The Washington Evening Star published this poem in 1890 on its editorial page to celebrate the opening of the Pennsylvania Avenue bridge, which spanned the Anacostia River to connect the community of Anacostia with the rest of D.C. Since that time a lot of things in this marriage have changed. Anacostia, then a working- and middle- class area for whites and blacks, is today an almost entirely black community whose struggles with unemployment, welfare and crime are well-documented in the local press; the community, which remained a single-family-dwelling residential area long after apartments came to other parts of the District, is today host to most of the city's public housing and is zoned primarily for multi-family dwellings. Once, city planners envisioned lively commercial and manufacturing enterprises along the Anacostia River; they believed that from The Mall, the city would expand in the direction of Anacostia . Today, the federal government is the main business of the city and Anacostia struggles to attract investors and businesses 'across the river.'
The once-celebrated marriage of Anacostia to the rest of the city is troubled. D.C. itself is troubled financially, which cripples its ability to help Anacostia residents improve their community. To some extent, what happened in Anacostia is similar to what happened in other inner cities across the U.S. But in important ways, the governmental bodies involved here are quite different: the city of Washington exists as a colony of the federal government, which exerts more direct legislative and financial control over the District than other cities in America. It is also the largest employer and the largest landholder.
In the twentieth century, governmental agencies and private developers acting together cleared out the central city to make room for the federal government; the government was able to do this through its unique economic and legislative relationship to the city, and through a heightened symbolic architectural and verbal language which supported its valorization. The symbolic language and the government's dominance in the local economy are mutually supportive. Symbolism removes ownership of the city from local residents and makes it national; it also masks the federal government's failure to prove economically beneficial to all sections of the city and to all its races and classes, as a 'trickle down' theory of dominant economies argues. Because of the government's importance in the local economy, its symbolic self-representation goes unchallenged.
Government-sponsored changes in the central part of the city have had profound effects on communities like Anacostia. In light of the problems facing Anacostia today, and in light of the federal government's recent renewed involvement in D.C. government, this study attempts to map the ways that race and the government have contributed to the evolution of Anacostia. Asking "What happened?" can help develop an informed answer to "What happens next?"
"Nobody Seems to Object...Except the Public:" The Government and Home Rule
"The Washington Everyone Comes to See:" Symbolic Architecture, Symbolic Solutions
"The Most Gigantic Business on Earth:" The Government and Local Economy
Anacostia: A Photographic Essay