Shifting Neighborhoods: Gentrification In Shaw, Washington, D.C.

How displacement and renovation is affecting the heart of the nation’s capital.

Formerly known as “Black Broadway” or the “Harlem of D.C.,” the Shaw community prospered, having been built off of self-reliant economic, social, civic, and cultural beliefs. It was the center of Black businesses, entertainment, religion, and education in Washington, D.C.

This influential Black neighborhood birthed Washington, D.C.’s Black Renaissance, served as a prominent symbol of Black culture, and represented Black social mobility, perseverance, and tradition.

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Artist Aneikan Udofo pays tribute to D.C. born musician and activist, Marvin Gaye in this mural in Shaw, located on S Street NW, between 7th and 8th Street. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

Things are changing, however. Mom and pop shops are closing their doors as modern and expensive coffee shops and restaurants open theirs. Millennials are speeding up and down the busy sidewalks on electric scooters. The music that once engulfed the streets is now replaced by the loud sounds of construction workers drilling and hammering, working to transform apartment buildings and homes into condos that will sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And residents, who grew up here, are forced to move out, as they are unable to pay for the new reality of Shaw.

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Construction being done on the corner of Q Street and 7th Street in Shaw, Washington, D.C. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

This shift in D.C.’s neighborhoods is a direct result of gentrification, which “is a powerful force that brings economic change in cities, often accompanied by extreme cultural and political displacement,” explained by Derek Hyra, Urban Policy Scholar.

Hyra analyzes that as the cost of housing increases and new businesses – catered to serving people who come from higher-economic levels – develop; existing residents, who are often Black, are displaced whether that be physically, culturally or politically. It prevents this group of people from benefiting from the economic growth and availability of services that comes from new investments.

Washington, D.C.  has one of the nation’s highest displacement rates for low-income residents, according to a study done by the Institute on Metropolitan Opportunity, which investigates social and economic disparities in the United States. Gentrification in the district started accelerating in the early 2000s when then-Mayor Anthony Williams set a goal of reversing decades of population decline by bringing in new residents. The district then implemented neighborhood investment strategies that would, in turn, attract working adults. By 2014, the population had increased by nearly 90,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, bringing in new faces, businesses, and income levels.

Shaw experienced tremendous demographic shifts as it redeveloped. All according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the 1970s, the community was 90% Black. By 2010, the community was comprised of only 30% Blacks. As the Black population declined, the white percentage of newcomers skyrocketed. When the community received this influx of white newcomers, property values increased dramatically.

In 1995, according to The Washington Post, the median home price in Shaw was $147,000. Today it is upwards of $781,000. In 1979, the average family income was $50,089. Between 2010 and 2014 it was $145,096. These numbers only continue to rise.

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Homes in Shaw, Washington, D.C. that have, or are currently experiencing gentrification and renovation. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

As a result of investments in home improvement and development, infrastructure in Washington, D.C. has become altered, public property has been privatized, political representation has shifted, minority-owned businesses have been closing, and people of color have been neglected to accommodate the presence of the white newcomers.

One fairly new business is Grand Cata, Latin Wine Company. Started in March of 2016, Grand Cata, as explained by co-owner and co-founder, Pedro Rodriquez is “… a minority-owned wine business and we specialize in Latin American wines.” Rodriquez went on to explain, “We cater to a diverse clientele – Latino, African American, tourists, old, young, but the majority of customers are white.”

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The Shay – new luxury apartments in Shaw, Washington, D.C. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

This can be largely due to the changes that Rodriquez has noticed since opening in 2016,

“There has been a complete shift in neighborhoods. Companies and investors are trying to bring in value to these streets. There used to be affordable housing and streets were African American majority, but now it’s different.”

Although he has seen this demographic shift, Rodriquez notes how “every day we get to meet such different people from such different walks of life,” and opening in the Jefferson Marketplace in Shaw was important because it was “a historical area that needed love.” Grand Cata is proud to bring the best of Latin American culture to this historic area.

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Grand Cata, Latin Wine Company, located at the Jefferson Marketplace in Shaw, Washington, D.C. PHOTO LILY ADAMI

Gentrification not only changes the kind of goods and services that local residents demand, but also affects the cost of doing business, making these smaller businesses no longer profitable. With this said, very few Black-owned businesses continue to represent the “old Shaw.”

Richard Lee, the current owner of Lee’s Flower and Card Shop in Shaw, explains that since its opening in the 1940s, his family has “witnessed too many surrounding businesses being forced to close.” Although this is upsetti