Violence, Controversy, and A Fence: A Look at Potomac Gardens Apartments
Built in 1968, Potomac Gardens Apartments is a public housing project owned by the District of Columbia Housing Authority. The complex is located at 1225 G Street SE, just thirteen blocks southeast of the United States Capitol Building. The 352 units that make up the complex are divided into family and senior housing (“Potomac Gardens Family”). The large, run down, and bleak looking building houses low income families and a large senior population. It would be easy to walk past Potomac Gardens, writing it off as just another old building in need of fresh paint, but there is more to the building that what first meets the eye. Potomac Gardens Apartments has a rich history filled with violence and controversy. There is more to the building than just its appearance, which is one of the many reasons why I am so intrigued by it.
When first walking up to the complex, it is difficult to notice anything besides the eight foot tall iron fence that surrounds it. The tops of the fence are bent out, making it is impossible for anyone to get in. In an effort to combat drug related violence, Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly had the fence installed in 1991. While drug arrests significantly declined after the installation, the fence was built against the wishes of many residents, who often compare themselves to prisoners or caged zoo animals (Blakely and Synder). Twenty-six years have gone by since the installation of the fence, and while crime has become close to nonexistent, the fence remains a constant reminder of Potomac Gardens’ violent and dreary past.
The fence completely surrounds the perimeter of the building, serving to both keep everyone inside and to prevent outsiders from coming in. The fence sends a message and it is definitely not a good one. According to a Metro PD lieutenant, the fence, while helpful in apprehending possible suspects, gives “the impression that something dangerous is going on” (Depillis). There have been plenty of conversations about destroying the fence but decisions are never made. I have a difficult time accepting that the fence still exists under the false pretense that it keeps residents safe. In reality, the fence is merely a tool used by MDP to apprehend any possible suspects. How is that acceptable? Keeping an entire community locked up in their own homes so that one or two possible suspects can be detained. Crime in this neighborhood has gone down significantly since the 1990s and is practically nonexistent today. The area surrounding Potomac Gardens is booming and has become relatively high income (Sheir). Right next store to Potomac Gardens is Cambridge Row luxury condominiums. These two complexes are so close to each other that you could throw a paper airplane from one building to the next.
Built in the lot of the previous Salvation Army Capitol Hill headquarters, stands Cambridge Row. Cambridge Row describes itself as a “boutique community of 25 thoughtfully designed condominium residences… located in a beautiful and walkable neighborhood” (“Cambridge Row”). The price of these condominiums range from $200,000 to $650,000. A price that seems quite high for a neighbor that is supposedly ridden with crime and drug violence. The building’s appearance is vastly different from Potomac Gardens. Green grass, fresh cement, and beautiful brick sidewalks welcome you to Cambridge Row. Next store at Potomac Gardens you are greeted with broken windows, chipped paint, and security cameras typically found in prison yards.
Times have changed, and it is obvious that the population and neighborhood surrounding Potomac Gardens has as well. It is no longer necessary for the building to look like a prison and residents should no longer have to feel caged in their own homes. While the fence may have been needed in the early 1990s, it is not needed today and something needs to change.
Blakely, Edward J. and Mary Gail Snyder. “Separate Places: Crime and Security in Gated Communities.” Reducing Crime Through Real Estate Development and Management, edited by Marcus Felson, Urban Land Institute, 1998, pp. 53-70.
“Cambridge Row.” McWilliams Ballard, www.livecambridgerow.com/.
Depillis, Lydia. “What’s in a Fence? At Potomac Gardens, It Doesn’t Matter What Side You’re On.” Washingtoncitypaper.com, 11 March 2011. Accessed 2 October 2016.
“Potomac Gardens Family.” District of Columbia Housing Authority, www.dchousing.org/.
Sheir, Rebecca. “What Does the Future Hold for Capitol Hill’s Potomac Gardens?” wamu.org, American University Radio. 16 January 2015. Accessed 2 October 2016.