To many visitors, Dupont Circle is a compelling city of Washington D.C. where many people come to socialize, eat, and shop. The attractions and appealing sights encourage people to conclude that this historical city is of high economic wealth. These observations are correct; however, the less luxurious attributes of Dupont Circle are overlooked. The official page of Dupont Circle includes all the suggested sights to see, but it leaves out the most common sights: the homeless people and the rats inhabiting the sidewalks. It also leaves out Dupont’s everlasting greed and desire to take individual’s money through its many shops, bars, spas, and restaurants. As the individual passes through, he or she is likely to observe the open doors. Each building, especially the food places and retailers, has a literal and metaphorical open door. For instance, the door to the Dupont Circle Club stands closed, but the owners of the club are eager to invite anyone willing to enter, whether they need help or are just looking for an activity to do. Dupont is a place of attraction that appeals to people’s senses with its intriguing smells, noises, and sights. In this essay, I will assert that Dupont is a place of contradiction because it’s good economic standing represented by shops, house prices, city design, and eagerness to invite newcomers, does not match the lack of help or initiative targeted towards housing the homeless, terminating the rats, or the prejudice against the homeless.
History of Dupont
Although Dupont Circle is known as a traffic circle in the center of a wealthy neighborhood full of history and political associations, the circle which intersects the Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire Avenues has always been full of contrasting components and diversity. Dupont began in the 1870s as a wooded and uncultivated area with large country estates, transformed to an area composed of influential political and wealthy people in massive brick and stone homes following the Industrial Revolution, and quickly became an urban center of shops, eateries, and office buildings in the 1970s (Williams 65). Although Dupont was home to elitists President Woodrow Wilson, William Howard Taft, and Franklin D Roosevelt, the neighborhood also inhabited the more modest working class which did not indulge in the expensive shops and high priced homes (Williams 41). According to Images of America: Dupont Circle, “Dupont Circle served as Washington’s social urban center for many decades starting in the 1880s, with lavish parties and grand dinners served by hostesses throughout the neighborhood. Presidents, congressmen, and ambassadors mixed company with mining magnates and newspaper owners to create a dynamic and social cultural center” (Williams 41). The social interactions and classes of people were not the only aspects that contrasts, for even the purpose of the buildings opposed. Dupont consists of churches, schools, and institutional buildings amongst bars, apparel stores, spas, and recovery clubs (Williams 130).
Video About Dupont Circle:
As mentioned above, Dupont has been socially diverse since the late 1800s, and this diversity continues as Dupont is home to the LGBTQ community. A Washington City Paper writer, Andrew Giambrone, explains that Dupont allowed a long time resident named Maccubbin to open “Lambda Rising,” D.C’s first LGBTQ bookstore in 1968. Dupont soon after turned into a hangout for the LGBTQ community as it opened a plethora of gay bars. Today, it hosts the annual Pride Parade which goes through Dupont and ends in Logan Circle (“Pride Parade Presented by Marriott Rewards”). The diversity continues as I explore the purpose of just one building– the Dupont Circle Club at 1623 Connecticut Ave. NW. According to newspaper articles in the Washington Evening Star, this one location was once inhabited by W.R Speare Co., a funeral home company, most likely directed by middle class men (“Funeral Directors”). It then transformed to a mink fur store called French Poodle which claims in their add that they rent to “exquisitely dressed women” (“French Poodle”). Now it is a building which hosts three very different businesses: a recovery center for addicts, a psychic reading, and a math tutoring center. Each organization targets a different group of people, for the recovery center, Dupont Circle Club, practices Christianity, while the psychic readings opposes any religion. Dupont accepts the LGBTQ community, addicts, and psychics which all face the high possibility of being judged; thus, Dupont can be considered a safe haven for the rejected.
Zoom in to see the stores around DCC
Dupont’s Perceptions of Beggars
Dupont contradicts itself because it does not truly accept all people. Dupont Circle markets itself as an economically healthy urban area, eager to accept all types of people spanning the spectrums of race, age, and sexual preference; however, many residents of Dupont Circle discriminate against the homeless and push to get them removed. People in Dupont associate the homeless with negative connotations and refer to them as “panhandlers” because they approach strangers, begging for money. According to an article written in The Washington Post, citizens make complaints to city officials about homeless people because the homeless scare them. In the 1990 article, “Dupont Wants relief From Beggars,” a resident says, “At times it’s downright scary [. . .] it’s increasingly uncomfortable to walk past the expanding lineup of panhandlers around Dupont Circle” (Armstrong). The article claims that residents have made numerous complaints without seeing much result, so they have decided to “fix” the problem themselves by encouraging others not to give to panhandlers in hopes of decreasing the number of street beggars. Even businesses have gotten involved in the removal of the unwanted; the West Park Apartments put “wrought- iron spikes” on the welcome mat outside the the apartment building located at 2130 P Street NW to prevent the homeless from sitting outside their apartments and disturbing their customers (Slansky 31). In a place that seems so inviting with plenty of money, one would think that residents would be eager to at least donate a little money, rather than chasing them out of the neighborhood. On the contrast, the people of Dupont most likely look at the homeless with hate because these high paying residents feel unsafe in places where they pay good money to live.
