Friday, February 24, 2012

Stopping or Turning Back the Clock

House renovations are just house renovations. However, sociologists, historians, and other social scientists show how something as innocuous or even positive as house renovations can have very different meanings or contradictory meanings in different time periods.

Sociologists often look at visual culture to understand the meaning of social phenomenon, like house renovation. Here is a Post article from November 25, 1965 (p. H1) that I saw in the papers of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society (CHRS) in the GWU Special Collections Research Center. Since this article was saved for decades and was the only item in its folder, we can be assured that it had some importance to the person who saved it.

This newspaper article is about the Thanksgiving dinner being prepared by Mrs. John Leukhardt at her long-time family home, the Yost house at 1002 Pennsylvania Avenue, SE. From the CHRS documents, I have noticed that the Yost house was mentioned quite a lot and thus had some importance to the CHRS. Just glancing at the article, we can see that it is addressed to women, since it is in the section "for and about Women" and ads for women's consumer items, like the Corset World ad in the lower right-hand corner. Also, we can see in the caption of the right-hand photo that women do not have their own names: "Mrs. John Leukhardt" and "Mrs. Richard Small." Next, the article's sub-title is "Capitol Hill Home Stops the Clock." Taking this seriously, we can ask, why would someone in 1965 want to stop the clock? Or is there a desire to, in fact, go back to an earlier time?

Throughout the article, the author demonstrates great concern with stopping time:
"Our Thanksgiving menu is practically the same as the one my mother served for her first Thanksgiving dinner in this house 71 years ago," said Mrs. Leukhardt.

"With few exceptions, they have kept the 4-story 12-room house just as it was."

"We're a very traditionally-minded family," she said. "We like to preserve old customs for the holidays. And we all love this old house. We even have the same phone number with a different exchange, that my father had in 1904."
Maybe the article's author and the woman interviewed in the article want to return back to 1904 or 1894 when the house was built? It is difficult to tell exactly when they might want the clock to stop. There were some changes, such as a "modern kitchen" and lace recently acquired from a trip to Copenhagen, but "Otherwise, everything is the same." Therefore, some changes are accepted and others are not. What might be unacceptable changes?

Sociologists often look for unspoken or invisible aspects, which are obvious now. For example, the two women in maid's outfits in this photo have their own names, Harriet McPherson and Elizabeth Prue, and are taking over the cooking of dinner once Mrs. Leukhardt has stuffed the turkey and put in the oven. The article says that Mrs. Leukhardt "mashes the sweets and combines them," but it seems likely that the women in maid's outfits are doing this work. The Congress passed the Civil Rights Act in 1964 and the Voting Rights Act in 1965. Could this article be expressing concerns about women and African Americans not "knowing their place" anymore? Might a claim to be "very traditionally-minded" be a claim against social movements for women and African Americans. Does this article show some underlying connection in people's minds in the past among house preservation/renovation, stopping the clock or turning back the clock, and anti-civil rights?

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Why don't the poor go to our meetings?

One unnamed commenter on my past post about the Hine PUD process asked, "Other than reforming the process, what do you want in terms of amenities and benefits Johanna?" Another commenter, our great ANC rep Brian Pate, wondered why I thought that the process was undemocratic and exclusive since the meetings have been public to which "a broad spectrum of stakeholders, from those adjacent to the development to those with broader interests," were invited, and wrote, "I invite you to come to our next meeting and share your ideas...Hope to see you on the 23rd and please feel free to contact me directly if you like to discuss your ideas further." I greatly appreciate being invited to take part. I feel extremely included. The problem is that thousands of our Ward 6 neighbors and their very different interests are in actuality not included in the discussion.

One of my favorite articles of all time is "Civic Participation and the Equality Problem" by Kay Lehman Schlozman, Sidney Verba, and Henry E. Brady. They ask, why does civic engagement matter? They answer that it matters for "the development of the capacities of the individual, the creation of community and the cultivation of democratic virtues, and the equal protection of interests in public life." They are most interested in the last point: from whom does the government hear and what does it hear from them?

To answer these questions, they interviewed over 15,000 people by phone and then interviewed 2,517 of them in a follow-up, more detailed survey. The researchers found lots of interesting trends. The researchers asked if the respondents had been politically active about a government benefit they received. They found that the government is much more likely to hear from those with who receive seemingly automatic, non-means-tested benefits (Social Security, veterans' benefits, Medicare; benefits not determined by income level) than those with means-tested benefits (Medicaid, food stamps, housing subsidies, Aid to Families with Dependent Children). Those with Social Security were much more likely to contact the government about their benefits than those with AFDC.

The government hears very different messages from the advantaged and the disadvantaged. From the survey, the researchers found that the disadvantaged mainly contact the government about basic human needs: poverty, jobs, housing, and health, as well as drugs and crime. The advantaged contact the government about economic issues (taxes, government spending, or the budget) or about social issues (abortion or pornography). Since the disadvantaged are much less politically active, "public officials actually receive more messages from the advantaged, suggesting a curtailment of government intervention on behalf of the needy, than messages from the disadvantaged urging the opposite."

Why do some participate politically more than others? The researchers found that education is the best predictor. However, when the respondents were asked whether they had been invited (or recruited) to take part in a political act, like being invited personally to give an opinion about the Hine PUD, those who were invited were much more likely to be more educated and more wealthy than those who spontaneously took part in a political activity (see Table 12-2).

Those who invite or recruit others to take part are "rational prospectors," looking to use their time and energies most efficiently. Recruiters find political participants through organizational, neighborhood, and workplace networks of personal ties, as well as impersonal means such as through mass emails. Those who are recruited are different both demographically (more wealthy and more educated) and in their need for government assistance. Such selective recruitment brings in "those who are likely to be political involved already" and represents their interests, rather than providing "equal protection of interests in public life."

So, I am exactly the type of person who would be personally recruited to take part in the Hine PUD process. I have attended several Hine meetings. I greatly appreciate my inclusion in the process. At the same time, I seek to highlight those left out of the process. Were Potomac Gardens residents and their representatives like Resident Council president Melvina Middleton or DCHA Family Commissioner Aquarius Vann-Ghasri personally invited to voice their opinions about the needed amenities and benefits, since Potomac Gardens residents made up much of the Hine Junior High school population? Were some of the 20% of Ward 6 residents living in poverty personally invited to voice their opinion? Were those using Section 8 rental vouchers personally recruited? What would these neighbors say should be done with the Hine property?

Yes, as Brian Pate commented, AmericaSpeaks is expensive, but inclusive democracy does require funding and SW DC residents have benefited from being well organized (as I discussed in a past post). Also, AmericaSpeaks is not the only option. One could look at earlier efforts on Capitol Hill, such as the 1970s Capitol East Coalition for Housing and Neighborhood Improvement, which officially included representatives from public housing, senior citizen, youth, and welfare-low-income residents. Why don't the poor go to Hine meetings or why (probably) weren't they among the 200 who responded to the Hine PUD survey? Maybe they weren't asked.

Monday, February 13, 2012

All PUDs are Not Equal (II)

In the 1970s, American cities were not a wasteland of chaos, but rather American cities were the “epicenter of political activism”(1). Capitol Hill was also an epicenter of political activism, activism that might be an example for today. It is surprising that SE Ward 6 (as opposed to SW and Near SE) lacks venues for democratic discussion. Yes, we have the ANC meetings, but they do not attract a demographically representative sample of citizens and discussions focus on parking, house renovations, and so on, leaving aside concerns of many residents. The PUD process in SE Ward 6 has not been very inclusive. We can find possible models in other parts of the city (discussed in a previous post) and in the actual history of SE Ward 6.

In the 1960s, the SE area had the Capitol Hill Community Council, the Citizen's Advisory Council, and the Southeast Civic Association. In 1977, a new group formed, the Capitol East Coalition for Housing and Neighborhood Improvement. ANC 6A and 6B formed this group "to encourage maximum feasible community participation in public and private programs designed for the Near Southeast Community Development Area. This development area crossed 6A and 6B and promised to bring new resources. The Coalition included in their membership the following representatives, who would discussion how to distribute these resources:

