As a result of my studies about rhetoric in writing 100, in this essay I am going to persuade the reader that the physical environment of the New Community Church reflects and promotes its accepting and inclusive values. I strongly believe that physical design serves a great purpose in determining and promoting the core values of a community. In the case of the New Community Church, the exterior, interior, and digital aspects of it allow for the public to understand that the church is a place for everyone despite the gentrification that has taken place over the years in the Shaw, DC area.
Many used to know Shaw, DC as a place that was mostly populated by people of color and as a central low income neighborhood with high crime, violence, and drug use. Around the 1960’s this was true, but the rates have gradually decreased. In 1969, the rate of violence was at its all-time high of 17,038 and in 2015, it dropped down to 1,269.1. The rate of burglary in 1969 was at 22,902 and in 2015, it was at 442.0. Overtime, after much renovation, Shaw DC has improved to become one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the district. Due to the gentrification of the area, Shaw is now a place consisting of trendy stores such as Chrome Industries and Warby Parker as well as residential buildings that have attracted many people of a higher class. Nothing says “privilege” like a new installation such as Warby Parker into the community. Despite these seemingly positive attributes, many may choose to believe that this new and improved design of Shaw, DC is pushing out its original members when in actuality, they’re attempting to do just the opposite. From the increase in cost on housing to the new expensive stores that have become a permanent addition to the area, we must not forget that a large portion of original members are of a lower class and cannot afford to live in such a prestigious place. The community is intent on inviting in higher class people, but also keeping the original members in by providing them with affordable housing. Along the same lines, the New Community Church also intends on remaining a place that allows for citizens of all class, race, and religion to participate and engage in the church’s inclusive environment.
In the presence of the new high-end buildings, it is important that the New Community Church live up to their accepting and inclusive values and present its exterior environment in such a way that invites passing civilians. For instance, at first glance, the church did not stand out to me among the rest of the surrounding non-gentrified buildings thus leading me to believe that it was meant to blend in with the old buildings. On the one hand, this might give people the sense that the church is very accepting and that there is not a certain standard that a person needs to meet to go inside. However, on the other hand, some may be led to assume that blending in with the other buildings is another way to regulate who goes in and out. In other words, the harder the navigation process is, the more likely people won’t feel as comfortable about entering a property that is somewhat hidden. Even though some could view it this way, I stand by my belief that the New Community Church is a welcoming space. The church does so much to make themselves an open, public space and their similarity to other buildings only furthers the physical reflection of their values.
Similarly, a civilian in passing may think the short black gate surrounding the church appears to create a barrier between the community and the church itself. In her article “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation through Physical Design of the Built Environment,” Sarah Schindler makes a claim about physical barriers, “And cities were constructed in ways – including by erecting physical barriers – that made it very difficult for people from one side of town to access the other side” (Schindler, 1942). In contrast to what others may think, the easily found walkway leading up to the main entrance is wide open allowing for any civilian to enter. It feels as if the people inside the church are welcoming you without having to vocalize it to you directly. Although my view on the values of acceptance have not changed, if the church is meant to be an inclusive “all may enter” setting, why must there be a gate at all? However, because the gate is low, I don’t believe it creates much of a barrier at all and the church remains an inviting space.
There is a small concrete road for parking directly to the left of the church. There is a sign on the side of the short black gate that reads “Temporary Parking for NEW COMMUNITY ONLY”. Although to some believe this seems to be an exclusive, almost aggressive sign, due to its wording and capitalization individuals who view it need to remember the other factors of the church that create an accepting and welcoming environment. The church might have exclusive parking, but from a logical, different perspective, anyone in the community can park there if needed because the church itself is open to everyone. Another aspect of the church is their big open windows that allow anyone in passing to look inside thus feeling included long before they actual step foot inside. Many churches are big and may have small windows at the very top of the building. That type of structure is very closed off and gives the impression that they are exclusive. Open windows make the whole experience more engaging to the public.
It is important for not only the exterior to reflect the values of the church, but the interior as well so upon entering, people can understand that the church is helping to keep original Shaw members within the community. In exploring the main floor and basement of the inviting New Community Church, I was surprised to find that the interior structure was equally as inviting as the exterior. Its informality and small size make for a comfortable, low-standard environment that anyone in the community could feel included in. Consider your basic town house and its structure: small rooms, a kitchen with appliances, everything in a fairly close proximity to each other, warm carpets, book shelves, and the list can go on. Now imagine exactly that, but instead of somebody’s home, it is a central place of worship, a church, and a very comfortable one at that.
