Portraying Place: Murals in DC’s Gentrifying Columbia Heights and Shaw neighborhoods

Authors: Elizabeth Chacko*, The George Washington University
Topics: Ethnic Geography, Urban Geography, Immigration/Transnationalism
Keywords: murals, ethnic identity, gentrification, Washington, DC
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 1:10 PM / 2:50 PM
Room: Council Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Murals on exterior walls in urban neighborhoods fulfil many purposes. A form of public art, they can signal political beliefs, ethnic pride and power, as well as community identity and solidarity. In this paper, I focus on public murals in neighborhoods in of Washington DC’s two most gentrified zip codes – 20001 and 20010. Between 2000 and 2016, home values in these areas more than doubled, while household incomes and the proportion of residents with bachelor’s degrees also increased significantly. Concomitantly, the demographic composition of these neighborhoods changed as the percentage of persons of color (including immigrants) living here fell while the number of persons belonging to the white middle class rose. As I analyze the murals in the neighborhoods of Columbia Heights (zip code 20010) and Shaw (zip code 20001) respectively, I pay particular attention to evolving narratives of identity, place and place branding over time in response to changing demographic composition and urban development.

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