10 April 2007

Astroturf

Steve Goff reprints a press release from the DC Black Church Initiative (DCBCI). They claim the following:

(1) DC United lied and misled area ministers about their intentions to fund a youth soccer league for African American children in Wards 5, 6, 7 and 8. (2) DC United lied about their commitment to the children of those Wards after a year and a half of discussion. (3) The new stadium would have adverse economic affects on the residents of Ward 8 and accelerate gentrification of their neighborhoods. (4) the only motive behind DC United move is not to build community, but to create a profit center for their investors.

Now, before we hit the panic button on what this all means, let's ask if this is a real issue. After determining which churches in Ward 8 might be closest to the proposed stadium, I called three of them, and spoke to someone at two (Anacostia Bible Church only had an answering machine).

At the Union Temple Baptist Church, the conversation went as follows:

D: Hi, I was wondering if you were aware of the recent press release from the DC Black Church Initiative regarding the proposed Poplar Point initiative for a D.C. United Stadium?
RECEPTIONIST: No, I'm not aware of anything with that.
D: Do you know if your church supports the DC Black Church Initiative?
RECEPTIONIST: I've not heard that name before.
Okay, using the same polite script, I called Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church. The response was much the same. "I don't know anything about that."

Now, that doesn't mean that the real local churches aren't opposed to the stadium, or that they don't support the DCBI. However, you would think that a true grass-roots effort would have made sure that key talking points had been distributed to their allies on the ground. That no one in the area seemed to have heard about it indicates that the DCBI may be talking on behalf of no Ward 8 residents or churches that we know of. I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem like there's a huge movement afoot from local churches to block the stadium.

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7 Comments:

At 11 April, 2007 08:58, Blogger adelino said...

The DCBCI describes itself as "a coalition of 800 African-American and Latino member churches [that] works to eradicate racial disparities in healthcare."

If their focus is healthcare, then why are they getting involved in DC United's stadium and issues of urban planning? That doesn't make sense to me. It makes even less sense to send this press release on the same day that PG County Hospital announced that it will be closing its doors.

PG County Hospital Center is awash in debt because it is the only healthcare option for the largely poor, under-insured, African American population of that area. Shouldn't a group that concersns itself with racial disparities in healthcare focus on the closure of that critically-important hospital rather than the actions of a soccer team?

I'm not saying that DC United didn't make a mistake. That may be true. Gentrification will be an issue with any new development in the Anacostia area. I just wonder about the timing. I think something else is going on here.

 
At 11 April, 2007 09:32, Blogger D said...

Adelino --

There's a lot that doesn't make sense about this situation. And I would keep wondering.

Now, that being said, that doesn't mean that concerns about gentrification aren't valid, as you say. But you do wonder if this is a truly representative group to express those concerns.

 
At 11 April, 2007 14:10, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Gentrification: Favorite code word of race baiting shakedown artists who want their neighborhoods to remain poor and crime-ridden in order to retain their power and wealth in the community.

 
At 11 April, 2007 15:20, Blogger D said...

Anon -- Not sure I can agree with that. There are some quite legitimate concerns about gentrification. When done right, everyone can win, but you can also make it so that long time residents no longer can afford to live in their own neighborhood, and that does strike me as wrong. However, that being said, I don't think there's any reason to believe that McFarlane et al will pursue a plan that would put existing residents into such a bind... they seem quite sensitive to local needs for affordable housing beyond tokenism.

 
At 11 April, 2007 17:41, Blogger adelino said...

Urban renewal per se does not have to take advantage of anyone or cause any racial or socio-economic divisions. I think people often use "gentrification" when they really mean urban revitalization. Gentrification definitely has a negative connotation and in many cities (like the one just a few exits up I95), attempts to revitalize a blighted area have ended up destroying neighborhoods and the fragile social networks they contained. I agree with D that any major project in SE Washington needs to make sure that doesn't happen.

I do bristle at any charge of racism against DC United. The DCBCI is recklessly assuming that low-income African Americans will be forced out of their neighborhoods in favor of wealthy whites. I believe that any high-priced condominiums or town homes that are built near the new stadiums will be marketed just as much (if not more) to this area's large affluent African American population as to the affluent white population. In my DC-metro county, the new $900,000 single-family subdivisions have just as many black families as white families. That's great. It shows great progress and increasing equality in housing, but that doesn't mean the poor people in Poplar Point are in less danger. There are many reasons why these people live where they do and don't have much money. Some of those reasons deal with issues of race, but it's not DC United's fault. The brutal economics of the matter are that every city needs to increase its tax base. It doesn't matter who moves in, as long as they can afford higher property taxes.

 
At 12 April, 2007 11:05, Anonymous matt w said...

I'm going to be accused of treason here, but I've come around to sort of hoping that Poplar Point doesn't work out. It's just an awful spot -- the Anacostia on one side, 295 on the other, few connections physically or culturally with the neighborhoods beyond 295, no connection with the United fanbase. It will be a little oasis to which we will drive or take Metro and then flee from as quickly as we can until the next match.

The only reason we're excited about it at all is that it would be a SSS that would be ours. And while that's a pretty compelling reason to support it, imagine if we had our very own SSS that was somewhere decent. Others have mentioned the old Convention Center site, which would be fantastic, but really just about anywhere in wards 1 or 2 would be fine. Imagine knitting the stadium and the team into an already-existing neighborhood with soccerfan-friendly entertainment and retail options where we would actually want to spend time and money before and after games and between matchdays.

Has there really been any discussion about options other than Poplar Point? Are we so starved for something to call our own that we're willing to overlook the obvious problems with that site?

 
At 20 May, 2007 20:27, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Matt, I too have come to the realization that popular point is a bad location. As youi said it will be cut off from everything and after looking into it there are other huge problems with the land. You can see very big very real looking wetlands from the metro garage...right where the stadium is proposed...Maybe these can be worked around but my sense is that it will take years and years....I agree that we should be looking for an alternative and fast...lets grab the old convention center site now and stop messing around...darcy

 

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