Essay 2: Mapping Commonplaces


In Ruben Castaneda’s book, S Street Rising, he talks about the cocaine epidemic in all over Washington, DC. Some of the addresses mentioned were places to find drugs, prostitutes, and other extreme things. For my class project I decided to use the address of  7th and O street Northwest. This building located in that specific address was built in 1881 and it is one of the three 19th-century public market buildings still standing in the city because of its gothic revival details. It was used as a community market when a group of displaced vendors selected the land after Boss Shepherd demolished the original Northern Liberty Market in 1872. By having all of the public in that specific area the land area began to rise as the new market was being constructed making the are more interesting. Serving the community soundly from the time of its opening, it gradually fell into disrepair and it became the market in Northwest Washington was a symbol of urban decay and dysfunction. Apparently without major structural problems, the building was emptied of tenants. several months prior to construction in anticipation of its transformation into an upscale shopping center when the unthinkable happened.

The building is part of the Shaw community and because of the years past this building had been developed into a Giant supermarket, which is a huge change because this is a more complex market that was before in the area. What was before the O Street market a place, where city residents stopped to grab some wings for dinner turned the are into a more vitalized and common grounds for the residents. Like Fleming talks about in his book City of Rhetoric that the communities in Chicago have a commonplace where people with different interest and ideals have a safe place to get together and can interact. Like those commonplaces, Fleming found around Chicago I believe that they also exist in the District of Columbia specifically, in this location in the Shaw area. There might be many more in Shaw, but after visiting 7th and O Street and reading about the past I realized that this might be one.

For the resident of Shaw this place isn’t just where they might spend time grocery shopping, but a place where it is common grounds. There Martin Luther King Jr. protested and shootings occurred. I think this community might change because of social interest and real state increases and some of the residents are forced to leave, but deep down when everyone looks or thinks about the O Street market they will remember all the good and bad things that happened during their time there or even be nostalgic about what happened to a family member before.

Essentially, I would like to talk about the gentrification process and focus my project on that because many of the residents of Shaw have been forced out of their family homes because of the increase of the land and the new “hip” places opening around. When I arrived to the place I noticed that to one side of the building is the Kennedy Recreation Center, which has been part of the community for more than 30 years now and also a park. But to the other side of the building a “modern-type” building stands with many others. As I walked by both sides of the Giant building I could notice the difference between those two streets. Where in one side there were people that appeared to be part of a less socio-economic class than from the newly part. In this part of the street I could only see old stores or many rundown buildings, but crossing I saw a lot of advertisements for new studio apartments in the City Market at O complex. The difference is very distinguished, which isn’t a good thing because residents have been pushed away. I plan to see how these new stores that have opened are attracting a new set of people and forcing the old ones to leave.

I can’t believe how this place that was known as the crack home in the 90s in now known as safe place to live. Just because new restaurants, coffee shops, stores, and apartment homes opened up makes it safer? To further our understanding of the phenomenon of “gentrification” I will focus on  Shaw, a neighborhood in Washington, DC. Using Reuben Castaneda’s narrative from S-Street Rising I am able to understand the neighborhood’s economic downfalls from the crack epidemic. Many journalists have accredited Shaw’s revitalization to a simple term, gentrification. However, after my visit, I realized the flourishing phenomenon could not be narrowed down to one mere word. In fact, it is a complex concept requiring understanding because it is not just occurring in DC, it is occurring in every major city in the United States and in my final project I intend to exhibit key places that have made Shaw change in this specific area.




The New Shaw?


7th And O Street, the New Shaw?


As a twenty-first century college student, I pulled out the Uber application to order my ride to 7th and O Street. I have never heard of this street, and much less, the building. As soon as I arrive I start noticing the people that pass me, they were all different! Yes, communities are supposed to be diverse like this, but I could not help notice how varied the physical appearance of the buildings in that one block were. One side of the street was filled with brick buildings and on the other side the buildings were more modern, also I say many construction sites around. The building located at 7th and O Street currently is a Giant supermarket, which is a chain of supermarkets in the United States. Walking around the building I observed the gothic architecture that it has and how there is no building like this around and observing all of the details it made me think about its past and what was it for others years ago.  I plan to use this address and investigate the purpose of this building and how this building was used in that community, but also the meaning it has to each person through the years that have lived in that area..

