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From Arlandria to Chirilagua: The Shifting Demographics of a Northern Virginia Neighborhood

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Krystyn Moon

In the summer of 1980, Edith Zambrano arrived in northern Virginia like many men and women whose lives El Salvador’s civil war had disrupted. After a student massacre her grandfather had refused to allow her to attend school, and with war raging in the countryside she decided that it was time to leave for the United States. Traveling to the United States had always been a possibility for Zambrano, whose parents had immigrated a decade earlier. In fact, the first Salvadorans, working for American diplomats who had previously lived in Central America, had arrived in the Washington metropolitan area in the 1960s. This first cohort of Salvadoran immigrants soon invited friends and family to make the journey and assisted them in finding work in construction, restaurants, and domestic labor.[1] It took Zambrano twenty-one days to travel from El Salvador to the United States, including a trip across the Rio Grande on a raft. She eventually made it to Los Angeles, and then flew into Dulles International Airport where her family was waiting.

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Christ Church, Alexandria, Virginia, Detroit Publishing Inc., 1902, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Her mother had found an apartment in Arlandria, one of the few privately-owned low-income neighborhoods in the region. Located in the northernmost portion of Alexandria, Virginia, the neighborhood was “where the apartment buildings were known for cockroaches inside and drug dealers outside.”[2] Like many recent arrivals, the Zambranos squeezed nine people into a one-bedroom apartment, trying to save as much money as possible to send to family members back home. They were among the first Latino residents of Arlandria, but they soon saw numerous familiar faces from El Salvador. “One by one, that summer and the next, [Zambrano’s] classmates showed up and moved into her neighborhood…. Her cousins followed…. Every Sunday, the crowds at the neighborhood soccer games grew, and every Sunday, she bumped into someone else from back home.”[3] By the late 1980s, the neighborhood was home to a sizable number of Salvadoran immigrants who nicknamed the neighborhood “Chirilagua,” after a town in southeastern El Salvador from which many residents had fled.

Arlandria/Chirilagua, like the rest of northern Virginia, had only seen small numbers of immigrants prior to the 1980s. Constructed in the late 1930s, the neighborhood’s garden apartments and rowhouses catered to white federal workers, of which an overwhelming majority was native born. With the passage of local and federal fair housing policies in the 1960s, Alexandria slowly began to desegregate its housing stock, and for the first time large numbers of African Americans moved into the neighborhood. Racial tensions ran high in Arlandria, with two incidents of white-on-black violence that provoked widespread anger and destruction throughout the city.[4] Simultaneously, rapid suburbanization along Four Mile Run, a large stream that emptied into the Potomac River near Arlandria, had created what Adam Rome asserts was “an environmental catastrophe.”[5] Northern Virginia’s sprawling tract housing and shopping plazas ensured that water had few places to go, especially after a drenching storm. One of the most memorable was Hurricane Agnes (1972), during which one Arlandria resident drowned.[6]

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Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library
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Damage in Arlandria from 1972’s Hurricane Agnes courtesy of the Alexandria Public Library

Arlandria’s environmental and social turmoil made the neighborhood an affordable, although potentially dangerous, place to live for newly arrived immigrants. Refugees from Southeast Asia who needed a place to live once their sponsorship period had ended made up the first sizable number of new arrivals.[7] Immigrants from all over the world, however, also moved to the neighborhood. By 1975, immigrants from the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Iran, Peru, Philippines, South Korea, and Turkey lived in Arlandria.[8]

In the 1980s, the Reagan Administration’s cuts to social services combined with Cold War policies created a crisis for those near the bottom of the socioeconomic ladder who lived in the region. In response to Reagan’s nuclear arms race with the Soviet Union, both American citizens and immigrants moved to Washington to take advantage of the growing economy, with government contractors making billions of dollars selling products and services to the Defense Department and other federal agencies. Meanwhile, service industries flourished along with construction jobs, domestic work, and clerical positions, all of which saw an increasing number of foreign-born employees. Although job opportunities expanded, so did living expenses, with rich and poor competing for places to live within commuting distance of their employers. Thus local developers began to buy undervalued apartments and convert them into high-end rentals or condominiums that appealed to a new class of white professionals, known as “yuppies.” In Virginia, low-income residents had little recourse. State and local governments had enacted few regulations protecting renters from predatory landlords and developers.[9]

The proximity of Arlandria to Washington, D.C. along with its undervalued real estate market, was perfect for mid-to-high-end redevelopment, which local governments believed would lead to more tax monies. In response to changes in the housing market, Artery Organization, Inc. purchased over 1,000 apartment units in Arlandria in 1986. It created a firestorm among city officials and local residents. At the same time, two other developers, Potomack Development, Inc. and Freeman/Cafritz, had purchased other apartment complexes in the neighborhood with the intent to renovate and raise rents.[10] These sales constituted 74% of the neighborhood’s apartments, all of which were slated for conversion and potential displacement of the existing residents. Magda Gotts, an Arlandria resident and member of the newly formed Alexandria United Tenant Organization (which hoped to protect local residents from displacement and eviction), told reporters, “it’s going to be an exodus of people. There is no place for these people to go. I’m speechless.” [11] Alexandria’s mayor, Jim Moran, noted this would be “the largest displacement in the city’s history.” Despite their concerns, local officials believed little could be done.

Tenants Flyer
Tenant Flyer from Tenants and Workers United circa mid-1980s, photograph by Krystyn Moon

Tensions over housing soon pitted African American and Latino residents living in Arlandria against each other, eventually leading to violence. The arrival of immigrants in the neighborhood had angered some African American residents, who only in the past twenty years had the opportunity to live in Arlandria and had struggled to find housing in the region. Latinos, many of whom were unrecognized as refugees by the federal government, could not apply for housing assistance programs, and were limited to privately-owned units. In July 1986, a fight broke out in the streets of Arlandria between African American and Latino residents, leading to forty arrests. In response, the local chapter of the National Conference of Christians and Jews organized a series of community meetings to develop a list of issues that affected Arlandria residents and facilitate interracial and intercultural conversations to mitigate tension. Everyone recognized that pending displacement triggered the violence.[12]

In the meantime, tenants and their supporters organized protests to raise public awareness and demanded city officials and developers be held accountable. Two groups, Alexandria United Tenants Organization and the Arlandria Community Campaign to Save our Homes, organized Latino, African American, and white tenants to protest and speak out against displacement.[13] Within weeks of the first sale, 200 residents walked through the streets singing “We Shall Not Be Moved,” invoking the Civil Rights anthem, “We Shall Overcome.”[14] A year later, tenants and activists organized a large-scale, interracial and interethnic march from Arlandria to City Hall, including Edith Zambrano. While giving speeches on the City Hall’s steps, Mitch Snyder, a Washingtonian homeless activist from the Community for Creative Non Violence, suggested protesters take over City Council chambers, symbolically displacing local government. It was the only time in which protesters had successfully shut down City Council. Frustrated by the presence of protesters in their chambers, Mayor Moran threatened to send agents from the Immigration and Naturalization Service to arrest residents, and almost came to blows with Snyder.[15]

Meanwhile, city government scrambled to put together a plan to help as many tenants as possible. By the end of the summer, it had worked out a compromise with developers to put aside one-fourth of their apartments for the next five years for low-income tenants who received Section 8 subsidies. The Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority (ARHA) also began renovations of 152 units to be put aside for public housing.[16] That same year, a group of local Episcopal churches established Carpenter’s Lodgings (now Community Lodgings), a non-profit to address homelessness in the neighborhood. In addition to housing, they offered job training, childcare, and other social services to local residents.[17] Many residents still wanted cooperative housing, in which they owned units with support from public and private funds. The Tenants Support Committee, established in 1989, used the bankruptcy of one of the developers to acquire 300 units. It took an additional ten years to create the Arlandria-Chirilagua Housing Cooperative.[18]

In the end, Arlandria’s housing problems in the 1980s established lasting changes between residents and city officials. Local government needed to be more responsive to the needs of low-income residents, who now included not only African Americans and whites, but also a diverse immigrant population. Creative public and private partnerships, in the wake of cuts to federal funding under the Reagan administration, could also offset massive displacements. More participatory forms of local governance, which African Americans had demanded since the 1960s, fostered a sense of belonging and community. By the late 1980s, Arlandria had not become yuppified as many feared, but maintained its diversity.

Edith Zambrano eventually legalized her status and moved out of Chirilagua, like many Salvadorans who came in response to the civil war. Newer immigrants, however, have moved into the neighborhood, which is still known for its sizable Latino, especially Central American, community today.[19]

2018 Headshot AKrystyn Moon is a professor of history and director of American Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Her teaching and research include US immigration history, popular culture, race and ethnic studies, foodways, gender and sexuality, and consumerism. She is the author of Yellowface: Creating the Chinese in American Popular Music and Performance, 1850s-1920s (2005), and several articles, essays, reviews, and blogs on American immigration history and ethnic identity. Additionally, she has worked as a public historian, collaborating with the Office of Historic Alexandria for several years. As part of this partnership, she has written “Finding the Fort: A History of an African American Neighborhood in Northern Virginia, 1860s-1960s” to assist in the inclusion of African American history in Alexandria’s public programming. She was also the lead historical researcher and interviewer on “Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future,” an oral history project funded by the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Her current research looks at ways in complicating the public’s understanding of the past, especially through her research on race relations and immigration in the Washington metropolitan region. She serves as the president of the Alexandria Historical Society, and is the recent past president of the Southeastern Regional Chapter of the American Studies Association.

Featured image (at top): Mural depicting the community’s image located on the Tenants and Workers United Headquarters, photograph by Krystyn Moon

 

[1] Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995).

