Category: Built Environment Description

Built Environment Introduction: A Comprehensive Look at Potomac Gardens Apartments

Welcome!

My built environment descriptions and final analysis focus on Potomac Gardens Apartments. The housing complex, located just thirteen blocks southeast of the United States Capitol Building, is home to low income families and a large senior population. Potomac Gardens is one of 56 properties owned by the District of Columbia Housing Authority. What separates Potomac Gardens from DCHA’s other properties, is the eight foot tall iron fence that surrounds its perimeter. The fence was installed in 1991 with the intention of keeping residents safe; in 2016, the fence still stands and is more of a deterrent than a safety feature. My project looks at the history of Potomac Gardens and the ever-evolving neighborhood that surrounds it. 

My project consists of three descriptions and a final analysis. The links to all four can be found below.

Please read and enjoy! – Grace Wilmeth

 

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Potomac Gardens Divided: The “Prison-Grade” Fence Raises Questions and Controversy

It would be easy to walk past Potomac Gardens Apartments 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. 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 (“Potomac Gardens”). Most known for the eight foot tall iron fence that surrounds it, the large, run-down, and bleak looking building houses low income families and a large senior population. While many believe the prison grade fence that surrounds the perimeter of Potomac Gardens Apartments facilitates a safe environment for all, my essay argues that the fence is a deterrent to residents and visitors alike.

The 8 foot iron fence that surrounds Potomac Gardens sends a bleak message to pedestrians walking by.

The 8 foot iron fence that surrounds Potomac Gardens sends a bleak message to pedestrians walking by.

When first walking up to the complex, it is difficult to notice anything besides the “prison grade” 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 (Sheir). Before the installation, “local and federal law enforcement authorities described Potomac Gardens as the largest open-air drug market in the Washington area and estimated that more than $2 million worth of drugs were being sold on the grounds each week” (Kovaleski). 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). In the late 1990s, teenagers who lived in the complex even referred to Potomac Gardens as “Baby Lorton,” referring to Lorton Reformatory, a Virginia prison that closed in 2001 (O’Donnell). In a 1994 article, Washington Post reporter, Serge Kovaleski describes the drastic change in the daily lives of Potomac Gardens’s residents after the installation. Kovaleski writes, “children frolic in the clean courtyards… and the pillows and stuffed animals that once sat in apartment windows to slow down stray bullets are gone, replaced in some units by flower boxes.” Residents even felt safe enough to host cookouts and to rent the corner units that were once vacant due to fear “of being exposed to to gunfire on two sides” (Kovaleski). In the year before the installation, Metro Police made 150 drug related arrests at Potomac Gardens; in 1994 only four arrests were made (Kovaleski). While many things changed for the better after the installation of the fence, many residents still had reservations, questioning authorities as to why they were being treated like caged animals (Escobar and Gaines-Carter). Twenty-six years have gone by since the installation of the fence, and while drug crime has diminished significantly, the fence remains of symbol of Potomac Gardens’s violent and dreary past (Blakely and Synder).

Images of the "prison grade" iron fence that surrounds the perimeter of Potomac Gardens. These photos were taken in September 2016.

Images of the “prison grade” fence that surrounds the perimeter of Potomac Gardens. These photos were taken in September 2016.

Today, the fence still stands, sending a bleak message to anyone who walks by. According to a Metro PD lieutenant, the fence surrounding Potomac Gardens, while helpful in apprehending possible suspects, gives “the impression that something dangerous is going on” (Depillis). If crime has gone down significantly, why is the fence still standing? Residents and fellow community members do not need an eight foot tall reason to be afraid of Potomac Gardens. 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 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 (Depillis). The area surrounding Potomac Gardens is booming and has even become relatively high income (Sheir). Right next door 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.

The yellow dot is Cambridge Row, the complex outlined in red is Potomac Gardens Apartments.

The yellow dot is Cambridge Row, the complex outlined in red is Potomac Gardens Apartments.

