Capitol Hill Blog Unites Gentrifying Community
By Spencer Siegel
When Susan Cummings first moved to Capitol Hill seven years ago, she explained that she often kept her head down while walking outside because the gentrifying community was so divided. She said you couldn’t necessarily go and ask to borrow a cup of sugar.
But recently, that’s changed. As embodied in a neighborhood blog authored by six volunteers called The Hill is Home, the new sense of community that has developed is, in Cummings’s words, “a revolution.”
“A revolution is going on in the sense that we are breaking down the thoughts people had in their heads about being black and being white. It’s like we’re all one group, all one family,” she said. “And in my opinion it is a remarkable change.”
Cummings explains that today, residents have developed ways to connect both online and in person.
“Now there are community events during the holidays such as the Fourth of July and Christmas. People are inviting other people over for dinner. Sometimes we’ll close off a few blocks and host community events,” Cummings says.
Cummings isn’t alone in her assessment. Others also agree that Capitol Hill is now a dynamic place to live, and residents are finding new ways to interact with one another while their community faces a demographic shift to a younger generation of new families.
Capitol Hill, a term synonymous with politics, is also a residential neighborhood whose residents have vastly different experiences than the politicians who work down the street.
Chris Grant, a resident of Capitol Hill for the past two years, says he thinks his neighborhood is the best in D.C.
“It is accessible to everything. Less than four blocks to anything; there are multiple markets, a library, a public pool, and places to go for a run. You will see moms with their babies and people walking their dogs. It is the most family friendly area in D.C.,” he says.
Grant also noted that most of the people living in the neighborhood share his optimism.
Despite his enthusiasm, he does acknowledge the phenomenon of gentrification in Capitol Hill. Both Cummings and Grant have noticed demographic shifts in their neighborhoods in recent years.
“In the past six years a lot of younger people are moving in,” Cummings says.
Tanner Holbrook, a former real estate agent, has lived in the Capitol Hill area on and off for the past six years. In many ways, he said, the arrival of young professionals to Capitol Hill is the neighborhood’s current form of gentrification – or at least the major demographic shift it faces.
“Most homeowners that have been here for a long time have homes that are worth an absolute fortune. They purchased their homes for $5,000 and can now sell them for half a million and use it for their retirement,” Holbrook says. He continues, “It becomes a younger neighborhood with people just starting families.”
Holbrook says that redevelopment in the neighborhood along the H Street corridor has attracted younger residents to the area.
“They are completely revamping H Street. It is the brand new Georgetown with all the bars, restaurants, and all kinds of fun things going on. They are really spiffing it up like you wouldn’t believe,” Cummings says.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the Capitol Hill neighborhood has seen an increase of 131 business establishments from 2001 to 2007.
In addition, the Business Patterns Survey offers some insights into ways in which the neighborhood has changed.The survey data also shows that there has been an increase of 4,592 employees in this time resulting in an additional $335-million in annual wages. Of the 131 new businesses, 70 of them are classified as professional, scientific, or technical services. This suggests that the types of jobs being created are ones that require college degrees or other certifications – jobs that might be attracting a younger and more highly educated demographic to the Capitol Hill area.
This has changed the way residents interact with one another. Some sociologists argue that the racial divide that Cummings first experienced when she moved to Capitol Hill has deteriorated because younger generations tend to hold more liberal views, and are more tolerant of minority groups. Others note that tensions diminished because the population simply grew more homogenous because the neighborhood, like many areas in D.C. over the last decade, became more white and higher-income.
One symbol of the new dynamic in the neighborhood is the rise of community blogs such as “The Hill is Home” (THIH).
According to the “About” segment of the blog, “The Hill is Home is an online news source designed to build community, connect neighbors, share news, and celebrate Washington, D.C.’s Capitol Hill neighborhood.”
Staffed by a volunteer corps of Capitol Hill residents, the THIH blog represents a new frontier in community interaction. Nichole Remmert is one of the six contributing authors for THIH and believes that such blogs facilitate community interaction.
“We often know more about what’s going on in our community than the traditional local media. Also, people in the neighborhood can more easily get in touch with us and interact with us, so they may be more inclined to let us know when something is developing than trying to reach out” to The Washington Post, she says.
Despite the blog’s contrast to traditional media, Remmert explains that the volunteer bloggers still fact-check and extensively edit all of their pieces. She also noted that they do their best to cover both sides of a story before publishing. However, Remmert openly acknowledges she doesn’t face the same constraints a traditional journalist might encounter.
“Speaking only for myself, my pieces almost always include my opinion – even if they’re newsier pieces. That’s one of the things that I like about writing for blogs – there’s room for more than just dry reporting,” Remmer says.
“There’s definitely comfort in the fact that we don’t bear the same sorts of burdens that folks writing for traditional news outlets do,” she said, explaining that, without being reckless or misleading, the blog does report second- or third-hand news..
Perhaps this is what puts blogs in a unique position to facilitate community interaction. Remmert herself finds it interesting that more and more local media are looking at blogs to get ideas for stories because – as she points out – “bloggers seem to know more about what’s going on in their communities.”
Blogs such as THIH are becoming increasingly more popular. According to Claudia Holwill, another contributing author for THIH, readership numbers have grown from 1,000 unique visitors in July to 6,700 unique visitors in November. Holwill notes that THIH uses an analytics site called Quantcast to track demographic information.
Quantcast “shows that the age of our readers skews a bit to the older side, is slightly more male than female, and tends to be more educated,” says Holwill.
The Quantcast data show that 84 percent of its readers are college educated, 91 percent are Caucasian, and 57 percent are between the ages of 18 and 49 (the remaining 43 percent are all above 50 years old).
These statistics correlate with evidence suggesting an influx of young professionals to Capitol Hill.
“The Hill is one of the most active communities in the city and has a reputation for being fairly tight-knit and quick to rally behind this or that cause., But strangely, there was no neighborhood blog before THIH,” explains Remmert.
Residents share a general feeling that the Capitol Hill community is embracing this new form of interaction.
“The community has been fantastically supportive,” said Remmert. She continues, “When I mention to people that I write for THIH, it’s amazing how often I hear, ‘I love THIH!’ ”
However, neither Cummings, Grant nor Holbrook utilize any of the community blogs. Grant said that he reads the monthly print publication the “Hill Rag.” Beyond that, all three of these residents primarily find out about community events and issues from neighbors and other residents.
“I love to write, and I love my neighborhood,” Remmert says. “If I can share some of my experiences and help some people in the neighborhood out at the same time, that’s great.”