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Over at Greater Greater Washington, D.C. historian John Muller made a great find: a June 1979 map of the city from the Department of Housing and Community Development. The map, titled “Housing Problems, Conditions & Trends in the District of Columbia,” labels the D.C. neighborhoods that were on the rise and fall 35 years ago.
It was a hopeful time for the city. The 1968 riots a decade earlier had left sections of the city decimated, but the crack epidemic had yet to strike. Marion Barry was six months into his first term as mayor, and he pledged to empower, economically and politically, the city’s black majority. A real estate boom was just beginning to take hold.
And then as now, gentrification was a concern. The map broke neighborhoods and their housing into four categories. One, labeled in red, was “Transitional (early or advanced),” defined as follows: “Neighborhoods in the early stages of transition are characterized by a surge in reinvestment and rehabilitation; whereas, neighborhoods in the most advanced stages are those experiencing extensive displacement of low and moderate income families by higher income households.”
So which D.C. neighborhoods were experiencing gentrification in 1979? Some of the same ones that are undergoing it today: Logan Circle, Shaw, U Street (labeled here as “Westminster”), Columbia Heights, Park View/Petworth, Mount Pleasant, Eckington, and parts of Capitol Hill. (Surprised to see these neighborhood seemingly gentrifying twice? Remember that the troubled years of the 1980s and 1990s interceded, leaving some of these places in rough shape.)
But there’s an unexpected degree of geographical scattering here, unlike the Green Line revival and slowly emanating neighborhood change we’re seeing today. Other “transitional” neighborhoods included Michigan Park, parts of Anacostia and Congress Heights, and sections of Ward 7 around Hillbrook and Burrville.
The “sound” housing areas (yellow) were mostly concentrated in the wealthy neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park and in the city’s northern tip. But they also included portions of the Southwest quadrant where urban renewal had just brought new apartment development, as well as what’s now the southern chunk of Ward 7, a solidly middle-class area east of the Anacostia River. Most of the city’s “distressed” (blue) housing was also east of the Anacostia. The green label, indicating “stable” or “declining,” occupies most of the area east of 16th Street NW and isn’t a particularly useful designation because of its dual and contrasting implications.
Check out the full explanation at Greater Greater Washington.
Map from the D.C. Government Documents Project at the D.C. Public Library’s Special Collections Department