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The City's A'Changin'
Author: Gregory Clay; McClatchy-Tribune News Service
WASHINGTON - It's a four-minute bus ride. That's all.

It takes four minutes in the heart of Washington to see night and day, a city of stark contrast. We're talking neighborhoods here.

Like many major cities, the nation's capital is defined by "pockets."

Drive on upper 16th Street heading north, you will traverse a working-class "pocket." Drive west of 16th Street to Connecticut Avenue, you will see the upper-crust "pocket." The latter is akin to the 1970s hit television show "The Jeffersons" - moving on up ... to a deluxe apartment in the sky. I have lived in both worlds - in fact one world has twice been my residence. All you need to know is this: An apartment building on 16th Street has security guards at the front desk. An apartment building on Connecticut Avenue has concierges.

And this: According to a Washington Post report from March 2011, the nation's capital lost more than 39,000 black residents from 2000 to 2010. Meanwhile, the non-Latino white population zoomed by at least 50,000 during that time period.

Demographics are intriguing in major cities; they can change abruptly in a minuscule amount of space. And size matters. One aspect is obvious: the higher the socio-economic status of a neighborhood (Connecticut Avenue), the higher the fitness of its residents and the frequency of bikinis on Cosmopolitan-magazine-looking cover girls (like my college days back at the University of North Carolina); conversely, the lower the socio-economic status, the higher the obesity rate and the frequency of complacency (upper 16th Street). Now, I see what first lady Michelle Obama is referencing in her anti-obesity campaign. Granted, I haven't performed a survey or produced a scientific study. This is strictly a walking observation and a listening awareness. Working-class neighborhoods tend to harbor McDonald's franchises; upper-crust neighborhoods tend to promote health/organic tastes. Did someone say Whole Foods Market? That much is obvious.

When I first moved to Washington, there were certain areas understood as "all black" in a predominantly black city that also appeared to be a dying city. Take upper north 14th Street, for example. Fifteen years ago, one particular section featured one lonesome store. The other buildings in the area were either boarded up or boarded down. There were no traffic jams. Now, that area has been transformed into a little city within a larger city. There is a Target store, real restaurants, a Marshall Field's, new and improved apartment complexes and banks. (You know your neighborhood has arrived when banks set up shop there.) And there are traffic jams on Saturdays because of a sudden phalanx of weekend shoppers. The racial dynamics of the area have changed quite drastically - which is the key component here. Young, white urban professionals are the new norm in that 14th Street locale. That's the most noticeable metamorphosis in the capital city.

At my apartment building on Connecticut Avenue, probably 95 percent of the residents were white - mostly professional job holders. Most of them appeared to be under 40 years old. Most of them likely were college graduates. There was the white female nurse who went to Syracuse; there was the beautiful Asian woman who had a physics degree from Georgetown; another woman was a pediatrician, and there was the guy who was an ardent triathlon competitor. At the apartment building on 16th Street (where I have spent two separate stints, including the present), there is more diversity. The building probably is a third black, a third white and a third Latino - with more of a working-class environment. Many in the area labor in lower-level jobs, such as janitorial services and restaurant dish washers. That description has been the norm for years. But that particular scenario is becoming an anomaly amid a wider sea of change. That sea isn't an aberration either.

The following three paragraphs from that aforementioned 2011 Washington Post article detail concisely the transformation of the city: "The loss of blacks comes at a time when the city is experiencing a rebound, reversing a 60-year-long slide in population and adding almost 20,000 new residents between 2000 and 2010. "The demographic change is the result of almost 15 years of gentrification that has transformed large swaths of Washington, especially downtown. As housing prices soared, white professionals priced out of neighborhoods such as Dupont Circle began migrating to predominantly black areas such as Petworth and Brookland. "The city became a tougher place to live for working-class families, who had to contend with rising rents and soaring property taxes. Many of the new jobs created over the past decade have required higher education."

The bottom line is simply this: If a city is overwhelmingly swamped with a preponderance of residents on public assistance, there is little room for growth. Little growth means less revenue for the city coffers. However, on the other side of the ledger, the more education of residents means better jobs, which, in turn, means a higher taxable population base. Now, you decide: What's better for a heretofore crumbling city? The answer lies in that four-minute bus ride. ---

 


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