Gentrification in Washington DC and the Big Bear Cafe

“Gentrification, or urban gentrification, is a phenomenon in which low-cost, physically deteriorated neighborhoods undergo physical renovation and an increase in property values, along with an influx of wealthier residents who may displace the prior residents.”

One of my favorite examples of gentrification in Washington DC can be found at the Big Bear Cafe in NW. The blurb about their opening is so “new DC”.

“We’re finally open! And offering excellent coffee and espresso from Counter Culture Coffee; fair trade and organic teas from Rishi Tea; and a selection of pastries from Hawthorne Fine Breakfast Pastries.”

When I pass by, which is often, on my way to U Street or Howard University I rarely see an African American face enjoying the coffee culture. Maybe the long term residents aren’t into Rishi Tea. Maybe the crackheads hanging out in the LeDroit Park Playground across the street are too amazed at the sight of this former-corner store turned soho style coffee establishment to inquire about the fine pastries. The juxtapositioning is striking. The locals call it LeDroit, “they call it “Bloomingdale”. Coffee shop across from a crack market. Farmer’s Market in walking distance to 2 SOME (So others might eat) locations. Striking.

But in the end it’s not a right or wrong, a good or bad. The only color that is important in all of this is green. No black, no white, no brown, no olive, no yellow, no gold…just green.


Filed under african american, black, culture, gentrification, opinion, society, washington dc, white folks

15 responses to “Gentrification in Washington DC and the Big Bear Cafe

  1. This is happening in Baltimore too – and many other places where poor African Americans live. (I must slightly disagree with your conclusion. I don’t believe that it’s only about “green”. I’m not aware of one place in this country where White people are being forcibly relocated in mass from valuable property on the level that African Americans are.) I write about what’s going on in Baltimore on my blog:

  2. I’m the owner of Big Bear, and I have to say that we usually have a very diverse crowd — often times I’m the only white person in the place, and it’s usually a mix of older residents, newer residents, gay, straight, etc etc. (although, you’re right… the crackheads don’t really come by).


  3. Hello Lana, I’m sure you would know better than me…being the owner, but for some reason I think it’s a stretch to say that you are often the only white person in the place unless you have a number of black employees. Maybe it’s just the times that I’ve been in the neighborhood…but when I’ve come by or driven by…There have been maybe 2-3 african americans and a good number of non-black patrons.

    However, the crowd has many times been a good mix of black, white, hispanic, asian…etc. I just point out that this mix is not what you would have seen a few years ago before the area was more gentrified and the location was a corner store. A coffee shop and farmer’s market have a different core customer base than a local corner store…no Newports and Arizona drinks at your coffee bar I assume.

    Thanks for coming by and commenting. 🙂

  4. Josh

    I’m writing to Heber Brown, III. I do think that the only color that matters in this situation is Green. I hear a lot of people trying to make gentrification a race issue, but I know the same thing happened in Europe almost 40 years ago. There are black people in Europe, but it’s not like here. I think it also has to do with a change of priorities. Now that gas costs almost $4.00 a gallon people really don’t want to make the commute, and the need for low income workers inside the city is decreasing. For example in Pittsburgh there were steel mills in the downtown area that offered plenty of jobs for low income workers and there was a need for the low income housing to house them. Now most of the downtown area is for businesses that do most of their transactions electronically and the people that work there are well paid. That’s just one example I know, but there are alot more. The story was the same in London back in the 60’s when the need for low income work in the inner city was no longer needed. They bull dozed the poor section and forced the low income house holds outside of the city. They were all from the same country and the same race for the most part and it still happened. So I think the green really does matter, and I can go a little further to show it. Let’s say that there is a huge market of people who want to live in the city, like there is now. Let’s also say that there is an area of 20 – 30 houses that are below $100,000 of value inside the city. Now let’s also say that you have enough money to buy each one of those houses for umm I dunno a million a piece. So it’s twenty five million for the whole lot. That’s enough money for each owner of each home to buy a $250,000 home outside the city and still send their kids to a decent school. Then you want to put up a twenty million dollar condominium with 300 condos. You sell the condos for $300,000 a piece. How much money have you made? I’m grossly over estimating and the profit is still ridiculous. The green is definitely the enabler of the problem and I’m sorry to say it will win in the long run…. unless of course you have more green : )

