A few days ago I had the opportunity to see Derek Hyra discuss his recent book Race, Class and Politics in the Cappuccino City at Politics and Prose in the Shaw/U-Street district of Washington D.C. The first part of the event was an interview with Kojo Nnamdi, a WAMU (88.5) employee followed by a Q and A session.
Derek Hyra made some extremely interesting points throughout the evening, which tied together a lot of what we’ve been studying in class. He began by contrasting what the Shaw/U-street area was like 30 years ago to what it is today. Hyra explained how the area was a predominately African American neighborhood with a huge open-air drug market. Now, there is a farmers market. Two very different types of markets highlighting the shift from the “dark ghetto to the gilded ghetto.” When Hyra set out to create his new book over six years ago his intention was to address the implications of wealth and class in an area, which has vastly changed and branded “the iconic ghetto.”As Hyra explained, gentrification in the Shaw/U-street district is different because it is appreciated by the white millennial. There are signs placed in historic parts of the area, highlighting the rich history. In my opinion, one of the most noteworthy points Hyra made was when he described his cappuccino analogy. The white millennial are the milk and when the foam gets poured on top and spills over, it’s just like the people that have been displaced from the neighborhood. Additionally, Hyra noted the change in property. Real estate developers are flipping and upgrading houses forcing the average home price to rise. Just like taking plain coffee, a simple classic drink and turning it into a complex one such as a cappuccino.
One of my favorite audience questions was “How do the long time residents feel about the way the area is changing?” Hyra answered by explaining that only 30% of the community is now black and the only reason why it isn’t 90% white is because the government does a very good job of providing subsidized housing. The problem with the new development is that its not catered to the long time residents. Instead, they are creating luxurious amenities such as dog parks and fancy coffee shops. However, long time residents truly appreciate the vast decrease in the crime rate. Overall, hearing Derek Hyra speak was an extraordinary experience as it brought together our in-class discussions to his real-life research.