For those who have seen the evolution of Georgia Avenue in the District, there were the days of outdoor heroin markets, dangerous go-go clubs and residents afraid to go to their favorite barbershop.
Those days, for the most part, have been relegated to the not-so-distant past. But more change is on the way for the strip of liquor stores, neighborhood restaurants and long-held businesses that serve as the facade for a community of adjoining, brilliantly colored rowhouses.
(Bill O'Leary/The Post) - Along Georgia Avenue, vacant properties are sought for “window walk” art exhibits. A task force is taking on such projects, and larger ones, to try to revive the Northwest D.C. thoroughfare.
The new, improved Adams Morgan
Residents say they have seen the effects of gentrification and displacement — in the District and across the country — as development has flourished and trends redefined realities for neighborhoods. They hear that development and neighborhood change are shaped by the invisible hands of the economy and behind the mysterious cloak of political deal-making.
They think that there’s a better way and that they have the opportunity — before projects are approved and businesses are ready to move in — to influence the forces of progress. Looking to take on the challenge is a group of residents who call themselves the Georgia Avenue Community Development Task Force. They have a large enough presence to apply pressure on city leaders and do their own deal-making to ensure that the Northwest D.C. neighborhood becomes what residents want.
Residents say they don’t trust timelines that have been repeatedly lengthened or forgotten.
“It’s about empowering ourselves to do something, rather than twiddling our thumbs and five or 10 years goes by and nothing happens,” said Sylvia Robinson, who runs the Emergence Community Arts Collective. As a leader of the task force, some consider her the neighborhood’s “unofficial mayor.”
The group takes on projects big and small. Abandoned storefronts are a problem in the neighborhood, and the group hopes to showcase artists’ work there as part of a “window walk,” creating a sense of community and cleaning up eyesores.
The first such project was installed Saturday by artist John Grunwell as the group helped kick off the Georgia Avenue/Pleasant Plains Heritage Trail, another goal of the task force. The idea behind Grunwell’s self-described “psychedelic” work has its roots in other District mural projects, which create a sense of pride and are a way to clean up blight, task force members said.
The group’s efforts circle back to residents who don’t want to be overtaken by outsiders.
“We do want new people on Georgia Avenue,” said Darren Jones, a task force leader. “But we want to make sure that the people who want to stay can stay and shape Georgia Avenue in the way we want.”
‘We need more foot traffic’
Georgia Avenue poses development challenges that differ from those in other areas of the city.
The parcels and buildings are aging and small, making renovation difficult. Big projects elsewhere — the Target in Columbia Heights or Whole Foods Market near Logan Circle, for example — were possible because there were large or adjoining parcels for the taking. Such projects would be difficult on Georgia Avenue, developers say.