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Project 2: Mapping Commonplaces

For my final project in my Spring college writing class, I have chosen to reflect upon the cultural, demographic, and socio economic changes in Shaw. Through Le Diplomate, a French bistro located on 14th Street, I discover the true gentrification that is taking over the Shaw area and beyond. But is it for the worse or better?

My complex local system, CLS for short, is the building where the drugs were hidden in S Street Rising by Ruben Castaneda. My site is located at 1340 S Street NW, located in Shaw, Washington D.C. When I first travelled to Shaw, I was quite lost and unaware of my surroundings, as I only came for one job, to take pictures and videos of my site. But as I stepped out of the car and began to walk around, not only did I notice things, I realized them too. I realized I had been to Shaw before. I had come here multiple days and nights to eat at the fun restaurants and shop at the boutique stores. Little did I know that it was the same neighborhood I would spend all semester uncovering and discovering. 

The gentrification of this neighborhood, in this case, is not necessarily a bad thing because of the new demographics it brought, the revenue, and beautiful construction.

 One of my favorite places to eat in Shaw is a cafe called Le Diplomate, which is located a few blocks south of my site. 14th Street has really taken over and revitalized the Shaw area, and in my opinion, in a great way. 14th street has become popular for millennials to eat at new cafes sand shop at the chic furniture stores to the speciality stores. The new stores and restaurants are placed in areas in which the owners believe their store will thrive. The places that have recently come about in the Shaw area show the extreme gentrification of the neighborhood. Besides restaurants, shopping such as West Elm, a higher end furniture store, Lulu Lemon, an elite workout clothing store, grocery stores such as Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and various trendy bars prove that Shaw’s demographics are changing. However, there is tension between the young higher class citizens moving into this area and the older, lower class residents who want to keep their ground, and not have the area change.

Le Diplomate is a french cafe serving brunch, mid-day, dinner, and drinks. The European design and quality food attract elite people to this restaurant. From what I’ve observed the times I have been there, the place was flooded with millennials. The aesthetic of the food made the diners eager to take pictures of everything they ordered. Not only does this restaurant have very “instagram worthy”, artistic food but the experience of dining here is what brings the customers back. The authentic french cuisine, the tasteful decoration, refined music, and the professional waiters make customers forget they’re in D.C., and escape from reality. The elegant appearance of the restaurant and fresh, warm loaves of bread at the entry way satisfies every customer who walks in.


However, Le Diplomate is not the only bistro in Shaw that has mastered this skill. Up and down 14th Street lies individual, unique, and creative restaurants. Le Diplomate is a great success story, only opening about 4 years ago, it attract millennials, hipsters, and socialists, as well as Michelle Obama and other politicians.

(Above is an interesting article about Stephen Starr, from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the creator of Le Diplomate bistro.)

While Shaw is being gentrified, my site remains untouched. It’s a very private house, even with intensive internet search, I couldn’t find all the details of my site. The last time it was sold was 15 years ago and now, it is worth over a million dollars, because of it’s location. Shaw is drawing in a newer crowd because of its demolition and reconstruction and it is now home to higher income residents who are demanding more from this neighborhood and in return, getting exactly what they want. 1401 S Street is a 5 star apartment building located directly diagonal from my site.

Jack Evans, now mayor of D.C., launched his campaign in front of the Bistro in June 2013. Evan says, “’what better place to showcase the change on 14th Street and the city than with the transformation from a vacant laundry to a fancy restaurant?’ he says. ‘It represented everything I was running for.’” Although not everyone, mostly the residents who have been living in Shaw for decades now, agree with the gentrification of their neighborhood, it seems that everyone else is for it. Gentrification in the Shaw area is growing their economy. With Le Diplomate opening only 4 years ago, Starr admits that his restaurant isn’t what made 14th Street “hot”, as it was already booming with restaurants and stores before his. However, he has deeply contributed to the changed perception of Shaw. 


A ‘Party’

Political influences of my CLS:

Washington D.C. is mostly a blue “state”, although we all know it’s a district. However, there are areas, as one would expect, that fall short of that norm. But Shaw is not one of them. When I visited my site, I noticed many rainbow flags hanging from windows in condo’s or outside buildings, resembling the LGBTQ community and the neighborhoods support. To my surprise, I saw more caucasian people than African American even though Shaw used to be a prominently black neighborhood, especially being near Howard University. Because this neighborhood has been gentrified immensely, people of different race and color are moving into the neighborhood and changing the political views. Because younger generations are moving to Shaw, the area has become much more liberal. Older neighborhoods, as in older people, in Washington D.C., at least from what I’ve noticed, are more conservative. Although what is pictured is not an LGBTQ flag or democratic donkey flag, it shows Shaw’s appreciation for their history and past by creating signs that point to the historic places or interesting sites for tourists. But with a mix of the wealthy newcomers and the lower class long-time residents, the political influences in the Shaw area continue to change the community.