Living in Dupont comes with high cost, as it ranks amongst the highest priced neighborhoods in D.C. (Bisnow). Residents do not only pay for infrastructure and square footage when they purchase a home in Dupont, they also pay for the name. It’s like going to college; declaring that one is attending Harvard University sounds significantly better than declaring that one is attending community college. Therefore, Dupont residents pay to live in a neighborhood with a good reputation, good financial standing, and of high demand. Currently, houses are on sale for prices ranging from one to four million dollars. None of these houses are big, in fact, most embody narrow forms and are connected to other condos, limiting outdoor space. A house on Swan Street is on sale for one million dollars with only two beds and two bathrooms (Zillow). When paying high prices, it is expected that everything should be perfect and residents should not have to worry about things that they do not want to see such as the plethora of homeless people. Their desires are understandable; however, Dupont residents need to align with the welcoming reputation of Dupont and change their views on the homeless. A common understanding should arise where residents and visitors can understand the lives of the homeless.
Irina Nersessova, a writer from Illinois State University, transcribes an appropriate understanding on how to view the “homeless” in her article, “Tapestry of Space: Domestic Architecture and Underground Communities in Margaret Morton’s Photographs of A Forgotten New York.” Different from what most people of Dupont seem to believe, Nersessova asserts that “Homelessness is not truly the condition of not having a home. Because the homeless indeed have a home they build on the streets or in the tunnels, their condition is more accurately described as the absence of a stable home” (26). Much of the homeless hang out in the areas closest to the circle; hence, the circle itself is their home. Although the homeless do not have physical structures surrounding them, the sidewalks substitute as homes. Nersessova believes that homes are simply self representation of one’s creativity, and that creativity is displayed as one builds and designs their home (26). Therefore, as the homeless situate their spaces and beds on the sidewalks out of their minimal possessions, they self represent and create their home. Consequently, the homeless are never really without a home. Concurrently, Nersessova calls the homeless vulnerable because they are constantly exposed and can often be targets, similar to the way they are targets for removal in Dupont. Nersessova proclaims that “controlling and prohibiting the use of public place is not uncommon in urban areas” (34). In her example, the Amtrak police threatened to arrest the homeless if they returned to the public tunnels they called home. In both cases, the people in position to provide help, choose to simply scare the homeless rather than spread their wealth, compassion, and assistance.
Citizens fail to assist the homeless because they can not relate to their situation. According to the opinions of the people in the “Dupont Wants Relief From Beggars” article and Nersessova, many view the panhandlers as psychotic and lazy (Armstrong; Nersessova 38). In an interview, the associate president of the Bay Side Apartments in Dupont refers to the homeless and says that they are “young, able- bodied, capable of working, aggressive young people” (Armstrong). The people of Dupont, along with many other working laborers conclude that these dwellers are able to get off the streets, but are too lazy. As a working citizen, they can not relate to people who simply don’t want to work; therefore, they judge them and refrain from giving them money. Nersessova asserts that perceptions of panhandlers hide the fact that the government and city officials have failed the homeless as she says, “The image of the homeless as insane also helps explain why they are homeless without questioning the system that has failed them” (40). In this case, the authorized in Dupont has failed the homeless by neglecting them and not providing them with affordable housing. The government has also failed these street dwellers by not accepting them in such a diverse area based on the lack of physical structures.
Although Dupont citizens fear the panhandlers because they sit on streets and beg for money, those same people do not chastise the greedy Dupont administration which demands top prices and constantly shakes people down for money. Even the non- profit organizations cry out for money from anyone willing to donate to their cause. For example, the previously mentioned Dupont Circle Club is a 12 step recovery center which offers eighteen recovery programs (Dupont Circle Club). The club is a non profit, so it asks for money both on their website and at the end of their meetings. The club itself is much like a church because not only does it invite people in to learn and repent, but it also invites people to donate money to their cause. Dupont Circle Club is very much a part of Dupont’s initiative to bring in money, for its entire website is targeted towards people willing to donate and those who seek to help addicts which are close to them.
