New to the Neighborhood: How Can Be Called an Urban Pioneer When Move to an Inner-City Neighborhood Where Families Have Lived for Generations?

By Courteau, Sarah L. | The Wilson Quarterly, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

New to the Neighborhood: How Can Be Called an Urban Pioneer When Move to an Inner-City Neighborhood Where Families Have Lived for Generations?


Courteau, Sarah L., The Wilson Quarterly


A YEAR AGO I MOVED INTO A ROW HOUSE IN NORTHEAST Washington, D.C., two miles from the Capitol. I paid $85,000, a price so low it's a punch line in a city where the average home sells for more than $600,000. The hot water heater was missing, and the bathroom tub drained into a downstairs closet. My house inspector, a dead ringer for the gravel-voiced actor Sam Elliott, tramped silently from room to room, occasionally pausing to pronounce, "It's not proper" The house was in foreclosure and had been vacant for a couple of years, so when I found crayons under the old carpet, I was spared the guilt of imagining them in still-young fingers. But once, someone had loved this place. The backyard bloomed with rosebushes staked with weathered shoelaces. With an FHA-backed loan and a savvy contractor, I gutted the house and renovated it. I found myself realizing a dream I'd assumed was miles out of reach: I was a homeowner.

A white, single professional in my thirties, I moved into a neighborhood of modest houses that is almost 90 percent black and where about a third of the population lives below the poverty line. I'm a gentrifier, a category of urban resident that has become a lightning rod for debates about the evolution of our cities. Last year, a study published in the Journal of Urban Economics found evidence of gentrification during the 1990s in the majority of the country's 72 largest metropolitan areas. But few places match the galloping pace of gentrificafion in the nation's capital. In the last 10 years, Washington's population has grown by five percent, after steadily shrinking since 1950. The white population is up by nearly a third. Since the 1960s blacks have been a majority in the District of Columbia, but that balance will likely shift in the next few years.

Unlike places such as Harlem in New York City, where yuppies have snapped up decrepit but once-grand brownstones, my neighborhood, which was originally settled by European immigrants, has always been working class. My two-bedroom is less than 800 square feet, upstairs and down, and lacks a basement. I love the neighborhood--known as Rosedale, after the recreation center on the next block-and feel proud and a little defiant to have pulled off a financial coup that's landed me a comfortable life in a place that some relatives and friends, and, especially, taxi drivers (who collectively form a modern Greek chorus of prophetic doom) describe as "sketchy." But it's with a mixture of pride and embarrassment that I hear myself called an urban pioneer. Because, of course, this is a long-settled neighborhood. It's only new to me.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Many of my neighbors have lived in Rosedale for decades, and others can trace their roots back generations. They remember when the neighborhood was a mix of blacks and whites, before whites began to pick up and leave in the middle of the last century. They remember when blacks did their shopping on H Street because they weren't welcome in downtown department stores. They remember when the Rosedale playground was desegregated, largely due to the efforts of local resident Walter Lucas, who one day in 1952 led a group of black children over to play and was beaten and then arrested along with one of his assailants. They remember the riots that tore the area apart for three days after the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968 and left the area's commercial spine, H Street, in smoking ruins. Fifty-year-old Stephon Starke recalls that word went out that businesses would be spared only if they displayed a picture of King in the window. His father had put a picture in the window of their house, but not at the liquor store he owned off H Street. Two Great Danes kept the store safe, but many other black-owned businesses did not survive.

H Street was in decline even before the riots. After ward, though some businesses reopened, many damaged buildings remained vacant. The street was a mute reminder of social failure.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

New to the Neighborhood: How Can Be Called an Urban Pioneer When Move to an Inner-City Neighborhood Where Families Have Lived for Generations?
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?