Washington, D.C., apparently is the capital of the Gentrification Nation too.
Want to see the effects? Just take a stroll through the environs near Howard University’s main campus these days and you reflexively say, “My, how times have changed.”
Gone are many of the decaying structures and dilapidated blotches of disrepair. And gone are some of the small black businesses and shops that were the lifeblood of a once-vibrant community.
Look up and you will see high-rise thickets of fancy apartment complexes dotting the landscape around Howard, which in recent years has sold some of its properties near campus to raise funds. Look down and you will see the new cafes and coffee shops.
Those are signs of gentrification, not only in Washington but also in cities such as Houston, home of Texas Southern University, another historically black institution.
To understand the change of scenery around Howard, you must study the metamorphosis of Washington as a whole.
Gentrification sweeps through D.C.
Check the city’s gentrification numbers. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, which advocates economic support for economically distressed locales, Washington had the highest intensity of gentrifying neighborhoods in the United States between 2000 and 2013.
Furthermore, Washington’s population was 71.1% black in 1970; in 2015, that number had plummeted to 48.3% during this new age of gentrification and black displacement. Also, the white population in areas surrounding Howard’s main campus was about 4% in 2000; by 2015, it had increased more than sixfold.
Of the eligible tracts for gentrification, Washington leads the nation with a 40% intensity rate; second is San Diego, double digits behind at 29%; third is New York at 24%.
Gentrification can mean new residents. With different cultural likes, dislikes, habits. And behavior.
Such as dog walking.
Howard students know this firsthand. And they don’t like it.
Because their campus has been a dog park for some area residents — white pet owners.
Students say it’s their grass and their walkways, regardless of the gentrification projects that have altered the landscape surrounding the university.
“Seeing dogs on campus isn’t an uncommon thing. I have seen them relieve themselves and the owners don’t pick it up,” Kenneth Fling, a freshman psychology major from Buffalo, New York, told The Undefeated outside on a breezy, blue-sky day at the main campus. “Here, we take the culture of our campus and our community very seriously.”
The first part of Fling’s comment is a key point of contention among many Howard students: non-student pet owners allowing their dogs to defecate and urinate on campus apparently without taking any responsibility.
On “The Yard” — that priceless, grassy commons — which students consider hallowed territory, the pulse of their universe.
Call this situation Howard’s get-off-my-lawn moment.
It would be foolhardy to believe that Howard was the nation’s only historically black college or university in a dense urban spot feeling the effects of a culture clash that’s exacerbated by gentrification. Travel about 1,500 miles southwest of Washington to Houston, the nation’s fourth-largest city.
There, Texas Southern University is in the throes of its own challenges that, in some respects, are more problematic than the dog issue at Howard.
Houston’s Third Ward, where Texas Southern is located, is in the midst of a multimillion-dollar renovation plan.
While the hot topic at Howard is about the pets, the concern at Texas Southern is about the pocketbooks.
According to the Houston Defender, a black-owned newspaper in the city, the number of black residents in the Third Ward, as of 2017, had decreased by at least 10% while the white population had doubled, as education and income levels have risen. Other effects of gentrification can include an increase in home and property values, an improvement in safety matters and a rise in credit ratings for residents.
However, on the other side of the ledger … well, let Sherridan Schwartz, a visiting professor in the Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs at Texas Southern, tell it:
“In recent years,” Schwartz told The Undefeated, “luxury development and gentrification have made the Third Ward mostly unaffordable to the faculty and staff of TSU [except for a few executive-level administrators with higher incomes]. Now those employed by TSU have to find more affordable housing farther away, primarily in Houston’s suburbs like Pearland and Missouri City.”
To compound the gentrified problems, public transportation, especially bus service, can be affected in a negative way. Food and utility prices can skyrocket.
Also, in some neighborhoods around Texas Southern, similar to incidents in Washington, new residents have vehemently complained about publicly played music, lingering crowds, noise and block parties — often staples of many predominantly black communities.
Darnell Latney knows all about those staples.
For 48 years, Latney has been a part of Georgia Avenue, a street that directly borders Howard’s main campus. He’s seen the full scope of changes on this thoroughfare, which stimulate much-heated debate in the neighborhood, Latney said. A barber for 22 years, he works at Joseph’s Barber Shop, mere steps away from the university. And he is adamant about what he calls a disservice to a longtime predominantly black community encompassing Howard.
“It’s all about economics and raising the tax base,” Latney passionately told The Undefeated. “They are just using gentrification to get rid of black people in this area. We are not being displaced but replaced.
