In the name of sentimentality, your cover story on Del Ray (“Mourning Coffee,” 10/18) missed the following points.
Until a handful of newcomers arrived in Del Ray starting around 1985—people who only began to arrive when other places of similar commute were too costly—there existed, to be fair, affordable homes.
But those homes co-existed alongside crime, broken windows, trash in public and semi-public areas, and a slew of unacceptable public behaviors.The bars were rough. The streets were unkempt. In general, Del Ray was a low place, which is precisely why it was affordable.
Also, those affordable homes coexisted in a balance that tolerated low property maintenance by many who could afford otherwise, and by no small number of owners who insisted on keeping couches on their front porches, a rusty car in the back yard, and an empty six-pack of malt liquor or two in the unpulled weeds.
All neighborhoods suffer, and benefit, from ebbing and flowing battles of consumer preference for one form or another of homogeneous neighborhoods divided by race or class or culture. Whites often shun black neighborhoods, liberals shun rednecks, and so forth. Del Ray is a place where white professionals unable to afford Capitol Hill and Dupont Circle in 1990 and unwilling to abide the sterility of Loudoun or Reston chose to locate. In doing so, they brought with them their money and their talents, resources that inevitably modified the Del Ray they found into the Del Ray that is less affordable today.
This is a cause and effect repeated in neighborhood after neighborhood in city after city in America. You begin to rid a place of riffraff and riffraff behaviors, and soon empty parking lots with trash are replaced by farmer’s markets, vacant homes are replaced with new investments, and beauty salons are replaced with antique shops. This process of transformation, back and forth, is the story of neighborhood change.
The romantic balance of some rusty old-timers coexisting alongside the kind of precious incoming investments that generate bakeries exists only for a moment in time, and largely in the minds of those who do not wish to remember what Del Ray was like in 1990, when the predominant feature of every sidewalk was broken glass.
The maudlin pining by the author for affordability and wonder is especially surprising in light of the lengthy interview I granted her, during which I made sure to emphasize that the story could not be told without understanding the emergence of the Del Ray Farmer’s Market. In 1995, when the market was started, it barely filled a tiny parking lot. It was the farmer’s market that replaced a trashy empty lot with vibrancy. It was the farmer’s market that provided fresher, better produce than any available at the local stores, and at better prices—yet the farmer’s market that could not, no matter how much marketing was done, manage to attract the participation of the so-called old-timers in Del Ray, who presently rue the arrival of a new class of people who manage to rake their leaves more than once every five years.
How can one try to tell the story of a changing Del Ray and not tell the story of the farmer’s market? Indeed, to omit it altogether? The market is the manifestation of a growing social institution, one shunned by the very old-timers whose behavior had everything to do with the redneck atmosphere Del Ray was noted for not too long ago.
The writer could have gotten it right. She had the information.