A Rhetorical Analysis on Shaw’s Rise in Gentrification
The latest news in metropolitan cities, like Washington DC, is the concept of gentrification. While most may not understand the phenomenon, journalists have dominated the conversation by addressing its social and economic implications. While this method may seem reasonable, journalists have oversimplified the phenomenon to one term, gentrification. Journalists covering the topic have essentially disregarded a conversation urban-planning scholars have been having for the last four decades, resulting in an appeal to emotion by journalists. Gentrification has come to be a non-dimensional term that excludes the tangible underlying issues such as economic injustices in the neighborhood. By rhetorically analyzing two eateries and their menus on O Street and a formal Washington DC travel website, in addition to applying Schindler’s method of architectural exclusion, I conclude that gentrification cannot be considered a natural phenomenon, but a multidimensional complexity.
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. Washington Post journalist, Ruben Castaneda’s memoir S-Street Rising where he explored O’Street NW, Washington DC– where five kids were shot from a gang-related drive-by in 1991. Like the journalists of today, Ruben Castaneda highlighted a fatal, crude, and gruesome narrative applicable to a time where Washington DC acquired the nickname “murder capital” for its astronomical high crime rate, which had a strong association with drug trafficking. BBC Journalists Lewis and McKenna also referenced Shaw’s association to drug tracking and stated how Shaw, a historically African American neighborhood, was once home to segregation and an African-American renaissance before plagued with crime, crack abuse, and gun violence. For example, Shaw post-civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. led to an uproar of protests which set the stage for decades of poverty to overtake and crime to flourish during the 1980s and 90s (Lewis and McKenna 1). Since then Shaw has experienced an economic turnaround, a shift in demographics, and redevelopment in infrastructure. 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.
By applying Schindler’s method of architectural exclusion, I explore two local eateries in the Shaw and their menus, along with exploring the accessibility to public transportation in the area. To do so, I rhetorically analyze the way Shaw is marketing economic turn around and shift in demographics using Washington DC’s official travel website. Using the travel website, I explore the rhetorical techniques in Shaw’s gastronomy culture–and how it is being used to appeal to both tourists and young, affluent professionals. In an effort to explore the phenomenon of gentrification more I analyze where this phenomenon may be headed. To conclude, I apply Schindler’s method of architectural exclusion to Shaw’s neighborhood, furthering my understanding of the neighborhoods physical barriers and accessibility.
Economic Turn Around & Shift in Demographics
Washington DC’s official travel website has an interactive web page for each neighborhood in the district including Shaw. The website’s target audience are both tourists visiting the district, and up and coming working class professionals interested in immersing themselves in the District’s culture. The travel website provides the uniqueness of each DC neighborhood including the activities, events, and gastronomy culture each neighborhood has to offer.
Figure 1. Washington DC’s official travel website: Shaw’s neighborhood web page discusses the area’s rich African-American history during the roaring 1920s, and its current gastronomy, music, arts, and night-scene culture.
The creators of the website are rhetorical strategists, because they are particular on how they want Shaw to be marketed and perceived. For those who are unfamiliar with the area, and solely rely on DC’s travel website will perhaps never know the role Shaw played during the civil rights movement and DC’s crack epidemic. In fact, Shaw’s webpage romanticizes the area’s rich African-American history during the roaring 1920s, which implies the area once had its epoch of glory but has since faltered. This may explain why the website uses phrases including, “. .. Rapidly developing downtown zone.” (“Shaw” 1). The website also fails to mention why the area has become a tourist attraction in less than a decade or what economic, political, and social forces led to its “revitalization.” Only mentioning the area’s rich early African American history implies a decline in the area’s cultural richness and prosperity during the 1930s-2000s.
Figure 2. Between the intersection of 7th St NW & Q St NW, Washington, DC 20001. Two different eateries– (the left) representing the restaurants receiving reviews, ratings, and website attention; (the right) representing the affordable to go fried food eatery.
Washington DC’s official travel website promotes Shaw’s newest cafe’s, restaurants, bars, clubs, and high-end shopping centers. Shaw’s website goes to the extent of promoting local eateries, theaters, bars, and clubs by embedding hyperlinks to every establishment mentioned in the website. Hyperlinks make the website easily navigable to local establishments and accessible for an individual to access and view a restaurant’s menu, hours, and specialties. However, the downfall of Shaw’s website is its failure to incorporate non-new establishments, like the restaurant Tiki Seafood. Figure 2 depicts two eateries in Shaw; on the left is, Dacha Beer Garden (which is featured on the DC website) and on the right is while right across the street, Tiki Seafood, is not mentioned once which makes it clear that DC is selling a narrative aimed towards young, affluent professionals, not accentuating or marketing pre-existing food establishments. The marketer’s strategically incorporated adjectives with positive connotations to describe Shaw, especially when it comes to its gastronomy scene using words like “sizzles,” “historic,” “quirky” and “historic.” For example, “The dining and bar scene in Shaw sizzles, with new spots opening up on 7th and 9th Streets and in the neighborhood’s quirky, historic alleyways” (Shaw). The adjectives used are associated with positive connotations. Repetition of adjectives with positive connotations can be found throughout the web page describing Shaw. For instance, the creators or marketers of the website have a labeled Shaw in four simple adjectives: “Shiny,” “Hip,” “Historic,” and “Buzzing.” Each adjective not only represents an illusionary affluent image of Shaw to tourists, but also to potential residents. These four adjectives are associated with positive connotations which may be a true concept for some living in Shaw–particularly newcomers.
