Sunday, May 22, 2005

Making the Second Ghetto

The Washington City Paper, the city's weekly alternative paper, has a touching story about the depopulation and destruction of one of the city's projects in favor of a HOPE VI development. Yes, you read that right. The Arthur Capper and Carrollsburg Dwellings (no photo available) are coming down and, contrary to our received wisdom about modernist housing projects, the tenants were reluctant to go: it was their home.

The Hope VI program is based on new urbanist principles and a mixed income arrangement. The theory goes, having a lower concentration of poverty in an area; a more street-friendly, walkable urban form; and a combination of renting and ownership will promote a greater sense of community and will help alleviate the problems associated with large-scale housing projects.

This is interesting to me on a number of levels. First, because the architects, Torti Gallas, are a successor to Cohen Haft and Associates, the group I am studying for my research assignment in Greenbelt. There, Cohen Haft produced 2900 units (of 5000 planned) of modernist, garden apartment buildings. As I noted, they are going to be phased out and demolished in favor of a DPZ new urbanist community. I'm currently reading David Rusk's Cities Without Suburbs, a book on both annexation and alleviating the concentration of urban poverty and racial segregation. I think this Hope VI project will do the neighborhood wonders and it will aid the city as a whole, but it is only a finger in the dike of the city's real problems (and there are new ones coming).

This article demonstrates the often unseen costs of redevelopment and relocation of housing projects. Hope VI projects always result in a net loss of affordable units, so while everyone is displaced temporarily, some (most?) are displaced permanently. That this project will decrease the concentration of poverty is certainly a goal we are aiming for. However, DC must be INCREASING total units in order to keep the city affordable (and we are approaching the point of no return, as I have discussed earlier). DC is so expensive, several of my colleagues at work and a notable portion of DC workers actually LIVE in Baltimore (an hour or so away by commuter train), where it is still affordable. This is great for Baltimore (on one level), but simply shuffling people around from wealthy to gentrifying to formerly destitute areas is no solution for the future of a city or a region. I have the same complaint here as I did about attempts at reinvigoration of Benton Harbor (site of summer 2003 race riots) -- if it's just guilty white suburbanites moving in, NOTHING is achieved for the poor blacks and Latinos who get moved around. Jimmy Carter came and gave a lecture some time over the winter of 2003-04 in Benton Harbor (in advance of his Habitat for Humanity blitz) in which he basically said "Hey, Benton Harbor, clean up your garbage." His message, I think, was a softer version of Bill Cosby's recent rap -- if you want to be mainstream, you've got to act mainstream and act like you don't want to be poor. I think this could more effectively be achieved by bringing some jobs to black Benton Harbor (retail, industrial, and professional) instead of toughlove speeches.

Arthur Capper was a Kansas governor and US Senator at the turn of the twentieth century, who established a foundation to promote the care of disabled children, by the way.