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 quite high for a neighborhood that is supposedly ridden with crime and drug violence. The building’s appearance is vastly different from Potomac Gardens. Green grass, fresh cement, and newly paved sidewalks welcome you to Cambridge Row. Next door at Potomac Gardens you are greeted with broken windows, chipped paint, and security cameras typically found in prison yards. While both of these complexes reside on the same block, they cater to very different residents. Cambridge Row appeals to young professionals by describing the complex as follows: “Located just moments to two metro stations, Barracks Row, Eastern Market and all of Capitol Hill. Cambridge Row offers the finest quality living in a beautiful walkable neighborhood filled with the Capitol’s best restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, open markets, grocers, and public transportation” (“Cambridge Row”). Potomac Gardens appeals to families by describing each apartment as a “family unit,” and by providing a list of nearby schools on their page on the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s website (“Potomac Gardens Family”).

These images show the vast differences between Potomac Gardens Apartments and Cambridge Row Condominiums. Images 1 and 3 are of Cambridge Row, while images 2 and 4 are of Potomac Gardens.

According to Google Maps, 197 feet separate the “family friendly” Potomac Gardens from the “boutique community” also known as Cambridge Row Condominiums. Roughly 200 feet away from an apartment building defined by its violent past is the newly renovated Cambridge Row. In 1989, the neighborhood surrounding Potomac Gardens was deemed “the most dangerous in America” by talk show host, Geraldo Rivera (Sheir). Today, McWilliams Ballard Real Estate, the developer of Cambridge Row, describes the neighborhood as “beautiful” and “walkable.” How can the same neighborhood be both “the most dangerous is America” and beautiful and walkable? While there is a twenty five year time difference between the two comments, Cambridge Row developers purposefully try to distance themselves from Potomac Gardens Apartments.

Cambridge Row’s website contains images of many of their units. Large windows are shown in many of these images, but the view of the outside cannot be seen because the image is either blurred or backlit. Cambridge Row is positioned in front of one of the complexes that make up Potomac Gardens. For many Cambridge Row residents, their bedroom window overlooks Potomac Gardens’s iron fence, broken windows, and security cameras. This detail would go unnoticed by someone looking at the images Cambridge Row provides on their website. If this was intentional, what is McWilliams Ballard Real Estate trying to hide? They purposely fail to mention that the majority of the building’s “beautiful views” include the back of Potomac Gardens.

These images are on Cambridge Row's website. As you can see, the view from the window in both images cannot be seen. In reality, outside the window pictured is the back of Potomac Gardens.

These images are on Cambridge Row’s website. As you can see, the view from the window in both images cannot be seen. In reality, outside the window pictured is the back of Potomac Gardens.

Does Cambridge Row really need to hide their proximity to Potomac Gardens Apartments? Why is being next-door to a public housing complex such a big deal? In reality, it probably wouldn’t be if Potomac Gardens did not have a prison-grade fence surrounding its perimeter. Like the MPD lieutenant said, the fence sends a message that something dangerous is happening. While the fence may allude to a dangerous environment, the neighborhood surrounding Potomac Gardens and Cambridge Row is “far from being the worst neighborhood in the city” (Abrams).

Often referred to as Hill East, the neighborhood surrounding Potomac Gardens and Cambridge Row, is “bursting with new retail, restaurants, and bars… scaffolding for new apartments and condos is popping up all along Pennsylvania Avenue corridor” (Sheir). In July 2016, Donatelli Development announced plans to redevelop the area around the Stadium-Armory Metro Station, which is a mile away from the two housing complexes. Their two building plan includes 400,000 square feet of retail space, 354 apartments, and 225 underground parking spaces (Perry-Brown).

An image provided by Donatelli Development of their plan for the Stadium-Armory Metro Station.

Donatelli Development’s plan for the redevelopment of Stadium-Armory Metro Station.

