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Tuesday July 18, 2006

Libération tells 36 stories of borders and territories.

Washington between two tone

The Blacks are dislodged of the districts Is city, the capital bleaches, the promoters make deals.

By Pascal Richard

Washington correspondent

Jim Ably posed on the pavement its package of shirts under cellophane he returns from in the dyer. It is a 40 year old White, sports shirt Ralph Lauren and cut out of brush. It arrived here two years ago, when the district had still bad reputation. Many the poor, crime, drugs. “That is well better, but it is not yet perfect. A few months ago, I stopped a guy, myself”, tells it a little crânement. “The kind junkie, it ran to misinterpretation of the cars, just there. I gueulé: “STOP! DON' T MOVE!” The type had to believe that I was a cop, then it crushed. The police officers arrived. You know what it had on him? A FIREARM!” Jim Ably transforms his index then and its inch out of weapon with fire and it laughs. “If I had known… The cops said to me that what I had fact was enough idiot…”

Luxurious Lofts. Ably lives here, with 2 kilometers in the east of Capitole, on the invisible and moving border which separates “white Washington” from “black Washington”, in a brick school of the beginning of the century, the Thomas-Bryan School. A ex-school, rather. There remain about it only the entries “Servant boys” and “Girls”. After close being closed during several years, it was transformed by a promoter into twenty luxurious lofts. One of them was bought by a black middle-class man, the nineteen others by white middle-class men. Parked in the ex-court of récré, of BMW côtoient of Nissan Maxima. “When I bought this 175 square meters, it was a risky bet. I paid 700.000 dollars and I said myself: “Aïe, I will be able to resell it?” But it is worth half today more! Demented person, not?” Ably Master bidonne. Ten years ago, this district was almost entirely black, and a house was worth less than 100.000 dollars. Since, the prices explode, block of houses after block of houses, a fire which is propagated towards the east. The projection of the rich person, of the White, is visible with the naked eye: new residences bright burning coal, painters latinos perched on scales, building sites, panels “to sell” or “One buys any house cash”. One crosses and one recrosses also a young man drawn by dogs, never the same ones. It is the walker of dogs, 15 dollars half an hour. Any speed, the district embourgeoise, “gentrifie”, like one says here. “Of the promoters houses with miséreuses families for 80.000 dollars buy, then they repair them and resell them with 500.000 dollars.” Rob Redding, 30 years, editor of a site of information for the black community, is making its jogging. It adds: “People of the district are obliged to leave: tenants but also owners, because of the increase in the land taxes.”

With two blocks from there, on C Street, in the court of a small city of social housing, lost in the middle of houses already “gentrifiées”, James McLane, a 73 years Black, takes the sun on a bench. Former automobile mechanic, it still says “négros” to speak about the Blacks. Its city must be replaced soon by new residences. “They will move us towards the Anacostia river, is afflicted it. Not a month does not pass without a new real project in the district. The White push, push, push. And where one will go, it will be probably worse. Further, housing is less expensive, but there is the expenditure of transport, the gasoline especially.” Then it adds: “But you know already all that: it is the plan.”

Gentrification. The plan? “Plane The”. The word returns in many conversations with the Blacks of the bottom of the social scale. It is a rumour, an urban legend: the White would secretly have conspired “to take again” the city. “They” would hold the municipal elected officials like puppets. Actually, the gentrification, badly controlled by the authorities, takes place under the pressure of the market. “This history of plan is absurd. At the beginning, it is us, the militants of this district, who started this movement, while fighting against the presence of drug”, testifies Jack Colhoun, 61 years a white writer. A pioneer: when it settled here, twenty-nine years ago, it was the only White of the corner. “You see this elementary school over there? he says. Between 1993 and 2000, there were 34 murders in a radius of 300 meters around it.” Now, all is calm around the Payne school. The district became white, but inside the school, one crosses yet only small black heads and the walls of the corridors are covered with frescos representing Africa or the large heroes Afro-Americans.

