by Latoya Peterson
“Gentrification is coming,” says Morgan, “and there’s nothing you can do to stop it.”
What’s the difference between East of the River and River East? According to a March 3rd article in the Washington City Paper, it depends on who you are.
Anacostia is located in South East, DC, made notorious for high levels of crime in violence in the 1990s. The area, currently 92% black and one of the most impoverished areas in DC, is often referred to by its residents as “East of the River.” This stands in contrast to the area of North West referred to as “West of the Park,” which holds a high concentration of wealth. Longtime residents often use those two descriptors to explain the flow of class and politics around DC. Those East of the River tend to get the short end of the stick, with horrible support from the city government. Those West of the Park receive all the benefits privilege can afford.
So, when new residents began to flock to the promise of cheap housing and convenient access to downtown Washington, they decided that the old image of Anacostia was ultimately detrimental to the neighborhood:
[T]here’s a constituency of folks who don’t like what “east of the river” connotes, and they’ve created an organization in part to address the matter. Members of “River East Emerging Leaders”—note the lower-case, hipoisie-appeasing acronym “r.e.e.l.”—have a new name for the place they call home. For these people, it’s “River East.” The rationale for the appellation comes straight from r.e.e.l.’s Web site: “Many committee members recalled conversations with friends or news stories characterizing ‘East of the River’ as dirty, dangerous, crime-ridden and poor. ‘River East’ was a new way to rebrand the area and inspire a sense of pride.”
Older residents fear that being “rebranded” is a way to remove them from the neighborhood. And their fears are well founded – often, projects to improve older neighborhoods tend to displace the lifelong residents there, in favor of wealthier entrants. Continue reading