[2] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “Arlandria Negroes Protest Police Action,” Washington Post October 6, 1969, C4; E. J. Bachinski and Michael Hodge, “Youth Slain, Disorder Hits Alexandria,” Washington Post, May 30, 1970, 17.

[5] Adam Rome, Bulldozer in the Countryside: Suburban Sprawl and the Rise of American Environmentalism (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2001), 3.

[6] “Fairfax Flood Death Raises Toll to 15,” Washington Post June 27, 1972.

[7] Christine R. Finnan, Rhonda Ann Cooperstein, and Anne R. Wright, Southeast Asian Refugee Resettlement at the Local Level: The Role of the Ethnic Community and the Nature of Refugee Impact (Menlo Park, CA: SRI International, November 1983), 119-133.

[8] Data collected by author on 1975 VA Marriage Certificates, Department of Health–Bureau of Vital Records and Health Statistics; State of Virginia; www.ancestry.com (accessed on September 18, 2016).

[9] Michael Schaller, Reckoning with Reagan: America and Its President in the 1980s (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994); Haynes Johnson, Sleepwalking through History: America in the Reagan Years (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2003); Simon Head, “Reagan, Nuclear Weapons, and the End of the Cold War,” Ronald Reagan and the 1980s: Perceptions, Policies, Legacies, ed. Cheryl Hudson and Gareth Davies, (New York: Palgrave, 2008), 81-100; Matthew Evangelista, Innovation and Arms Race: How the United States and the Soviet Union Develop New Military Technologies (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1988); Terry A. Repak, Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1995); Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013).

[10] Memo: Receipt of Arlandria Report; From: Lionel R. Hope and Carlyle C. Ring Jr.; To Mayor and City Council; City Clerk, Docket Minutes–City Council, October 28-November 15, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[11] Mary Jordan, “Tenant Group Gets $16,000 in Alexandria; Organization’s Flier Angers Mayor Moran,” Washington Post March 12, 1986, C4; Mary Jordan, “Apartment Purchase Plan Stirs Controversy; Displacement of 3,000 Low-Income Persons Feared in Alexandria,” Washington Post June 11, 1986, C4.

[12] Around the Region,” Washington Post June 4, 1986, C6; Kim McGuire, “Keeping Sunnyside Up is Goal of Residents,” Washington Post June 26, 1986, VAB11; “Around the Region,” Washington Post August 22, 1986, B5; “Arlandria Inner Group 1986 File,” Citizen Assistance—Subject Files, January 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[13] Special Meeting–September 13, 1986; City Clerk—Docket Minutes—City Council—July 17-September 13, 1986; Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[14] Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1986, B3.

[15] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 6, 2017); Sandra Evans, “Alexandria Tenants Protest; City Council Forced to Adjourn by Group,” Washington Post, February 22, 1987, B3; Caryle Murphy, “Housing Protests Angers Alexandria Officials,” Washington Post February 24, 1987, B3 .

[16] “City of Alexandria Annual Report: 1987,” Alexandria Archives and Record Center, Alexandria, VA.

[17] Community Lodgings: About Us; http://www.communitylodgings.org/about-us/ (accessed September 6, 2016).

[18] Interview with Jon Liss conducted by John Reibling; April 14, 2015; Immigrant Alexandria: Past, Present, and Future Project; Office of Historic Alexandria; Alexandria, VA; https://www.alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/Immigration/LissJon.pdf (accessed June 7, 2017).

[19] Philip P. Pan, “At Home in Chirilagua, Va.; Salvadoran Leaves Old Village, Finds New One in U.S.,” Washington Post 6 December 1999, A1.

Northern Virginia: From ‘Star Wars’ to Cloud Wars

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3. The deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we continue our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

By Tommy Shay Hill

To the extent that it enters the public eye at all, Northern Virginia appears to outsiders as a land of interstates, office parks, and civil war battlefields, where the frumpiness of Washington bureaucracy takes on southern baggage; a place epitomized by such landmarks as the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery, and where grey mid-century office blocks front onto highways named after Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Its urban form is summed up by Tysons Corner, made infamous in the 1990s by the urbanist Joel Garreau as the archetypal “Edge City”: less a functioning community than a cautionary tale of the excesses of late twentieth century auto-dependent exurbia.

Aerial view of Crystal City, Virginia
Aerial view of Crystal City, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

It thus came as a surprise to some that Amazon would choose this place to bring 25,000 white collar jobs as part of its highly-publicized HQ2.[1] The company’s move to New York City seemed cliché; the move to Virginia, uninspiring. To those who live in the Washington area, Amazon’s chosen site straddling Arlington’s Crystal City and Alexandria’s Potomac Yards is a drab corporate landscape of aging office towers and big box stores. Like ‘Foggy Bottom’ five stops away on the Blue Line, ‘Crystal City’ is one of those place names that has become a joke among area residents. Simultaneously imposing and forgettable, the neighborhood’s slew of hulking concrete office towers – many of them carbon copies of one another – are exemplars of the monumental blandness of post-war Washington. Think Le Corbusier, but without the style.

Amazon’s arrival in Northern Virginia seems at odds with the mental image many outsiders have of the region’s major players: the Department of Defense, the security agencies, and the hundreds of independent contractors serving them – the back-of-house operations of the Deep State. And to a large degree this mental image is accurate: local developer Robert Smith built this collection of modernist-lite high rises in the 1960s and 1970s as cheap office space for government agencies and defense department staff.[2] It was in this otherwise unremarkable office cluster – and in a few others like it across the region – that Reagan’s “Star Wars” missile defense program was waged. The region as a whole was effectively built by the Pentagon. Many of the largest structures in the area house Defense Department functions, and the housing tracts and high rises that dot the region can often be dated to some spurt of postwar defense spending.

Park Fairfax
Park Fairfax, built by MetLife in the early 1940s to house workers at the newly constructed Pentagon, photo by Thomas Hill

And yet, Amazon is no stranger to this world of intelligence and defense contracting. The company’s cloud computing subsidiary Amazon Web Services (AWS) has had a major presence in the region since 2006, and since 2013 has hosted all of the CIA’s web traffic in a purpose-built private cloud.[3] Follow Virginia Route 267 West past Tysons Corner out to Loudoun County and you’ll reach Ashburn, Virginia, where AWS operates 25 of the more than 70 data centers in this remote corner of the D.C. area.[4] This formerly agricultural community 45 minutes from Washington houses the world’s busiest intersection of fiber networks, making it the optimal point on the globe to store and exchange data.[5] In the open tracts and brownfields of this Northern Virginia exurb, an arms race is being fought once again: this one not for mastery of space, but for control of “the Cloud.”

Northern Virginia: The Internet’s Utility Closet

The region’s status as a tech hub has by now become banal to Northern Virginia natives. Parts of the region are so dense with underground fiber optic cables that a construction project in the area knocks one out from time to time, bringing down some portion of the web for a few hours and causing serious delays on the interstates radiating outwards from Washington.[6]

But the details always seem to shock out-of-towners. Loudoun County officials like to state that 70% of internet traffic in the world passes through data centers located here.[7] While it is difficult to evaluate this precise figure, Northern Virginia’s volume of data center space dwarfs the size of Silicon Valley, the next largest market.[8] The internet is a network of networks, and server farms in Loudoun County are the interface where those networks intersect. A huge portion of the internet’s many networks articulate with one another in the wires and servers of Northern Virginia’s dozens of faceless data centers.[9]

Military Modernism
Mark Center in Alexandria, headquarters of several DoD agencies, courtesy of U.S. Army

The history of the internet and the history of defense contracting are not as estranged as they might seem, and it is in the office parks, edge cities, and suburban downtowns of the Northern Virginia suburbs that these two stories cross. In his brilliant history of the region, Internet Alley, Paul E. Ceruzzi traces the origins of the internet to a series of Department of Defense contracts from the 1960s through the 1980s. These contracts went disproportionately to companies located in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs, cementing a network of connections that built such edge cities as Tysons Corner and which solidified the region’s status as the center of the internet before any personal computer even had a dial-up connection. Like all media, the internet relies on physical infrastructure; like all infrastructural systems, the internet’s backbone of server farms and fiber optic cables has grown in a highly path-dependent way. MAE-East, the server farm established in an Ashburn parking garage in 1992 to allow the world’s fledgling online companies to connect, remains at the hub of the world’s internet traffic today. AOL moved its corporate headquarters to Ashburn in the 1990s in order to minimize distance to MAE-East, and soon enough all internet service providers were running their cables to this one spot.[10] Today more than 200 networks converge in Ashburn, which has come to be known in industry circles as “Data Center Alley.”[11]

As much as consumers may grumble about Amazon’s monopoly over the world’s e-commerce, its control of global internet traffic is by no means secure: the company is in the midst of one of the fiercest commercial battles of our times – an ongoing war with Google, Microsoft, and Oracle for control of the Cloud. The war for this ethereal medium is being waged in Ashburn and surrounding communities, where these four players are scrambling to buy up available space for new data centers.[12] These exurbs are experiencing an extraordinary building boom in new data center space, one that is straining the capacity of the local utility company – Dominion Power – to sustain it.[13] The cost of land in this secluded jurisdiction at the outer edge of the northeast corridor has nearly tripled in just the last two years, reaching over $1 million per acre at the end of 2018.[14]

What is driving this exploding demand for data center space? Many recent digital phenomena have enhanced the need for data center capacity: the widespread adoption of cloud computing by companies and individuals; the pervasive streaming of content; the Internet of Things; the prospect of 5G; and the exponential increase in data generated by our most everyday objects and activities.[15] The journalist Rich Miller has carefully tracked the drivers and dynamics of the data center industry on his excellent blog Data Center Frontier, and points to the coming ‘data tsunami’ generated by ‘machine-to-machine’ (m2m) communication as a phenomenon that will sustain continuously growing demand for data center capacity over the coming years.[16] While these phenomena are sure to transform economies and social relations around the world, their effects are felt most acutely in a single local real estate market: Northern Virginia.

C.I.A. Headquarters aerial
Aerial of C.I.A. Headquarters in Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

NoVA’s Security-Driven Building Booms

This is not the first time an exogenous series of events has sparked a building boom in the area. There are distinct parallels between the current upswing and the frantic construction of defense contracting space in the years after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. I have written elsewhere of the way in which the Defense Department’s massive increase in demand for space after 9/11 facilitated the growth of a new type of landlord in Northern Virginia – the Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) – capable of issuing shares on stock exchanges to fund new development.

The early 2000s saw this new generation of real estate company buy out and out-compete the local developers that built Crystal City and Tysons Corner in the 1960s and 1970s.[17] With access to the public capital markets, REITs proved uniquely capable of financing and developing the hyper-protected, state-of-the-art garrison-campuses effectively required by the Department of Defense’s post-9/11 security requirements. The years after 9/11 witnessed the rapid proliferation of a new type of structure across the Northern Virginia landscape: the SCIF, or “sensitive compartmented information facility.” High-security SCIFs can cost upwards of $300 a square foot to build, relative to the $30 per square foot standard of conventional office space, and thus are prohibitive for small- and mid-sized firms to provide.[18]

The REIT Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) cornered the market for high-security defense contractor space early on, increasing its tenant revenue from defense and intelligence from roughly a quarter of its total revenues in 2002 to nearly half by 2004.[19] By 2010, 36 of the 50 largest Defense contractors were COPT tenants, most of them with multiple leases in place.[20]

Long a player behind the scenes in the War on Terror, COPT has quietly assumed center stage in the war for the cloud, becoming Amazon Web Services’ primary data center provider in Loudoun County.[21] The REIT’s experience in providing high-security spaces commensurate with Defense Department standards translates well to the market for data center space, and gives Amazon a distinct advantage on a major front of the Cloud War.

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Art made of “code” named Kryptos sits on the grounds of the C.I.A. Headquarters in Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Over the past year, the continuity between Northern Virginia’s War on Terror boom years and the current data center upswing have come into relief: rumors have been circulating over a controversial Department of Defense cloud contract known as “JEDI” (Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure). To be awarded in April 2019, JEDI consists of a single award of almost unheard-of proportions: worth as much as $10 billion over a ten-year time frame, the grantee will be tasked with building out the military’s entire digital infrastructure needs.[22] While it is hard to draw any direct connections, Amazon’s choice of a site for its HQ2 less than a mile from the Pentagon has analysts wondering whether the chance of snagging the JEDI contract is what lured Amazon to the site in the first place: the company has significantly intensified its lobbying activities in recent years.[23] A new HQ site in Crystal City would only enhance Amazon’s changes of securing JEDI.[24]

As Ingrid Burrington observes in her recent effort to map AWS’s data centers in Loudoun County, the company’s data center fortresses are as inaccessible and uninviting as any Defense Department stronghold.[25] Alongside the mutely imposing office towers of Crystal City and the indestructible concrete blockiness of SCIFs, the current wave of data center construction has added a new item to the region’s menagerie of blandness. Calling these structures Kafkaesque would imply something too sinister—these buildings are the architecture of anonymity, of a Big Brother that wants to be ignored.

The Economy of Security: Limits to Growth?

And yet, evading attention is becoming increasingly difficult in this rapidly growing region. Northern Virginia’s spectacular series of building booms since the 1960s has left little remaining open space for the fenced-off server farms or high-security office parks that are the region’s lifeblood, casting into stark relief the contradictions of an agglomeration economy based on classified activity. For all its abundance – of government contracts, advanced degrees, computing power – the region is starting to face an acute shortage of space. Data center providers in Ashburn are considering building up, constructing 2- or even 3-story data centers to accommodate the apparently limitless demand.[26] The region’s once-deadly office clusters are being remade as 24/7 lifestyle destinations: the REIT JBG Smith is giving all of Crystal City a new urbanist makeover. The moniker ‘edge city’ is hardly relevant anymore for Tysons Corner. In 2014, the district was sutured to the wider region by an extension of the D.C. Metro’s Silver Line, and much of the surrounding open space has long since filled in with new office buildings, shopping destinations, and residential high-rises. The housing market has felt a serious squeeze, with jurisdictions losing up to 90% of their affordable market-rate housing since 2000.[27]

But beyond its impact on the immediate region, the explosive growth of the IT industry in Northern Virginia points to an uncomfortable reality: the tech economy is highly geographically uneven, an unevenness explained as much by massive government contracts and pre-existing infrastructure as on individual cities’ abilities to lure the “creative class.” For all the talk of the internet’s flattening of space, the umbilical cord linking the digital economy to the military-industrial complex has yet to be cut, and the steady proliferation of social media, digitally-enabled devices, streaming, and cloud computing continues to pay dividends to the place where the internet was born over a generation ago. The cards were already stacked against the other 18 cities on Amazon’s shortlist for HQ2. Amazon’s announcement in November confirmed what many in the region already knew: Northern Virginia is ground zero in the war for the Cloud.

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in NoVA this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15, submit your panels everyone! 

Photo_TSHTommy Shay Hill is an urbanist, historian and data scientist currently pursuing a PhD in urban planning at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. Tommy’s work is at the intersection of urban planning, critical geography, economic history, and computer science. Tommy’s dissertation research focuses on the challenges of developing a quantitative science of cities. Tommy is in the early stages of an empirical project to “spatialize” property development cycles through American history: to map the spatial evolution of American metropolitan regions since the Second World War through cycles of boom and bust.

Featured image (at top): Statue to William Donovan, director of the C.I.A predecessor agency, and a marker to the C.I.A’s fallen at Central Intelligence Agency headquarters, Langley, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress 

[1] Jonathan O’Connell and Robert McCartney. “Amazon HQ2 Decision: Amazon Splits Prize between Crystal City and New York.” The Washington Post. November 13, 2018.

[2] Shapiro, Matt Schudel and T. Rees. “Robert Smith, 81, Dies; Created Arlington’s Crystal City.” The Washington Post. December 31, 2009.

[3] Konkel, By Frank. “Sources: Amazon and CIA Ink Cloud Deal .” FCW. March 13, 2018. Accessed January 11, 2019. https://fcw.com/articles/2013/03/18/amazon-cia-cloud.aspx.

[4] “A Gigawatt and Growing: Data Center Industry Pushing Toward Greener Energy.” Loudoun Now (blog), December 6, 2018. https://loudounnow.com/2018/12/06/a-gigawatt-and-growing-data-center-industry-pushing-toward-greener-energy/.

[5] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Market Extends Leadership Position.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[6] Amy Gardner. “The One Fiber Optic Cable No One on the Dig for Tysons Corner Wants to Hit.” The Washington Post. May 31, 2009.

[7] Freed, Benjamin. “70 Percent of the World’s Web Traffic Flows Through Loudoun County.” The Washingtonian. September 14, 2016.

[8] Data Center Frontier. “Silicon Valley Data Center Market.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[9] Blum, Andrew. “The Bullseye of America’s Internet.” Gizmodo. Accessed January 10, 2019. https://gizmodo.com/5913934/the-bullseye-of-americas-internet.

[10] Kanowitz, Stephanie. “How Data Centers Power Virginia’s Loudoun County.” GCN. Accessed January 9, 2019. https://gcn.com/articles/2018/10/12/loudoun-county-data-centers.aspx.

[11] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Market Extends Leadership Position.” Data Center Frontier Special Report. 2018.

[12] Miller, Rich. “Northern Virginia Data Center Demand: Home of the Data Center Hyperscalers.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 26, 2018. https://datacenterfrontier.com/northern-virginia-data-center-demand-hyperscalers/.

[13] “A Gigawatt and Growing: Data Center Industry Pushing Toward Greener Energy.” Loudoun Now (blog), December 6, 2018. https://loudounnow.com/2018/12/06/a-gigawatt-and-growing-data-center-industry-pushing-toward-greener-energy/.

[14] Stoller, Bill. “Northern Virginia’s Already Tight Real Estate Market Just Got a Lot Tighter.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), October 1, 2018. https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/colocation/n-virginia-s-already-tight-data-center-real-estate-market-just-got-lot-tighter

[15] Stoller, Bill. “Equinix Heats Up Data Center Alley’s Landgrab Rush.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), February 27, 2017. https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2017/02/27/equinix-deal-in-n-virginia-data-center-market-may-push-land-prices-up.

[16] Miller, Rich. “Data Tonnage: Managing the Coming M2M Tsunami.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 28, 2018. https://datacenterfrontier.com/data-tonnage-managing-the-coming-m2m-tsunami/.

[17] Ceruzzi, Paul E. Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008., pp. 126-134

[18] Dennis J. Lane of Ryan Commercial Real Estate Services, quoted in “U.S. government snaps up secure offices,” by David Dishneau, Associated Press. April 3, 2005.

[19] Corporate Office Properties Trust. Q4 2004 Corporate Office Properties Trust Earnings Conference Call.

[20] Corporate Office Properties Trust. Corporate Office Properties Trust 2010 Annual Report. p. 17

[21] Miller, Rich. “Amazon Plans Epic Data Center Expansion in Northern Virginia.” Data Center Frontier (blog), November 6, 2017. https://datacenterfrontier.com/amazon-plans-epic-data-center-expansion-in-northern-virginia/.

[22] Moss, Sebastian. “Amazon in Advanced Talks to Bring HQ2 to Northern Virginia.” Data Center Dynamics (blog). Accessed January 7, 2019. https://www.datacenterdynamics.com/news/amazon-advanced-talks-bring-hq2-northern-virginia/.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Reklaitis, Victor. “HQ2 in the D.C. Area Could Help Amazon Snag a $10 Billion Pentagon Contract.” MarketWatch (blog). Accessed January 7, 2019. https://www.marketwatch.com/story/hq2-in-the-dc-area-could-help-amazon-snag-a-10-billion-pentagon-contract-2018-11-12.

[25] Burrington, Ingrid. “Why Amazon’s Data Centers Are Hidden in Spy Country.” The Atlantic, January 8, 2016. https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2016/01/amazon-web-services-data-center/423147/.

[26] Stoller, Bill. “Equinix Heats Up Data Center Alley’s Landgrab Rush.” Data Center Knowledge (blog), February 27, 2017. https://www.datacenterknowledge.com/archives/2017/02/27/equinix-deal-in-n-virginia-data-center-market-may-push-land-prices-up.

[27] Whitehead, David. “Alexandria Has Lost 90% of Its Affordable Homes since 2000.” Accessed January 11, 2019. https://ggwash.org/view/64111/alexandria-has-lost-90-of-its-affordable-homes-since-2000.

The Capital’s Surveillance Shadow: A Northern Virginia Bibliography

Editor’s note: Remember that SACRPH 2019, the organization’s 18th conference, is in Northern Virginia (NOVA or NoVa)  this October/November from October 31 – November 3, the deadline for the CFP, which you can view here, is March 15. With this in mind, we begin our focus on NoVa as our Metro of the Month.  Submit your panels everyone! 

In the 1987 thriller, No Way Out (NWO), Navy Commander Scott Farrell, played by the allegedly dreamy, inexplicable leading man of the era, Kevin Costner, finds himself embroiled in a murderous love triangle featuring a nefarious Secretary of Defense, David Brice (Gene Hackman) and a dizzy D.C. courtier, Susan Atwell (Sean Young). Being the late 1980s, healthy dollops of Cold War espionage are also mixed into plot, as are a few regrettable homophobic and misogynistic tropes.

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Even Kevin Costner circa 1987 doesn’t understand his own appeal. From No Way Out

Yet, when one watches it today, the architecture of the capital and Northern Virginia stand out as much as the film’s dated social mores and loopy military/spy thriller vibe. NWO’s opening shot slowly trawls across the NOVA/DC landscape, capturing the usual suspects – The Pentagon, the Mount Vernon bike trail along the river, the Library of Congress, the Washington Monument, and so forth – before settling on the Arlington side of the river, staring, with an impending sense of foreboding, at the capital across the water.

Even a notorious sex scene in the film (scandalous for 1987 but pedestrian for 2019) functions as a tour of the city’s monuments as much as it is a testament to the button down freakiness of Washington D.C. diplomats, advisors and lobbyists. After all, who doesn’t gaze at the Lincoln Memorial and imagine limousine-aided carnal relations?

Despite the familiarity of the Washington Mall, Congress, and other D.C. federal institutions, the architecture of the security state located largely in Northern Virginia defines the movie’s conspiratorial narrative. All the Presidents Men (1976) schemed to achieve something similar; Marvel’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014), evoked a similar sentiment more recently, albeit aided by a great deal of CGI.

In NWO, the Pentagon casts its imperial shadow across the metropolitan region while its workers, many from the NOVA suburbs, scurry about in its endless regimented corridors. The CIA’s Langley Headquarters surveys the intellectual community hidden amidst a sea of green. When trying to thwart actions by a rival in the government, Farrell speeds down Georgetown’s Whitehurst Freeway with the Key Bridge and the Key Bridge Marriot in the background, the latter located just across the river in Arlington where according to historian Andrew Friedman, author of Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Virginia, C.I.A. agents clandestinely rendezvoused, eating and drinking their fill all while planning various covert actions abroad.

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Modern house in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Granted, it never reaches the level of California noir, but the idea and reality of clandestine meetings between elites and operatives was planted in the NOVA soil during the region’s post-World War II development. During the 1950s, Eleanor Dulles’s Maclean, VA bungalow served as a modern day foreign policy salon, “a kind of Round Table for Cold War Washington,” where elites like Allen and John Foster Dulles among numerous others lazed about the pool, drank martinis, and played games of touch football while endeavoring to covertly remake the world in America’s interest. Later, as the nation began wading into Southeast Asia, Edward G. Landsdale (think Alden Pyle from Graham Greene’s The Quiet American), a famed CIA operative in Vietnam, held “hootenannies” at his NOVA home in an effort to create cultural and personal bonds between Washington and Vietnamese elites.[1]

For Friedman, the expansion of the intelligence community in Northern Virginia transformed its human geography from rural farmers and large landholders to suburban CIA agents plying their trade amidst a cartography of pleasantly bland intrigue: a “covert capital” “hidden in plain sight,” which more accurately embodied “U.S. imperial management on the ground” in places like Vietnam, Iran, and Central America.[2] Transnational relationships between agents abroad and elites in these places later led to resettlement in the region, further altering NOVA’s demographics, though not every group that gravitated to the region found new footholds on equal terms.

The Vietnamese endured the residue of the Jim Crow South and U.S. resentment over military failure in Southeast Asia. Iranians, often better off and with ties to higher ranking intelligence officers, reestablished themselves in upper middle class suburbs. El Salvadorians, victims of America’s secret wars in Central America, arrived as almost invisible specters, working some of the hardest manual labor jobs in the region and ultimately existing in a “zone of illegality” often viewed as undocumented despite residing in the U.S. legally.

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Eden Center, Peter Reft, July 2014

Each cast a cultural influence. Eden Center in Falls Church recreates the markets of Ho Chi Minh City while El Salvadorians transformed neighborhoods such as Alexandria’s Chirilagua neighborhood. Many Iranians slid easily into real estate development and other management positions, thereby contributing to the region’s physical transformation. And NOVA’s diversity extends beyond these examples. By the early 1990s, an observer traversing the halls of its public schools would hear nearly 50 languages spoken, including Arabic, Farsi, Urdu, Spanish, Korean, and Vietnamese.[3]

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Eden Center, Peter Reft, July 2014

Agents too brought remnants of their experiences abroad back with them, whether artifacts from Asia and Latin America as interior design or the imperial built environment they imported and embedded into the landscape. “The ephemeral newness and just-add-water domesticities frequently associated with the post-World War II suburbs, for transnational CIA families,” asserts Friedman, “became functional necessities, just as the neocolonial architecture seen as indigenous to these suburbs often played the double role of importing the comfort and style of colonial bungalows they inhabited abroad into their home environment.”[4]

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The blandly conspiratorial Key Bridge Marriott, Peter Reft, July 2014

Yet, while the intelligence community undoubtedly shaped NOVA, so too did the vast military industrial complex that ballooned in the post World War II period. In part under the leadership of Vannevar Bush, operations research (OR)—or to oversimplify, scientific applications used to align weapons systems and other armaments in the field—became the economic coin of the realm. RAND might have pioneered efforts in OR from its Santa Monica location but as Paul Ceruzzi notes, “the armed services wanted scientists nearby, and they established counterparts to RAND located in the Washington region.”[5]

It helped that after World War II worries that the concentration of military/intelligence agencies in cities would leave national security vulnerable to nuclear attack led Truman to embrace “industrial dispersion,” a “quiet effort that operated largely below the political radar screen,” as historian Margaret O’Mara writes. Dispersion resulted in the militarization of suburbia and the suburbanization of science and coincided with mass suburbanization. Dispersion along with the government’s increasing support of science as a form of economic development transformed the federal government into an extremely powerful consumer of industry while simultaneously increasing its interest in locating contractors in metropolitan areas outside of densely populated cities.[6]

Highway construction followed nationally, and more specifically, in Northern Virginia. Of numerous plans in circulation, only the infamous Beltway was ever fully realized. Its completion laid the groundwork for the growth of Reston, Dulles Airport and the Dulles Corridor. Tysons Corner, positioned at Beltway interchanges for routes 123 and 7, made it a prime location for housing, retail complexes, and corporate offices. Other destinations also benefitted, such as Annandale, but none to the extent of Tysons Corner.[7] Indeed, over the past several decades Tysons Corner has grown exponentially and today even has a silver line metro stop, though the station sits in the middle of two large thoroughfares and the “edge city’s” walkability remains marginal at best.

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Panorama aerial of Tysons Corner, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

As the Cold War ramped up, the federal government created the National Science Foundation (NSF) and promoted the idea of science and tech research as economic development, or as O’Mara puts it, “city building.” The result has been the sort of “edge city” or “urbanized suburb” idealized by Joel Garrea, which has come to typify Northern Virginia.

Obvious parallels between Silicon Valley, Southern California’s aerospace industries, and NOVA exist. Today, Silicon Valley is seen as at the vanguard of the consumer electronics industry and social media, but it made its bones on federal contracts. Early on, Stanford’s Fredrick Terman, one of the individuals credited with laying the groundwork for today’s Silicon Valley, recognized that federal funds “served as seed money for industrial innovation.” Despite its long history of skepticism toward government and its promotion of free markets, Stanford (and others who established tech businesses in the Valley) quickly lined up at the trough of federal defense spending.[8]

Not to be outdone, Southern California, which historian Lisa McGirr argues is the birthplace of modern conservatism, also welcomed federal dollars for its aerospace industries, many of which relocated to or established offices in NOVA during the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s: Computer Science Corporation (CSC), Science Applications International Corporations (SAIC), California Analysis Center Incorporated (CACI), DynCorp, and RAND, among others. Reagan’s SDI program brought these industries to a fever pitch by the mid 1980s, only to be consolidated under a handful of corporations later during the 1990s and 2000s.

Though not completely analogous, Silicon Valley had Stanford and the Stanford Research Park, while NOVA has George Mason University—which, behind the leadership of George Johnson in the late 1970s and early 1980s, oriented many of its programs toward OR and systems analysis. However, unlike Stanford, which pioneered this sort or relationship and created the model, GMU reacted to local firms, or, as Ceruzzi writes, “it is an effect, not a cause of the booming economy.”[9]

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Modern office building in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

For all its benefits, NOVA also lacks the kind of entrepreneurial venture capitalists that scour its Northern California counterpart. For better or worse, the government remains the primary consumer of the kinds of products and services produced by NOVA firms. Finally, building an industry around military policy makers, in which they serve as the conduit for development, results in a much different working culture. In Silicon Valley, “it is always the engineer, the programmer, even the computer hacker, who ranks at the top, even if he or she may not be the CEO of the company or necessarily have gotten rich from his or her efforts,” notes Ceruzzi.[10] Admittedly, in the decade since Ceruzzi published Internet Alley: High Technology in Tyson’s Corner, 1945-2005, figures like Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, and Jack Dorsey have dominated the narrative around the Valley in a fashion that seems more hierarchical than he asserts in his 2008 work, but his point remains salient.

Of course, the growth of defense industry companies such as Raytheon and the government’s emphasis on science research only partially explains the region’s development. If not for John “Til” Hazel and his partner Milton Peterson, Northern Virginia might look very different.

Described by journalist Joel Garreau in his flawed but influential work Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, Hazel was both “legal sledgehammer” and “John the Baptist of Development.”[11] According to Garreau, only Pierre L’Enfant, the French designer of the capital, had “done more to shape the Washington area.” Hazel rejected affordable housing, depicted environmentalists as irrational, and viewed unfettered development as the holy grail of suburbanization. “If he brought no little arrogance to his vision, it was because he was creating no less than a new world,” writes Garraeu, “He was bringing civilization to the ‘howling wilderness’ … He was bringing it the benefits of modernity….”[12]

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Tysons Corner Center shopping mall, Tysons Corner, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Opponents like Audrey Moore and the slow growth movement she represented blunted some of Hazel’s efforts, but the Northern Virginia developer rode roughshod over the region for decades until his efforts to transform the Civil War battlefield site of Bull Run into a suburban shopping mall ran into a buzzsaw of well positioned resistance.[13] Ironically the military’s history and not the development of its future capabilities was what ultimately blunted NOVA’s suburbanization.

What has all this meant for the state of Virginia? By 1999, Fairfax County contained 14 percent of the state’s population and provided nearly a quarter of its tax revenue. Depending on the study consulted, and whether Arlington County and the City of Alexandria are included in the equation, the percentage of revenue to the state climbs to nearly 50 percent.[14] In 2008, NOVA accounted for one third of the state’s nearly 22 million residents, half of its economic development, and nearly the same in tax revenue, but only received back between 25 and 40 percent in cash and state services. “They treat us like the Bank of Fairfax,” said one county official at the time. Politically, over the course of the past two decades NOVA single-handedly transformed Virginia from red state to purple to blue. During the 2008 presidential campaign an advisor to the late John McCain told MSNBC that NOVA wasn’t “real Virginia.” The cognitive dissonance between Northern Virginia and its southern counterparts in Richmond led to a Washingtonian article that same year titled simply, “Will Northern Virginia become the 51st State?”

With changes afoot related to the arrival of half of Amazon’s HQ2 project, Northern Virginia remains far from static. Jeff Bezos’ online behemoth promises that the region’s growth will continue apace, perhaps in ways less dependent on the government—though contractors across the region whisper conspiratorially about the company’s alleged foray into federal contracting. Not exactly the stuff of late-1980s Kevin Costner spy thrillers, but, for good and for ill, compelling nonetheless.

Below you’ll find our usual attempts to craft a bibliography on the region. We’d like to extend special thanks to Krystyn Moon, Tommy Hill, and Lindsey Bestebreurtje for their expertise in building the bibliography; their efforts were immensely helpful. As always, we know we’ve probably missed something. If so, let us know in the comments!

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Aerial view with a focus on Francis Scott Key Bridge between Northern Virginia and the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Bibliography

Banham, Russ. The Fight for Fairfax: A Struggle for a Great American County. Virginia: GMU Presses, 2009.

Baker, Andrew. “Metropolitan Growth Along the Nation’s River: Power, Waste, and Environmental Politics in a Northern Virginia County, 1943-1971.” Journal of Urban History, 23, No. 5 (2015): 703-119.

Bestebreurtje, Lindsey. “Built By the People Themselves: African American Community Development in Arlington, Virginia from Civil War to Civil Rights.” PhD Diss., George Mason University, 2017.

Bestebreurtje, Lindsey. “A View from Hall’s Hill: African-American Community Development in Arlington.” Arlington Historical Magazine 15, No. 3 (Oct. 2015): 19-34.

Bunch-Lyone, Beverly and Nakeina Douglas. “The Falls Church Colored Citizens Protective League and the Establishment of Virginia’s First Rural Branch of the NAACP.” In Verney, et. al. Long is the Way and Hard: One Hundred Years of the NAACP. Arkansas: University of Arkansas Press, 2009.

Ceruzzi, Paul E. Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2008.

Chacko, Elizabeth, and Ivan Cheung. “The Formation of Contemporary Ethnic Enclaves: Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles and Washington, D.C.” In Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America, 2nd ed., edited by John W. Frazier, Eugene L. Tettey-Fio, and Norah F. Henry, 129-41. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2006.

Chacko, Elizabeth. “Ethiopian Ethos and the Making of Ethnic Places in the Washington Metropolitan Area.” Journal of Cultural Geography 20, no. 2 (Spring-Summer 2003): 21-42.

———. “Identity and Assimilation among Young Ethiopian Immigrants in Metropolitan Washington.” Geographical Review 93, no. 4 (October 2003): 491-506.

———. “Washington, D.C.: From Biracial City to Multiethnic Gateway.” In Migrants to the Metropolis: The Rise of Immigrant Gateway Cities, edited by Marie Price and Lisa Benton-Short, 203-25. New York: Syracuse University Press, 2008.

———. “Ethiopian Taxicab Drivers: Forming an Occupational Niche in the US Capital.” African and Black Diaspora: An Internal Journal 9, no. 2 (July 2016): 200-13.

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Aerial view of Northern Virginia in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Friedman, Andrew. Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

Friedman, Samantha, Audrey Singer, Marie Price, and Ivan Cheung. “Race, Immigrants, and Residence: A New Racial Geography of Washington, D.C.” Geographical Review 95, no. 2 (April 2005): 210-30.

Gordon, Douglas. “Arlington Rebuilds a Community and its Roots.” Architecture + Design in the Mid-Atlantic 23, no. 4 (2012):18-28.

Hayden, Dolores. The Power of Place: Urban Landscapes as Public History. Massachusetts: MIT Press, 1995.

Hill, Thomas. “The Securitization of Security: Reorganization of Land, Military, and the State in the Pentagon’s Backyard.” Journal of Urban History 41, no. 1: 75-92.

Kaye, Anthony E. Joining Places: Slave Neighborhoods in the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Meyers, Jessica. “Pho and Apple Pie: Eden Center as a Representation of Vietnamese American Ethnic Identity in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area, 1975-2005.” Journal of Asian American Studies 9, no. 1 (2006): 55-85.

Moon, Krystyn R. “The African American Housing Crisis in Alexandria, Virginia, 1930s-1960s.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography 124, no. 1: 28-68

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Wolf Trap Concert Hall in northern Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

———. “The Alexandria YWCA, Race, and Urban (and Ethnic) Revival: The Scottish Christmas Walk, 1960s-1970s,” Journal of American Ethnic History 35, no. 4 (Summer 2016): 59-92.

Morris, James McGrath. “A Chink in the Armor: The Black-Led Struggle for School Desegregation in Arlington, Virginia, and the End of Massive Resistance.” Journal of Policy History 13, no. 3 (2001): 329-366.

Perry, Nancy. “The Influence of Geography on the Lives of African American Residents of Arlington County, Virginia, during Segregation.” PhD diss., 2013.

Nancy, Perry. “Everybody was Looking for a Good Government Job”: Occupational Choice during Segregation in Arlington, Virginia.” Journal of Urban History 40, no. 4 (March 2014): 719-741.

Perry, Nancy, Spencer Crew, Nigel M. Waters. “‘We didn’t have any other place to live’: Residential Patterns in Segregated Arlington County, Virginia.” Southern Geographer 53, no. 4 (Winter 2013): 403-427

Petrozziello, Allison J. “Feminised Financial Flowers: How Gender Affects Remittances in Honduran-US Transnational Families.” Gender and Development 19, no. 1 (2011): 53-67.

Posey, Zakia L. “Oromo Transnationalism in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area: An Examination of the Development, Challenge, and Prospects of Gaining an Institutional Footing.” PhD diss., Michigan State University, 2014.

Price, Marie. “Placing Transnational Migration: The Sociospatial Networks of Bolivians in the United States,” 209-219. Race, Ethnicity, and Place in a Changing America. Edited by John Frazier. Binghamton University Publishing, 2006.

Price, Marie and Elizabeth Chacko. “Mixed Embeddedness of Ethnic Entrepreneurs in a New Immigrant Way.” Journal of Immigrant and Refugee Studies 7, no.3 (2009): 328-346.

Repak, Terry A. Waiting on Washington: Central American Workers in the Nation’s Capital. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1996.

 Reston Town Center: Downtown for the 21st Century. Ed. Alan Ward, 1st edition. Washington, D.C.: Academy Press, 2006.

Schrag, Zachary M. “The Freeway Fight in Washington D.C.: The Three Sisters Bridge in Three Administrations.” Journal of Urban History 30, no. 5 (2004): 648-673.

———. The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro. Maryland: John Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Vogel, Steve. The Pentagon: A History – The Untold Story of the Wartime Race to Build the Pentagon, and to Restore it Sixty Years Later. New York: Random House, 2007.

Wilson, Jill H., and Shelly Habecker. “The Lure of the Capital City: An Anthro-Geographical Analysis of Recent African Immigration to Washington, DC.” Population Space & Place 14, no. 5 (September-October 2008): 433-48.

Wood, Joseph. “Vietnamese American Place Making in Northern Virginia.” Geographical Review 87, no. 1 (January 1, 1997): 58–72.

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Aerial view of high-rise neighborhood in Arlington’s fast-growing Rosslyn, Virginia, Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Primary Sources (oral histories, online exhibits, etc)

Bearinger, David. “From Bolivia to Virginia: Interview with Emma Violand-Sanchez.” Virginia Foundation for the Humanities. Accessed December 14, 2016 (http://virginiahumanities.org/2013/06/from-bolivia-to-virginia/).

Lindsey Bestebreurtje, “Built By the People Themselves.” (http://lindseybestebreurtje.org/arlingtonhistory/)

“Echos of Little Saigon.” (https://littlesaigonclarendon.com)

“The Gray: Isaac Schwarz.” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City. Accessed November 14, 2015. http://www.jhsgw.org/exhibitions/online/lincolns-city/exhibits/show/mr-lincolns-city/blue-gray/isaac-schwarz.

Iacobelli, Amanda. “German and German-Jewish Immigrants: Michael German, Lewis Baar, David Bendheim, Max Pretzfelder, J.H Gerhard, and Henry and Isaac Schwarz”http://alexandriava.gov/uploadedFiles/historic/info/archaeology/AR500BlockGerman.pdf (2006).

Immigrant Alexandra Oral History Project. (https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/info/default.aspx?id=86067) .

“Life Across the River.” Jewish Life in Mr. Lincoln’s City, Accessed November 14, 2015. http://www.jhsgw.org/exhibitions/online/lincolns-city/exhibits/show/mr-lincolns-city/life-across-the-river.

Featured image (at top): Panorama aerial of Northern Virginia near Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

[1] Friedman, Covert Capital, 35-38, 150-152.

[2] Andrew Friedman, Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia, (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2013), 32.

[3] Joel Garreau, Edge City: Life on the New Frontier, (New York: Random House, 1991), 353.

[4] Friedman, Covert Capital, 90

[5] Paul E. Ceruzzi, Internet Alley: High Technology in Tysons Corner, 1945-2005, (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), 23.

[6] Margaret O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge: Cold War Science and the Search for the Next Silicon Valley, (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004), 29, 34.

[7] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 63.

[8] O’Mara, Cities of Knowledge, 109.

[9] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 123-125, 15-16.

[10] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 92, 15

[11] Joel Garreau, Edge City, 382.

[12] Garreau, Edge City, 351, 383

[13] Joel Garreau, Edge City, 351, 390-391, 396, 404.

[14] Ceruzzi, Internet Alley, 119-120.

Previewing Our February Metro of the Month: Northern Virginia

If you find yourself in Northern Virginia and you feel a burgeoning hunger in your belly, you won’t find many better spots for Korean and Vietnamese food. Swing down to Annandale for the former (maybe check out Honey Pig) and over to Falls Church for the latter, where Eden Center has numerous sumptuous options.

The shadow of the Pentagon (Arlington), C.I.A. Headquarters (Langley), and D.C.’s bureaucratic architecture often obscures the fact that while government and defense industry employment have made NOVA one of the nation’s largest suburban economies, the area also draws critical entrepreneurs, laborers, and restaurateurs from around the world, and in particular from Korea, Vietnam, El Salvador, and Iran.

The point, I suppose, is that NOVA has more local color than the bland tones of federal bureaucracy suggest (and that observers often accord it). With the 2019 SACRPH conference taking place in Crystal City this fall (from October 31-November 3; see the CFP here and submit proposals by March 15), NOVA will be our first Metro of the Month (MotM) for 2019, in part to encourage our fellow urbanists to consider attending the conference.

To its credit, The Metropole has waded into NOVA territory before and in an effort to whet your appetite for our forthcoming MotM, we’ve summarized two previous articles on the region below–replete with links to the full piece. Check them out and then come back Monday when we kick off our February Metropolis of the Month: Northern Virginia!

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Eden Center, Northern Virginia, 2014

“Capital within a Capital: Covert Action, the Vietnam War, and Creating a “Little Saigon” in the Heart of Northern Virginia

Published as part of our MotM on Ho Chi Minh City, The Metropole explored how the Vietnam War created transnational connections between South Vietnamese officials and soldiers and American policy makers in NOVA. Drawing from work by Andrew Friedman, Lisa Lowe, and others, the article examined how Vietnamese resettlement challenged binary ideas of race while also enabling South Vietnamese refugees to establish a foothold in NOVA and create a space for cultural expression.

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Home in Hollin Hills, April 2017

Mid-Century Modernism on the Fringes of D.C.: Charles Goodman and NOVA’s Hollin Hills

Though today images of suburban Northern Virginia litter movies like 1987’s No Way Out and are recreated by television series such as The Americans (the show wasn’t actually filmed in NOVA), it’s worth remembering that much of this development took place after World War II in relation to the growth of government–particularly the defense and intelligence industries. The white-collar bureaucrats that staffed these new positions needed homes, and some demanded more than large-scale subdivisions that ignored environmental factors. Enter architect Charles Goodman and his modernist enclave of Hollin Hills, a neighborhood evocative of the modernist architecture made famous by California. Though largely understudied, the community has influenced modern day media; the aesthetics of the television show Mad Men is just one example. In addition to the historical context it provides, the photo-rich article also doubles as a home tour so that you can get up close without leaving your seat.

Featured image (at top): Aerial view of Northern Virginia, across Memorial Bridge from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., Carol M. Highsmith, between 1980 and 2006, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The Public Costs of Private Growth: Amazon, the Great Depression, and the fiscal history #HQ2 supporters miss

Amazon’s search for a second headquarters has sparked widespread debate over the public costs of subsidizing private real estate. Critics question whether cash-strapped and socially divided cities should be spending billions on services for expensive office and residential projects. Supporters respond that these subsidies ultimately provide cities with much-needed tax revenue by encouraging property development. They point to New York’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s, when the city’s property taxes did not keep pace with operational expenses, as the nightmare scenario they wish to avoid.

While the historical perspective of these boosters is commendable, they are drawing lessons from the wrong crisis. They should look instead to the 1930s – a decade when New York experienced a crushing bankruptcy largely as a  result of municipal subsidies to real estate developers.

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New York dramatically extended its subway into the city’s periphery during the 1920s. Debts and interest from this project’s construction was a major cause of the city’s fiscal collapse in the early 1930s.

During the “Roaring 20s” New York’s local government promoted real estate growth in a variety of all-too-familiar ways. Older neighborhoods were underzoned in order to encourage new construction. High-income housing and office developments were under-assessed or given tax exemptions in order to entice development. Public credit was poured into expensive infrastructure projects such as subways in order to increase property values in the city’s periphery. The justifications then-Mayor John P. Hylan gave for these decisions could have come directly from the mouth of Michael Bloomberg: “The resources of a City are chiefly its taxable values. I set out to develop these values in the interest of the corporation which is the City of New York.”[1]

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Subdivisions like this one in Queens mushroomed in the city’s outer boroughs during the 1920s.

In 1934 this corporation went bankrupt. While the city’s policies had indeed spurred real estate growth, they had come at a cost. Thirty cents of every dollar the city spent in 1934 was required for servicing municipal debt incurred on capital projects for the city’s real estate industry. Moreover, the projects served by this infrastructure were unable to pay their share of the city’s debt. Over-construction for expensive housing left 175,000 vacant lots on the city’s periphery, while the city’s largest tower was nicknamed the “Empty” State Building for much of the decade. Only those who had acquired and sold land in time walked away smiling. Ultimately, the use of “municipal credit in aid of real estate speculation,” public finance expert A. M. Hillhouse wrote in his 1936 history Bonds: A Century of Experience, “affords a veritable master key to an understanding of the financial collapse of hundreds of areas in the early 1930s.”[2]

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A sign of the times, cropped from the above image. Note the reference to “paved streets.” It was the city’s taxes that paid for these streets, along with the subways that served the outer boroughs.

Unfortunately, American cities are repeating this history. The huge towers dominating Manhattan’s “Billionaire’s Row” are up to 30 percent vacant, their units providing shelter for off-shore investments even as the city’s homeless population grows. American property tax practices favor high-income coops and condos while discriminating against older rental buildings and their largely poor and minority tenants. And American cities continue to be willing to provide every manner of infrastructure to big developers, trading the reality of gentrification for the prospect of future tax revenue. While boosters have long claimed that subsidizing private real estate growth can simultaneously address the fiscal and housing crisis of American cities, it is clear that they fail on both counts.

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Another close-up reveals that many of these subdivisions were tax-exempt; a further cause of fiscal strain for the city during the Depression.

Are there any alternatives to this situation? It seems unlikely that American cities will acquire additional revenue through Federal aid or additional taxing authority anytime soon. There is another solution, however: local governments can enter the real estate business themselves. Cities like Singapore receive income directly from state-owned middle-income housing projects, loosening their dependence upon the property tax and, by extension, large property owners. Singapore also owns more than half of the city’s land, ensuring that growth in property values flows directly to the city’s coffers and not to gentrifying speculators. If this seems too statist, Community Land Trusts provide another way for city residents and local governments to benefit directly from urban growth without contributing to displacement.

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Hudson Yards: A major development project on Manhattan’s West side, this project is currently receiving 5.6 billion dollars worth of subsidies, mostly in the form of subway infrastructure and tax exemptions. Sound familiar?

These policies allow cities to balance housing equity with fiscal growth – goals that are all too often incompatible in the American approach, where City Hall depends on the private sector to accomplish both. But it doesn’t have to. If our local governments value entrepreneurs so much, perhaps they should be willing to act like ones.

Featured image (at top): “Where the subway is an elevated, New York City“, Detroit Publishing Company, circa 1905, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

unnamedDaniel Wortel-London is a Ph.D. candidate in history at New York University, Jersey-born and Gotham-based, interested in urbanization, the political economy of solidarity, and public policy in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century North Atlantic. He has written about the class politics of bicycles, the political economy of post-war urban tourism, labor politics in the 1939 New York World’s Fair, notions of “public space” in the works of John Dewey, and the political effects of urban decentralization on Tammany Hall. He also serves as the graduate student editorial board member of the Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era, and hosts the podcast London’s New York. (@dlondonnyu) 

[1]  HYLAN, John F. Staten Island’s future. (In: Staten Island Chamber of Commerce. Annual yearbook, 1924. p. 9-11.

[2] Hillhouse, A. M. 1936. Municipal bonds; a century of experience. New York: Prentice-Hall, Inc, 12.

Teaching Immigration History after Tree of Life

This morning we are briefly departing from our usual coverage on The Metropole to reflect on the intersection of pedagogy and current events. In this post, co-editor Avigail Oren comments on her experience in the classroom following the attack at Tree of Life.

On Monday, October 22, I began teaching a half-semester course at Carnegie Mellon University on the history of immigration to the United States. Within days, this history became personal. One mile away from campus a man murdered 11 Jews at prayer in their synagogue, in a violent act of protest against the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society and the Jewish legacy of support for immigration.

My body showed up to teach on the Monday after the shooting. From notes I printed out in my office beforehand, I read a lecture about Jewish immigrant John Jacob Astor. I have little recollection of what I said. In the final minutes of class time, I told students that they were welcome to leave if they felt unready to discuss the shooting, but that I was holding space for a discussion if anyone wanted to stay. I began by telling them that Tree of Life refers to Torah, to the revelation of God that comes through studying that holy text: “It is a tree of life to all who grasp it, and whoever holds on to it is happy; its ways are ways of pleasantness, and all its paths are peace” (Proverbs 3:17-18). I explained to them that we do the same thing in the history classroom—study texts to achieve revelation about our place in the world. We study so as to make visible the tightrope we walk between the past and the future we are trying to build (or stave off). There I stopped, opening the floor for questions.

The first student to speak was the President of Chabad at CMU. He showed up for class wearing a kippah (yarmulke) as a visible statement of his Jewish identity. He asked, in more words, “how did we get here, to a moment of such hatred and violence?” And I explained that domestic terrorism was not new in this country, not for slaves or descendants of slaves or anyone with dark skin. Not for poor people or queer people or immigrants. And not for Jews either. I cannot recall if I concluded with some thoughtful tying of the bow, circling back to the present. I may simply have run out of energy and ceased speaking. I know other students asked questions but they are lost to memory. On Wednesday I canceled class and told my students to read a chapter from their textbook about the nativist Know Nothing Party.

Memory was a struggle for weeks afterwards. I walked into rooms unsure why I was there. I no longer knew the names of people I spoke to regularly. I was constantly searching for words. My students noticed this. When we returned the next Monday—and for many lectures after that—they had to fill in the holes in my memory. If a word or name or date was not written in my notes, it was a gamble whether I’d be able to recall it.

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Photo by author. 11/30/18, Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA.

Yet, it ended up being the best semester of teaching that I have ever had. There is nothing like a local hate crime motivated by nativism to prove that immigration history has enduring relevance. My students felt personally invested in the subject and began following the news more closely. They brought this perspective with them into our discussions.

It also changed me as a teacher. First and foremost, I stopped sweating the small shit. Stochastic violence has a way of putting things into perspective. I gave extensions and was flexible about attendance and allowed revisions and provided extra credit opportunities. I focused more on each individual student’s growth and less on grades.

More notably, however, I became a more fervent defender of the rights of immigrants. I absolutely hammered the point that immigrants are human beings with bodies that are viscerally affected by the experience of migration, resettlement, assimilation, and how immigration restrictions denied them a chance at safety and were used to uphold the power of the powerful. If my students found me biased, they did not express it, but I do not care regardless. The dominant political narrative assumes that immigration restriction is a public good and sound policy, and so they have heard and will continue to hear that perspective. They may choose to disregard the polemics of their radical professor. But I made sure they heard it.

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Photo by author. 11/8/18, East Liberty, Pittsburgh, PA.

At the end of the final lecture of the semester, I thanked my students for their patience and commitment. I told them that after the shooting I was unsure that I would be able to finish the semester, but that teaching them this history (and thereby reinforcing my own knowledge and understanding of U.S. immigration) had been healing. Part of that was watching them become aware of the continuities between the nativist rhetoric and policies of the past and those of the present moment. But it was also realizing that they cared and empathized with immigrants. There was one Robert Bowers, but in front of me sat 23 empaths. That gave me hope to persevere, in the classroom and beyond.

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Avigail Oren is co-editor of The Metropole. She moved to Pittsburgh in 2011 to attend graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University, where she still sometimes adjuncts.

Obituary: Margaret Garb, professor of history, 56 Internationally recognized scholar of race and urban history

It is with great regret that the Urban History Association acknowledges the passing Washington University history professor Margaret Garb.  In her memory, we are running the obituary published on Dec. 20, 2018 on the Washington University website, The Source.

Margaret Garb, professor of history in Arts & Sciences and co-director of the Washington University Prison Education Project (PEP), died Saturday, Dec. 15, 2018, after a long battle with cancer. She was 56.

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Margaret Garb

An internationally recognized scholar of race and urban history, Garb was born in Trenton, N.J., and raised in an 18th-century farmhouse in Buckingham Township, Pa. Her father, who served as Bucks County president judge, was passionate about prison reform, especially for young offenders; her mother was a reproductive rights activist.

Garb studied at the Cordon Bleu in Paris before earning her bachelor’s degree in comparative religion from the University of Vermont. She then covered the police beat as a reporter in Chicago and later wrote for The New York Times and In These Times, among others.

Garb earned her master’s degree in history from the University of California, San Diego, and her doctorate from Columbia University in New York, where she studied with Eric Foner.

She joined the Washington University faculty in 2001, teaching courses on the American city and the history of poverty and social reform. Her numerous publications include the books “City of American Dreams: A History of Home Ownership and Housing Reform, Chicago 1871-1919” (2005) and “Freedom’s Ballot: African-American Political Struggles in Chicago from Abolition to the Great Migration” (2014).

Garb established PEP with Robert Henke, professor of drama, in 2014, thanks to a three-year grant from the Bard Prison Initiative. “As a teacher, I’ve spent years training and gaining certain kinds of skills,” she observed at the time. “It seemed worthwhile to think about how to use those skills most effectively to improve the society we live in.”

Today, PEP receives ongoing support from the Office of the Provost and is the only program of its kind nationally to be fully funded by its university. Courses have grown from two per semester to 17 during the 2018-19 academic year. The first PEP graduation ceremony will take place in May.

“Maggie was one of the most inspiring people I have ever met,” Henke said. “She was — and really still is — the heart and soul of the project. Our program will always be identified with her and her spirit.”

Garb recently held fellowships at the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History and the Collegium de Lyon in France. She also won a Fulbright Fellowship to study in the Philippines, though her illness prevented her from going. Last spring, she was featured on C-SPAN’s “Lectures in History” program, discussing the birth of the skyscraper.

Garb is survived by her husband, Mark Pegg, also a professor of history; a daughter, Eva Garb; and siblings, Emily and Charles Garb.

Memorial contributions may be made in Garb’s name to the Department of History. To do so, visit gifts.wustl.edu and enter “In memory of Margaret Garb” in the “Special instructions” field.

Hyping Social Infrastructure: A Review of Eric Klinenberg’s Palaces for the People

Klinenberg, Eric. Palaces for the People: How Social Infrastructure Can Help Fight Inequality, Polarization, and the Decline of Civic Life. (New York, New York: Crown, 2018). 336 pp. $28. ISBN 978-1-5247-6116-5

By Jacob Bruggeman 

Americans today consistently hear about the differences in wealth, geography, identity and politics that divide us, but they hear rather less about the forces of community and commonality which bring us together. Most welcome then is sociologist Eric Klinenberg’s new study of what he calls “social infrastructure,” which refers to “the physical places and organizations that shape the way people interact” and that counter fragmentation. Palaces for the People does not imply that social infrastructure is a suitable substitute for “well-designed hard infrastructure”—the bones upon which communities are built—but it is a clear, forceful argument for social infrastructure as the lifeblood that keeps communities healthy.

Klinenberg takes off from, of all people, the steel magnate Andrew Carnegie, whose brutal anti-labor policies did so much to fracture the body politic. But once retired, Carnegie came to understand that free libraries served as places in which diverse populations could converge and where community could be formed and strengthened. Carnegie called libraries “palaces for the people,” and thanks to his immense wealth and progressive philanthropic agenda, he built twenty-eight hundred palaces all over the world. In Palaces for the People sociologist Klinenberg begets a new defense of old-fashioned libraries and other public and private institutions which he believes are essential if a community is to flourish.