Gerard DiRuggiero of UrbanLand Company says that Hill East development “gives the area a sense of promise… it creates opportunities for people to take a chance. They can expect to pay a decent price for something that’ll grow in five to ten years” (Abrams). In addition to the redevelopment of the Stadium-Armory Metro Station, Hill East is a new home to many up-scale apartment buildings, like the already sold out Jenkins Row, Axis, and The Chelsea (Abrams). Developers would not choose to invest in an area that is ridden with crime. Since new developments are popping up all around Potomac Gardens, the neighborhood must not be as bad as everyone believes.

1. Jenkins Row 2. AXIS Condos 3. The Chelsea

1. Jenkins Row 2. AXIS Condos 3. The Chelsea

With the new housing and retail developments emerging, it is obvious that Hill East is an up and coming neighborhood. While there is a clear vision for the future of Hill East, it is currently far from perfect. Crime rates in Hill East and the neighboring Capitol Hill might not be the highest in the city, but crime in this area is far from non-existent. According to Metropolitan Police Department crime statistics, from January 2008 to January 2009, the area surrounding Potomac Gardens experienced 50 violent crimes and 157 property crimes. From January 2015 to January 2016, the same area experienced 40 violent crimes and 294 property crimes. While the property crime rate increased, violent crime decreased. At 250 reported crimes, the current total for all reported crime in this area is the lowest it has been in years. Overall, these numbers may not seem like an improvement, but crime rates, specifically violent crime rates, in Hill East are steadily decreasing each year (“Crime Map”).

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Current Crime Rates at Potomac Gardens Apartment. Total crime for the year is 59 crimes less than it was this time last year.

If the fence around Potomac Gardens keeps its residents safe, why does the District of Columbia Housing Authority not mention it? While there is not a website specifically for Potomac Gardens, there is a page about the complex on the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s site. All of the images of the complex found on this website do not include the fence. The images were specifically taken inside the fence or cropped so the fence is not visible. While the blocked views found in Cambridge Row’s images may be a coincidence, the lack of fence found in Potomac Gardens’s images is most likely not.

This is one of the images found on Potomac Gardens's page on the DCHA website. Notice that the photo was taken inside of the fence.

This is one of the images found on Potomac Gardens’s page on the DCHA website. Notice that the photo was taken inside of the fence.

 

In 2001, the residents of Potomac Gardens met to discuss the fence and whether or not it should be taken down. Similar to the early 1990s, when the installation took place, the fence had supporters and oppressors. Unsurprisingly, the opinions had not changed very much. Many residents, a majority of them mothers, believed the fence kept them safe and appreciated that their children could play outside without having access to the street. DCHA family commissioner and Potomac Gardens resident, Aquarius Vann-Ghasri, even compared the fence around Potomac Gardens to fences that surround wealthy gated communities (Depillis). Oppressors believed the fence to be dehumanizing and repeatedly compared themselves to prisoners and caged zoo animals (Depillis). After this 2011 meeting, DCHA officials decided to “put the issue down for the time being” (Depillis). Five years later, in December of 2016, the fence is still standing and the DCHA is silent. If the fence around Potomac Gardens is as great as all of its supporters say it is, why doesn’t DCHA install fences around other public housing projects? Why doesn’t Cambridge Row install a fence? Also, when residents say the fence keeps them safe, it insinuates that there is something that they need to be kept safe from. While I realize crime in Hill East raises some alarm, there are many complexes and housing developments in the neighborhood that do not have a fence surrounding their perimeter and they appear to be doing just fine. According to MPD crime statistics, Potomac Gardens (prison grade fence and all) currently has a higher crime rate than Jenkins Row Condominiums, one of the new luxury housing developments of Hill East.   

The blue dot represents Potomac Gardens Apartments, while the red dot represents Jenkins Row. As you can see both complexes are within walking distance from each other.

The blue dot represents Potomac Gardens Apartments, while the red dot represents Jenkins Row. As you can see, both complexes are within walking distance from each other.

