The Washington Post

Existentia­l threats

In shadow of Nationals Park, unseen consequenc­es of unceasing developmen­t loom as gun violence escalates

- BY MARISSA J. LANG

Residents in the shadow of Nationals Park say gentrifica­tion and rapid redevelopm­ent have put them at risk.

From the manicured rooftop of one of the several high-rise luxury condos that surround Nationals Park in Southeast D.C., residents of the building can watch players round bases and pop foul balls into the stands. They can see the waterfront, the Washington Monument and the twinkle of city lights.

What they cannot see are the low-rise buildings, the garden-style apartments and the townhouses where the neighborho­od’s longtime residents largely reside. They cannot see the way the ongoing constructi­on has kicked up dust and driven plagues of rats into these homes. They cannot see the fear — of the still-spreading coronaviru­s, of the displaceme­nt that so often follows rapid redevelopm­ent and rising rents — that residents in nearby low-income housing deal with every day.

A drive-by shooting outside the ballpark that shocked fans and sent crowds running for cover during the sixth inning of a Saturday game between the San Diego Padres and the Washington Nationals has brought into sharp focus a spate of recent gun violence in the District that disproport­ionately impacts Black and low-income residents.

National media outlets like CNN, the New York Times and ESPN featured footage of a number of the

more than 30,000 fans who were there that day running from the echo of gunfire and zeroed in on D.C.’S rising murder rate.

But for those who live in the shadow of the ballpark, conversati­ons about gun violence and the rising homicide rate in D.C. miss the bigger picture.

Here, several residents and community leaders said, gun violence is just one of the existentia­l threats facing families who worry daily about the consequenc­es of unceasing redevelopm­ent in the fastest-growing part of the city.

Dena Walker, the president of the resident council executive board at the Greenleaf Gardens public housing complex, said as high-rise after high-rise has gone up over the past decade, it can often feel to her neighbors and other families in subsidized housing like the walls are literally closing in around them.

“They’re scared because they know what happens with all this redevelopm­ent — we’re next,” said Walker, who has lived in the community for more than a decade. “I hear questions all the time like, ‘ What’s going to happen? What’s going to happen to us?’ People just don’t know what their living situation is going to be if they are displaced. There’s a lot of angst, a lot of nervousnes­s.”

The amenities that the new buildings boast — rooftop pools, dog runs, gleaming patios filled with flat-screen TVS on which residents can watch the broadcast of the baseball game happening down the block — are largely inaccessib­le to the wider community.

The residents who live in many of these newly developed buildings tend to be young, single and temporary, said Edward Daniels, a member of the Advisory Neighborho­od Commission that represents residents from the area south of the Mall to the Navy Yard and all along the waterfront. Though some new residents have bought property and intend to stick around for a number of years, Daniels said, many are renters who do not.

“People are living very different lifestyles block to block,” said Daniels, who represents the Capitol Riverfront and Navy Yard and also serves as that ANC’S chair. “There are a lot of residents that come to the neighborho­od because they want to live somewhere trendy and convenient, but then they move away in one year, two years, three years — however long, and they do not really know the history of the neighborho­od.”

Longtime community members said that many of the newcomers may not have an understand­ing of the area or its challenges because they do not often intermingl­e with lower-income residents or mix with those who live outside of their buildings.

Walker, who said she learned about Saturday’s shooting when she was reading the news the following morning, was dismayed to see comments from some residents of the high-rises around the ballpark.

She recalled one man, she said, who indicated that “these things happen” when you have a baseball stadium near low-income areas and public housing complexes.

“There’s a lot of misinforma­tion out there about our communitie­s and what we’re about,” she said. “A lot of these people who shoot up our kids and our neighborho­ods don’t live there. It’s easy to infiltrate these communitie­s and cause problems, but when you look at the [D.C. police] arrest reports, you’ll see that they’re not our residents. So it’s not fair to blame whatever crime is happening on the hardworkin­g people who live in what we affectiona­tely call ‘old Southwest.’ ”

Community gathering spaces, like the weekly farmers market, are few and under threat. The empty lot at 4th and M streets SW where the market convenes is slated to be developed into yet another building, said Fredrica “Rikki” Kramer, who has lived in the community for more than 40 years and was recently elected to join the ANC.