While the previously mentioned features bring out the comfortability in the church’s interior, it is also somewhat difficult to navigate because there are so many rooms with no signs, as a regular home would be like. From an opposing perspective, the navigational issues could be a sign that the church does not intend to allow people to feel comfortable enough to “make themselves at home.” Some may believe that the building was structured intentionally to confuse people upon stepping inside thus making them feel unwelcomed. To access the basement would be a challenge if someone wasn’t there to direct you there. (Luckily for me, there was a man there who showed me where the basement door was and even agreed to give me a tour.) Although the lay-out is a bit confusing, it does not take away from the overall feeling of inclusiveness and acceptance. The fact is, that there was somebody who worked at the church there to help me and guide me (a total stranger) in the right direction. If this doesn’t further one’s positive opinions on the church, who knows what will.
The basement displayed a child-friendly environment. The colors of the walls were child-friendly (pink, blue, purple, yellow.) The basement had three different rooms: pottery room, coloring room, and the play room. The colored pencils, crayons, and dollhouse made the basement particularly on inviting to children to do arts and crafts. In addition to the way one could feel when entering the children’s area, the physical location of it indicates the current population make-up of people who now live in Shaw. As stated before, the basement was not in plain sight and perhaps not highly used. This could be because not many children come to live in Shaw, DC. According to the DCInno, there are a multitude of factors that make Shaw an unsuitable area to raise children such as its proximity to Howard University, lack of food markets, and presence of liquor stores. Due to these features, I strongly believe the majority of new people in the area are young people looking for temporary housing. Assuming there will be college students looking for parties, drunks at the liquor stores, and barely any food markets, it is not a suitable environment to raise children in. Consequently, there are not many new families, especially with children, so therefore the children’s area of the church was placed in the basement.
The official website of the New Community Church, similar to the design of the exterior and interior of the building itself, radiates the same welcoming, inclusive features. These features include the accessibility of the site and its content, the type of imagery used, and the general layout. The New Community Church continued to use their original version of the site in the hopes of maintaining their inclusive, inviting image to people not only through the building’s structure, but on the internet as well. A number of methods have been used on other websites to keep people out, or give them a hard time navigating the site such as password protection, minimal contact information that is hard to find. The New Community Church uses those methods in the opposite way and to continue to promote their accepting values. For example, finding, accessing, and navigating the website and its content took a minimal amount of effort due to how easy it was to locate. I typed “New Community Church, Shaw DC” in the search bar and immediately the official website appears as the first result. Clicking the link brought me to a page introducing the church and their values and goals. Many other websites ask that you enter a username and password which inevitably causes the feeling of exclusiveness. The NCC website is simple and did not insist on either because they are open to the public and anyone who wants to get involved with the church. Photographs that were displayed under many of the different tabs were showing what looked to be happy, diverse (in age, gender, and race) people participating in the church’s activities. The photographs could draw people who visit the website in because they will be able to visualize themselves being within a community that radiates that same happiness and inclusivity that many people may be lacking throughout the gentrification of Shaw.
While looking through the website gave me and presumably many lower class, people of color the sense of inclusion, others may have a different opinion. Some may assume that although the church’s website is easy to access and navigate, its simplicity is a negative feature. Having a simple website could mean there is less information provided to viewers thus leading some to believe that the church does not want certain information to be publicized. This statement, while it could be true, does not outweigh the other factors that play a role in the design of the site. I believe that the lay-out is simple, yes, but in an organized way displaying everything where it needs to be. The church’s website has provided me and most likely others, with the comfort that no matter what age, race, or who we are as people, we can be accepted by this organization.
In short, within a neighborhood such as Shaw, undergoing gentrification, it is important for the physical attributes of a place of worship such as the New Community Church to reflect its values of acceptance and inclusion. Different perspectives of ways to interpret the physical design of the church were mentioned in the hopes of giving the reader a chance to consider a wide range of possibilities. After all was considered, one should be persuaded that the New Community Church is a welcoming and inclusive haven in a gentrified neighborhood.
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