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Gentrification and Neo-Liberalism in D.C.

New developments being built in D.C. 

Washington D.C., also known as “chocolate city” has become one of the fastest gentrifying cities in the United States. This gentrification targets Black and Brown individuals, which has prompted a decline of Black residents from 60 percent to 47 percent in less than 20 years. According to a study by the NCRC, 57.8 percent of Washington, D.C. has been gentrified between the years of 2000 and 2019. 

As a part of the gentrification, D.C. has the highest rate of low-income displacement in the United States. Over 35 percent of the low-income population in D.C. lives in “economically expanding” or gentrified areas, according to the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. 

The highest gentrified neighborhoods of D.C., according to the NCRC, are Columbia Heights, Petworth, NoMa, the eastern and northern edges of Capitol Hill, Navy Yard, Anacostia, and Marshall Heights. These are all predominantly Black and Brown neighborhoods. 

Neo-liberalism is one of the driving forces of gentrification in not just D.C., but the entire country. It is a subcategory of capitalism that enables oppressive forces to establish gentrification. 

“Neoliberalism is a system that prioritizes private property, ownership, and an unregulated version of capitalism that restricts larger government in the role of daily life,” said San Ramon City Council candidate and longtime D.C. resident Sameera Rajwade. “It does not take into account systemic flaws such as poverty and racism but rather believes the benefits of unregulated capitalism are universally attainable,” Rajwade recalls how gentrification can use neo-liberal capitalism to its advantage as investors find ways to displace Black individuals. 

The standard definition of Neoliberalism “is a political and economic policy model that emphasizes the value of free-market capitalism while seeking to transfer control of economic factors from the government to the private sector. Also incorporating the policies of privatization, deregulation, globalization, and free trade,” defined by Thought Co. 

Gentrification is rooted in capitalism, as only one group benefits from the gentrification of a city, while the other group is oppressed and displaced. “Neo-liberalism correlates with gentrification because it involves upholding white supremacy,” said American University anthropology major Rory Hayes. “While maybe it is not explicitly stated to this day, gentrification was designed to benefit white people and create communities that were heterogenous without Black or Brown presence” 

As seen in D.C., the decline of the Black population is due to a large density of white individuals moving into the city. This term is often referred to as “white flight”, where an influx of white people moves into a designated area. “Neighborhood change is usually accompanied by rapid racial transition, particularly white flight,” according to the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity. Across the top 50 largest metropolitan areas, the white population of economically expanding areas grew by 44 percent between 2000 and 2016.” 

During the unprecedented year of 2020, police brutality has become a more prevalent topic than ever. In Washington D.C there have been several instances of police brutality against Black people, both in the neighborhoods and against protesters

The 2020 election was one of the most anticipated events of the year, and neo-liberalism played a large role in this. Over the summer, amid the George Floyd and Breonna Taylor tragedies, and further attention being called to police brutality, there was a surge in performative activism, one of the main elements of neo-liberalism. 

Even after all this, President-elect Joe Biden proclaimed that he is “totally opposed” to defunding the police. “White liberals perpetuate racism,” said anti-imperialist activist Amnita Zae, "They keep pushing Biden but demonize a working-class Black or Brown person for wanting to vote third party.” Neo-liberalists, specifically on social media, demonized many Black and Brown individuals for their frustration with Biden and his politics that perpetuate the capitalistic systems that oppress them. 

In D.C., Biden won the election by winning 93 percent of the votes, according to the Associated Press. “The neoliberals used all of their energy to promote Trump 2.0 [Biden] being in office,” said Zae. “None of these people have ever contributed to mutual aid, stood for Black, Brown and Indigenous lives, organized, or even protested/rioted against injustice.” The city saw endless parades and celebration, as the newfound residents rejoiced and what they deemed a victory. 

Meanwhile, new, gentrified, developments are sprouting up all over the city, while 6,521 individuals, mostly Black, are experiencing homelessness, according to the United States Interagency Council on Homelessness. These people do not benefit from multi-million dollar developments just blocks from where they sleep on the streets. 

The city of Washington D.C. has yet to invest in its initiative to repair the city’s crumbling public housing. Mayor Muriel Bowser has pledged to build 36,000 new housing developments in D.C. by the year 2025, but with only a third of them being made “affordable." This means that the other two-thirds will likely be priced to market out-of-district investors and gentrifiers. 

Gentrification, however, is not the only option. Revitalization could transpire if the actual residents of D.C. were allotted proper funding to uplift their communities. 

Revitalization allows residents to positively transform their city and expound on community building. Costs are reduced for residents through policy and planning, and community partners reinvest. This allows the community to be built up for residents and welcome newcomers. 

Versus gentrification which attracts non-native young singles to cities with affordable housing marketed toward newcomers as opposed to city natives. “This land is actively being colonized,” said Zae. “The oppressor will continue to engage in their oppressing. Especially in a system as violent as racial capitalism.”

Outside investors come in and uproot the city and what has been built by its residents. Families are displaced by rising costs in housing and insurance. The revenue of new developments only benefits investors and foreign gentrifiers. 

One of the ways D.C. natives have been able to keep their culture alive is D.C. curated Go-Go music. However, even the life of Go-Go has been threatened, around Howard University and Shaw, as white gentrifiers complained that the music was being played too loud while they tried to walk their dogs

Gentrification has “particularly harmed Go-Go because it was created to be experienced live,” according to The Economist. “Its characteristics include call-and-response, which turns the audience into part of the performance, and the use of percussive solos instead of pauses between songs-which is how Go-Go got its name.”

“Small-businesses, Black residents, and a lot of explicit poverty and homelessness,” student Rory Hayes said recalling a personal experience with gentrification during her time as a college student in D.C. “However, I would consistently see the whites/Non-Blacks in the neighborhood ignore the people on the streets asking for money or would avoid a particular pocket of the street where many in the neighborhood gathered. This was frustrating because gentrification has disenfranchised Black residents as they can no longer afford to live in the community they grew up in while Whites and Non-Blacks navigate the space like police; with dirty looks, comments, and overall ignoring the people of the community who were there before them. Gentrification is violent.”

Click here for before and after pictures of gentrification in Washington, D.C.

A development site in South West D.C. 

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