Mr. Barry holds court. (Lydia DePillis)

It was a conversation that promised to be interesting, with this headline: DOES GENTRIFICATION MEAN ERADICATION? The office of Councilmember Marion Barry convened a panel of Ward 8 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners and community members last night to chew over the question, and at his behest, a group of interested citizens will continue to chew it over and maybe even come up with some recommendations.

Without quoting soundbites from the many speeches—-which ranged from the platitudinous to the pointed and impassioned—-let me break out the major takeaways.

  1. Given that white people aren’t really moving into Ward 8 to any measurable degree, the discussion didn’t dwell on race. Though that was an undercurrent, the fear of gentrification—-helpfully defined on the meeting’s agenda in terms of displacement—-centered more around the potential for investment to price older residents out.
  2. Also given that wealth isn’t exactly flowing east of the river yet, displacement doesn’t seem to be an imminent threat. But H Street Main Street director Anwar Saleem, along with several longtime H Street business owners, were there to remind the crowd that the new people can come before you realize it, and you may not be able to expect help from elected officials (they’re none too happy with a new retail incentive program that excludes barbershops, hair salons, phone stores, and liquor stores*).
  3. The most raw split is between those who see poverty as something that’s almost impossible to escape and in need of substantial government investment, and those who focus instead on the need for residents to bootstrap their way up. ANC Commissioner Ab Jordan, frequently referencing the deterministic Markov chain, excoriated fellow commissioner Darrell Gaston—-a younger guy who’s after Barry’s seat—-for calling black people lazy after Gaston argued that gentrification could be a good thing and that the government makes it too easy for Ward 8 residents to live off public assistance (Clarification, 12:56 p.m. – Gaston did not call black people lazy; that was Jordan’s interpretation).
  4. Of course, people spend their time fighting about the causes of inequality and who to blame for it, but mostly agree that the answer is more and better education for all ages.

Barry himself, naturally, stole the show. Without referencing his proposal to actually outlaw new apartment buildings in the ward, he admonished the crowd that those areas with the most renters were most vulnerable to gentrification, and advocated preparing more residents for homeownership. Before leaving, he called upon the room to stay involved—-because goodness knows the gentrifiers are.

“We have a lot of gentrifiers who are blogging, who are tweetering,” he said. “Those who are gentrifiers want to justify what they do. And some of what they do is not right.”


* Corrected from an earlier version; nail salons are not excluded from the grant program.