The Gentrification Narratives

On September 11, 2018, I provided comments to attendees at the HumanitiesDC showcase of the projects that had examined Washington DC in 1968. Based on my work with the DC Living Heritage Network, I suggested a “Gentrification Narratives Framework” to help us think about what a cultural narrative for DC might look like as we look forward beyond 2018. Here’s an outline of my suggestions.

1. Narratives of Disorientation:

  • With the changing physical and demographic landscapes, areas of our city are no longer recognizable.
  • Previous points of visual orientation no longer exist.
  • New spaces and functions leave us wondering where we are.
  • Residents comment constantly they no longer recognize various parts of the city and the city overall.
  • Some are repulsed by the change; others embrace it.

2. Narratives of Loss:

  • Residents see the communities they know and love disappearing.
  • They compare “what is” to “what was.”
  • They share remembrances about “a life that has been.”

3. Narratives of Preservation:

  • The narratives of loss of and of disorientation have increased interest in “preservation.”
  • “Physical Preservation” is one form this narrative takes.
  • The preservation narrative recognizes our need to document and protect places and spaces.
  • “Preservation of Stories” is another form this narrative takes.
  • The preservation narrative articulates the need to document and preserve individual and community stories and memories.

4. Narratives of Opportunity:

  • The previous three narratives help us look back.
  • They help us expand our past and current understanding.
  • They inform how we might approach the future.
  • The Narrative of Opportunity looks forward and identifies creative cultural possibilities of an emerging New DC and outlines how to realize those possibilities.

Share your “gentrification narrative.”

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