another reason that may have some merit in this particular situation. With all of the new construction taking place in the area, the opportunity to create a relatively new built environment is possible. As shown by Schindler, when constructing or replacing new environments, the designers have the tendencies to create spaces that remove any undesired people from having to interact with the upper-class people. One must wonder if this is an alternative motive for the government to create a city does not have any undesirable people residing in it. Between the new housing and new infrastructure being created in the Shaw area, gentrification has been taking place throughout the area. With new people moving into the neighborhood and new housing being constructed, newer and more expensive businesses have also seized the opportunity to enter the area to sell their goods to the emerging market.
As gentrification has been taking place in the Shaw district at increasing levels, new businesses have begun to enter the area to capitalize off of the new market emerging. The new businesses in the Shaw district are another aspect that is putting pressure on the area to increase the amount of gentrification. When discussing gentrification, many people tend to discuss is the housing issues that arise; however, the causes and effects on businesses are just as important to analyze to try and understand what has caused businesses to be impacted. As stated previously when a neighborhood undergoes the process of gentrification, the area sees new groups of people come into the area with their specific tastes and preferences and retail prices increase due to newer and expensive buildings that are being constructed. Both of these factors impact the businesses around them in different ways. The newer people coming into the area affects the place because they bring with them their tastes and preferences, which are often different from the original residents. Thus, as the original residents leave, the businesses’ customers disappear, and the owners do not have a large enough customer business to keep their businesses afloat (Hyra). The rising prices of the retail prices impact business because businesses need to pay higher taxes for their property, which some owners simply can not afford. Lastly, as previously mentioned above, the Great Streets project is also contributing to the gentrification of business. As mentioned in their project statement, the mention how they wish to promote new business to start up in the Shaw area (Great).
However, that is part of the problem because this new business will be purchasing a business that failed due to the inability to succeed (Hertz). This effect means that the D.C. government is promoting the new businesses coming into the neighborhood, which only increases the amount of gentrification because now the people, homes, and businesses are all being transformed into areas that are designed for the rich and white. Couple these aspects together and many small businesses will begin to close since they simply can not afford to stay open anymore. This impact may seem relatively unimportant because that is the inherent nature of capitalism. However, these effects are not created from natural conditions because just in the past summer the Shaw area cut the ribbon of nineteen businesses, which broke their record of seventeen, on the same day (All).
However, a counter-point is that the Great Street program also provides $50,000 grants if the business qualifies to improve their business (Great). However, assuming that the businesses can get past the application process, the wording in the grants are purposefully designed to be vague when it says “small business owners who wish to improve their place of business” (Great). Since the wording is so vague, it leaves the grants open for interpretation by the legal system; thus, the government can pull funding for businesses if their improvements do not fit their design. Then the businesses will fail and simply be replaced by a business that will conform to their goals, which essentially forces gentrification on the area whether the community wants it or not. This rapidly changing environment has impacts on the neighborhood because the new businesses that are entering the neighborhood are going to be geared towards the needs of their larger customer basis. As Shaw is now majority white, who have large disposable incomes, the business will focus on satisfying the needs of those customers more than the needs of the poorer residents because they can not make as large as profit from those sales. Thus, that impacts the residents even further because this then causes more of them to leave because they are unable to afford necessities such as food or clothing. Thus, the gentrification in the Shaw area is targeting every area of society from the people to their homes to the businesses.
The effects of gentrification on the Shaw district has caused the people, homes, and businesses in the area to go under a rapid change throughout the neighborhood that has caused significant effects on the original residents. As the affluent and white neighborhoods have begun to overflow, those residents have moved into the Shaw area to find housing; however, this effect has caused the area’s traditions and identity to change dramatically because many of the original residents are leaving. Thus, as the new groups of people enter the neighborhood, new expensive houses are constructed to satisfy their needs, which causes the housing costs to rise and causes the poorer original residents to have to leave since they can not afford to lives there anymore. Finally, as the people and homes begin to gentrify, the business will follow causing the effects to increases as new businesses replace the originals or the old ones conform to the new standards. Therefore, due to the effects of gentrification, the Shaw area has witnessed significant changes in its people, homes, and businesses, which has led to the area losing its unique identity.