Shaw, Washington DC: Gentrification redefining the neighborhood’s flavor

Shaw, Washington, DC was once home to the African American Renaissance during the roaring 20s, home to the 1960s Washington DC civil rights riots, and home to the US crack epidemic. Now it is home to a vibrant young demographic through the incredibly complex process of gentrification.Over the past century, Shaw has developed a multitude of reputations, but most recently it has been a symbol for its historic African American culture.My investigation of Shaw began as a class assignment to choose a location mentioned in Ruben Castaneda’s  memoir of S-Street Rising, in which I chose the intersection of  O’Street and 5th Street NW where five kids were shot from a gang related drive-by  in December 20th, 1990.  Choosing this location provided me the entry way into exploring Shaw’s neighborhood. During my first visit I documented my experience through videos and photographs, which would later serve as a source of inspiration in my mapping commonplaces project. Through my research on Shaw’s history, I was able compare the last ten years to its current state using google map images. Google Maps allowed me to compare the photos taken during my first visit to what the area looked like ten years ago. My research of Shaw sparked my curiosity in attempting to understand how and why Shaw was undergoing such a rapid change.During my visit I walked from Shaw’s metro station to O’Street and 5th street NW, where I noticed the old and new infrastructure. Using my observation I began  my entire journey documenting newly renovated/developed homes to homes that were foreclosed and abandoned to provide a stark contrast. It is through this lens of juxtaposing new and old infrastructure that I created an Instagram and a Youtube Video, in an effort to demonstrate the rapid “revitalization,” and it’s impact to physical infrastructure. It was also through my visit I sensed a tension that exists between longtime residents to newer residents.The more research I conducted on Shaw’s history and reviewed its current news headlines, is where I realized these were just some of the implications of gentrification.

My video is titled, “Shaw, Washington DC: Gentrification redefining the neighborhood’s flavor,” which attempts to explore the conversation of gentrification in Shaw through images and videos taken by me on my first visitFebruary 12th, 2017. The video incorporates the soundtrack, “ DC or Nothing,”  from the artist  Wale, an iconic DC local artist. In his soundtrack he describes DC during its darkest time when the district was predominantly African American, or as Wale says it “When the city was chocolate.”My video begins with M.A. Cuddi Productions Presents, which is a self-created video production company linked to my Ed Space website. Then the video introduces the audience to  the title, “Shaw, Washington DC,” followed by the address of my location and a brief explanation of its significance. I chose to introduce the address and brief explanation to foreshadow and  inform my audience of the images and videos they will see. Within the first 30 seconds I present my audience on how I arrived to my intersection through images from the metro stop to crossing the streets. Then there is footage depicting my intersection and a young white couple crossing the street, while a middle-aged black man was gardening on his lawn. When the beat drops in the sound-track, the tempo of the music accelerates and so do the images.As Wale says, “ Give respect where I live,”  images of abandoned homes and freshly painted homes side by side present a juxtaposition. When Wale says, “When the city was chocolate, there was death in the air… but he push them white in the hood…,” there’s a video footage depicting  three young adult white males with take out boxes in their hands passing by a group of black locals sitting on the side of the street. While, the black group of men and women standing were discussing how newcomers do not acknowledge their existence; ironically, the three young white males rush through without acknowledging the locals around them. As I continue to walk down Q Street, I focus the video on an image I took of Tiki Seafood and Dacha Beer Garden, followed by each of their menu’s which each present a visual distinction of their target audience. The video proceeds to juxtapose foreclosed boarded homes next to redeveloped homes, as the chorus to the soundtrack says:

I feel something change in the weather, and I’m home, home, home

Don’t let it drift away like a feather and I’m home, home, home

And oh, I gotta find my way

Oh I gotta face the day

But oh I can’t stay away, not never, you’re my home, home, home

I strategically filmed the video as if it were drifting like a feather to strengthen the relationship between the video and soundtrack, representing a parallel between the footage and soundtrack. The video proceeds to the exact location where the five young men were shot from a gang related drive by in 1990, as Wale discusses the loss of a friend which strengthens the parallel between the film and soundtrack even further. As the soundtrack nears the end, the images  the video began with are inverted to symbolize me walking back to the metro stop. I also incorporate a before and after photo of Shaw’s library, which sits across the street from Shaw’s metro stop in the inversion. In order to strengthen the inversion, I reintroduce the title, “Welcome to Shaw.” I strategically include silence and an image depicting the definition of gentrification so that the audience is aware of how the neighborhood is evolving. To emphasize the ramifications of gentrification I reintroduce the ending of Wale’s soundtrack. Additionally, I introduce screenshots of NPR, Washington Post, and BBC article headlines to demonstrate how gentrification has impacted the Shaw. In the ending of Wale’s soundtrack he states  his hopes of these words living, and whenever he is inDC he hopes to be recognized by locals.To end the film, I introduce to the audience  why this track is appropriate to accompany the images and footage. and state the artist’s personal relationship to Shaw.


I purposely left the end of my video open to interpretation by my audience; I don’t state if gentrification is a positive or negative phenomenon. Instead, I simply highlight the ramifications and impact it has had on the black community. My main goal through this project was not to draw any conclusions, but instead to demonstrate the relationship between longtime residents to newer residents, while presenting a comparison through infrastructure. To further the comparison between old and new infrastructure in Shaw I created an Instagram page based on photo’s I took, than used google maps to trace back what the area look like ten years ago.

My Instagram profile username is titled, “Shawfullofflavor,” which is in response to Washington D.C.’s topos of chocolate city fusing into a vanilla city.  My profile consist of 27 posted images, and three of them are one’ s I personally took. Using the three images I took and I then went to google maps to track its visual history in the last ten years. The first image is of the intersection between 7th street NW and Qstreet, illustrating two eateries Tiki Seafood and Dacha Beer Garden, which is then followed by two images depicting the same intersection on August 2011 and most recently October 2016. Setting these three images side by side present a juxtaposition by demonstrating the intersection’s infrastructural progression. In 2011 Dacha Beer Garden’s location was once a Chinese take out eatery, but in less than 5 years the aesthetic of its location  was completely. I then divide the first and second image by a row labeled S-HAW, which is divided into three images to appropriately fit on a row. I strategically use the row labeled S-HAW to separate the three images, because the other two images each are accompanied by five photos in order to provide a gradual progression and juxtaposition. For instance, the second image is of Shaw’s library and the chronology of the photo’s goes as follows:  2007, 2009, 2011,  2015, and 2016. The photo’s side by side provides an immediate chronological juxtaposition from the old Shaw library to the current one is standing there today.  The third image, is of a recent colorful development in Shaw. This structure was brought to my attention because it easily popped out, and the reason is  of color contrast from the gray condominium building to bright red, yellow, and magenta fluorescent colors outlining the windows. Color in a neighborhood is a crucial component in forming community, and is why I feel it is an important case study to focus on its chronological development: 2016, Aug.2011, Jun 2011, and 2009. These three photo’s allowed me to create an Instagram page, and exhibit the changes within a decade in Shaw’s infrastructural characteristics. The Instagram page is a supportive exhibit to my video.Through this presentation, I hope to have portrayed an accurate depiction of the continuing gentrification in Shaw’s neighborhood.


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