Part One: Getting To Know Washington
It is widely known that Washington DC has always been the political hub and center of power in the United States, but that is not necessarily what defines the true heart of DC. Usually, my generation of tourists and outsiders only know the National Mall and most of the monuments and icons of the area. Perhaps the more adventuresome millennial tourist would have explored Old Town Alexandria and Georgetown, but may be less aware of the many varied neighborhoods and their respective stories.Even though we live in the information age, we millennials have often failed to look beyond the headlines and dig a little deeper to discover the real DC. This is unfortunate since information is now more accessible than ever. We all to often settle for the superficial Google search overview of the city. We can often overlook the importance of the neighborhoods and the communities of people that are DC. As a result, we tend not to bother to look for the less advertised or smaller more ethnic parts of the city. Brochures like 20+ Places to Eat, Shop, and Play on 14th Street, and 10 Distinctly DC Music Venues You Have to Experience published on Washington.org are two glaring examples. It is no surprise that DC is too often reduced to the most upscale restaurants and tourist attractions, but there is much that derives the complex meaning of the heart of DC.
There were many who used to refer to DC as a third world nation because it was comprised of two extremes of wealth and poverty. When I first decided to attend American University, it gave both of my parent’s great pause because the DC they knew from the late 60’s, 70’s and 80’s is no longer the DC that it is today. To further explore my parents’ impression of DC, I would need to work backward. During the 1960’s DC became the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement with marches and protests which culminated with the “I Have a Dream” speech on the National Mall by Martin Luther King. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, there were riots and much of DC was looted and burned. There were still neighborhoods that have not recovered or been re-built from the riots of 1968.What followed next, was the crack epidemic of the 1980’s. Mostly poor African American neighborhoods and communities were devastated by this inexpensive and very addictive drug. Even the then Mayor of DC, Marion Barry became a crack addict and was famously quoted as saying “if you take out the killings, Washington actually has a very very low crime rate.”
Part two: Gentrification, Community, Nostalgia and the City of Now.
The summer prior to arriving at AU we were assigned a book S Street Rising by Ruben Castaneda. This really helped me understand all of the incarnations that DC has undergone in the past 40-50+ years.For my first “Digital Archives” assignment in my spring semester Writing 101 course here at American University, I wanted to explore this aspect of DC and culture in greater depth. My exploration began with taking photos of 14th and U. Initially, I did not have a defined goal in mind but as I continued to photograph and explore, I noticed that there were many representations of change. There seemed to be some contrasts in popular architecture choices, and the statements they made—simply by the way that they looked in relation to each other. Most specifically, the irregularity in the quality of building aesthetics, between sections of a neighborhood.For example, there would be some rustic vintage/pseudo-vintage, Victorian/Faux-Victorian, highrises/luxury buildings, and run-down areas all in the same neighborhood. In order to get some more first-hand information on the contrasts that I began to notice, I turned to my aunt Sue Pierce. She was once an AU student herself and offered that…
I took the bus along 14th Street to get downtown. The route had a number of different neighborhoods. There was one section that was rough. Not as rough as the Anacostia area but still clearly showed poverty. It was a different world for me as Malvern,[my hometown],was not a city and while there were pockets of poverty, this was different. There was also a lot of trash in the middle section of the route.
– in 1968, the times were changing. DuPont Circle was a mix of hippies and and Vietnam war protesters. It was my first introduction to the smell of marijuana. It was also scary. People were ranting against the war, the US , the president and demanding change. (Does this sound familiar?)
-I tried to explore the Willard one weekend. The bus stop was across the street near the old Post Office. I had never seen such a grand hotel; let alone get to go inside. It was a short-lived exploration. Clearly, I didn’t belong and wasn’t a guest. I was asked to leave. As an aside, years later a client’s daughter held her wedding reception there.and I got to stay at the hotel and take a tour. It was still impressive.”
In other words not only has DC experienced great economic improvements since roughly 40-50+ years ago, it has also seen some major social and political contrasts.Not only is marijuana now decriminalized in Washington, and the heat of the Civil Rights Movement, and the Vietnam war past; I continued my research and would come upon one of the more recent socio-political symbols. When exploring the nicer section of 14th I noticed an LGBTQ flag.I also noticed many same-sex couples openly holding hands.With some research, I gathered that the 80’s & 90’s AIDS crisis would spell progress toward general LGBTQ acceptance and social change as the Whitman-Walker Health provider was established at the Elizabeth Taylor Medical Center. It is bittersweet that money came into the area as a result of gentrification, and the negative implications of such; but without the money coming in to provide the resources necessary, Whitman-Walker would not have likely had the same impact as it did. In my first investigation of the 14th and U Street neighborhood, I may not have had much of an idea as to what I was looking for; but I continued, I was able to archive plenty of interesting observations of this same kind.
