Sunday, June 29, 2014

Movie Series on Gentrification, Urban Renewal, and Resistance

Housing for All, DC Jobs with Justice, Empower DC, Jews United for Justice, ONE DC, and Washington Peace Center are sponsoring a great movie series. Summer in the City II is a documentary series exploring gentrification and urban renewal. They are starting with the amazing documentary "The Pruitt-Igoe Myth," which has truly great interviews with former public housing residents in St. Louis. The documentary inspired me to think about "Pruitt-Igoe and Ward 6."

So, the series has documentaries about DC and about other cities, examining the global trends of gentrification, urban renewal, and local resistance (yes, local resistance may also be global). Save these dates for fabulous discussions with grassroots organizers and residents working on the front lines of these trends. It all starts this Wednesday!

The Pruitt Igoe Myth -- see the trailer and flyer
Wednesday, July 2
6:00 PM
Southwest Library – 900 Wesley Pl SW

The Legend of Cool Disco Dan
Wednesday, July 9
6:00 PM
MLK Library – 901 G St NW
This film follows infamous graffiti artist Cool ‘Disco’ Dan as he discusses the changing city that he once marked. It tells the story of a changing DC during the era of the crack epidemic and the evolution of Go-Go, celebrating the culture of DC.

Southwest Remembered
Wednesday, July 23
6:00 PM
Southwest Library – 900 Wesley Pl SW
Southwest Remembered follows the effects of the federal plan of Urban Renewal in Washington, DC during the 1940s. Southwest DC was one of the first areas to undergo this effort, which ended with more than 23,000 displaced residents and a radically altered Southwest.

The Garden
Wednesday, August 6
6:00 PM
Emergency Community Arts Collective - 733 Euclid St. NW
A rose that grew out of the 1992 LA Riots, the community garden in South Central Los Angeles was a testament to community resilience. However, when the land is sold to a wealthy developer, the South Central Farmers are forced to show a different sort of resilience in their battle with city hall.

My Brooklyn
Wednesday, August 20
6:00 PM
Location TBA
This film follows the director, a self-described gentrifier, on her journey to peel back the complex layers of a changing city. Focusing on the closing of a popular and profitable African-American and Caribbean mall, the movie explores how migration into cities, city planning and racial divides come to a head in an all too familiar story about change in American cities.

Monday, June 23, 2014

The Destruction of Authenticity since the 1980s (re-post)

I've been having many conversations with people about the rising costs of cities around the world, so I thought that I would re-post this as an attempt to try to understand what is going on:

Brooklyn College sociology professor and wildly famous urban sociologist Sharon Zukinmade these observations about NYC in her most recent book:
But the city's historic diversity of uses, local specializations, small stores, and cheek-by-jowl checkerboard of rich people, poor people, and people broadly in the middle has been submerged by a tidal wave of new luxury apartments and chain stores. Global investment firms have bought thousands of low-cost apartment houses and prepare to raise the rent or sell them as condos, driving out older and poorer tenants. The fertile urban terroirof cultural creation is being destroyed by the conspicuous displays of wealth and power typical of private developers and public officials who build for the rich and hope benefits will trickle down to the poor, by the promotions of the media who translate neighborhood identity into a brand, and by the tastes of new urban middle classes who are initially attracted to this identity but ultimately destroy it. These forces of redevelopment have smoothed the uneven layers of grit and glamour, swept away traces of contentious history, cast doubt on the idea that poor people have a right to live and work here too -- all that had made the city authentic.
Her view of authenticity is that it has two mechanisms -- the protection what is seen as "original" (think historic preservation) and continual cultural innovation -- that are in tension, but are also in tension with (and used by) the homogenizing forces of redevelopment that we see in all cities today. The 1980s are a particularly important starting point for these homogenizing forces.

P.S. Zukin recognizes that authenticity is ridiculous in the urban context, which is always changing, but rather that authenticity is a continual concern of residents in cities. The idea of authenticity has real effects.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Car washing, shoe repair, and BBQ in Ward 6

On the blog Popville, the question was asked, "Where do you get your car washed?" AK responded:
I have taken my car to Peter Bug’s Shoe Academy on Saturdays. The workers there hand wash and dry the car, and it’s pretty cheap. There’s also some BBQ and you can drop off your shoes for repair and pick them up next time. It’s a fantastic community resource, and it helps out the people working there. Peter Bug is also great to talk to. If you’re lucky, you can chat with him about his many decades living in D.C.
... It’s at 1320 E St SE. Here’s some great info on Peter Bug (
Thanks for the shout out from AK! Thanks also to Peter Bug for all that he does for Ward 6!

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Save the Shelters!

The Post reported that DC Council member Jim Graham suggested shutting down both the DC General homeless shelter (with 300 families) and the CCNV shelter with (with more than 1,000 single adults). Shutting down any homeless shelter will not make anything better for these people. A much better path is to speed up the process of building affordable housing, which is going so very slowly, and to do the necessary repairs of the shelters while keeping them open. Of course, one can dream about opening all the DC hotels to the homeless shelter residents. Is that option being offered? Are there some alternative places in DC where these 2,000 people will be housed?

I made similar warnings about similar suggestions before: "Warning: Save the Shelter and the People" and "Warning: Save the Shelter and the People (II)." Yes, the situation is terrible in the shelters, but being without shelter is worse. So many times, politicians use criticisms of the shelters or public housing as justification to eradicate the shelters and public housing, making the situation worse.