1) community residents from the development area
2) community organizations:
  • 2 church representatives
  • a representative of the DC Federation of Civic Associations
  • a Friendship House board member
  • a representative of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society
  • a representative of public housing residents
  • 2 business representatives
  • a senior citizen representative
  • a youth representative
  • a welfare or low-income resident representative
3) ANC Commissioners

Remember that the 1960s and 1970s were a time of extensive gentrification. The Coalition did community interviews and found the "most pressing issues to Capitol East residents" were:

displacement of low and moderate income families from the Capitol East community; exorbitant property taxes and speculation, school closings in the Capitol East area, need for adequate and suitable housing for Capitol East senior citizens, need for available food and shelter on an emergency and/or temporary basis; home financing for people who are threatened with displacement and want to remain in Capitol East area; need for adequate and quality housing for public housing tenants. (3)
It is highly possible that the nearly 20% of Ward 6 residents living in poverty might have similar concerns today. What might they want at the Hine site? Who knows? Did anyone ask?

(1) Suleiman, Osman. 2008. The Invention of Brownstone Brooklyn: Gentrification and the Search for Authenticity in Postwar New York. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
(2) GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society records, MS 2009, Box 35, Folder 19, "Capitol East Coalition for Housing - By-Laws (1976-77)," Capitol East Coalition for Housing and Neighborhood Improvement Bylaws, August 1977.
GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society records, MS 2009, Box 35, Folder 20, The Capitol East Communicator, June/July 1978, Official newsletter of the Capitol East Coalition for Housing and Neighborhood Improvements.

Friday, February 10, 2012

All PUDs are Not Equal

Hine Junior High across from the Eastern Market Metro is being torn down and redeveloped by Stanton-EastBanc. ANC 6B is managing the PUD (Planned Unit Development) process. To collect the ideas of the "6B community," ANC 6B set up an online survey, asking respondents to list benefits or amenities, as well as concerns about traffic, management, retail choices, etc., that should be negotiated with the developers. As of a few days ago, they received over 200 responses. Who is really included in the Hine PUD process? Of course, everyone is invited, but is the Hine PUD process really inclusive?

In contrast, we can look at the PUD process in Near SE-SW. Back in March, I attended the Near SE-SW Community Summit organized by the Near SE-SW Community Benefits Coordinating Council (CBCC) with the help of DC-based AmericaSpeaks and LISC. The summit was open to everyone in ANC 6D (others were welcomed too) with the goal of figuring out the community priorities of residents in order to better inform ANC 6D policies, especially given the extensive development going on in the area. It was news to me that such citizen summits happened a lot when Anthony Williams was mayor, but seemed to disappear with Adrian Fenty. The organizers specifically targeted different groups in the neighborhood to get a representative sample: young and old, poor and wealthy, men and women, etc.

It was an extremely interesting process. We were assigned to a table, where we introduced ourselves and got to use our "clickers," devices that allowed us to personally vote. Immediately, we used the clickers to get a sense of the demographics in the room, which showed a good representation of young/old, long-term residents/new residents, and a variety of races (1% Asian/Pacific Islander, 33% Black/African-American, 4% Hispanic/Latino, 1% Native American, 54% White/Caucasian, 6% other) though it wasn't a perfect reflection of the area population. (The summary report has the demographics, goals, findings, and much more).

At our tables, we talked about which topic area we wanted to focus on that day:
  • Workforce Development/Jobs/Community Centers
  • Housing Diversity and Affordability
  • Neighborhood Oriented Retail and Services
  • Youth-Education and Services
  • Environmental Concerns

Then, we moved to a new table representing our chosen topic. At our new table (I chose housing), we introduced ourselves again and began to discuss our topic specifically focusing on the area's assets, challenges, and then concrete projects that could be taken. Each table had two non-area mediators. One mediator helped organize the discussion. The other mediator recorded our ideas on a laptop computer. In a corner of the room, a group of people on computers organized these thoughts coming from various tables into common themes. At the end, we voted for the two concrete projects we wanted most. Some of the chosen concrete priorities were developing pre-K, using the public schools for adult vocational training, increasing locally owned businesses, creating housing desired by the current residents, and developing community gardens.