Crime Statistics at Potomac Gardens from Jan. 1, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016

Crime Statistics at Potomac Gardens from Jan. 1, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016

Crime Statistics at Jenkins Row from Jan. 1, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016

Crime Statistics at Jenkins Row from Jan. 1, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016

While it is obvious that crime rates in Hill East are higher than they could be, I do not believe the prison grade fence surrounding Potomac Gardens Apartments is necessary. The fence was installed in 1991 in order to decrease the number of drug arrests and to prevent drug related violence. Since its installation, drug crime at Potomac Gardens has practically become nonexistent and total crime is decreasing (“Crime Map”). While crime may be decreasing, it is still present in Hill East and at Potomac Gardens. If the fence is as effective as all of its supporters believe it to be, shouldn’t all crime rates be close to non-existent? 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 complex to look like a prison and residents should no longer have to feel caged in their own homes. While the fence may have been effective in the early 1990s, it is not effective today, and does not even appear to be deterring crime. If the fence’s sole purpose is to prevent crime and it is not achieving this, why should it still stand?


Works Cited

Abrams, Amanda. “Hill East: Capitol Hill’s Lesser Known Neighbor.” Urban Turf, 2010, http:// dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/hill_east_capitol_hills_lesser_known_neighbor/2331.

“Cambridge Row.” McWilliams Ballard, www.livecambridgerow.com/.

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.

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.

Escobar, Gabriel and Gaines-Carter, Patrice. “A Housing Complex Divided: Anti-Crime Fencing Angers Some Potomac Gardens Tenants.” The Washington Post, 14 June 1992, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post, http://search.proquest.com/ hnpwashingtonpost/advanced?accountid=8285.

Kovaleski, Serge. “A Freedom of the 90s.” The Washington Post, 8 May 1994, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post, http://search.proquest.com/ hnpwashingtonpost/advanced?accountid=8285.

“Crime Map.” Metropolitan Police Department, http://crimemap.dc.gov/.

O’Donnell, Santiago. “More Than a Fence: 8-Foot Barrier Helped Cut Crime, Instill Hope at Potomac Gardens.” The Washington Post, 10 December 1992, ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The Washington Post, http://search.proquest.com/hnpwashingtonpost/ advanced?accountid=8285.

Perry-Brown, Nena. “The 1,267 Units Headed for Capitol Hill and Hill East.” Urban Turf, 2016, http://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/the_capitol_hill-hill_east_development_rundown/ 11435.

“Potomac Gardens Family.” District of Columbia Housing Authority, www.dchousing.org/.

“Potomac Gardens.” Wikipedia.org, 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potomac_Gardens.

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.

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False Hope and Broken Promises: The District of Columbia Housing Authority

Potomac Gardens Apartments is one of 56 properties owned and managed by the District of Columbia Housing Authority (DCHA) (District of Columbia Housing Authority). DCHA assists low income families who are struggling to find affordable housing due to the high cost of living in Washington DC. Their goal is to provide “safe, quality, and affordable” housing  (District of Columbia Housing Authority). DCHA also provides various services that allow residents to improve jobs skill and continue education. The best part: residents of any DCHA property are only required to pay thirty percent of their income as rent (District of Columbia Housing Authority). Struggling families most likely come across DCHA’s website quite often. Some might even read the information and start to feel hope. Unfortunately, most of these families will never be granted housing.

Of the 56 properties DCHA claims to own, I was only able to find 36 of them on Google Maps.

Of the 56 properties DCHA claims to own on their website, I was only able to find 36 of them on Google Maps.

“I got on that list when my son was in my stomach. He’s 11 now.”

