What to do with Shaw’s shiny new toys

November 22, 2013

A view of the City Market at O development at O and Seventh streets NW in the District. The large, multi-phase apartment development includes a hotel, what will be the city’s largest grocery store and small retail shops. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)

How do you like your gentrification? Open and unabashedly honest, or exclusive, with a side of condescension? At CityMarket at O, you can get them all. If you have a problem with the luxury, there’s a grocery store in a historic spot to appease you. Don’t like the slogans on the banners, “a new element of style”? Not to worry, they hired local hands to build everything.

I first took notice of this development in Shaw a couple months back while walking to an event at Shiloh Baptist Church. “Rooftop dog park” and “City dog pampering,” the sign at Ninth and O streets NW boasted. After tweeting about my shock at that concept, someone replied that they felt like that sign was the proverbial spiking the football of gentrification.

At the time, I laughed. Now, I’m not so sure how funny that is.

That’s because the new development seems to heighten the differences between the haves and have nots even as it seeks to be meld the old and the new. Indeed, in my colleague Marc Fisher’s piece about how the development is changing the image of a place one marred by a mass shooting, the developer made one comment that really stood out. In reference to the rooftop dog run, Richard Lake of Roadside Development said: “We have daughters, so we liked the idea that if you don’t want to go out late at night, you could walk the dog on the roof.”

Mind you, this project is being billed as an inclusive neighborhood, one that would not simply price out neighbors or provide an environment so exclusive that no one except the super-privileged would feel welcome. “It’s not meant to be a walled-off environment. It’s meant to be an inviting environment,” Lake noted. So, why, would one entertain the notion that the streets below are somehow too dangerous to do something as simple as walk your dog?

Lake said Wednesday that the comments were in jest. “I wouldn’t read too much into it. It wasn’t meant and it wasn’t said in that vein. It was really said as, you know, it’s convenient,” he explained. “My son turned to me when he read the paper and said, ‘You know, Dad, you have a son, too.’ ”

Fair enough.  But, the fact that the very notion entered his mind says something about where some people’s innate reactions still are when it comes to a D.C. street at night. But Lake went on to explain that he thought the canine play area was a cool idea. “The other thing is there isn’t a dog park right here in the neighborhood, other than what’s on top of the roof. And a lot of people don’t like dogs co-mingling in the playground, so it’s kind of a neat concept to have,” Lake said, referring to Kennedy Recreational Center across Seventh Street.

One problem: He’s wrong. Four short blocks away, past the playground and a church, is a quaint place called Bundy Dog Park. About the size of two Major League Baseball bullpens put together, it is run by a private nonprofit. On Wednesday, a couple dog owners reflected on the symbolism of having a park on your roof.

“In my building, I don’t think I knew any of my neighbors until we got a dog. So just having a dog is sort of [a bonding experience],” said Bonnie Sen, 30, a Shaw resident and architect. “We go to local dog parks, but you’re always going to want to get out of the building, so I think it’ll be a nice convenience for going to the bathroom in the winter and stuff, but really, I don’t think that it’s going to detract from the community that you get from owning a dog.”

Yet for Kathryn Griffin, who lives in nearby Truxton Circle, the whole point of having a dog and walking it is to get to know people. “I would never live in a high-rise and then  just go upstairs instead of taking your dog out, that doesn’t seem involved in the community at all, or like, where you live,” Griffin, 31, said. “We’re friends with a lot of our neighbors, and just, people, because you’re out walking. You get to know a neighborhood better, and then people kind of remember you more because you have a dog. That’s more memorable than just a person walking around.”

Of course, it’s not really about meeting the specific market demand for dog owners. It’s about cultivating a culture of togetherness and inclusion in a neighborhood that has gone through a seismic demographic shift. While modified rowhouses sit on blocks adjacent to others with low-income housing, the Shaw-Logan Circle area’s black population dropped from 65 percent to 29 percent between 1990 and 2010, Fisher reported. Meanwhile, whites increased their numbers from 22 percent of residents to 48 percent, and Hispanics, who accounted for 9 percent in 1990, grew to 15 percent in 2010, according to census data.”

Which is where the Giant food store in the actual old O Street Market space, that soft-opened Thursday, comes in. On its first day, the market appeared welcoming. The horrible murders nearly 20 years ago that scarred the site feel long behind you, and many neighbors have come in to shop and see the sparkling facility. Some even buy things. The accidental popping of a balloon doesn’t start a panic.

By noon, there was a small line to get in. A lot of older neighbors seemed surprised, but pleased that parking was available, even if only for two hours at a time at the apartment building.

“Welcome back,” the greeters say. The brick columns from the original structure are still here. And a sign that says “O St. Market” hangs overhead at the point where the old and new converge. The Sapporo and Kirin Light beer is conveniently stacked next to the fresh sushi stand. Family planning and baby food are on the same aisle. There’s a lounge with free WiFi, too.

“Are the sweet potatoes going to get any cheaper?” an elderly lady with a bag in her hand asks. “These are our prices, ma’am,” a worker replies.

Of course, CityMarket at O as a development is a great mix of old and new. Amenities to draw new residents are mixed with facilities that anyone can enjoy. And with the violent history of the site, I’m sure to most people it feels safe. At nearly 80,000 square feet and with its extensive variety of items, it is probably the most comprehensive grocery store I’ve ever seen in the city.

But no matter how many bright lights or historic photos they put up, I, for one, was uncomfortable the entire time.  Because for me, a group of guards with guns watching over everyone while we browse makes me feel like a criminal, not a customer.

 

Clinton Yates is a D.C. native and an online columnist. When he's not covering the city, pop culture or listening to music, he watches sports. A lot of them.
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Mark Berman · November 21, 2013