When Past is Present: Historically Layered Experiences of Redevelopment in Southwest Washington DC

Authors: Jesse Card*, Northeastern University, Tracy Perkins, Howard University
Topics: Urban Geography, Social Geography, Geography and Urban Health
Keywords: urban development, urban renewal, gentrification, collective memory, environmental health
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/4/2019
Start / End Time: 5:00 PM / 6:40 PM
Room: Roosevelt 4.5, Marriott, Exhibition Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


The peninsula of Southwest DC was the first site of US slum clearance and freeway building under the urban renewal programs of the 1949 Housing Act. It has since experienced multiple large-scale changes in population, function and the built environment, including a current effort to redevelop a former industrial zone into a multi-use area featuring waterfront shops, housing, and large-scale recreation infrastructure. In the face of uniformly positive depictions of neighborhood change made by city officials, residents have diverse opinions of the redevelopment efforts, which include concerns about potential toxic exposures, increased traffic, displacement and changes to the social environment. These concerns are mediated by their collective memories of prior urban renewal projects. Even amongst those who did not themselves experience prior redevelopment initiatives, collectively formed and maintained memories influence anti-development sentiment and efforts. Based on interviews with 22 SW DC residents, this study suggests that greater attention be paid to how collective memory shapes residents’ relationship to urban change in order to better understand and respond to public concerns over redevelopment activities.

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