Barry Farm re­de­vel­op­ment — fi­nally

The Washington Times Daily - - METRO - DEB­O­RAH SIM­MONS ● Deb­o­rah Sim­mons can be con­tacted at dsim­mons@wash­ing­ton­

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).

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