By Southwester Staff

A new app-based walking tour from the Smithsonian’s Anacostia Community Museum leads users through Southwest DC while telling the story of the neighborhood’s redevelopment. 

“Before the Bulldozers: Historic Southwest D.C. Exposed” uses location-based storytelling, augmented reality and immersive audio to examine larger issues of housing inequality through the lens of Southwest.

The free “Before the Bulldozers” app is available for download on iPhone and Android devices. Users should bring a pair of headphones for the best experience and start the tour at the Waterfront Metro Station, as the app is GPS activated at the site. 

According to the museum, starting in 1950, Southwest became one of the first and largest neighborhoods in the country targeted for “urban renewal,” a process in which the federal government razed schools, houses and places of worship to create space for development by claiming eminent domain. In Southwest, urban renewal aimed to upgrade the neighborhood, but disproportionately displaced over 20,000 African Americans. As a result, the new development leveled the majority of Southwest and destroyed a tight-knit, multi-generational African American community. Similar outcomes from urban renewal became commonplace in U.S. cities following the destruction of the Southwest community.

Today’s Southwest neighborhood is unrecognizable to former residents. As the neighborhood experiences a current economic boom and struggles to keep its affordable community intact, “Before the Bulldozers” offers lessons from the not-so-distant past.

“‘Before the Bulldozers’ gives audiences eyes and ears to the historic stories that shaped Washington, D.C.,” said Melanie Adams, director of the Anacostia Community Museum in a press relase. “By moving through the Southwest neighborhood, seeing how the area changed and learning at whose cost those changes came to be, audiences better understand the role housing inequity plays out in everyday life—in D.C. and beyond.”

Created in partnership with Walking Cinema, “Before the Bulldozers” revives stories from those who witnessed, documented and even participated in the neighborhood’s evolution. These stories derive from the oral histories of displaced community members and the DC Public Library’s Joseph Owen Curtis Photograph Collection.

The walking tour follows three characters: an amateur photographer determined to capture his endangered community on film, an architect whose vision of a gleaming new Southwest captured the imagination of city planners and a current-day resident of the new Southwest grappling with the paradox of gentrification. The route begins at the Waterfront Metro Station and ends at Waterfront Park. As part of the tour, participants are encouraged to enter DC Public Library’s Southwest Branch, which contains in-depth resources, a small gallery of photos and a hidden surprise as part of the tour. 

Guided tours are available for school groups and adults. To join a tour, the public can go to for schedules. Registration is required two weeks in advance.

A 45-minute video version of the tour is available on the museum’s website for those who wish to join the experience remotely.

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