The list referred to in the quote above is the waiting list for DC public housing. The list is so long that DCHA stopped accepting applications in April of 2013 (Dvorak). At that time, the waiting list consisted of more than 70,000 applicants (Dvorak). Remember that DCHA owns 56 properties; combined, these properties only contain 8,000 units. For years, 70,000 families have been waiting for one of 8,000 units. According to Petula Dvorak’s article, “In DC, A Public-Housing Waiting List With No End,” the estimated wait for a studio apartment is 39 years, while the wait for a one bedroom is 28 years. The article also tells the story of Kim Jones. In 2002, a pregnant Kim Jones completed the paperwork necessary to be put on the DCHA waiting list. In 2013, Kim and her eleven year old son still do not have a home and are no higher on the list then they were in eleven years prior. The Jones family is not alone. Thousands of families just like theirs have false hope in DCHA. After years of waiting they are still without a home and will most likely never receive one, at least not from DCHA.

In an effort to guarantee that those with the most need receive housing first, DCHA put together a list of “selection preferences.” These preferences include: not having a fixed address, living in a unit considered substandard, involuntary displacement, rent burden, belonging to a working family, having a disability, or being older than 62 years of age  (District of Columbia Housing Authority). While DCHA states that these preferences may help you reach the top of the waiting list, they make it clear that these preferences do not guarantee housing assistance.

The DCHA website does not mention how long they have not been accepting applications. When you hit “apply,” a notice pops up that says “The DCHA waiting list for housing choice vouchers and public housing is closed. DCHA will make announcements when the lists are open on this website and in the news media” (District of Columbia Housing Authority). I find it strange that while it has been three years since DCHA has accepted applications, they do not mention it on their website. The way they word the notice makes it seem like the waiting list will only be closed for a short amount of time and that it will be opening soon.This, and the other positives aspects of living in a public housing complex listed on the DCHA website are the root of false hope felt by low income families all over DC waiting for public housing that is never going to come.

This is what appears when you hit "apply" on DCHA's website. Notice the last modified date.

This is what appears when you hit “apply” on DCHA’s website. Notice the last modified date.


Works Cited

District of Columbia Housing Authority, 2016, http://www.dchousing.org/default.aspx.

Dvorak, Petula. “In D.C., A Public-Housing Waiting List With No End.” The Washington Post, 11 Apr. 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/local/in-dc-a-public-housing-waiting-list-with-no-end/2013/04/11/6073e7d2-a2cc-11e2-9c03-6952ff305f35_story.html.

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Something to Hide? A Look at Cambridge Row Condominiums

According to Google Maps, 197 feet separate Potomac Gardens Apartments from Cambridge Row Condominiums. Roughly 200 feet away from an apartment building defined by its violent past is the newly renovated Cambridge Row with studio spaces starting at $200,000 (“Cambridge Row”). In 1989, the neighborhood surrounding Potomac Gardens was deemed “the most dangerous in America” by talk show host, Geraldo Rivera (Sheir). Today, McWilliams Ballard Real Estate, the developer of Cambridge Row, describes the neighborhood as “ beautiful” and “walkable.” How can the same neighborhood be both “the most dangerous is America” and beautiful and walkable?

Before Cambridge Row was a luxury condominium complex, the building housed the historic Salvation Army Capitol Hill headquarters. Architects redesigned the building to offer thirteen brand new condominiums. In efforts to make the building appear more modern, it was painted a cream color, but the original shape and style remains unchanged. In addition to the Salvation Army building, Cambridge Row constructed a new adjoining building that offers twelve spaces (“Cambridge Row”).

These Google Map screenshots show the transition of the Salvation Army Headquarters as it became Cambridge Row Condominiums.

These Google Map screenshots show the transition of the Salvation Army Headquarters as it became Cambridge Row Condominiums.

The original Salvation Army building

The original Salvation Army building

The additional building built by Cambridge Row developers.

The additional building built by Cambridge Row developers.

When walking up to Cambridge Row, the first thing I noticed was how out of place it looks. The complex is next store to Potomac Gardens Apartments, which looks like it could easily double as a prison, and is across the street from Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy, a building whose main entrance features a graffiti styled portrait of the school’s namesake. The freshly paved sidewalks, bright green grass, and beautifully renovated building that welcome you to Cambridge Row do not appear to belong on the same street as everything surrounding it.