By finding articles published in the past I hope to learn more about the community and how the buildings have evolved over the years. Shaw is a small neighborhood located in the north-west part of Washington, D.C., which in the past has been the home to many African-Americans. As many neighborhoods that rise and fall, Shaw has been one to rise after all the riots that took place following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King that left the streets devastated, a place where gang violence and drug deals took place, but now it is facing a positive change with all the restaurants, cinemas, shops, and real estate boom. This change has allowed the community of Shaw to grow, but necessarily this is not a good thing (Fisher). In an article published in The Washington Post, the author mentions how the O Street market (seen in the first picture) was known only for its decline and gang rivalry. Many people interviewed in the article recalled the shootings that were taking place all over the area putting the security of civilians at stake. However, Marc Fisher gives a slight background of what O Street used to be, but somewhat he explains how the area is improving significantly. The author goes into the detail about how the area is having the biggest Giant supermarket, a hotel complex, and restaurants being put into the area (Fisher).

According to the English dictionary, the word gentrification is the process of renovating and improving a house or district so that it conforms to middle-class taste. The gentrification that has been taking place in the Shaw district is causing changes in the environments that people interact daily. This has caused the Shaw community to face big changes. Residents of the Shaw community have seen and lived the significant changes it has gone through in the article “O Street Market: Symbol of violence becomes a marker for D.C.’s resurgence” tells the experience of a previous resident of this community (Fisher). She was a victim of the rivalry between the gangs in the past and says that she had to move for her mental peace, but when she visits the community now a day she doesn’t recognize it. Not only the people that live there, but homes, and business of the area have changed drastically. Therefore, it is imperative to ask whether the changes have led to the positive growth of the area or not.

The article clearly describes how the Shaw community transformed from what it was to what it is now. More specifically, it describes the infamous mass shooting that plunged the O Street Market into its decline. The incident took place in 1994 and continued to haunt 7th and O Street for years. Violence claimed many lives in the community and as the article’s title states, the community was known as a symbol of violence (Fisher).

However, the impact of gentrification on the Shaw community is mostly due to the large movements of wealthy, white families into the neighborhood. Mostly, it is characterized by an excess of the wealthy, predominantly white neighborhoods just like in other areas of cities with different community relationships. 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. All the new buildings that are being built and restaurants opening are changing the community’s daily performance. This is seen as new people come into the area and the former residents leave new traditions are created, and old ones are forgotten. It is thus important to know what has caused these migrations to begin moving into the area (Fisher).

The people responsible for the revamp of this community had a certain vision. They planned with a specific cluster of people in mind. Shaw has been remade to attract new people, people with money, as a key developer states. It is important to completely overhaul the image of the area that people held. But, should the change bring about issues associated with race and class? The renovation has been in effect for a few years. The new Giant supermarket is now bigger than ever and there are more and more housing units being put up. Shaw is now home to high-end restaurants, shops and even a gourmet coffee roastery replacing the laundromat. The laundromat replacement is the perfect analogy for what the neighborhood is going through.

Gentrification is essentially a progressive and necessary process but the renovation of the Shaw community may demonstrate otherwise. For instance, the neighborhood has since been occupied by less African Americans and has consequently made them feel less and less out of place in what was once deemed their home (Freeman). The new inhabitants of the area view the old ones as a burden of some kind to the community’s full potential. This is because, as one of the developer’s states, a client expresses concern on the number of people “hanging out” on the sidewalks even though they lived in the area quite longer than she has (Fisher).

Additionally, the process that the community has gone through has seen many of the original inhabitants leaving the area for a number of reasons. First, the 1994 incident left many people scarred, especially the loved ones of the victims and trying to erase such a memory is of the essence. As the O Street Market continues to change, it becomes less of what it means to the people that live in the area (Fisher). Therefore, the people continue to feel like there is nothing left for them. For those that remain, life is not what it used to be. They feel like they are being pushed out and it is only a matter of time before they are forced out.

One might argue that it was imperative for the community to undergo the changes that it is going through now (see picture #2). This is indeed true and the area is now a more favorable figure. The intersection is now less of a reminder of the deaths of the young children, the elderly women and the other victims(Fisher). However, what is a community without its inhabitants? The old inhabitants that have spent all their lives in the area have not been able to enjoy the changes. Thus, this proves that these inhabitants, including the ones who have left, do not attest to the positive growth of the area since they are unable to experience their home as they should.

While it is important to erase the unfavorable notion of the area, many people continue to wonder to what extent Shaw will change until it is not Shaw anymore. The violence and the gang activities have been significantly reduced and this is a positive development for any neighborhood. The new people bring with them new traditions and culture that will reshape Shaw and overwrite everything else. They will make new memories and shape a different future and just as an old inhabitant states, the change has only served to open people’s eyes even though home is not home anymore.

Polo, Isabel “Picture #1”                            Polo, Isabel “Picture #2”