For Natalie Hopkinson, Bloomingdale is both her home and a dynamic laboratory where she is able to witness the effects of gentrification. By examining the interplay of race, culture and the arts, Hopkinson is raising all the right questions about how and why DC is changing.
Hopkinson and her family have been Bloomingdale residents since 2000, and in that time, she’s marveled at the dizzying amount of changes in her neighborhood, including home renovations, new restaurants and even a yoga studio.
“I feel like I’m able to move around in the city pretty well, and I don’t have to go too far to do anything,” Hopkinson, who works from home, said.
A former staff writer and editor for The Washington Post and The Root, Hopkinson is a journalism professor, a member of the Humanities Council, a fellow of the Interactivity Foundation and the author of two books, including Go-Go Live: The Musical Life and Death of a Chocolate City. She pursues each facet of her work with characteristic passion, curiosity and candor.
At a recent community event at Big Bear Cafe, Hopkinson and other panelists discussed gentrification. “When you talk about gentrification, you can’t not talk about race,” Hopkinson said. “Be willing to have conversations about how it plays out. If you’re able to push through discomfort, you can find common ground.”
“There’s been a huge historic reversal–white flight then white return,” Hopkinson said. “To see it family by family, resident by resident, dog by dog, restaurant by restaurant has influenced a lot of projects I’m doing around race, identity and culture. I’ve not stopped being shocked by it.”
You can learn more about Natalie Hopkinson and her work at www.nataliehopkinson.com.
A Haven for Artists
Over 30 artists have found a creative home in Bloomingdale at the 52 O Street Studios. This community resource provides studio space to artists from many different disciplines, all of whom are helping DC keep its personality colorfully artistic.
Among its various incarnations, this building was a meat-packing company and a furniture factory before it was converted to artists’ studios in 1978 and then bought by current owner Marty Youmans in 2003. The high ceilings, flexible layout and proximity to the metro make this space ideal for local, working artists.
“I see sunsets and storms moving in,” said artist Rachel Farbiarz, who occupies one of the third floor studios. “The light is miraculous.” Farbiarz also mentioned two opportunities to see local artists’ work: Open Studios, which 52 O Street hosts every spring, and Artomatic, a month-long, city-wide arts event.
Visual artist Lisa Marie Thalhammer, who lives and works at 52 O Street, found her studio home when she went to a dinner party there in 2005.
“It’s always really important to me to have community,” Thalhammer said. “That’s why I wanted to be in this building in the first place. You’re surrounded by other creative people.”
In addition to visual artists, the building is also home to printmakers, photographers, clothing designers, jewelry makers and woodworkers. Topher Paterno, owner of Pazzo Verde eco-sensitive furniture design company, creates items for clients and also teaches a woodworking class and a skateboard-making class.
“There’s a real citywide push towards makers and handcrafted items and a backlash to big box stores,” Paterno said.
Goldsmith Dan Valencia also teaches classes at 52 O Street. He keeps his jewelry making and metal design classes to under 10 students so everyone benefits from individual instruction and leaves the course having made several, professionally finished products.
“Anytime anybody can be creative or have an outlet for creativity, it makes a better world,” Valencia said.
Contact 52 O Street Artist Studios (52ostreet.com) at 52 O Street NW, Washington, DC, 20001, by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or by contacting individual artists directly.
First Street Tunnel Vision
The cranes dotting Bloomingdale’s skyline and the ubiquitous orange “Road Work Ahead” signs are constant reminders that the First Street Tunnel Project is well underway. The near-term goals of reducing surface flooding and sewer backups are clear enough, but the long-term effects on area residents and their homes remain uncertain.
“The biggest concern we’ve had has been increased, sometimes dangerous, traffic on Second Street NW which has been diverted from First,” Thomas Street resident Emily Roderer said. “Second is very narrow, so drivers have become a little aggressive.”
Because Bloomingdale sits at a lower elevation than surrounding areas and the sewer lines are some of the oldest in the city, residents have had to deal with record-breaking flooding in 2001, 2006 and 2012. Storm water and waste water run through the same pipes, which has led to sewer back-ups.
As part of DC Water’s Clean Rivers Project, the city is building a tunnel which will be 19 feet in diameter and will run under First Street between Channing Street and Rhode Island Avenue. The metro-sized tunnel will capture and store eight million gallons of stormwater to alleviate the demands on the antiquated sewer lines.
DC Water hired tunneling specialist contractors Skanska and JayDee (a joint venture called SKJD) to complete this 18-month, $157 million project. As a gesture of community goodwill, Bloomingdale residents will have a role in naming the tunnel boring machine (TBM) and will be invited to a naming ceremony at the mining shaft site this spring.
In addition to conducting pre-construction surveys, DC Water holds regular public meetings, offers off-street parking and a shuttle and maintains a hotline for residents’ inquiries and concerns. The project is 37 percent complete and on-schedule to finish March 2016.
“It’s been an unpleasant introduction to what traffic will be like when McMillan is developed (although that traffic will probably be worse),” Roderer said. “That, in addition to new dorms on 4th, has made things over there pretty wild.”
Contact DC Water (www.dcwater.com/workzones/projects/first_street_tunnel/) for more information, or check the Bloomingdale Blog for updates (bloomingdaleneighborhood.blogspot.com).
This article originally appeared in MidCity DC Magazine.