A Double-Edged Sword: Gentrification in DC

By LIFT on August 24, 2015

Categories: First Person Perspective, Real Stories

On New York Avenue, just down the street from LIFT-DC’s northwest office in Ward 5, there are newly erected “Yale” apartment buildings. The apartments, though most likely not named after the Ivy league school, helps represent the dilemma of a balance between the old and the new that has begun to shape the rapidly gentrified district.

Gentrification has long been recognized as a double-edged sword. On one hand it offers opportunity and infrastructural improvement to those left in rapidly gentrifying areas, but on the other, it directly disadvantages the lower class and their ability to get, and maintain, affordable accommodations. For me, those concepts have always been a given, but it wasn’t until I saw the Yale apartment buildings that I saw the effect this kind of gentrification can have on education. The students living in these areas, the ones who may pass the Yale apartment buildings hoping to go to the school that shares its name, are being directly disadvantaged by the gentrification surrounding them.

My understandings of the relationship between education and gentrification in impoverished communities was mainly shaped by an article in the US News entitled “How Gentrification is Leaving Public Schools Behind.” This article details how gentrification does bring better schools to impoverished areas, but at the cost of previously established ones. Namely, poorly-performing public schools with low enrollment in gentrified neighborhoods are being replaced by charter schools that lower-income families have less access to. What follows is de facto segregation by both race and socioeconomic lines. While white students from higher income families go to better schools and have a better chance at economic security in the future, their poorer minority counterparts are not provided the same opportunity, helping to perpetuate the cycle of poverty.

To me, the fix to this problem seems simple but nearly impossible to put into action. The first step is improving the pre-existing public schools so that they can attract the new inhabitants of these neighborhoods. For example, by addressing the problem of low-enrollment. Improving these established schools would allow all of the children to get the education they deserve in a diversified environment, which would benefit everyone. I’m not sure what role LIFT gets to play in all of this, but I do know that it is important to remember how to utilize the good of gentrification while also combating the bad, and teaching our members to do the same by giving them the tools to be an advocate for themselves and their families.

This post was written by Eva Branson, an Advocate at LIFT-DC.