Photo caption: Coy McKinney, second from left, and Pamela Daley, second from right, pictured here in SW Gardens.
Editor’s Note: Do you want to have your voice heard? Do you feel your opinions are going unnoticed? Do you have an answer to a problem in the neighborhood? This series, called In Their Own Words, includes op-eds written by neighbors for neighbors. If you would like to contribute, please email email@example.com with “In Their Own Words op-ed” in the title.
Southwest is a very special place to a community of people for a variety of reasons—this article aims to share why the area is important to two residents in particular, and is a call to protect the characteristics we cherish about our neighborhood. We hope you’ll listen.
Who we are: Coy McKinney. I have lived in SW for seven years, in a Tiber Island unit my mother purchased while she was living here in the 90s. I moved in in 2010, and from that time on, DC, and SW in particular, has become home. It’s the place I’ve lived the longest outside of my hometown of Atlanta. Over the past seven years, I’ve walked/biked nearly all of SW, and have watched and read accounts of SW before and after the 1960s redevelopment plan. This has created a connection with the community by which I’ve personified it as an old friend .
Who we are: Pamela Daley, SW resident for two and a half years. When I first moved to DC in 2009, SW was not a place I visited. I recall thinking it was “far” from things; the things a 20-something wants—bars, hip restaurants, and access to the “cool” neighborhoods. Now that I’m more interested in putting down roots, I have luckily found that SW has everything I need. After nearly three years in SW, I can certainly say that this is the neighborhood and space where I finally decided that DC was home. Prior to SW, I lived the longest in NoMa (2010-2014) and watched as it filled up with high-rise apartments. I didn’t feel connected to it and have rarely returned to that neighborhood since leaving.
Coy: For me, SW is special because of its diversity: economically, racially, and architecturally; its proximity to the city and downtown, yet its quiet, small-town feel. It’s these particular characteristics that I am worried are vulnerable to money-driven development that has already taken place in other parts of the city.
Pam: With regard to what makes SW the SW that I call home, the SW lot is a communal space I have come to greatly appreciate. I love being outside communally with our neighbors on Friday nights at the SW Market, meeting new neighbors, chatting with the vendors, and sitting outside enjoying food and drinks. Then, come Saturday morning, I see neighbors again at the Farmer’s Market, get tips on what to buy from the baker, and greetings from the vendors whom I have come to know. I see some of our fellow gardeners from the SW Community Garden and chat about how the season has been. We discuss plans for the week, weekend, the garden, and the neighborhood in general. In this communal space, we find our community.
Coy: Anyone paying attention to their surroundings has noticed that DC has been experiencing an incredible development boom over the past decade. While there are, no doubt, benefits to new restaurants, stores, places to socialize, and places to live, I believe that if left unchecked, development tends to focus on profit maximization rather than community uplifting or preservation. As some Very Smart Brothas have already asked and pointed out, who can actually afford to live in this city? And how long can these outrageous rent prices continue? A high cost of living is the antithesis to maintaining or promoting a diverse neighborhood. Additionally, only offering studio, 1-bedroom, or 2-bedroom options doesn’t encourage families, or people, to stay in the city long term.
The most bothersome aspect of unbridled development is the fact that developers engorge their pockets at the community’s expense. If that’s not enough, they then tend to congratulate themselves about “redeveloping,” “revitalizing,” or “reintroducing” an area, but then don’t have to live with the consequences of their actions. Here’s a SW example: Poor, little, (sometimes) six-lane M St. SW already gets overloaded when there’s a baseball game. What will it be like when there’s an additional soccer stadium, a 6,500-person capacity music venue at the Wharf, plus at least 1,000 more apartment/condo units added to the mix? Did the developers really think about SW’s current infrastructure when planning these buildings, or were they in pursuit of increasing their bottom line?
Pam: Having witnessed NoMa’s “transformation,” I see similar signs of community-killing development appearing in SW. As there are four apartment/condo buildings going up right now in SW (and I am not referring to the Wharf), why are we in a rush to destroy the little bit of land that we have to build more apartments? We have yet to see how this increased population will affect the community. Do we have the structural capacity to support this growth? Fourth St. SW during rush hour is already painful to get through alone on a bicycle, how will we manage this moving forward?
Coy: I write all of this to say: SW deserves better. Although I welcome some changes to the neighborhood, I reject blatant capitalist extravagance that is detrimental to the values I like to see in my community. This leads into the particular issue we both have with the current plans for the two parcels of land situated at the corners of 4th & M St. SW.
Pam: I don’t believe my experience is a singular experience. Why, I ask, are we then going to destroy this communal space for another high-rise apartment that will be unaffordable for our friends—educated and middle-class with young kids—who want to stay and invest in SW but are being priced out? How will we continue to build a SW community when our neighbors no longer have a space to be together communally? How will we continue to build a SW community when our neighbors are pushed out because they can no longer afford to raise a family here? These questions make me wonder what sort of community do we want? If what SW wants is a transient community that does not think of SW as home and seeks out other communities to “live” outside of their apartment (e.g. The Wharf, The Yards, Barracks Row), then bring on the development. If what SW wants is to be together communally, know thy neighbor, and keep that “small-town feel,” then I would argue more high-rise luxury apartments is not what SW needs or wants.