When recreation spaces and resources to support youth and families vanish or give way to more exclusive amenities, Kramer said, communitie­s become more segregated and unstable.

Daniels said that though the neighborho­od has seen a spike in gun violence over the past four to six months, the most common crime has been carjacking­s.

D.C. Police Chief Robert J. Contee III said that not all of the “issues in that community . . . get as much attention” as Saturday night’s shooting.

Although no one was killed in the shooting on Saturday, three people were wounded, including a woman who was attending the game. The victims’ wounds were not considered life-threatenin­g, police said.

Ashan Benedict, the D.C. police executive assistant chief, said at the time that police believe the incident involved gunfire from at least one car toward another. Officers later recovered one of the vehicles believed involved and are seeking the other.

Over the weekend, 6-year-old Nyiah Courtney was killed by a stray bullet when she was hit while walking with her mother, father and older sister in the Congress Heights neighborho­od of Southeast Washington, about 2½ miles away from the ballpark.

It was the District’s 102nd homicide this year — the same number that D.C. logged at this time in 2020. Killings in the city have risen for three straight years, with 2020 being the District’s deadliest since 2004.

“With all this redevelopm­ent and gentrifica­tion, you’re creating communitie­s of a lot of haves with a lot of people stuck at the bottom and a thin, thin slice of very few in the middle,” said Kramer, who lives in a mixed-income community west of the Navy Yard.

Rhonda Hamilton, a community organizer and public housing advocate who also sits on the ANC, said she has watched the cranes roll in and glass-panelled structures go up on both sides of South Capitol Street, with one question ringing in her ears: Who is all of this for?

Dozens of restaurant­s and bars have opened around the stadium and the waterfront, but the area still lacks a 24-hour urgent-care facility, officials said, among other amenities.

“We need more services and support as the community grows with all this developmen­t,” said Hamilton, a 36-year area resident who lives in the Syphax Gardens public housing complex and serves as president of its resident council. “It feels like you’re being left behind in all this constructi­on.”

As buildings with rental units available for thousands of dollars a month offer move-in specials and fill commercial spaces on the street level with more pour-over coffee shops and high-end boutiques, Hamilton said, residents in the area’s public housing buildings have been dealing with deteriorat­ing conditions — mold, rodents, dust and debris shaken out of constructi­on sites that waft into their open windows.

She and other community advocates have banded together to push developers into considerin­g the entire community — not just the affluent renters and tourists who visit the Wharf or the ballpark — when making decisions about use of space and commercial tenants.

Until that happens, she said, the widening resource gap will continue to grow, and the community itself will continue to fracture.

“We’re just watching these buildings go up and absorbing the brunt of the impact,” she said. “Developers more often tell residents what they’re going to do instead of really soliciting input from the community. But this is our future, too. This is the future of our community, our neighborho­od, and we should have a say.”

 ?? MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST ??
MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST
 ?? PHOTOS BY MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? TOP: A pedestrian near Nationals Park, where a Saturday shooting sent fans fleeing. ABOVE: Beer is delivered to Cap Liquor, near the ballpark.
PHOTOS BY MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST TOP: A pedestrian near Nationals Park, where a Saturday shooting sent fans fleeing. ABOVE: Beer is delivered to Cap Liquor, near the ballpark.
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 ?? MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST ?? Constructi­on workers walk by Greenleaf Gardens, not far from Nationals Park in Southeast Washington. There was a drive-by shooting outside the stadium Saturday during a game against the San Diego Padres. The neighborho­od is booming with new constructi­on.
MATT MCCLAIN/THE WASHINGTON POST Constructi­on workers walk by Greenleaf Gardens, not far from Nationals Park in Southeast Washington. There was a drive-by shooting outside the stadium Saturday during a game against the San Diego Padres. The neighborho­od is booming with new constructi­on.

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