Changes in Columbia Heights

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

The Washington Post | A Rapid Renaissance in Columbia Heights

Even within the rush of construction that has swept across the District, Columbia Heights' renaissance is singular, not only because of its scope but because of its locale, a residential neighborhood that is among the region’s most economically and racially diverse.

Sweet. We’re singular. I think they chose that because the connotations of “unique” are too universally positive. “Singular” implies that you could be the only one, but still not that exciting.

Community leaders, said D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1), envisioned a neighborhood that would serve all residents' dining and retail needs, and include a kaleidoscope-like civic plaza for the working-class families and professionals who make up the neighborhood’s population, as well as the shoppers streaming in from across the area.

Columbia Heights' rebirth is not only about the arrival of bricks and mortar at a crossroads that long struggled to recover from the looting and arson that followed Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. It’s about the blending of cultures and classes.

Nicely done, way to get the MLK Jr. reference in there. It shows the author cares about poor black people.

The new luxury apartments along 14th Street join the neighborhood’s existing stock of subsidized housing, much of it preserved and rehabilitated by officials who feared that the poor would be forced out.

Never mind that other cities have had great success with spreading subsidized housing out all over the place so you don’t create these little clusters surrounded by new condos. If everything is spread out, you have this glaring reminder every day that people in those buildings are poor and people in these buildings are rich. That’s not how you build a diverse, integrated community.

Black residents made up just over half the neighborhood’s population in the 2000 Census, although their share had declined since the previous count while the numbers of Hispanic and white people grew. From 2000 to 2005, home buyers' median income rose from $76,000 to $103,000, according to the Urban Institute .

I’m not sure why you cherry pick home buyers' median income, unless you’re afraid to mention that the overall median income is less than half that.

“Columbia Heights potentially is the manifestation of Dr. King’s vision,” said William Jordan, a resident of more than 20 years. “You have the potential not just for token integration but for a critical mass of old and young, low-income and affluent.” But Jordan questioned whether that spectrum can withstand economic pressures. “Can this last longer than half a generation?” he asked.

No. Not unless you do something about the schools so that the young middle class doesn’t move to the suburbs as soon as they have school-age children.

A few blocks south, in a concrete-paved park at 14th and Girard streets, talk of the neighborhood’s changes can be heard at tables where men play whist and checkers. The park is across from a new condominium building and down the street from where two homicides occurred last year. Graham has secured city funds to renovate the park, a plan that includes installing a fence that would block access at night. Although Graham said a broad spectrum of residents support the design, including park regulars, some say they feel insulted by the District’s attempt to impose control over a spot they consider a second living room, and they see a connection between the fence and all the new development.

This park has a really bad reputation that I don’t think is deserved at all. It happens to be at an intersection where a lot of crime happens, but most of the people who use the park are older, longtime residents. They’re not committing the crimes. But almost every building visible from the park is subsidized housing. Fencing in the park and closing it at night is just going to move the problem down a block or two, and insult the people who’ve been hanging out in that park for years. I love to see positive changes in the neighborhood, but flowery articles that focus on the new money coming in and gloss over the problems under the surface aren’t really helping anyone.

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