The rest of Ward 6 could benefit from such community summits because we could get a sense of residents' priorities. The process took four (very interesting) hours, but I felt that we did not completely clarify the priorities. The summit is considered a step towards a Community Benefits Agreement (CBA), which would help the ANC to negotiate better and more responsibly with developers, the DC government, and other stakeholders because the ANC would know the actual priorities of constituents. I was concerned that developers could use these CBAs to legitimate all sorts of projects not in the spirit of the CBAs. CBAs are a nationwide movement. The Washington Business Journal shows that CBAs are already a big topic of discussion across DC. In spite of some concerns, I found the summit a very interesting and useful process.

A bit different from the Hine PUD, no? Wouldn't it be great to have a community summit in the Eastern Market area (to talk about Hine, etc)?

P.S. See related posts: All PUDs are Not Equal (II) and Why don't the poor go to our meetings?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is Restoration Racist? (II)

Thank you to the two Anonymous comments on my previous post! Racism is a complicated concept, easily thrown around, but, in the case of housing and the restoration movement, my research shows a disturbing history of racism. The "race of the steward" of Capitol Hill houses was quite important to the restoration movement, especially when it began around 1947 on the Hill but later as well. In the wonderful Special Collections Research Center at GWU, I have been reading the papers of the Capitol Hill Restoration Society. Within these papers are three files dated from 1944 to 1950 on the Southeast Washington Citizens Association (SEWCA), a very early advocate for restoration and an association for "any member of the Caucasian race."(1) On the one hand, 1944-1950 was a time of intense overt racial discrimination in DC. On the other hand, times were changing and racism took new forms. As the first commenter suggested, we must go beyond seeing racism only as negative beliefs or "malicious intent" one race has towards another. Racism also is the acquisition of resources due to one's race and the protection of these resources at the expense of another race(s). One does not have to be an overt racist to gain these benefits, but, in 1944-1950, they were also overtly racist. The restoration movement is actually rather disturbing, in ways not often recognized by scholars and residents alike. Here are some disturbing aspects of this restoration movement:
  • The Southeast Washington Citizens Association was an advocate for whites and not an advocate for blacks. One could say that this is obvious because the world was overtly racist then, but restoration emerged from this world. It sought to restore what they called "Old S.E." or "Old Capitol Hill," which was possibly in contrast to the "new" black residents moving from the South and from other parts of DC. (What was the status of the historic African American neighborhoods?) In 1947 and 1950, respectively, the SEWCA passed motions supporting the continuation of racial housing covenants and school segregation.(2) They encouraged association officers to enforce racial housing:
    "Mr. Absher gave his report on the building of the apartment house on 16th Street, S.E. He was told by one of the owners that his request regarding the occupancy of white in this apartment house would be given serious consideration. He was told that, if the immediate surroundings were predominantly white, then the apartments would be rented to the whites. If the colored are more predominant, then, they would be rented to the colored."(3)
    They supported the funding of Division II, "colored" schools, "but not at the expense of the white pupils..." (4) As sociologist George Lipsitz discusses, "whites used restrictive covenants, racial zoning, redlining, steering, blockbusting, and mob violence between 1866 and 1948 to monopolize advantages for themselves and their descendants."(5)
  • In the minds of government officials and the real estate industry, private restoration/renewal and public renewal had a common goal -- to increase house or property values -- which meant (possibly unofficially) more white people and fewer black people. Private and public renewal had the same result and were in fact seen as complementary at the time. Unlike other places in the US, Capitol Hill restoration and renewal even occurred at the same time. Both forms of renewal simultaneously fixed up areas of the District AND made them more white.
  • While restoration is often viewed as a response to urban renewal that sought to destroy historic homes, the SEWCA supported both restoration and urban renewal. According to an officer in the SEWCA, Elizabeth Draper, in August 1950, Capitol Hill leaders met with the National Capitol Planning Commission to make the Hill the second area for redevelopment of slum areas after SW DC. Unlike the thousands of poor African American households in SW, those on the Hill had power based in part on their race to negotiate with urban renewal officials. These officials "took the position that the Agency would assist private capital in redoing the area, rather than come in, condemn everything, and start again."(6) Unlike in pre-renewal SW, Capitol Hill had available private capital, though primarily available to whites who were real estate agents or developers. Individual renovators often had trouble getting funds for individual projects. In its 1948-49 program, the SEWCA promoted both renovation and stated, "We shall urge the condemnation of so-called residential property that is unfit for occupancy." They also supported the destruction of the Wallach School and the rebuilding of Hine Junior High. (7)
  • White people on Capitol Hill learned from the experiences of Georgetown's restoration movement organized also by white citizens associations. For example, as an officer in the SEWCA, Elizabeth Draper brought her experiences from Georgetown:
"Having been president of the Progressive Citizens Association of Georgetown for two terms when that section began to improve in 1937 and again for three terms from 1944 until 1947, I knew the many problems in a restoration program."(8)

