Who Lives on Riggs Street?
The interior of a Riggs Street apartment is just as diverse as the colors the townhouses are painted in. The Shaw neighborhood is as diverse as ever, a mixed bag of young influential professionals, and longtime residents. What was once primarily an African-American neighborhood, the Shaw neighborhood has experienced rapid gentrification, heavily affecting not just the neighborhood’s population, but the prices of these iconic row houses. Today, the average Shaw Victorian style apartment goes for about $800,000. These houses are a largely sought after spot for new young professionals looking to move to the DC area. This is a huge contrast to the neighborhood from the 1980’s, when Shaw hit it’s lowest population point. With it’s proximity to S Street, and being the center of the crack epidemic of the 1980’s and 90’s, the Shaw neighborhood has totally transformed in every way, while still maintaining its culture’s deep roots.
To get to know actual people living in the neighborhood, Garrison Elementary School is the perfect spot to look. Garrison Elementary is situated at the corner of Riggs Street and 13th Street NW, facing S Street. The vast majority of the students come from families living in the neighborhood. Principle of the school, Drew Smith, says “we see a mix of black, white, and hispanic students. Not only are we diverse racially, but we see both upper class white and black students, as well as students living under the poverty line”. The school population is just as diverse as the neighborhood around it, reflecting how there is a mix of all kinds of people living there. The Shaw neighborhood houses people of all ranges of income,from the upper-middle class to the families living near or under the poverty level. These families living near the poverty line are usually the families who have been in the neighborhood for generations, while upper class families usually are new residents of DC.
Garrison Elementary has faced some issues in the past, such as in 2012, when low enrollment and low performance on standardized tests threatened to shut the school down for good. Proficiency in math and English were around 50% lower than the expected level, and only 1% of the student population exceeding expectations. These numbers brought turmoil to the school as well as parents, as closing the school would change everyday circumstances for many families. After school care is available to all students at Garrison, though most families that utilize it are those with both parents working 9-5. The school saw an outcry from more influential families as well, especially when it came to renovating the school. “Reshuffling capital spending to accelerate some school projects and delay work scheduled on others is an annual ritual. Last year, then-Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) sought to reprogram $100 million, including funds that had been intended for a partial renovation at Garrison. A few months later, the council voted for a full modernization of the school during the next two years. Then, this year, the funding was reduced again”(Chandler). Year after year, Garrison has been given a budget to renovate their s
chool, and seen it taken away every time. After demanding an explanation, Nathaniel Beers, the school’s chief operating officer simply said “The need of that school is not as great as some of the others”(Stein). In recent years there has been more donations put toward the school’s much needed renovation. With the large influx of wealthy, upper class residents, the schools has seen more money that can be allocated to their needs. These families can afford to put more time and money towards their child’s education. Even as recently as twenty years ago, this was a luxury the Garrison community simply could not afford. The community’s hard work payed off in the end, as Kenneth Diggs, a spokesperson for the Department of General Resources says “the Garrison community is upset — rightfully and understandably so — but their project will be a state-of-the-art facility,” (Chandler).
An even closer-knit enclave of the Shaw neighborhood is the substantial Ethiopian population within. Shaw has been known for the authentic, family-owned Ethiopian restaurants since 2001. The area has even been deemed “Little Ethiopia” by its local residents. These restaurants have always seen a mix of Ethiopian and American customers, but in recent years, there have been more young professionals in the area looking to buy these joints than actually eat at them. Zenebech Dessu, owner of one the oldest Ethiopian restaurants in the area, has even come to the decision to selling his place. The value of his building was placed at one million dollars, along with the four other restaurants in the area. Gentrification has rapidly taken over the area, and in such a short time. “Zenebe Shewayene said he paid about $120,000 for his building in 1996. Since then, he said, his property taxes have increased more than tenfold”(Stein). While this accelerated gentrification has brought the Shaw neighborhood a multicultural hub for all, some peo
ple are finding it hard to keep up. Shaw native, James Patterson, say “I’m good with changes about 75 percent of the time, but there are so many people who don’t have the finances to deal with the changes.”
Shaw is a neighborhood like no other. Within is a mix of longtime natives, proud of their neighborhood’s historic African-American culture, and new, hopeful and optimistic residents. Within the past few years, the Shaw neighborhood has evolved into a completely new place with new people, while still keeping true it’s origins. Though gentrification has hit the area, and the locality is evolving, Shaw still finds a way to keep true to it’s roots and maintain the cool, urban spot it is known as today.
Chandler, Michael Alison. “Shifts in School Renovation Funding Cast Projects into Doubt.” indent Washington Post. The Washington Post, n.d. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.
Stein, Perry. “‘I Decided I Had to Sell It’: Sale of Ethiopian-owned Buildings Leaves a Void in indent D.C.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 4 Oct. 2016. Web. 11 Nov. 2016.