If there is no secret plan, the result is the same one: rich person, often white, move into the houses of the poor, always black. The municipality encourages this phenomenon, which makes fall criminality and widens the taxability. The city authorizes many real operations, requiring simply that part of the investments be devoted to the social housing; it also decided to build a stage of baseball not far from there, at the edge of the Anacostia river.

Washington is a moving city. The line which separates the White from the Blacks moved several times, sometimes brutally, during the last century. At the beginning of the XXe century, eight inhabitants out of ten were white. Anacostia, today black ghetto, were white. But Georgetown, currently the smartest district of the city, was black! The exodus of the White of the downtown area towards the suburbs started in the Fifties. One called that the “white flight”. As in other cities, the White fled the problems. At the beginning of the Seventies, the radios Afro-Americans praised the “chocolate city”. Today the White call sometimes the black part of cd., “the secret city”, that where they do not go. This racial barrier hiding place another, less visible but also powerful. That which separates the autochtones (black, for the majority) from people who spend only a few years to Washington (mainly white): lawyers, journalists, diplomats, employees of the World Bank.

Since the Fifties, the population of Washington empties itself gently. One passed from 800.000 to 550.000 inhabitants. The white middle-class men and, more quickly still, the black middle-class men leave it to go to settle in suburbs, sometimes enough far, in the search of large houses. In 1990, the Blacks represented nearly two thirds of the population; they are less than 58% today. The share of the nonHispanic White, stable during years, passed in six years from 27% to 30%.

 Those which push the line White-Blacks towards the east are generally single people, couples without child or with infants, of the gays. They settle in these poor districts in extreme cases of the white districts: Columbia Height, U Street, Mount Pleasant, Capitol Hill, etc Those which buy their housing are aware that they can make a beautiful financial transaction. “Front, one was on the 14th Street, one bought 300.000 dollars and sold 550.000 two years later. One perhaps will make the same one collapses here”, tells without way Rhona Caracappa, 34 years, direct marketing at Microsoft and close to Jim Ably. This last cannot be also prevented from calculating: “If one were malignant, one would buy in Anacostia.”

Anacostia. On the other side of the river, this district feeds the phantasms of the White. They never put the feet at it: too much dangerous, thinks. At three subway stations of the center of Washington, it is a pretty district, undulating, but damaged by poverty. The Martin-Luther-King avenue presents his marks: dirty papers, empty graffiti, bottles, panes broken, old crocks, liquor blinds, center of detection of the AIDS. But of many streets are calm and pleasant. And the district changes very quickly: rise of the prices, new residences, arrived of the black middle-class men, pioneers of any gentrification.

As in the Desert of the Tartars, the inhabitants await the first White. On Morris Road, Kim Johnson, unemployed, 32 years and four children, plague against the building site which spreads out its ochre entrails with two steps from it. Still new residences! Tenant, for only 140 dollars per month, it fears to be ejected of his district. “I want well that the White come, but that one proposes the same thing as with them to me. They make this stage of baseball, but employment is not for us. They build residences, but it is well too expensive.” It concludes, in the vocabulary of slavery. “I don' T want to Be shipped away”, I do not want to be embarked and uprooted.

Anarchistic movements. “In ten years, all that you see here will be white”, prophesies Eddie Stephens, a former lorry driver. Difficult to believe: at the end of the afternoon, on the outlet side of the subway, we crossed one White which returned of the job. Brett Theodos, 26 years, has lived here for two years. His wife is black, works to him in a think tank devoted to the cities. When it settled here, his/her friends treated it the “insane one”. It has sometimes the impression to be a “attraction” in its district, but he does not regret anything. Its small street is calm, its neighbors sympas. It already lived a gentrification, in the black district of Petworth, where it lived before. But according to him, Anacostia will be more difficult to take: “There is here no grocer, no restaurant. And the river forms a physical and psychological barrier.” It wishes a rehabilitation of these ghettos, but notes that these anarchistic movements of gentrification do nothing but a little further move the problems. In Washington, the number of murders fell of half (from 397 to 194) in eight years. But in Prince George County, where the refugees of the gentrification settle, it increases spectacularly: + 14% between 2004 and 2005.

Photographs Jerome de Perlinghi © 2006 SA Release. All rights reserved.