14th Street Washington, DC has been a very important part of the city for a very long time. Some may argue that because of DC’s changes following some key historical moments, from the race riots in the 60’s, 80s-90’s crack epidemic, even the AIDS/HIV crisis–the modern gentrified city plays to an audience that some believe, has taken something away from the original sense of community. On my Youtube channel, you can see that I have observed the neighborhood of 14th and U. The area does appear to maintain some of its historical qualities does partly appeal to tourism.As a result, it may not be as ‘raw’ or original as some DC residents, and former residents would prefer. Because the city has been inevitably subject to rapid transition, there appears to be no right answer to what the real heart of DC actually is.In order to derive some meaning from this discussion, I was asked to do a rhetorical analysis of only one document of my choosing and its relation to the greater context of not only 14th; but Washington as a whole.
A modern touristic brochure that I found, 20+ Places to Eat, Shop, and Play on 14th Street published on Washington.org reveals some of the most “swank” and stylistic restaurants and other attractions that bring out some of the best of modern DC on 14th Street. This particular text is modern in its rhetoric because it seems to go by a ‘less is more’ writing structure, and puts a dominant emphasis on the use of visuals. The photos appear to be professionally edited, and strategically taken in an attempt to show the area in the best light possible. The graphic layout of the page seems to reflect this as well. With the accessibility of the internet, there is an inherently biased ‘dressing up’ of the modern 14th Street, which shows a huge disparity between what DC is, and what DC was. Whether this is good or bad is up for discussion. This presentation of the gentrified city alone has certainly had a huge impact on how both DC and 14th Street are currently viewed. In the following space, I provide some photos that I took on my phone as well as the photo shown on the brochure from cafe Dulcezza, located at 1418 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20005.
As a consequence of the internet, the mediums in which we receive, and engage with information have vastly changed.Before the internet, In order to experience and find out about the local urban life, local print sources directly engaging with the community were the only options. Print literature is not completely obsolete; albeit most of the current internet texts resemble print. This is also the age of simply looking up information on the ‘fly’. This may or may not have had some serious repercussions. In order to get the full value of the community, the common tourist must learn to be skeptical, and carefully look at: why the information was written, who it is for, and anything that could be a biased opinion more than fact. Skepticism is especially important in the ‘information age’ because now the individual mostly engages with a sea of what once would have been a few print sources, just decades ago.It takes an extra discipline to sit down, and go through an internet text and critically analyze it because there are more sources, and anyone can post. This is where the importance of not only assessing credibility among the many pieces of information online but also the point of view and audience are necessary. Specifically, this brochure’s presentation of DC is up for interpretation.Based on choices made from this information alone, some may argue that the common tourist may be losing a sense of the history or the ‘roots’ of the city.
One crucial element in this discussion is the role of money. The pricing of some of these restaurants and other businesses, that some perceive represent the ‘take over’ of classic DC, for many people, especially those who can afford to live in the current real-estate climate—are for some reasonably priced. To a point, an argument could be made that this is simply a reflection of new DC culture.The modern or ‘hot’ presentation seems to provide a more expensive look, appropriate for the 2010’s time and place. The discourse is whether or not this is a positive update or leaching from what some believe, was the heart of DC. Washington Post article “Yes, 14th Street May Be Better These Days, but Something Vital Is Missing” by columnist Courtland Milloy, criticizes just that. From his point of view, the original predominantly black community on 14th Street may not have been as ‘trendy’ as it is in the more current time and place—but it had something that may be argued is not as ‘there’ as it used to be; a common sense of community. Milloy claims instead of maintaining or building upon ‘what was’, through this update“[the sense of community]been replaced by a stultifying air of aloofness…oblivious to the lives that helped form the place they now call home” (Milloy 2015). In other words, the modern gentrified Street is not of in itself an issue. It attracts a lot of people toward the city and brings plenty of life and economic activity. However, Milloy would protest that the less pretty, urban shops and old car lots that would have been accessible in the 80’s, provided affordability for the whole community–instead of only a small few that could afford the prices.If there were some new way to affordably preserve this feeling of community, throughout the location’s change, it may be very beneficial to both new and old Washingtonians.
The brochure is an accurate representation of what we now know as the heart of DC culture, because it ignores the complexity of the progress that would bring DC to where it currently stands;even Milloy’s way of thinking, being romantically nostalgic, does not take into account all of the problems that DC had faced specifically during the 80s into the 90s. In Christopher Heller’s “Have You Seen Michael Horsley’s Photos of a Blighted D.C.? Probably.” published on WashingtonCityPaper.com, August 28th, 2013 he provides more insight to what DC once was, right around the time Milloy describes. Not only was DC not ‘cleaned up’ as it is now, describing his own work Michael Horsley uses phrases like “johns bought sex” and where he “had a knife pulled out” him on the corner of 14th and T street.In this document, the time is even described as the “toughest years” before gentrification. To put it lightly, the city was at a point not as rosy as some remember it. There clearly were consequences, in which New York Times author Sabrina Tavernise “A Population Changes, Uneasily” implies, it was in part an inevitable change to see the city be improved, by suggesting that it may have been “uneasy,” but those of the original culture were often somewhat forced to adapt to the new population in order to stay. Nostalgia for the smaller, less gentrified incarnation of the city is certainly understandable, but perhaps the heart of DC may be in part the ability for groups of people to adapt to changes.
It is true that many groups of people would have been priced out, but to say that 14th Street was once better-off during the 80s in all respects is not exactly correct.To expand upon this, the BBC Magazine’s “Washington DC from murder capital to boomtown.” by authors Aiden Lewis, and Bill, Mckenna is extremely effective. Not only does it provide an honest look at how far DC has come from where it has been, it reinforces that DC is now a “boomtown” suggesting that DC has become at the very least a fast growing city, all nostalgia aside. Returning to first- hand documentation of Michael Horsley, with a short video where he describes the time Washington had “hit bottom”, as well as extensive first-hand experience from Ruben Casteneda (author of S Street Rising) there is a much more honest narrative of how far DC has come regardless of whether the change has negatively impacted the sense of community.
There may not be a clear-cut answer to what the heart of DC is, however the complexity of this has allowed for some very engaging arguments and lessons about what has happened in the city over even its most recent history. To some gentrification has been a racial issue, with displacement and a loss of originality in the city, while others may see it as a victory for the city, as it has allowed for a much nicer place to live. As for documents presented on websites like Washington.org, which predominantly seek to market the most pleasing sections of play and fun in the city, many would feel that it is disrespectful for particularly tourists to ignore the history.They are both right. DC is now a place where many people go to hang out and enjoy, but there is obviously a deep and complex history of social and political change that should not be ignored. There may have been some loss in the smaller community that some may miss, but as bitter or sweet, as the change may feel to some–the heart of DC is not a static idea.
Milloy, Courtland. “Yes, 14th Street may be better these days, but something vital is missing.” Washington Post, 21 July 2015.
“ 20+ Places to Eat, Shop, and Play on 14th Street.” Washington.org. Accessed 24 February 2017.