(13 Arrondissement – Paris on the left and Adams Morgan – DC on the right)
So far I have decided to stay away from sharing things about my personal life in my posts and favored the more academic and research founded posts. However, I have been thinking for a while that we can learn a lot by looking at the way we (meaning in this case myself) live our cities and how we choose where we live. And, we can learn even more by taking these lessons a step further and trying to respond with sincerity how we think we will react when facing public policies. For instance, although most of us as urban economists, planners and architects keep talking about the benefits of a compact and dense city, are we still dreaming of having the house with the back yard and the dog?
Today, I wanted to share with you one of the things that impacted me the most when moving to Washington DC six months ago. Although expecting to face a big cultural shock related to junk food or consumerism my greatest shock dealt with spatial segregation and neighborhood gentrification. Before moving to DC I had lived for 4 years in Paris near “Place d’Italie” or in “le treizième arrondissement” as the French call it. Le treizième is home to Paris biggest China Town but is actually a cultural melting-pot were students, families, and households from a broad range of socio-economic status coexist. My routine in le treizième involved buying last-minute groceries in a close-by Vietnamese shop, eating dinner in a small, cheap and good Lebanese restaurant and – from time to time – fighting with two of my neighbors (one of whom was living with a small kid and the other who was a retired doctor) who we ended up calling “Humpty Dumpty” and “the crazy old lady” or la vielle folle. While in France it is illegal to collect information related to race and religion, meaning that there is no real evidence to evaluate spatial segregation using these two variables, in my personal view le treizième was an example of a mixed neighborhood with its benefits and disadvantages. Living in a mixed neighborhood, like le treizième, allowed me to profit from the diversity of options offered and learn from other cultures and races but was sometimes problematic when my preferences and time schedules didn’t match those of my neighbors.
When we (me and my very French boyfriend, Pierre) knew that we were moving to Washington DC, we started doing some research about the city and its different neighborhoods to see where we wanted to live. We had enjoyed our time in le treizième and decided that we would love to move – if possible – to a mixed neighborhood since we thought its benefits largely outstripped its disadvantages. We bought a couple of guides about Washington and we learned that it was known affectionately as “Chocolate City” because it was predominantly African-American. So long story-short we ended up deciding to move to Adams Morgan, described by Wikipedia as being a “Cultural diverse neighborhood” and considered by most guides as the center of Washington’s Hispanic immigrant community. We fell in love at the moment we arrived in Adams Morgan, the neighborhood was fantastic, and our street was calm but had a million restaurants of very diverse origins at the corner. However little by little we started discovering that the so called Hispanic and “Cultural diverse neighborhood” was actually a rapidly gentrifying neighborhood and we were part of the process. Most of our neighbors, like us, were young professionals who had recently moved to DC and were looking for a close and nice area to live. At the same time, my home-to-work area was largely dominated by White households and looked more like the Chocolate chip city than anything else. One day I was reading the Washington Post and found the following map describing DC’s spatial segregation (2010 Census). Red is White, Blue is Black, Green is Asian, Orange is Hispanic, Yellow is Other, and each dot is 25 residents. I was surprised of how good this map was, shocked about the reality and a little ashamed of how happy I was of living in my gentrified neighborhood.
Have you ever thought about the choices we make in the cities we live? How do you think you will react to some of the public policies we so vigorously defend? Are you aware of similar segregation maps in developing cities?