WETA’s Case Studies in Displacement

The first episodes of the new TV series, “If You Lived Here,” are case studies in residential displacement, gentrification through erasing existing local commerce, and the consequences of promoting density as a solution to for increased affordability of housing. See this week’s “Covid and Residential Development.”

“H Street Corridor”

The first episode of the series, “H Street Corridor,” is an unintentional illustration of everything Brandi Thompson Summers writes in her insightful 2019 book, Black in Place: The Spatial Aesthetics of Race in a Post-Chocolate City. In short, professor Summers uses the example of H Street NE to explain how “blackness has become a prized and lucrative aesthetic that often leaves out D.C.’s Black residents.” (Book available at local libraries and through WeLuvBooks’ Bookshop.)

WETA’s “H Street Corridor” advertises the area’s Black history while simultaneously promoting “cranes in the sky at all times” and other evidence of displacement. We’re told, for example, that what was once a single-family home was converted to two units, each selling for $775,000, “because of the cost of dirt” in the neighborhood.

One interviewee describes Maketto Market, in the 1300 block of H Street, as “an homage to the H Street of old.” As part of a “revitalization” narrative, we are told that, “for a 30- or 40-year period, this was not so much of a destination.” Thus: $28 fried chicken and $33 “cool kids vinyl” in the former Dollar Store space, in the block which once housed French’s Fine Southern Cuisine and Ohio Restaurant: Southern Style Home Cooking.

Later, a realtor causally references “a really cool church converted to condos” down the block from a $2.5 million home, pointing to, but not naming, the former Imani Temple African-American Catholic Congregation.

Muted, Weirdly Flawed History of “Shaw”

The “Shaw” episode, number 2 in this series, highlights a Black past and a “diverse” area, but fails to mention Shaw’s enormous population shift, between 2000 and 2016: a substantial decline in Black residents, in lower income residents, and in families with children, as well as a large increase in white residents, middle-high income residents, and residents aged 18-34.

Shaw is advertised as a place that “has grit” as a sales frame for 2- and 3-bedroom homes with purchase prices of between $829,000 and $2.5 million. There is no mention of the “Don’t Mute DC” movement, launched around the corner from the spotlighted luxury homes.

On an ironic “where are the copy editors?!” note: A musical history segment tells us that Marvin Gaye was “from Southeast.” In actuality, he was born at Freedman’s Hospital in NW, lived his earliest years in SW, and is best known for connections to Simple City NE, meaning that Southeast is the one quadrant with which Marvin Gaye is not associated.

Selling “Flavor”

The “If You Lived Here” series “spotlights a wide array of neighborhoods and properties throughout the national capital area while celebrating each area’s history, culture, notable places and flavor.” The “flavor” presented in the H Street and Shaw episodes is served up as part of a package that can be purchased, rather than as an element of community in which to participate. Neighborhoods are laid out as commodities on offer, for a hefty price, rather as than as dynamic systems in which newcomers should expect to contribute.

WETA, one of DC’s local PBS stations, says its mission is “to produce and distribute content of intellectual integrity and cultural merit.” WETA celebrates “deep roots in public education” and the development of “educational resources that serve all local residents, including some of the most vulnerable and underserved.” Perhaps the new series will turn out to be one long, complicated parody — something on the order of “Get Out,” maybe? If not, WETA might want to begin preparing commentary that provides better context for what is being sold, to whom, and at what cost to the District.


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