Mapping Commonplaces: How U Street’s past shaped its future

Map: https://www.google.com/maps/d/u/2/viewer?hl=en&authuser=2&mid=1PkLaNoA2uZaw8Z0Ep63eu0E_IAk&ll=38.91717533568296%2C-77.03167324999998&z=15

The U Street Corridor is a very fascinating spatial network that has experienced many changes. Throughout its history the corridor has seen the height of jazz to record high crime rates and,most recently, a multicultural utopia. Now, when I refer to the corridor as a utopia, I try to exemplify the fresh look of U Street as a melting point. The reason for comparing its culturality to a utopia is to help my audience of travelers and tourists understand the recent change it has experienced. Once the change is understood, it can be investigated and studied to see how the past of U Street beautifully shapes the method that was used to implement its change. The argument is not designed in such a fashion which praises the culturality of the new U Street while mocking the African American ghetto of the old U Street. Rather, it portrays the network which was created in the old U Street in order to explain the multicultural change which has occurred. Of course, such a network can be used at the discretion of the neighbourhood’s officials and was conspicuously used to model the means through which the change was facilitated.

Communion on U Street

To better understand the point of my research, you must understand the rhetoric which was present before the contemporary U Street. Firstly, lets go all the way back to the jazz age of U Street and understand how it emerged as an African American community. As Brianna Thomas put it in her article on “The Washingtonian,” “the neighbourhood hummed day and night.” The interesting mystery was the reason behind all the unity and communion. As Brianna Thomas explains, the neighbourhood had almost 300 businesses all run by black people, many of which were in turn supported by the same people. But, it wasn’t the myriad of businesses which kept the community together in harmony, it was something more magical.

Music trembled through the streets day and night, literally exemplifying the “humming” phrase Thomas used to describe the vibe of the community. Specifically jazz was the unifying music that acted as a honey which attracted every single bee or in this case, person, to the honeycomb. In this situation, the honeycomb is the various famous jazz clubs in which black people met and harmonized over the sweet sound of jazz. The early jazz clubs were literally basements with jazz musicians and instruments, which occasionally served beverages. Further down the road, the predominantly black community realized their love for food, as well as music, and began producing famous restaurants where most of the community would meet. Eventually, the two titans of community, jazz and food, became one when many jazz clubs started to offer food and live music. The black community loved the idea so much that the corridor started to flood with music lovers, food lovers, and lovers of social communion. The U Street Corridor was finally coined “Black Broadway” and continued to flow with black musicians and black artists.

Dessertion on U Street

Zooming a little further in time, the community which boomed with so much life and union turned into a drug market. Furthermore, it was a deserted neighbourhood which housed drug lords and gang leaders in abandoned homes for no charge. All of this change and turmoil was finally seen by the neighbourhood’s leaders. These leaders looked at the deserted neighbourhood and started to come up with ideas which would help the well being of the neighbourhood. The first thing they did was create housing projects which served to be very affordable for the residents around U Street. With minimal success, this idea was halted and leaders started to look elsewhere. Although not expressly stated, leaders started to become desperate to rebuild their neighbourhood. Finally, they looked to the past for some answers and the past answered. According to her article about U Street on “The Atlantic,” Garance Franke-Ruta explains how leaders lowered property taxes and rent to encourage the middle class people to move to U Street. Sooner or later, the plan worked and the neighbourhood started to repopulate. With the repopulation of different peoples, along with the low housing costs, new businesses started to open their doors. Through different combinations of music, food, and culture, venues started to open and fill with different and unique cultures.

My research is provided to explain how the rhetors of the past shape the contemporary U Street Corridor. Using a few famous landmarks, such as Ben’s Chili Bowl and Twins Jazz, I portray the new cultural venues as deviations of these past venues. Through my four rhetors of music, food, culture, and change, I construct a CLS which is derivative of the eternal network of the corridor. Even though I explain my rhetorical situation above, I try to let the commonplaces speak for themselves and make my audience ask themselves: What was before?

 

Works Citied:

12, Briana Thomas on February, and 2017. “The Forgotten History of U Street.” Washingtonian, 12 Feb. 2017, https://www.washingtonian.com/2017/02/12/forgotten-history-u-street-black-broadway/.

Franke-Ruta, Garance. “The Politics of the Urban Comeback: Gentrification and Culture in D.C.” The Atlantic, Aug. 2012. The Atlantic, https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/08/the-politics-of-the-urban-comeback-gentrification-and-culture-in-dc/260741/.

 

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