“At one time, D.C. wasn’t like this at all, from about the 1990s on back. Now everything is so expensive that the average black person can’t afford it. Georgia Avenue is a long street. It used to be an 80% black neighborhood that catered to 80% black businesses. Not anymore. I’ve seen a lot of black businesses close down in the past six years on Georgia Avenue — all because of gentrification. And this dog stuff is another sign of what’s going on around here.”
The tension regarding Howard’s dog controversy ratcheted up even more when dog owner Sean Grubbs-Robishaw, a white man who lives nearby in the Bloomingdale neighborhood, announced it was time to relocate.
No, not him — the 152-year-old Howard campus should depart, he proclaimed.
In an interview with television station Fox 5 DC, Grubbs-Robishaw, who admitted to traversing Howard’s various open patches of grass with his dog to reach a nearby reservoir that’s a popular spot for pet owners, barked, “So, they’re in part of D.C., so they have to work within D.C. If they don’t want to be within D.C., then they can move the campus. I think we just need to work together, and I don’t think it should be a he or there or here . . . it’s our community, and that’s how it should be.”
Yes, he jolted us when he said “move the campus,” the higher-education domain of such illustrious Howard alumni as poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, singer Roberta Flack, former U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Mike Espy and California Sen. Kamala Harris. And note that Grubbs-Robishaw has since been derisively referred to by a hashtag on social media: #GentrifyingGeorge.
“They [dog owners] just don’t realize that this is sacred ground,” Hidaya, a Howard student who didn’t want her last name used, told The Undefeated.
The temperature of these dog days had gotten so hot that several media outlets, from Essence magazine to MTV News to The Guardian newspaper in England, have carved out space for coverage. And a petition has even been started to effect change regarding the dog debate.
Ironically, while students and dog owners on Howard’s main campus have been in the midst of a seemingly adversarial relationship, on the university’s so-called West Campus, located in a traditionally wealthier community that houses Howard’s law and divinity schools about 3 miles away, students and dog owners have maintained a symbiotic association.
“We do events each year when, during final exams, area dog owners bring their dogs over so we can pet them,” second-year law student James Walker III of Atlanta told The Undefeated.
For stress relief.
Does it work?
“I don’t partake in it myself, but I’m sure it helps, as the data has shown it works,” said Walker, whose parents both graduated from Howard’s School of Law.
Final exams are scheduled this week and next.
West campus students, neighbors get along better
Walker said it isn’t unusual to see dogs on the grounds of Howard’s West Campus, a predominantly white area off Connecticut Avenue, and added there’s a communal environment with the neighbors.
There doesn’t appear to be an antagonistic relationship with the surrounding West Campus community, he said.
There could be three reasons, besides the communal engagement:
- The much smaller West Campus is a bit more isolated than the more open and sprawling main campus, which, of course, draws more foot traffic.
- The dog owners on the west side appear to be very responsible in picking up waste material from their dogs.
- The West Campus isn’t in the crosshairs of gentrification projects, unlike the main Howard campus.
The dog conundrum on the main campus became so polarizing that university president Wayne A.I. Frederick publicly announced that pet owners are prohibited from bringing their animals on the grounds.
He said: “We recognize that service animals are a necessary aspect of modern-day life and we will accommodate them as needed. We appreciate pet owners respecting our campus by not bringing pets on to the private areas. Howard is a private institution nestled in the heart of an urban city and we’ve shared a long-standing positive relationship with our evolving community for more than 150 years, which we look forward to continuing in the future.”
However, a few students indicated that they still have seen some non-student pet owners and dogs on the main site after the release of the president’s message, although freshman Fling observed, “I have seen a decline in dogs on campus.”
The animal regulations imposed by city’s Department of Health, in association with the mayor’s office, appear to be on Frederick’s side.
Alison Reeves, interim director and public information officer in the office of communications and community relations for DC Health, told The Undefeated, after consultation with the agency’s general counsel, that “the leash law applies to dogs off of their own fenced property. The pet waste laws apply to anyone off of their own property. Whether anyone is or is not allowed on Howard’s campus is a function of whatever rules Howard would have in place and provide notice of to the public. Any person on private property could be considered to be trespassing if not allowed on the property, but that would be up to Howard to enforce.”
Much of this issue between dog owners and students revolves around respect and reverence in the nation’s capital, which now doubles as the Gentrification Capital.
Howard freshman Ahzaria Garris, a criminology major from Norfolk, Virginia, told The Undefeated:
“It’s the principle behind the situation with the dog owners. They don’t interact with us; they don’t even look our way. They seem to keep tunnel vision, minding their business and just hurrying along. If they interacted with us and actually cared about the school, it would be different.”
Simply put, Howard students don’t want their main campus to go to the dogs.