  5. Hey Josh – good point, but I still believe that race is a factor. The truth from where I stand reveals that at the intersection of poverty and race lies America’s dirty little secret. You’re right. The impoverished in this country most times catch a raw deal from the power structure, however, we would be foolish to ignore the racial aspect of this as well. Not sure where you are from, but in this town (Baltimore) being Black and poor is a double strike which will often times leave you out in the cold looking at a dirt mound that used to be your home.

  6. SteveVa

    The government should ensure racial diversity in these situation by mandating racial % goals at businesses and within neighborhoods, just like we now do at the work place. If some are forced to relocate their residence or change their social habits, then this should happen in the name of diversity. But before we can do this we need a more powerful and just central government and I think our time has arrived!!

  7. Josh

    Herber – Thanks for writing back. I’m from DC and I’ve been to Baltimore I do understand that it can be a double strike to be both black and poor, but I also know several African americans that grew up black and poor and now are some of the most successful people I know. Most of them live outside the city and don’t care to live inside, because they have families and kids and don’t want thier kids exposed to the street life they grew up with. So if were going to go about changing the zeitgeist concercning black people in the innner cirty there needs to be a way to convince those blacks that worked so hard to get out to actually want to move back in. Most of the ones I know have no intentions of doing this. I have a question, would you still be so opposed to gentrification if the people that moved in to the new condominiums were upper and middle class african americans? Oh and how do you think people of other races fit into the equation such as the exploding mixican population?

  8. Calvin

    White folk can’t win. Stay in the burbs and you’re a racist who won’t live around black folks. Move into the city and – despite being a good neighbor to people of all races – you’re a racist blamed for systemic inequities. The focus of African-American ire in the city should be less on so-called “gentrifiers” and more on the rotten schools, lack of health care, lack of competent political representation, cronyism, liquor, drugs, tobacco, litter, violence, abuse, etc.that have coalesced over the decades to make property so cheap.

  9. Pingback: Man Delights In New Bloomingdale Speed Bump - Housing Complex - Washington City Paper

  10. gotta disagree on a nitpick here. it’s bloomingdale. white, black, new, old—people who live there call the neighborhood bloomingdale. ledroit is further up and a few blocks over. always has been since the place was divided up from the old farms and country estates that the neighborhoods were created from.

  11. Pete

    Gentrification, weather you like it or not has turned Ledroit park around from a sketchy slum to the clean kept neighborhood it once was. It is still a majority African American neighborhood though it was originally a white neighborhood. From what I have seen gentrification has not displaced most African Americans but has replaced the African Americans that have been holding the neighborhood down. Race will always be an isue in every aspect of this country but the real issue is the law of the jungle, take care of your Sh@# and you wont get displaced. 🙂

  12. Pingback: Gentrification, ‘Do the Right Thing,’ and Bloomingdale - Housing Complex - Washington City Paper

  13. Nasirjadeh

    Does anyone have a reply for Josh’s comment? I am relocating to MD due to my company moving to DC. Although Baltimore is a ways from DC, the city reminds me of home. Neighborhoods with homes rather than clusters of high rises like some areas closer to DC (i.e. Silver Spring). My income would label me as a “middle class African-American”. Suburbia is definitely not my style…or a viable option. However, being a single woman, some of the metro DC or Baltimore neighborhoods might be too dangerous to live alone. Still, my dollar goes much further in these communities AND living there allows not only for my people to see a familiar face in their neighborhood, but also the ability for me to give back. Am I aiding in the gentrification or helping to support our community by purchasing one of these renovated properties?

  14. maurice


  15. Pingback: Gentrification: White where there was no White in Chocolate City. | Hello, Negro

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