Also, CCNV is a very unique shelter. The topic of a future post!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Legalization and Mass Incarceration in DC

Today, I spent two and half hours collecting signatures near Eastern Market to put legalization of marijuana on the ballot. It was probably the most enjoyable political work I've done. People were either silently against it or so incredibly excited. Also, I found that a lot of people just wanted to ask about the Ballot Initiative and about the confusing marijuana laws in DC.

Basically, Ballot Initiative #71 seeks to legalize marijuana possession for personal use by those 21 years of age or older. Here is some clarification from the DC Cannabis Campaign:
  • Possession of marijuana is NOT LEGAL in Washington, DC.
  • The decriminalization of marijuana possession legislation passed the DC City Council on March 4, 2014 but will not become law until it has been reviewed by Congress for 60 legislative days (late-July).
  • Medical marijuana IS LEGAL in Washington, DC, but for only registered patients with a limited number of approved medical conditions: AIDS/HIV, cancer, glaucoma, and multiple sclerosis.
Ballot Initiative #71 is only about possession and growing for personal use. There is nothing in it about selling or taxing marijuana. The Ballot Initiative will allow DC residents 21 and older to:
  • Possess up to two ounces of marijuana outside one’s home
  • Grow up to 3 mature marijuana plants inside one’s home
  • Allows growers to keep all the marijuana grown at home
  • Does not allow anyone to sell marijuana (DC rules prevent this question in the ballot)
The DC Board of Elections gave the DC Cannabis Campaign the official circulating petitions on April 23 and the Campaign is currently collecting signatures from registered DC voters. The Campaign has until the first week of July to collect over 22,373 valid signatures in order to put the initiative on the ballot in November’s General Election (info from the DC Cannabis Campaign website).

Why am I out collecting signatures? I am working on this campaign because the current laws about possession of marijuana are implemented in a racist manner. According to last year's ACLU report "The War on Marijuana in Black and White," DC is second after Iowa for having with the largest racial disparities in marijuana possession arrest rates per 100,000:

According to a report by The Washington City Paper, 91% of those arrested in DC on marijuana charges were African American: 
According to arrest numbers obtained from the Metropolitan Police Department and crunched by a statistician, between 2005 and 2011, D.C. cops filed 30,126 marijuana offense charges. A staggering number of those—27,560, or 91 percent—were filed against African-Americans. Only 2,097 were filed against whites.(WCP, April 22, 2013)
And marijuana use is basically equal among African Americans and whites:
Marijuana use is roughly equal among Blacks and whites. In 2010, 14% of Blacks and 12% of whites reported using marijuana in the past year; in 2001, the figure was 10% of whites and 9% of Blacks. In every year from 2001 to 2010, more whites than Blacks between the ages of 18 and 25 reported using marijuana in the previous year. In 2010, 34% of whites and 27% of Blacks reported having last used marijuana more than one year ago — a constant trend over the past decade. In the same year, 59% of Blacks and 54% of whites reported having never used marijuana. Each year over the past decade more Blacks than whites reported that they had never used marijuana. (ACLU, "The War on Marijuana," p. 21)
The marijuana laws are allowing the wasteful and racist mass incarceration of African Americans, as well as the generally wasteful mass incarceration of so many people. (See my previous posts on mass incarceration and debt and solitary confinement)

The campaign needs so many more signatures. Please consider volunteering to collect signatures.

Saturday, June 7, 2014

SMYAL in Ward 6

This week, the Washington City Paper has its very informative "Encyclopedia of Gay D.C." One of the entries is about SMYAL, which originally started as the Sexual Minority Youth Assistance League, but now is called Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders. They are celebrating their 30th year. After starting in 1984 in NW DC, SMYAL moved to 7th St SE, near the Eastern Market Metro station, in 1997. From its beginnings, SMYAL has been an important space for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth to socialize and be less isolated. In their new Ward 6 location, according to their website, SMYAL became:
the metro area's first and only youth center for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth. Moving into the center substantially expanded SMYAL's administrative and program space, allowed SMYAL to substantially expand its hours of operations to offer after-school programs, provided greater Metro accessibility, and created the kind of youth-friendly space critical to SMYAL's work. The Youth Center includes a lending library, a computer lab, a group room, a comfortable drop-in area, a resource area with information on topics ranging from safer sex and substance abuse to nutrition and civic action, a backyard patio, and (perhaps the favorite of our youth) a kitchen area stocked with snacks and beverages.  
In line with the new name, Supporting and Mentoring Youth Advocates and Leaders, SMYAL works "to give student leaders the skills they will need to raise their voices against injustice and empower their peers to join in their efforts." As the WCP states, "it doesn't 'get better' unless someone works to make it better."

Happy 30th Birthday, SMYAL!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Adventures of the new DC Sociological Society President

Two weeks ago, I became president of the DC Sociological Society. I always greatly enjoy the DCSS events, which include talks by the current ASA president and the fun annual banquet. I had been wondering for a while why the DCSS had been founded in 1934 and what it was like at earlier times. So, I went to look at the papers of one of the founders and early presidents (1943-1944) of the DCSS, E. Franklin Frazier. Frazier was a sociology professor at Howard University and went on to be the first African American president of the American Sociological Association. He was one of the most important sociologists in the United States and likely around the world.

So, what did I find? Psychological warfare, Black Power, and so on. Read more here at the DC Sociological Society blog: