Next City, April 27, 2020: Authenticity and “Post-Chocolate” Cool in a Rapidly Gentrifying Washington, D.C.
A vital component of understanding how blackness figures into the “revitalization” of the H Street corridor is how culture and authenticity work as instruments of urban development. Given the prominence of culture as a key resource for post-industrial cities to attract tourists and residents, several have implemented strategies to promote urban branding. Racialized expressions are more marketable in the emerging “creative city” that emphasizes cultural consumption and creative, aesthetic practices. Producing authenticity through black aesthetic emplacement, marketing both blackness and diversity, and blackness as diversity, facilitates gentrification and revitalization on the basis of design and architectural projects. Therefore, analyzing the built environment, especially the spatial organization of streetscapes, sheds light on how the aesthetics of blackness figure into the way the street looks and how Black people move through the corridor. On the other hand, in an urban context, authenticity shows up in the form of cultural value — namely, historic preservation. Restoring and preserving historical styles of architecture are in direct contrast to decades of state-sponsored urban renewal, which demolished and devastated Black neighborhoods, and hyper-redevelopment efforts via large-scale, public-private construction projects.