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Perhaps the most apt response to last week’s cover story, in which Matt Cohen chronicled how longtime Bladgen Alley artist and arts promoter Bill Warrell came to be priced out of his studio, came from @old_time_DC: “DC owes Bill Warrell a lot—and so we take another step closer to expensive, well-fed cultural poverty.” That’s about the size of it.
Warrell helped transform the micro-neighborhood where he can no longer afford the rent, bringing in arts and culture and performers to which the District would otherwise not have been exposed. His reward, of course, is to be displaced by juice bars, expensive coffee joints, and potential tenants with deeper pockets. Warrell’s story represents a cautionary tale for the entire District: Gentrification doesn’t just expunge exposed needles and pimps, or the fouled hulls of once-proud warehouses. Sometimes it takes what we’d like to keep too. “Great story on many levels—fine observations on the general course of urban redevelopment in DC,” @DCPEST wrote. “RIP, Blagden Alley. I knew ye well,” James Sharper (@bigheadgenius) tweeted. “This is an excellent and sad telling of DC’s art history and what could have been,” Erin Auel (@eauel) responded. “Blagden Alley, home to DC’s underground art scene, loses its artists to high rents,” Greater Greater Washington (@ggwash) wrote on Twitter. And this from Dan Zak (@MrDanZak): “Artists, like Ethiopian restaurants, are being purged by the development they helped to incite.”
Of course, there is always an outlier. “Mr. Warrell sounds like a very interesting and talented artist. But, it is sad that the author … uses Mr. Warrell and his brave struggle to overcome his handicap to dishonestly make his case against gentrification,” Zip wrote. “The neighborhood in question was a total shithole in the 1980s and early 90s. By the author’s own admission, the alley was a ‘dumping ground for small contractors’ and a place where ‘drug dealers and transgender prostitutes would hang out.’ This was on top of being a place where it was not ‘uncommon to find bodies’ of ‘drug or prostitution deals gone south.’ Are we saying that the high priced lattes and hipsters that we see in the alley today are so much worse than that? Give me a break!”