Dupont Circle Club created an easy to navigate website with an open layout in order to convince people to stay on their page and allow easy access to the links which prompt people to contribute. The website is synchronized with the aesthetic of the club, for the colors of the site matches their logo, as well as the pictures of the interior that slide across the top of the page. Once the site convinces people to stay through the design of the web page, the visitor is attacked with advertisements to help donate. Subsections on the page read, “Become a Supporting Member of the Dupont Circle,” “Make A One-Time Donation,” and “Shop at AmazonSmile and Amazon we’ll make a donation to: Dupont Circle Club Inc.” (Dupont Circle Club). The first line in the synopsis of the club mentions that Dupont Circle is a non-profit organization, and then continues by explaining their mission which is to create a safe, clean, organized, and welcoming space for various 12-Step Recovery programs (Dupont Circle Club). In the summary of the club, the author of the page asserts that the non-profit program is a welcoming place designed to help addicts; however, as a non profit, they desperately need the donations of outsiders. This cry for help is not targeted to the addicts because most addicts struggle financially since the majority of their income goes to spending money on what they are addicted to. Rather, this site speaks to family members and people who have a passion for helping addicts in their recovery process.
Through pages fully dedicated to explaining the donation process, the designers of the website continue to convince people both inside and outside of Dupont to support the cause through their funds. Click on the “Become a Supporting Member Today” link from the homepage and a visitor will land on a page that goes further into detail and explains that different types of members with their corresponding fees. There are seven membership categories with the lowest being a Senior/Student Membership with an annual $50 charge and the highest being a Club Sponsor with an annual charge of $2400. The website lists four ways to make a payment and gives four detailed examples on how becoming a member truly enriches the club and allows the club to help those in need for free. The layout of this page is tactical, for it gives a brief sentence about why the club was created, explains how donating will help the club, informs the potential donor in bold that all donations to the club are tax deductible, and displays the prices of memberships (Dupont Circle Club). The author of the page excites the potential customer so that he/ or she feels more obligated to donate and less fixated on the price.
Therefore, even the organization that intends to do well by helping people can be considered a panhandler because they indirectly beg for money. The difference is the way citizens perceive the different types of beggars. Neither the club nor the shops and restaurants receive judgements for constantly begging people for money in order to promote self betterment. Each entity simply wants to better itself. The homeless beg to better their lives and feed themselves, while the Dupont Circle Club begs in order to help addicts. The city demands money to raise the economic status of the neighborhood.
Dupont and its people contradict the feeling of welcomeness which they try to translate to visitors. Although Dupont is an accepting place, it appears that they only value the people who can increase the money flow in Dupont, but not the people who have nothing to contribute.
The contrasting aspects of Dupont continues with the problem of rat infestation. Why does a neighborhood of high economic wealth have rats outside of luxury stores and five star restaurants? People are paying high prices in Dupont, yet city officials abandon residents, panhandlers, and visitors by not keeping the area clean. Before The Dupont Circle Club relocated to the building at 1623 Connecticut Ave. NW, the Club was located in the alley behind the current space. The alley where the meetings were held was dubbed Flat Rat Alley because there were so many rats inhabiting the place (Dupont Circle Club). In the 1960s, the same 1623 location was a Mink Fur store (“French Poodle”). People would buy expensive, opulent furs from a place that was surrounded by rats. Rats often inhabit urban areas; however, Dupont has a higher population of rats than most other D.C areas. A Washington Post article from September 2016 jokes about a rat sanctuary and expresses the outrage of many people. One person cries out saying, “I have never seen so many rats in a public place brazenly frolicking as in Dupont[. . . ]I want the Park Service to relocate a couple of Rock Creek coyotes to the circle since clearly they are doing nothing about this public health menace” (Moyer). Different from the homeless people which receive more complaints than the rats receive, the rats are a health issue to Dupont. However, the city has done very little to remove something that residents do not like. So living in Dupont consist of rats scurrying the streets outside of your favorite Dupont attraction.
Dupont Circle encompasses its flaws and contradictions, but they do not make Dupont a bad attraction; it is likely that many other neighborhoods and urban centers deal with similar contradictions. It is important that Dupont residents and city officials acknowledge their faults in order to make improvements and possibly bring in more money. The perceptions associated with rats and homeless people, likely cause a decrease in visitors or potential home buyers. Adjacent neighborhoods such as Logan Circle, Adams Morgan, and West End, should also consider if they share the same problems, for they practically live in Dupont’s backyard. These issues occur in the nation’s capital; thus the problem of exclusion and infestation must be happening in other cities. Similar to the thoughts of Jimmy King in his article, “Let’s Look Our Neighbors in the Eye and Help,” the problem needs to be addressed by political leaders in the nation’s capital in order to hinder the same problems around the rest of the country.
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