TBD’s Ryan Kearney complains that Adam Serwer’s recent piece for The American Prospect is a “how-to” on writing a story about gentrification. Kearney takes issue with Serwer’s description of changes that have happened in Petworth, like organic groceries and farmer’s markets, calling it “a tiring litany of gentrification signifiers.” 

To be sure, Serwer treads familiar ground, but for a national magazine’s audience, the descriptions can serve as a useful shorthand. Kearney says that Serwer “coyly describes without naming” Capital Bikeshare—-but that complaint seems like extremely small potatoes. When writing for national audiences (including at The American Prospect), I’ve found that the proper names of programs and services often lack meaning to people who’ve never heard of them.

I asked Serwer, a D.C. native who happens to be a friend of mine and a past contributor to Washington City Paper, about the piece. Perhaps not surprisingly, he thinks critics are missing the point.

“It’s not really a story about gentrification,” he says. “That’s sort of incidental. It’s about the fact that the structural inequities we see in the rest of the country are replicated in D.C., despite its supposed ‘immunity’ to recessions.”

And that’s true. Setting aside the talk about new restaurants and breeds of dogs, the recession hasn’t hit people living in the region equally. While unemployment in the metro area is still incredibly low at 6 percent, within the city it’s higher than the national rate, at nearly 11 percent. While nationally, teen unemployment is at 25 percent, in D.C., it’s 50 percent. These numbers are all being skewed upward due to black unemployment.

Serwer adds, “D.C. becoming a safer, more prosperous place didn’t change much for a lot of people who theoretically should have benefited from that.”

Photo of Petworth Safeway by ElvertBarnes via Flickr/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License

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