A day in Shaw: ( Photo taken by me 2/15/17)


Exterior of my CLS

The area of Shaw has changed tremendously in the past 30 years. And as I’ve visited the area of my site more and more throughout this semester, I’ve noticed that Shaw reminds me a lot of Adams Morgan. The area is very trendy, up and coming, and filled with young adults. Which is exactly why the exterior of my site is so significant. My site is a home, belonging to the same family for the past 10 years, information which I had found online. This complex has not changed since the day it was built in the 80’s. It is one of the only older buildings left. It almost stands out like a sore thumb however brings character to the area at the same time. When walking down bustling 14th street on a sunday afternoon, something about looking down S Street and seeing that old building makes the neighborhood feel so much more divided. The exterior of my site changes the neighborhood, like it’s still holding onto the past and all that came along with it.

Corner of S Street and 14th Street: (photo taken by me)

Interior of 1340 S Street NW

Because 1340 S Street NW is a home to someone, I could not enter the premises. I could only imagine what the interior would look like. After researching online, I found that this home has 4 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms. The total square footage is approximately 4,000 sqft. Because this building is one of the last to be changed in anyway, I’m sure that the interior of the building is just as old as the exterior. As far as the kitchen goes, I can imagine an 80’s stove top and refrigerator. As well as old wallpaper and flooring. It does not show the home’s selling history so it is unclear who and how long the people have lived in this home. I briefly spoke to the neighbor while she was outside watering her grass. She seemed to be in her mid 60’s and lived there for a while. These homes are now worth $1 because of their location, not because of their remodel. The original owners didn’t want to sell their home to the developers so they stayed put. Because they are very old fashioned I would assume that their furniture hasn’t changed.

Cultural Influences of 1340 S Street NW

As seen in the book S Street Rising by Ruben Castaneda, the building where the drugs were hidden was located at 1340 S Street NW. In the 1980’s, the area was not at it’s best, it was very drug and crime ridden. But as the DC drug epidemic passed, business men saw and took on the opportunity of gentrifying the area and providing a family friendly safe neighborhood. They began to buy out homes for a cheap price, pushing the previous residences out, in order to change the dynamics of the neighborhood. After construction, new families and young people began moving in and taking over. With a new group of middle class people moving in, the culture inevitably changed. There was no longer gangs, drugs, and violence. There was a different way of life, wealthier people, family values and beliefs. This area was reborn. It was as if the old Shaw/Cardozo never existed. If construction hadn’t happened, it would have been hard to change the type of people living in this area today. Middle class citizens do not want to live in a shady area, but the new, modern complexes and nice restaurants and shops opening convinced a new group of people to move into the area and therefore, gentrify it. 


New decade, new people

This photo is of 14th Street, right off the corner of S street. There are many cafes, restaurants, and cute boutique stores around. It was a very busy day and everyone was walking around, enjoying the sunshine. This neighborhood, that was once a drug induced place, has completely turned around in the last 30 years.

The Old and the New

In this new neighborhood reconstruction, this building structure is about the only thing that has remained the same. Although everything around it is changing, this building has stayed through it all. The homes around it have been completely updated and the neighborhood dynamics seem to be changing too.

Logan Circle; the new and upcoming area

This is the corner of 14th Street and S Street NW. It was a warm and busy day. I noticed a lot of young people where outside. This area has become more popular throughout the decades through the  construction of homes/apartment buildings, which is attracting millennials to move to this nice and affordable area, and by tourists attractions that are pointed out in the sign pictured above.

Changing Environment

This photo is across the street from 1340 S Street. I came here on a weekend and the neighborhood is loud and busy. Their is new construction and this neighborhood seems to be turning itself around. New apartment and condominium buildings are coming up and more restaurants are appearing in this area.

Sidewalk view of 1340 S Street

This photo is on S street NW in Logan Circle. This neighborhood has changed significantly since the 80’s. As you can see, the sidewalks are clean and charming. Most houses have been renovated on the inside and out. 1340 S Street, along with the houses to the left and right of it, are the only houses on the block that haven’t been renovated. You can’t see from the picture, but I came to this location on a sunny Sunday afternoon and it was blooming with people walking their dogs, chatting on the phone outside, or eating at the local restaurants.

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