Tuesday, December 18, 2007

can't make everyone happy at a community meeting

i went to the ddot sponsored public meeting tonight regarding the reconstruction that's going to happen around the old howard theater soon. this project will include repaving 7th street from n street all the way up to florida avenue, as well as total reconstruction of the alleys adjacent to the theater and wiltberger street. a large sculpture will be placed near the corner of t, florida and wiltberger in the concrete space that's now known as edward kennedy "duke" ellington plaza. here's a picture i took of from the powerpoint presentation of what the 20 foot high sculpture might look like (sorry for the poor quality):

that's meant to be mr. ellington sitting at a stylized piano with the keys spreading off into thin air, representing the music floating away on the breeze (so i'm not an art curator....sorry).

and here's a picture of part of the display they had on one wall showing what will be rebuilt around the howard theater:

go ahead and click on it. the dark roads are ones that will be completely rebuilt. the brick texture will be where special pavement will be used, and the lightly-shaded roads (7th street) is where repaving will take place.

now, the big deal here was apparently that one woman in particular was quite angry that she wasn't consulted directly about all of this. i got to the meeting after most of the presentation was finished, and the floor was opened up to community member's comments. and boy, where there comments! from what i gathered (again, i was late), the artist who has been commissioned to create this sculpture is not from DC, and i'm not sure if they're african-american or not. but one woman at the meeting was incensed that someone with a deep connection to "7th and t" wasn't chosen to do this sculpture.

i can't pretend that i feel such a strong connection to "black broadway", because i don't have that connection. i know the story behind u street, the howard theater, and how the whole area was the center of the african-american community when the city was segregated. i also know that the middle- and upper-class african-american communities abandoned u street once the city wasn't segregated (legally) anymore. that's not to say that the neighborhood didn't stay majority black until recently, but it wasn't the center of african-american culture in the city anymore. once people could go anywhere, spend their money anywhere, and live anywhere they wanted in the city, those with the means to leave left the city. i won't bore you at length with talk about white flight, etc., but the fact is that black flight is another phenomenon that has occured (look at all the middle-class african-american families that have moved to PG county), and it has negatively affected the vibrancy of parts of the city.

anyway, i am no sociologist (just a geographer!), but....where was i going with all of this. yeah, this one woman wasn't going to be happy unless the sculpture was done by someone who lived in the neighborhood. she even tied it in to the martin luther king, jr. memorial that's being built on the mall (by "chinamen", she said, before correcting herself and saying "chinese"). it's sad, i think, that people have such a narrow mindset.

yes, i understand that there would be something symbolic and spiritually fulfilling to have the artist who creates a tribute to another artist be from the same neighborhood as that first artist, but the project was set up to be open to artists from the whole country. i really get miffed when people try to throw around the "i'm a native, only i can be right about what happens here" crap.

by luck of birth, this woman is a washingtonian, and she believes that only others who were blessed with this luck have the right to discuss the future of this city. i've lived here for 4 years, and i'd like to think that, since i pay taxes here, vote here, and care about this place deeply, i should have the right to have my opinion heard too. i didn't choose where i was born, and she didn't either. but we can choose where we want to live once we're adults, and i've chosen DC. don't tell me that i don't have the right to express an opinion about what's happening here because i haven't been here for 50 years. that's nativist, and it's ugly.


Anonymous said...

Very well put.

Mari said...

Yup you get a lot of that at meetings.
I'm wondering why regular citizens are expecting politicians and government employees to call them up personally to inform them of every little penny ante thing the government is doing or planning? You get the mass mailer/ random sign announcing stuff like the rest of us, what makes them so special?
Of course, there are a lot of well meaning newbies that support the theory that, well so-in-so has lived here a long time so their opinion carries more weight theory. So that just encourages them.

monkeyrotica said...

I've lived all over DC and EVERY neighborhood association has at least 1 senile cranky old batfart who bloviates incessantly about how the neighborhood is changing for the worse. It's not a phenomena that's unique to urban environments, either. We got them out here in Alexandria. They're kinda like your racist uncle who gets lit on Thanksgiving and rants about the jews/Puerto Ricans/Homer Sexuals.

Chinaman. I believe the correct term is either "Yellow Peril" or "wallbiter."

Anonymous said...

Well said. Thank you for writing this.

My husband is a native, born here, all grades here, undergrad here, and lives and works here... but you know what - he still doesn't qualify in the eyes of people like the one you describe. He's a middle classe white guy with a PhD. It can happen. Does this citizen realize that there can be a white man or a chinese woman who ACTUALLY IS native to not just DC but even that neighborhood? No, generally that is hard for anyone in DC to imagine. But it'd be nice if we could imagine a real plurality of cultures and people as belonging in DC.

All that said, he and I have chosen DC when we could have chosen VA, MD or anywhere. DC is a chosen place for many and that should be more highly valued than it it.

IMGoph said...

i hear you, sophiagrrl.

no one can choose where they're born, but if you can choose where you're going to live, that should say something positive about that place and about you.