Barry Farm redevelopment — finally
Blood, sweat and tears. Hold that thought, for now. The locked doors and the sign on the glass door said all that needed to be said: “Welcome to Barry Farm Pool … Closed Tues & Thurs.”
Fortunately, D.C. children may get to see their pool open seven days a week if their parents and other stakeholders play their cards right. Barry Farm is about to undergo its most important reconstruction since Reconstruction.
Some activists have stirred the gentrification pot so much that residents of Barry Farm seem to have forgotten the past and can’t imagine the future.
In 1867 the federal government bought a 375-acre farm from white landowners David and Julia Barry and parceled it out to free black men and former slaves, calling it Barry Farms. The intent of the Freedmen’s Bureau was to give blacks a hand up. That in turn led to the plots that soon were sold to blacks, who farmed them and built their own homes.
Barry Farm made a drastic turnabout as World War II was ending and the federal government was trying to catch up with President Franklin Roosevelt’s public housing project.
In the District that meant turning Barry Farm into 432 units of public housing in Southeast and creating the massive Carver and Langston Terrace projects in Northeast. Built to attract blacks, the three projects also meant new schools — another financial boom for impoverished and middleclass blacks in the nation’s segregated capital.
We now know that many of those housing projects simply failed as “homes” to the poor.
Take one extreme: Chicago’s Cabrini-Green.
Built in the 1940s, Cabrini-Green grew into a community totaling 3,607 units, and the so-called broken-glass theory was in full display. Indeed, one thing led to another, with deplorable living conditions, gang violence and assorted crimes. Even routine maintenance and police services were overwhelmed.
That Barry Farm is not a smallerscaled Cabrini-Green is an undisguised blessing.
The beginnings of Barry Farm’s third reconstruction is inked in to start in 2018, and as the date draws near, unoccupied units are boarded up, and some residents fear they are going to be evicted. Some say they had no idea Barry Farm was going to be demolished. Some say they didn’t know it would be this soon.
Many say they want the redevelopment done in stages so their families can stay and simply return to “their new unit” when it’s ready.
It’s a tactic that’s been tried in other cities, including Chicago, with CabriniGreen. In fact, the city and the tenants’ association are still trying to reach a settlement — and the city demolished the last of the buildings in 2011.
In the District, a progressive group called Empower DC has been listening to, organizing and voicing the concerns of Barry Farm families since September 2009, when D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton, then-Mayor Adrian Fenty, then-D.C. Council member Marion Barry and other officials announced that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security would be moving into the West Campus of St. Elizabeths Hospital.
The hospital’s West Campus neighbor is none other than Barry Farm.
Most of the people who lived in Barry Farm after its second major redevelopment in the 1940s understand it was temporary housing until they could get themselves and their families on their feet.
Residents learned in 2009 that big changes were coming. They were reminded a handful of years later, when city officials began haggling with federal officials about housing money. At a minimum, they were reminded again about the big move in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 and 2016 — every time Mrs. Norton, a mayor, council member or attorney general ran for office.
Empower DC, meanwhile, was meeting with residents.
The timeline of the Barry Farm redevelopment is no shocker. For sure, it’s about time.
And gentrification is not a dirty, four-letter word.
Indeed, the surprise is Barry Farm being home to one of the newest and best aquatic facilities in the city — but kids being unable to use it two days per week during the summer months.
That’s not what the late Marion Barry had in mind when he discussed the redevelopment and fulfilled a promise to Barry Farm residents about the swimming center.
The public swimming pool at Barry Farm in Southeast is open for summer (most days).