July 28, 2008

Touring Anacostia With Stacey Smith

by Jessica Wright, Community Blogger.

When asked to conjure up images of Southeast D.C., you may think of row houses, apartments, public housing developments, or run-down homes. While there certainly is an abundance of such structures, there’s a lot more to Southeast than initially comes to mind.

At least that’s what I discovered during my driving tour with Stacey Smith, a Bread for the City employee who has lived in Southeast his entire life. Our tour began near Stacey’s home, just a few blocks from Bread for the City. From there we headed towards Barry Farm, and eventually ended up in the Fort Dupont area before returning to Bread for the City’s Southeast site. After doing so much research on housing in D.C., I was especially excited to get a better feel for the housing situation in Southeast.

We started by travelling through areas abounding with apartments and public housing. These dilapidated buildings were a stark contrast to some of the beautiful, newly built homes in the area—oftentimes sitting directly across the street from each other. In an area along Mississippi Ave, SE, Stacey explained that, “all these town houses weren’t here less than ten years ago. All this was public housing. They were apartments, kind of like Barry Farm.” I’m assuming that many of these developments were established as part of the Hope VI program. Knowing that Hope VI did not require one-for-one replacement of affordable housing, I could not help questioning…Where did all the former residents go?

As we drove further east, near the Maryland line, we encountered neighborhoods of older, attractive homes well-suited to their middle class inhabitants. I was shocked by the diversity of income levels and standards of living that exists in Southeast.

In addition to the housing developments that have taken place, Stacey spoke about other changes that he has seen in Southeast since his childhood. “D.C. at one time used to be a soul food place…you had sit down restaurants. That’s like the ‘60s and early ‘70s. You know, you could get a nice little shoeshine and you could just sit down and eat. That’s changed a lot.” He also mentioned that there are a lot more liquor stores than there used to be, an unfortunate trend.

As we drove, I was impressed by the recreation options that we came across. In many of my interviews, my understanding has been that there are very limited recreational opportunities for children in SE. I’m sure in some areas this is true, but I was relieved to see a number of options during our tour. We saw the Southeast Tennis and Learning Center, several public pools (I was surprised to learn that many have free admission), and a number of playgrounds. We drove past THEARC (Town Hall Education Arts & Recreation Campus), a beautiful facility which houses a number of cultural and social services agencies, including a Boys and Girls Club. We also visited Fort Dupont Park, where Stacey described a form of recreation that he enjoys taking advantage of: “they have an amphitheater where they have summer jazz festivals, actually started last weekend…I think it’s just on Saturdays…people can come and sit down, set up your grills, your lawn chairs, and just be entertained.” I agreed with Stacey’s observation of available recreation: “When you look at what’s being offered in SE, I think we’re making some headway, but at the same time it’s going to take time.”

While people may have differing opinions about the continued development of Southeast, it is obvious that the area has already changed immensely, and will continue to do so. The challenge will be to ensure that the changes are actually beneficial to the residents, and not just those doing the developing.

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