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It was a big year for Anacostia. The Ward 8 neighborhood—a thriving, mixed-race community 50 years ago, before it became a poor, almost entirely black area synonymous to many (ignorant) Northwest residents with crime—held a number of public events aimed at persuading the city that Anacostia’s a desirable place to live, hang out, and do business.
The biggest party was Lumen8Anacostia, a three-month-long arts festival that brought people from all over the District to a neighborhood many of them had never visited. During the festival’s second weekend, trapeze artists flew over a crowd of 1,200 at the Cherry Blast party in a vacant old police warehouse. In November, locals, entrepreneurs, and politicos converged on the grand opening of The Hive 2.0, a business incubator on Good Hope Road SE that provides office space to Ward 8 residents trying to get their small companies off the ground.
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The driving force behind both Lumen8 and The Hive, as well as two newish art galleries in the neighborhood, is ARCH Development Corporation, led by longtime Anacostia cheerleader Duane Gautier. A white guy who lives in Virginia, Gautier doesn’t necessarily fit the neighborhood profile, but he’s won over the locals with his 30-year effort to bring new life to Anacostia. ARCH’s mission involves turning Anacostia into an arts destination—it helped lure the H Street Playhouse this summer—and thus bring other amenities to the many vacant storefronts ARCH is renovating with a city grant.
Amenities are sorely needed. Despite the neighborhood’s successes this year, Anacostia has had its share of recent failures, many of them food-related. In August, Uniontown Bar & Grill closed down after its owner pleaded guilty to selling cocaine, leaving Anacostia with just one proper sit-down spot, Big Chair Coffee and Grill. In November, just after news that the Yes! Organic Market to Anacostia’s north was closing after more than two years of heavy losses, the neighborhood’s only grocery store, the Anacostia Warehouse Supermarket, shut down amid an ownership change.
Gautier’s optimistic that Anacostia will soon be a true arts district, as well as a tech center, and retail and amenities will follow. With the neighborhood’s prime location on the Green Line and the river and its pedestrian-friendly streetscape, the transformation ought to be just a matter of time. The new developments have come, of course, with their fair share of concerns about displacement of people who lived there before Anacostia started to acquire a sheen of hip—followed by a backlash against the inevitable “gentrification” label whenever there’s new buzz in a mostly black neighborhood. The piecemeal progress and the attendant debate are unlikely to disappear in 2013.