Bike Lanes, Dog Parks and Black Flight
Over in Atlantic Cities, Garance Franke-Ruta goes to great length to counter common held perceptions about D.C.’s gentrification, using Stephen A. Crockett, Jr.’s piece “The Brixton: It’s new, happening and another example of African-American historical ‘swagger-jacking’” as a jumping-off point.
It’s very clear from the data on D.C.’s Census Tract 44 - the heart of the U Street neighborhood, where I’ve lived since 2006 – that the black population dropped dramatically long before any of the so-called “culture vulture” venues came in. More than 1,100 people left the neighborhood between 1980 and 2000, a third of the population. That is a profound population loss, and it coincided with a time when just about the only new major development in the area was Marion Barry’s Frank D. Reeves Center project, a government building that’s had something of a troubled history. Again: the bulk of the black U Street population loss happened by 2000, more than a decade before the Brixton came onto the scene. That’s doubtless why the property that now houses the Brixton was standing empty (excuse, me, was an “eyesore“) and why it was available to become something new.
Baltimore is often compared to Washington, D.C. because of its majority black population and growing perception that political and civic leadership favor affluent interests above others. But D.C.-styled gentrification is unlikely given the city’s dearth of middle-class and upper middle-class employment opportunities–though they exist in the surrounding counties. Like D.C., however, Baltimore has its share of racial tensions: 2011 mayoral candidate Otis Rolley was derided in a few barbershops and certain quarters of the city as the “white candidate” for his creative class appeal and it wasn’t too long ago that former mayor Kurt Schmoke adopted the colors of African liberation and employed the “Makes Us Proud” slogan during his 1995 campaign against Mary Pat Clarke to galvanize black support. The picture is actually more complicated in Baltimore given the greater disparity in black-white economic equity–Baltimore is ranked 72 out of the nation’s 100 largest metros, while D.C. is ranked 50.
Moreover, Baltimore’s black middle-class has steadily declined since the 1990s and for the first time in roughly 60 years, Black Baltimoreans are leaving the city in greater numbers than their white counterparts. Baltimore has significantly slowed white out migration and booming neighborhoods like Canton, Fells Point and Federal Hill are adding population. And unlike D.C., Baltimore’s gentrifying neighborhoods predominately altered working-class enclaves hit hardest by white flight.
It’ll be interesting to observe how Baltimore’s poor and working-class black body politic meshes (or clashes) with ascendant interests over the next decade or so. Perhaps this is where we can glean a lesson or two from our neighbors in D.C.