Georgetown's restoration movement had displaced the historic African American community there, as described in Black Georgetown Remembered. After her move to Capitol Hill, Draper joined the SEWCA, invited speakers to talk about restoration, and organized competitions and campaigns to realize it. According to Draper, very quickly, real estate agents recognized the benefits of the increased housing values. In both Georgetown and Capitol Hill (as discussed by Rechler), real estate agents and developers could use racial panics to their benefit, making both locations less integrated.
  • The restoration movement is often, though not always, seen as a white movement. Maybe this is due to its history? Maybe it is just due to observing the actual practice? In a 1976 survey conducted by the Capitol Hill Restoration Society of its members:
"many respondents elaborated on the concern over the 'upper-middle class white' make up of the Society's membership. One person seemed to capture the sentiment of many of those who answered this question by saying that ... 'It depends on one's perspective...It depends on how one is affected by restoration and the consequent increase in property values.' Many people were more explicit and pointed to the need to include more black residents into the organization so that the whole community could be represented and work together on making the 'Hill' a better place to live...Another member put it this way...CHRS is 'upper class white property owners concerned about property. It should be changed to a community group speaking on issues that are important to the future of Washington as a beautiful and economically strong multi-racial city.'...A number of people mentioned that, for some, the image of the Society is that of just being a front for the real estate interests on the Hill."(9)
  • Many houses were saved from the freeway and renewal projects, but for whom were they saved? In 1966, the Capitol Hill Restoration Society president sent his comments on the comprehensive plan for DC in 1985 to the National Capitol Planning Commission. The president noted that Capitol Hill had two growing populations: the well-to-do, who can afford restoration prices, and the moderate-/low-income black population, "which the suburbs are, and may continue to be, very reluctant to accommodate." Both groups need more housing, so he asked, "Where are the poor families going to go?"(10) He suggested that they be moved to Bolling Field. For whom were these historic homes saved?

As a result of its history, restoration created racialized spaces. Racist intentions are not necessary, when one can access resources in these racialized spaces, though racist intentions remain too. Lipsitz warns that this system that purportedly benefits whites actually damages their long-term interests, "while Black negotiations with the constraints and confinements of racialized space often produce ways of envisioning and enacting more decent, dignified, humane, and egalitarian social relations for everyone."(11)

(1) GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society records, MS2009, Box 34, mainly Folder 14, Southeast Citizens Association: Constitution, Bylaws, minutes, June 27, 1944- Sept. 14, 1950.

(2) GWU, SECA records, Meeting minutes, December 9, 1947 and Sept. 14, 1950.

(3) GWU, SECA records, Meeting minutes, December 9, 1947.

(4) GWU, SECA records, Meeting minutes, February 27th, 1945.

(5) Lipsitz, George. 2011. How Racism Takes Place. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, p. 3.

(6) Draper, Elizabeth Kohl. "Progress Report on the Restoration of Capitol Hill Southeast," Records of the Columbia Historical Society, Washington, DC, Vol. 1951/1952.

(7) GWU, SECA records, SE Washington Citizens Association Program, 1948-1949.

(8) Draper, p. 134.

(9) GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society records, MS2009, Box 30, Folder 16, "Communities [sic] reactions to the CHRS’s activities - survey findings (1976)."

(10) GWU Special Collections, Capitol Hill Restoration Society records, MS2009, Box 32, Folder 9, "Planning for Area: 1965/1985, Plan and Revision as comprehension plan - 1967," Historical Files. Letter from Gregory R. New to Sydnor F. Hodges, NCPC, March 5, 1966.

(11) Lipsitz, p. 6.