The Trinidad Conundrum
Originally posted April 6, 2015
Trinidad is troubled, to say the least. But its location is prime for tons of reasons. It’s going to be gentrified, but why not already? And would it be any different that the rest of the city? The gentrifying turn-around that many areas of DC have seen in recent years spawns both tensions and development. There are some peculiarities to Trinidad neighborhood, though, that could help mitigate some of those tensions.
Trinidad is a bit of the Good the Bad and the Ugly story—and we’ll follow that order. When I first moved to DC, I looked at a map and saw places that looked like they should be prime territory for gentrification. The formula behind the rise of DuPont Circle, U Street and Capitol Hill includes metro accessibility, nearby parks and an older brick housing stock—and the bigger the better. It’s also proven true in Columbia Heights, Petworth, H Street NE and the Waterfront.
Another crucial aspect seems to be direct involvement from the city. In each of these neighborhoods, there have been sincere efforts for better policing and the renewal of public spaces.
The last variable aside, because you can’t see it on a map, there was one area that threw me for a loop. To anyone who knows DC, the Trinidad’s status seems obvious. But from an outsiders perspective, it didn’t fit with my gentrification formula one bit. The obvious aspect is that it’s close to the NoMa metro stop. While not on top of it, it’s far corner on Mt. Olivet and Bladensburg roads is less than two miles, and the closest part is just a 10 minute walk. It’s distance is analogous to H Street.
Trinidad is also bordered by the beautiful 151-year old Gallaudet University, the National Arboretum and the up-and-came (yes, past tense) H Street neighborhood. It’s also less than a mile to the Langston golf course and the renewed Anacostia river walk trail. It’s also 1.6 miles to the Capitol building, in case staffers are looking for a place to call home. Plus, there’s a neighborhood association, a necessity for rising stars.
In further favor of Trinidad, it seems that the Wheatley Education Campus, the local elementary school, is turning around. Run by Turnaround for Children Inc., the campus has been completely renovated. While there doesn’t seem to be any major changes from last year’s test scores to this year’s, there has been a jump since before the renovation. And while it’s not ranked by GreatSchools, it does seem to have similar test scores as schools that rank around a 5—and Wheatley has 99% of students on an assisted lunch program. This organic growth may keep Trinidad firmly in the hands of those who don’t intend on sending their kids to private schools, but rather those who want to live, work, play and school their children in the neighborhood.
In my novice lens, though knowing that H Street was already developing, Trinidad looked like an obvious candidate for a new up-and-coming neighborhood. I was dead wrong and I couldn’t figure out why. That’s when I found the Bad and the Ugly.
I looked at the area’s backstory. In 2008 it was closed off by police officers who grilled residents and visitors on their reasons for entering the neighborhood. Gun violence has been higher in Trinidad than any other part of DC for years, and it has a history of concentrated gang presence.
To illustrate, I looked at the DC ShotSpotter. this isn’t a joke. The city really does have a ShotSpotter that uses audio recordings to identify gun shots (below). Trinidad is the largest and most densely concentrated gun shot area in the city. It’s lit up in dark purple on the map. Over 500 shots have been heard within a quarter mile of most parts of the neighborhood since the project began in 2009.
Despite the violence, there are long-term residents and families who live there. Many non-gentrifying neighborhoods in DC are nervous about the prospect of change. And who wouldn’t be—rising housing prices jack up property taxes for existing residents. For those who rent, the consequences can be a complete game changer, forcing families out of the neighborhood.
However, Trinidad has some quirky characteristics that I believe will keep it from turning to runaway gentrification. Most prominently is the size of the housing stock. Many of the already gentrifying neighborhoods are predominantly three and four story brick houses from the 19th Century.
In contrast, Trinidad has similar homes to H Street for a few blocks north of Florida Ave., but then turns to two-flats for the majority of the neighborhood. They’re largely nice Craftsman style homes (or at least once were), and could still be very nice homes with a little TLC. These relatively more modest home sizes may moderate the influx of the super-rich, and keep the area from becoming a DuPont Circle when the gentrification bug does catch.
The distance from public transportation, and lack of large, open housing/commercial/industrial spaces may be keeping the area from changing in the first place, though could also moderate the pace of change once it gets going.
While not a long walk, it’s long enough that recent graduates moving the city for work aren’t dying to get a spot there. In other questionable neighborhoods, if there’s a metro stop, it doesn’t matter the likelihood of danger—people are going to move in. Millenials are urbanites, if nothing else, and we will do anything to be close to the metro. While access to public transportation is still a selling point for Trinidad, it hasn’t lit the flame yet (I’m not even going to consider counting that Trolly—at this rate it may never actually work anyway).
The latter item is less intuitive—and some may call it a stretch. While not a big force in DC (a conversation we’ll leave for another time), artists drive the gentrifying neighborhoods where I grew up (Chicago), as well as those in New York and London. Big industrial spaces—or at least big old garages, store-fronts or high-ceiling houses—are converted into real studio spaces. The Wecht Warehouse on New York Ave. may be a candidate, but we’ll see. The gist is: artists drive culture, culture drives money, and money coming to roost is gentrification.
So while I still see Trinidad as a great location to gentrify because of proximity to services, it obviously hasn’t caught on for probably some pretty good reasons. However, I think it’s only a matter of time before the H Street buzz starts to filter in. The good thing for all involved, and especially for residents, is that I can’t imagine it’ll explode the way some other neighborhoods have. If all goes well, I think Trinidad will have a smoother and less drastic transition. The end result will be a safer neighborhood with good public services, though it may never be a haven for the mavens (I’m sure to residents’ delight).
By Own Reynolds