How DC’s neighborhood leaders are preserving history

To gather information for our report, The Black Neighborhoods Being Preserved, we explored ways for communities to engage their history while preserving it.

We interviewed historians, architects, preservationists, writers, and neighborhood activists who helped us understand how communities are tackling their past, present, and future.

One plan emerging from those conversations? Preserving places in such a way that each person is aware and involved in how the community is changing. We looked at efforts in Columbia Heights, where over the past several years the council has come up with the Strong Community Strategy – a series of principles to guide the city’s planning and development. The city’s policy director, Don Madre, developed the strategy, drawing on connections between historically black neighborhoods in the U.S. and African-American research institutions.

Another effort is coming from a strategy called Civic Resilience in Logan Circle. That group hopes to help repair the earthen dam in front of the historic Cotton Hotel and give it a contemporary refurbishment, rather than giving it away for a parking lot. The mission is to help Logan Circle do better to protect the historic vitality of its neighborhoods. It joins a strategy in Columbia Heights to refurbish dilapidated buildings that could be used as affordable housing.

Some neighborhoods we looked at have more work to do – like Mt. Vernon Heights in Southeast D.C. – where efforts were launched with one goal in mind, and instead ended up restoring 50-year-old homes with new and more modern materials and technology.

Other neighborhoods are nearing the end of a transformation that started more than a century ago. We explored how Northeast D.C. was developed and how it was transformed again by the developer Oscar Emerson. Emerson, who will be turning 100 in December, is the subject of a new film by filmmaker Demetrius Laws.

To read about the research we conducted, and to see what artifacts historians have seen preserved around the city, click on the archive below.

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