Use data in order to describe Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C.

A recent NPR report described the changes taking place in the Anacostia neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In addition to calling Washington “Chocolate City” (setting off another line of debate), one of the residents quoted in the story is unhappy with how the neighborhood was portrayed:

Kellogg wrote that “in recent years, even areas like Anacostia — a community that was virtually all-black and more often than not poor — have seen dramatic increases in property values. The median sales price of a home east of the river — for years a no-go zone for whites and many blacks — was just under $300,000 in 2009, two to three times what it was in the mid-’90s.” After profiling one black resident who moved out, Kellogg spoke with David Garber, a “newcomer” among those who “see themselves as trailblazers fighting to preserve the integrity of historic Anacostia.”

But Garber and others didn’t like the portrayal, as even WAMU’s Anna John noted in her DCentric blog, where she headlined a post “‘Morning Edition’ Chokes On Chocolate City.”

On his own blog And Now, Anacostia, Garber wrote that the NPR story “was a dishonest portrayal of the changes that are happening in Anacostia. First, his evidence that black people are being forced out is based entirely on the story of one man who chose to buy a larger and more expensive house in PG County than one he was considering near Anacostia. Second, he attempts to prove that Anacostia is becoming ‘more vanilla’ by talking about one white person, me — and I don’t even live there anymore.”

Garber also complained that Kellogg “chose to sensationalize my move out of Anacostia” by linking it to a break-in at his home, which Garber says was unrelated to his move. Garber says Kellogg chose to repeat the “canned story” of Anacostia — which We Love D.C. bluntly calls a “quick and dirty race narrative.”

Garber continues, “White people are moving into Anacostia. So are black people. So are Asian people, Middle Eastern people, gay people, straight people, and every other mix. And good for them for believing in a neighborhood in spite of its challenges, and for meeting its hurdles head on and its new amenities with a sense of excitement.”

This seems like it could all be solved rather easily: let us just look at the data of what is happening in this neighborhood. I have not listened to the initial NPR report. But it would be fairly easy for NPR or Garber or anyone else to look up some Census figures regarding this neighborhood to see who is moving in or out. If the NPR story is built around Garber’s story (and some other anecdotal evidence), then it is lacking. If it has both the hard data but the story is one-sided or doesn’t give the complete picture, then this is a different issue. Then, we can have a conversation about whether Garber’s story is an appropriate or representative illustration or not.

Beyond the data issue, Garber also hints at another issue: a “canned story” or image of a community versus what residents experience on the ground. This is a question about the “character” of a location and the perspective of insiders (residents) and outsiders (like journalists) could differ. But both perspectives could be correct; each view has merit but has a different scope. A journalist is liable to try to place Anacostia in the larger framework of the whole city (or perhaps the whole nation) while a resident is likely working with their personal experiences and observations.

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