The area outlined in red is Potomac Gardens Apartments. The yellow dot is Cambridge Row, and the blue dot is Cesar Chavez Charter School.

The area outlined in red is Potomac Gardens Apartments. The yellow dot is Cambridge Row, and the blue dot is Cesar Chavez Charter School.

Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy

Cesar Chavez Public Charter High School for Public Policy

The day I visited Potomac Gardens, Cambridge Row happened to be having an open house. When Cambridge Row first opened they had 25 residencies for sale; now, there are only two spaces available. When I first walked into the space the first thing I noticed was how modern it looked. The space was very bright due to the large windows, and while the majority of the colors found in the space were cool-toned, the space was very inviting. The bright white cabinets in the kitchen stood out against the various blue, black, and grey elements throughout the space. Although the condo was quite small, whoever staged the rooms did so in a way to make them all feel larger.

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While researching Cambridge Row, I noticed that in many of the images posted on their website, large windows are shown, but the view of the outside cannot be seen. I found an image that appeared to be the living room of the available unit I toured. Directly outside the large window is the back of Potomac Gardens Apartments, a detail that is not visible in image found on the website. Was this intentional? Did the developers specifically chose this image? Was the photographer asked angle the shot in a way that blocked the view of Potomac Gardens? If this was intentional, what is McWilliams Ballard Real Estate trying to hide?

Directly outside this window is the back of Potomac Gardens Apartments, but from this image you cannot tell.

Directly outside this window is Potomac Gardens Apartments, but from this image you cannot tell.

After this discovery, I was curious about Potomac Gardens Apartment’s website. While there is not a website specifically for Potomac Gardens, there is a page about the complex on the District of Columbia Housing Authority’s site. I was surprised to see that all the images of the apartments found on this website did not include the iron fence that surrounds the perimeter of the complex. All the images were specifically taken inside the fence or cropped so the fence is not visible. While the blocked views found in Cambridge Row’s images may be a coincidence, the lack of fence found in Potomac Gardens’s images is most likely not.

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While both of these complexes reside on the same block, they cater to very different residents. Cambridge Row appeals to young professionals by describing the complex as follows: “Located just moments to two metro stations, Barracks Row, Eastern Market and all of Capitol Hill. Cambridge Row offers the finest quality living in a beautiful walkable neighborhood filled with the Capitol’s best restaurants, bars, cafes, shops, open markets, grocers, and public transportation” (“Cambridge Row”). Potomac Gardens appeals to families by describing each apartment as a “family unit,” and by providing a list of nearby schools (“Potomac Gardens Family”). The differences between these two residences are vast, but it appears they have one similarity: both appear to be hiding something from possible future residents. Cambridge Row’s website is full of images that highlight large windows, but the outside view cannot be seen. They purposely fail to mention that the majority of the building’s “beautiful views” include the back of Potomac Gardens. The District of Columbia Housing Authority also has something to hide by not mentioning the controversial eight foot iron fence that surrounds Potomac Gardens. They also fail to mention the large security cameras that make the complex look more like a prison than the “family friendly” environment they describe on their website. It seems like both Cambridge Row and Potomac Gardens have something to hide.


Works Cited

“Cambridge Row.” McWilliams Ballard, www.livecambridgerow.com/.

“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.

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Violence, Controversy, and A Fence: A Look at Potomac Gardens Apartments

 

This sign welcomes you to Potomac Gardens Apartments. Instead of being on the main building, the sign is located on a side building.

This sign welcomes you to Potomac Gardens Apartments. Instead of being on the main building, the sign is located on a side building.

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 8 foot iron fence that surrounds Potomac Gardens sends a bleak message to pedestrians walking by.

The 8 foot iron fence that surrounds Potomac Gardens sends a bleak message to pedestrians walking by.

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.

Cambridge Row Condominiums

Cambridge Row Condominiums

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.


Works Cited

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.

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