The sentence dedicated to Shaw’s gastronomy uses asyndeton, the rhetorical device in which an author strategically chose to eliminate conjunctions. The omission of conjunctions allows the author to make a speech more dramatic and effective by speeding up its rhythm and pace, for instance:
“Hot tables include Espita Mezcaleria for inventive southern Mexican cuisine, The Dabney for Mid-Atlantic seafood and southern sides cooked over a wood fire, The Red Hen for wood-fired Italian cuisine in a rustic, homey environment and Thally Restaurant, a laid-back New American concept with a homespun soda operation.” (Shaw)
This sentence is linked by four commas with the omission of conjunctions, which forces the reader to speed the pace of reading, and is an effective way of placing emphasis on the myriad of cuisine Shaw has to offer. Rather than saying, Shaw offers four distinct types of cuisine the writer strategically used commas, and omitted conjunctions to quicken the pace, which creates a parallel/comparison between the different types of eateries. The web page has one sentence dedicated to mentioning local eateries, and as noted earlier, the web page fails to mention pre-existing establishment like the Tiki Carry Out (see Figure 1) but promotes Dacha Beer Garden building as the webpage’s wallpaper. To grasp a better understanding of why Tiki Seafood and many pre-existing eateries alike are not mentioned on Shaw’s web page I conducted a rhetorical analysis of Tiki Seafood and Dacha Beer Garden food menus:
Figure 3. Courtesy of MenuPix. The image above is Shaw’s eatery, Tiki Seafoods, take out menu.
Figure 4. The image to the left is Shaw’s eatery, Dacha Beer Garden, take out menu.
Tiki Seafoods’ one and only menu is a tri-fold carry out pamphlet offering six various categories– “Chicken Wings, Beverages, Breakfast, Sandwiches, Sandwiches & Subs, Specials, and Side Orders.” Unlike Dacha Beer Garden’s 5 categories– “Appetizers”, “Brats”, “Skewers”, “Entrees”, and “Slides”. Tik’s tri-fold pamphlet has an orange checkerboard accenting its borders with food caricatures, including double-decker burger, french fries, root beer float, eggs, and bacon. The cheapest priced item is a small beverage for .85 cents, and the most expensive item is ten pieces of chicken wings for $8. Hamburgers on Tiki’s menus are $2.39, however, compared to Dacha Beer Garden a hamburger is not only $15, but it refers to the exact food item as a beef burger, not a hamburger. The cheapest items on Dacha Beer Garden’s can be found under the “Sides” category for $5. Moreover, the Dacha Beer Garden’s background is an attractive woman’s face with short hair, who looks like she stepped out of the roaring 1920s. The background is identical to the iconic mural on the side of Dacha Beer Garden’s brick building. The aesthetics of Dacha Beer Garden’s menu elegantly uses a bright cherry red to highlight the five categories, additional fees, and traditional daily events. The prices in Dacha Beer Garden menu are whole numbers, while Tiki Seafood’s menu has low and estimated prices. Both establishments are right across the street from one another, but each establishment addresses two different audiences. For instance, Dacha Beer Garden has more healthy options and is pricier compared to Tiki Seafood. The economic disparity struck me, considering the two eatery establishments are across the street from each other. Clearly Dacha Beer Garden seeks to attract new residents and exclude former residents used to affordable prices from restaurants such as Tiki Seafoods.
Where is this Phenomenon headed?
Looking at Shaw’s marketing we can see evidence of gentrification’s inevitability. Especially when the Washington DC travel website seeks to create a clear depiction of what the neighborhood aspires to be. This inevitable process is spawned by job availability. It is the reason why you see young, affluent professionals flocking to Shaw and the same reasons why former residents flocked to Shaw decades ago (Duggan).
In addition to DC’s official travel website highlighting Shaw’s new restaurants, another factor of gentrification is the housing market. The housing market in Washington DC is flourishing, which can be accredited to a limited amount of space increasing competition for house purchasing and newly available jobs in the area (Rogers). Gentrification is a complex and messy process, but it narrows down to location, placement of transportation, infrastructure, and financial feasibility.