- The Music Scene
- The local Food, Bar, and Cafe Scene & The Irregular Gentrification
- Permanent VS. Temporary Living. Are Those Apartments or Condos? Expensive?
- A Trendy Looking Bar/Restaurant
- A General Walk Through The City, a Look At The Architecture
I then focused my attention on a more economically successful section of the neighborhood, 14th Street NW. From observing this nicer section alone, I began to expand on the thought that there were some huge disparities in which different areas were revived. I noticed particularly that the most popular restaurants listed on Washington.org located on 14th Street all seemed to be playing to a quaint pseudo-vintage/hipster look.To describe the nicer area as a whole, there generally were high-rises, in addition to more of what appeared to be a hipster building style, as well as a faux-Victorian accent. Compared with what I had seen during my earlier exploration, covering the broader context of this nicer section, there would be very cheap looking areas that looked like they could have been 2000s-present, while others appeared to be renovated originals. it was very unclear to me the as to the age of some of the buildings. In the nicer section, there seemed to be a somewhat contrived attempt to create a trendy atmosphere of being local and stylish. The trendy atmosphere lacked the authenticity of some of the more ethnic neighborhoods of DC. This no doubt is what the ethnic groups of DC fear about gentrification, it somehow strips the heart and soul out of their culture and neighborhoods.
- A Brief Look at The Vintage/Hipster Music Scene: Punk Venue The Black Cat
- Pseudo-Vintage, Dulcezza Café
- The Trendy Health Gimmick.
- I Tasted the Product. It Holds True to The Presentation.
The first time around I especially felt that this particular section of 14th was overwhelmingly white. As I began to look more closely, it was more of a socio-economic homogeneity that I was observing, and less of a racial or ethnic concern.The next thing I would observe would be clothing trends. My observation was that the dress was more current and had left the local thrift shops, and boutique designs appearing more affluent than an average neighborhood. What I now experience as the heart of DC is still evolving, but to describe 14th Street NW’s interpretation, it appears to be the value of being fresh and stylish–while still trying to instill a feeling of nostalgia.
- Another High Rise.
- LGBTQ Civil Rights.
- People Watching. I’d Like to Look Into What Types Of People Are Here And Why.
- Faux-Victorian? Not A High-Rise?
- More People Watching. A Broader Look At The People Located On 14th Street, NW
In contrast to what I had seen in the mildly pretentious looking 14th Street NW, the heart of DC has found balance in neighborhoods like Adams Morgan, which is an economically stable ethnic neighborhood. AdMo’ as some call it, shows a community of an artsy-hipster style–without the peacock feathers of trying to look expensive as 14th Street NW does. Adams Morgan is a culturally rich neighborhood that blends historic architecture, ethnic restaurants, and shops–in order create its own sense of community. It may be post-revival, but in contrast to the very upscale 14th Street NW, Adams Morgan’s community values define what many believe is more important to the heart of DC than cultural appeal, aesthetics, or socioeconomic prosperity.What also really struck me about Adams Morgan was how it was truly affordable the restaurants and shops were. It was as though real people lived and worked there. Even a broke college student, who washed dishes last summer for spending money could afford to go out to dinner in Adams Morgan.
I would next be asked to record some annotated research and write an essay to expand upon my findings. This would be when I would finally come upon the true complexity of DC changes, as different perspectives greatly disagreed on the impact of gentrification on the heart of DC. For my essay, I would now be analyzing the brochure that has been updated to 20+ Places to Eat, Shop, and Play on 14th Street. I found that the brochure was very effective in showing the positive tourist appeal, and prosperity of the nicer parts of DC due to gentrification. This would be an excellent example to point out the limited portrayal of some nicer parts as the makeup DC culture. In one of my first annotations, I gathered that ‘the purpose of the modern rhetoric reflected in this piece appears to emphasize an appeal to the audience through aesthetics, more than substance; but effective use of language also plays as much of a role as it ever has. The photos in this source are very bright, and the captions are brief. This is a reflection of how little reading the modern culture wants to do before making a decision, rather they prefer to rely on imagery.’ After I had established the effect of the internet on how the city now has been portrayed, I could now bring in some more information to further develop the narrative of gentrification vs. heart of DC overtime…
- First look at 14th! AB 1&2.
- DC music!! AB 3&4
- POV: The change of Washington DC AB 5&6.
- A Holistic Overview of How the District’s History Connects with Modern DC AB 7&8
- LGBTQ, AIDS/HIV, and Diversity on 14th Street NW, Washington DC AB 9&10
Part three: The Gallery
As a final point, I would be encouraged to present some imagery to as my Professor Hunter Hoskins would say, let do their thing. In order to bring some interest to this, I would also be encouraged to present them in the form of a Prezi. In order to map the heart of DC, I have done just that–collected impactful set of photos that symbolize the many meanings of the heart of DC.
I have also linked some of my other work this semester by category: