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


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,

Franke-Ruta, Garance. “The Politics of the Urban Comeback: Gentrification and Culture in D.C.” The Atlantic, Aug. 2012. The Atlantic,


Jamesy Boy: How James Burns got out of Jail.

“In my mind, there’s a boy who exists in chains. Inside a cold, dark room of painful solitude is where he will remain.Behind these walls, the sorrow is inevitable, as relentless as the passage of time. Mentalities corrupt and dark,brainwashed, and hopelessly blind.Prisons are packed with crowded spaces, lifers and guards with hollow faces. Shackled hearts afraid of changes,and weakened wills become complacent.Yet, I maintain with patience, time can limit but not shatter my will, strength blazed across my chest as solid as penitentiary steel. But the silence speaks, it tells me all I need to hear, it confirms my beliefs and its promises I have to fear. It reminds me that without freedom, I’m alone. And these whitewashed walls don’t make up for blackened souls. I’ve given 95% of my boys a handshake than a pound, before they were either locked down or buried off in cemetery grounds. What I’ve done is who I am, but who I am is what I do now. I won’t let up or cease to fight. Just time, I plan on doing it right. And what’s right lies within me. I’m learning to appreciate my struggle for it would be hard to find the joy of accomplishment without it. We live and we learn. We rise and we fall. Like the heartbeat of a sleeping giant, with bittersweet dreams. Stay up, never down.” – James Burns Over the weekend, I watched a movie named Jamesy boy. It was about a true story of a 14- year old boy named James Burns and his trouble-making personality. It begins with him trying to get into high school after months in juvenile detention and his home arrest sentence. The movie shows the eye-opening  transition from a troubled boy who lives in his mom’s house to a street-born young man that makes his money outside of the law. However, shit hits the fan, and he finally gets tried as an adult and locked up for a sentence of 4 years. In the moments he is in jail, James Burns stays a troubled young man as he was in the past and continues to get into physical fights. But, after a couple of unfortunate events he finally understands that his past was pretty much a “free trial” at life and that  he needs to take his mind of his time in jail and look to the future. At an age of 16 this young James Burns matures and starts to think about what life is actually about. He understands that all this ego-driven, and animalistic fighting is not worth losing his life over. Naturally, he takes a pen and paper from a inmate friend and begins his journey into poetry. The reason for this in-depth explanation of James Burn’s history before he took up poetry is to show how closed and secluded his life was before he opened his eyes. At the top of the page I took a very important excerpt from a beautiful poem he had written in jail. The poem was about, as I said, a secluded boy locked up in chains waiting to actually see the real world. But, at the end he puts this sentence to remind himself that there is a way to get up after you mess up. This sentence, with its reference to a sleeping giant, explains that no matter how bad you mess up, do not look back. Distract yourself with something unprecedented, a new hobby, a new thought, anything that will help you “stay up, never down”. Its rhetoric reminds us that there is always a way to distract yourself from the past and look to the future. Rhyme and wordplay is what helped James Burns get up and stay up.  

Commonplace #2

Juan M. del Potro@delpotrojuan  Jan 29


Thank you both, don’t you ever quit tennis!! GRANDEEE ROGER   So inspiring!!

This past Sunday one of the legends of tennis, Roger Federer, won his long awaited 18th grand slam. To a non-tennis fan, this may seem like another sport legend doing what he does best, but I can assure you that this win was not like any other. The tweet that is posted above came from one of Federer’s strongest competitors, Juan Martin Del Potro. If I am not mistaken, this tweet sounds like something straight out of a die-hard federer fan’s newsfeed. This only raises the question: exactly how significant was Federer’s victory?

First off, Federer is 35 years old. This seems young for such a healthy human being right? Well, most tennis players retire before the age of 34 and there were only a few that had the strength and desire to play into their late thirties. To further limit his chances, Federer just came back from a 6-month injury. Lastly, to further diminish any Federer fan’s hopes and dreams, the last time he won a grand slam was 5 years ago.

Now, one would think that the significance of this victory was that Federer overcame all these obstacles, but the real significance is the rhetoric in the tweet. The phrase “don’t you ever quit tennis” is the phrase Federer heard when everyone doubted that he would win another grand slam. This phrase, along with many other acts of love, came from the multitude of Federer fans over the years. This tweet fits in with the story of Roger Federer because it describes a feeling towards him that rings through every fan’s mind. It explains the love for Federer that is in fact so “inspiring” and “Grande” (big in portuguese).