Felix Gillette did a good job of documenting the disinvestment and decay that blights Florida Avenue (“The Florida Mile,” 8/31) and the indifference to the problem that seems to exist at many levels of D.C.’s government. But there is another aspect to the story that was not touched upon. Throughout the city, there is profound ambivalence toward the shells and boarded-up properties. In many neighborhoods, “urban renewal” and “gentrification” are dirty words, and displacement is perceived as a real threat. Any concerted effort at enforcement is going to push property owners to renovate their buildings, and if these properties are renovated, new inhabitants will move in. Almost certainly, the new people who move in will be different from the people who live there now. What will this mean for the surrounding neighborhoods? The historical record is mixed; there have been successes, and there have been disasters.
It’s too simplistic to conclude that all of these civil servants, at many levels of government spanning several departments, are just plain lousy at their jobs. To the contrary, if you believe that the ultimate job of a public servant is to enact the will of the majority, you will conclude the exact oppositeif anything, they do their jobs too well. The people fear change, and the city government does what it can to keep change to a minimum.
Many neighborhoods in D.C. have gone through revitalization, and when it has happened, it has been private investment and market forces that have driven it, not the leadership of the city government. Until the people of D.C. learn not to fear change, that will always be the case.