During my visit to Shaw, I walked on V Street, currently the home to many new restaurants and apartment complexes, and I saw visible evidence of the change that has occurred in Shaw. While there I observed the tension between local natives and newcomers/tourists as they were exiting a restaurant with take-out containers in their hands. The young group of affluent professionals coming from Dacha Beer Garden were walking down the street passing a group of older African-Americans folk sitting on the sidewalk. As I was walking by, I was inclined on recording the encounter, once I heard an older black gentleman with a “Seals,” discussing how he is treated unfairly as a black veteran, and how much change Shaw has undergone since the 90’s. As soon as he mentioned the 90s, I connected the dots, because in 1991 the Green line was established, and for the very first time, Shaw had its own metro stop, which allowed the once isolated area to be easily connected to different neighborhoods in different wards (History 4). Not only were they connected to surrounding neighborhoods it allowed Shaw to gain economic productivity.
Figure 6. Courtesy of the Greater Washington the image above depicts an animated slide show of DC’s Metro before the Green-Line.
Figure 5. Courtesy of the Greater Greater Washington the image above depicts an animated slide show of DC’s Metro after the Green-Line.
After my encounter, I quickly realized what I had experienced was the product of architectural exclusion.
Applying Architectural Exclusion
So far we have discussed the social constructs of society: both financial and cultural environments in Shaw. However, through architectural exclusion the cause of economic turnaround can be attributed to a shift in demographics and redevelopment in infrastructure. Schindler’s concept of architectural exclusion is concerned with the “placement and location of infrastructure that physically separates and inhibits access” (Schindler 19). Schindler concept of architectural exclusion is referring to the placement of physical barriers and facilitators like bridges, crosswalks, train stations, or bus stops. For example, Shaw is in prime real-estate for young, affluent newcomers that work near the national mall considering it is nearly 15 minutes away. The placement of transits, highway routes, bridge exits, and road infrastructure is the main cause for both social seclusion and economic exclusion. In the last decade, Shaw’s has experienced an entirely new facelift about its built environment. For example, when using Google Maps tool to compare what the area near the metro stop station looked like in 2007 to now, one can notice the newly painted bike lanes, and a new library right off the metro stop. What may seem like nuances to an individual strolling by the neighborhood may not notice the crowd of people it attracts and excludes.
Shaw’s has improved its built environment from newly paved streets, new sidewalks, new traffic lights, and easy access to transportation. A visible contributing factor to recent redevelopment in Shaw is the easy access to transportation, which explains why the area near the metro is covered in new paint, newly paved streets, and right off 7th Ave where new restaurants dress the strip. The newly built environment and location must do with the metro station built in the 1990s and young affluent professional flocking to Shaw (Lewis and McKenna 1). Using several concepts from Schindler’s article, “Architectural Exclusion: Discrimination and Segregation Through Physical Design of the Built Environment,” I assessed the environment I was visiting. Schindler emphasized the importance of law, but ultimately she believed architecture was more powerful than law, and the reason to why architecture is more important is because the law is, “less explicit, less identifiable, and less familiar to courts, legislators, and the public” (1941). Thus, far, I focused on the social and economic impacts that have resulted from gentrification, but I have yet to explore the impact architecture plays in Shaw, rather than mentioning Shaw’s metro-line and its placement and impact to the community. On my visit, I stayed on the lookout for physical barriers because it is known architecture has been created above the law to restrict access to certain areas of a community through the incorporation of low bridges, road closings, construction of walls, placement of transit, highway routes, etc. I did notice a few road closing signs due to construction, and I noticed the placement of transportation was right next to the library and a walkable distance from 5th street where all the restaurants are located.
Figure 6. Shaw’s one and only metro station, 1701 8th St NW, Washington, DC 20001.
By rhetorically analyzing two eateries and their menus on V Street and a formal Washington DC travel website, in addition to applying Schindler’s method of architectural exclusion I conclude that gentrification cannot be considered a natural phenomenon, but a multidimensional complexity. I cannot claim or generalize all journalists to have simply covered the social and economic aspect. BBC journalists Lewis’ and McKenna acknowledge a contributing factor to Shaw’s drastic change in culture is due to the construction of the metro line, which allows for Shaw to be connected to the rest of DC (1). Schindler believes the government can regulate infrastructure and architecture, which shapes an individual’s experience and behavior of being excluded or included in their respective communities. However, I noticed how infrastructure’s role in society is often overlooked by locals, because of the economic disparity present and the hostile social interaction with new and former neighbors. For society to understand the underlying implications of the power of rhetoric, news watchers and readers alike must hold their information accountable to reporting underlying truths because the root of the cause will enable individuals to understand and to better address the issue. In this case, individuals must be aware of the power of placement of architecture and its power to dictate human behavior. To further explore the phenomenon of gentrification in both Shaw and similar metropolitan neighborhoods, it is imperative for more urban planning scholars to apply Schindler’s method of architectural exclusion when discussing gentrification. Other potential areas to explore are laws set in place to protect public housing, tenants, and house owners from losing their homes to high property taxes. If such laws exist, how effectively are they being enforced?
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