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The Phoenix Carnegie Library, now known as the Carnegie Center, is a historic site in Phoenix, Arizona’s Library Park, Carol M. Highsmith, March 3, 2018, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

Though libraries take up a prominent place in Palaces for the People, social infrastructure is not just constituted by and in branch libraries: it is cultivated in community gardens, schools and universities, and the wide assortment of voluntary associations that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote of in the 1800s. One could even argue that communities’ police forces, if they are dedicated to building ties to a place and its people rather sending them to prison, can be an essential element of social infrastructure. Klinenberg’s idea of social infrastructure, however, is generally limited to public institutions and places. Palaces for the People is not problematic for this focus, but readers may well put down the book wanting to better understand the role of businesses in bolstering social infrastructure. But in regard to the popular twenty-first century argument that humans are only socializing with their iPhones, Klinenberg asserts that despite the apparent dominance of all things digital, face-to-face interactions will remain “… the building blocks of all public life” and that physical interactions between people will necessarily define social interaction for generations to come.

When a community’s social infrastructure is deficient or missing, we see the emergence of inequities, declining civic life and polarized politics. To address these problems solutions are inevitably put forth: Economic solutions (which often take the form of development at the local or national level), technocratic solutions (such as those engineered by planners and policy makers), and civic solutions (including the rather artificial efforts to establish community groups and voluntary associations). We can properly and forcefully demand additional funding for schools, for low cost housing and health care, but we may be overlooking the need to address a deficient social infrastructure, the “missing piece of the puzzle” that pulls together and makes workable economic, technocratic, and civic proposals.

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The Carnegie Library, erected in 1904 in in Trinidad, Colorado, on the Purgatoire River on the northern end of the Raton Pass leading into New Mexico, Carol M. Highsmith, June 8, 2016, Prints and Photographs Division

Klinenberg argues that social infrastructure, when robust, “fosters contact, mutual support, and collaboration among friends and neighbors; when degraded, it inhibits social activity, leaving families and individuals to fend for themselves.” No one showed this better than Klinenberg himself in his study of Chicago’s weeklong heat wave in July 1995, which was among the deadliest in American history. Survival rates in the city’s poor Hispanic neighborhoods were often far better than other neighborhoods precisely because of a superior Hispanic social infrastructure emphasizing visitation, self-help and care for the elderly. Social isolation killed all too many—more than 700—who died at home alone.

Klinenberg places his book in the context of the polarized politics of a nation’s   “…splintered social and cultural geography.” But what makes the book so useful is that it is neither strident nor pontifical. Palaces serves as an entry point for readers interested in learning more about inequality, civil society, and polarization in America and how to deal with those concerns. Indeed, it gains force and traction from the fact that it is grounded on a strong and growing body of literature on civil society and urban design, including classic works by Jane Jacobs, Robert Putnam, Elijah Anderson, and Ray Oldenburg. Just as important, Palaces is a work of scholarship that stakes a middle ground between market-based and state-based approaches to contemporary problems, and as such, it invites support from a broad spectrum of groups and leaders.

Finally, though Klinenberg is no Luddite, he does invite historians and social scientists to put aside our spreadsheets and Power Point presentations, instead asking us to renew and deepen an appreciation for specific places in our research. Furthermore, Klinenberg guides his readers—many of whom are not academics, but members of the general public—to the realization that each community and city is unique and that we should be wary of using quantitative data alone to generalize about their social conditions. Ultimately, if Palaces convinces readers of anything, it is that the goings-on of a community, and the places in which the things go on, must be grounded in local institutions—in palaces made by and for the people.

Jacob Bruggeman is an honors student in his fourth year at Miami University with majors in history and political science, and a combined BA–MA program in political science. Jacob was recently honored for his research as one of fifteen national recipients of the Gilder Lehrman History Scholar award, and he is one of two Joanna Jackson Goldman Scholars at Miami. Next fall he will begin coursework for a MPhil in Economic and Social History at Cambridge University. 

Featured image (at top): The Carnegie Public Library in Bryan, the oldest existing Carnegie Library in Texas, Carol M. Highsmith, June 12, 2014, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

The briefest of guides to #AHA19

Growing up in and around Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s, one witnessed the city’s incomplete political transformation. Mayor Harold Washington’s 1983 victory propelled him to City Hall where during his brief but impactful tenure he began dismantling the Democratic machine built under Anton Cermak during the 1930s and consolidated by Richard J. Daley in the mid-1950s.

Observers like University of Illinois Chicago political scientist, former alderman, and Chicagoland sage Dick Simpson argue the machine bent but never broke. Rather, under Richard M. Daley–who succeeded Washington (via the hapless Eugene Sawyer)–the machine would be reconstituted; “Pinstripe Patronage,” according to Simpson, which represented a shift toward large banking and legal institutions and transnational manufacturers. “Businessmen who give contributions to the mayor expect to . . . deliver goods and services to City Hall at inflated prices,” Simpson told Chicago Magazine in 2008. Crain’s Chicago Business called the new machine, “legalized bribery.”

As for the current occupant, Rahm Emanuel? Well he certainly has not lived up to the lighthearted brilliant social media-inspired satire of Dan Sinker’s The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of Rahm Emanuel. In Sinker’s completely fictional telling of the 2011 mayoral race, the author secretly created a majestically profane faux twitter feed (@MayorEmanuel) purporting to be the voice of future Mayor Emanuel campaigning for office in 2010/2011.

You get the idea. In the end, Emanuel closed a lot of schools, pushed for charters, enabled police brutality scandals to fester and pulsate, and economically cozied up to corporate interests. All that being said, the upcoming mayoral election, in which Emanuel is not running, features 50 candidates!

Ok perhaps not 50, but as of late November, which marked the deadline for submitting petitions, 18 individuals sidled up for a mayoral run. Though speculation ran rampant, Chance the Rapper demurred and instead endorsed Amara Enyia.

The larger point here is that just as the city is embracing a new political day, marked by a certain nervous uncertainty, so too with the crossover appeal of this year’s #MLA19 and #AHA19 synergy are historians and literary scholars embracing a more interdisciplinary future! With this in mind, The Metropole has some suggestions for those attendees casting about for ideas regarding what to do in the Windy City while conferencing.

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Chicago’s Fulton Market neighborhood, December 2018

First, we’d be remiss not to remind everyone about the Urban History Association Meet Up, co-hosted by Becky Nicolaides and Carol McKibben on Saturday morning January 5 (you can also see here for more details).

 

Second, while hardly comprehensive, we have a couple of slightly off the beaten path recommendations.

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One of the highlights of the Chicago Architecture Center, its giant model of Chicago. December 2018

Chicago Architecture Center

Granted it’s not a giant affair–really two floors and a gift shop. Nor does the Chicago Architecture Center offer a particularly critical examination of the city’s building history. While the exhibits do make mention of discriminatory housing policies and highway construction, regrettably, it does not spend a great deal of time on such matters. Still, for a thumbnail and visually attractive tour of Chicago’s architectural history it’s good for a 45-minute visit.

 

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From the CAC’s second floor exhibit exploring designs across global cities (including Chicago). December 2018

Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

Everyone knows the Art Institute and far be it from us to dissuade you from visiting the august cultural institution. The still newish modern wing is stunning and its collections remain some of the best in the world. However, its tragically ignored sibling the Museum of Contemporary Art offers a wealth of innovation and creativity, plus a truly great free sitting room known as the Commons (see featured image at top).IMG_8803.JPG

Notably for urbanists, the current exhibit West by Midwest explores the migration of artists, photographers, and other creative types to California, especially Los Angeles; think Ed Ruscha, Catherine Opie, Charles White, and Judithe Hernández, among many others. At several points West by Midwest functions like an advertisement for the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts), due to the school’s overwhelming influence on many artists whose work appears in the exhibit. The exhibit traverses intersectional Chicano, Black Power, and Feminist threads that weave their way through the works on display. It alone is worth the price of admission, but check out other aspects of the MCA like Jessica Campbell’s oddly compelling yarn based artwork on display in the Chicago Works exhibit.

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If you have an evening open and are unsure where one might venture out to, let us offer this suggestion. Start off at Moneygun, a dimly lit bar in the Fulton Market/Near West Side/West Loop neighborhood, with sharp cocktails and draft beer set to soul tunes from the 1970s. Once you’ve imbibed a libation or two, walk a couple blocks over to Duck Duck Goat, an eminently solid Chinese restaurant with obvious hipster pretensions or perhaps the also nearby Publican, a popular spot that, although sometimes overrated by locals, provides a very good “American Creative” option. Of course it is Chicago and your restaurant/bar options are endless, so consider this a drop in the hat of your numerous choices.

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Moneygun at night. December 2018

Finally, we conclude with this helpful twitter thread from @tenuredradical (aka Professor Claire Potter of the New School) in which the historian offers some helpful advice for first-time AHA attendees and experienced conference-goers alike.

Also, for those caftan enthusiasts out there, don’t worry:

Good luck everyone!

 

Fiction and the City 2018

When the Modern Language Association (MLA) and the American Historical Association (AHA) announced that they would both be hosting their 2019 conferences in the capital of the Midwest, Chicago, during always balmy January, it was not surprising. The two often overlap, particularly in the convention-friendly Windy City. However, what did create shouts of joy was the decision by both organizations to honor the other’s registration. In other words, historians attending the AHA could abscond to the MLA to hear their more literary-minded peers debate similar topics, themes, and historical moments and vice versa.

In celebration, some scholars referenced the obscure but deeply influential hip-hop group, Das Racist:

A few–okay, at least one–pointed to Law and Order-like crossovers:

Others clung to past affiliations while looking to the promise of new ones:

Editors cried out for writers:

Others simply drew upon their sartorial leanings to express their euphoria:

The larger point here is that the two fields, though often siloed by academia and, perhaps, professionalization have long been in dialogue. As a young, impressionable undergrad I still remember eminent historian and literary scholar Rashid Khalidi incredulously asking our class (and I’m paraphrasing), “Wait, you people aren’t reading fiction? It’s one of the best ways to learn history.” That comment stuck. During my commute to work over nearly ten years teaching public high school in NYC, I devoured fiction on the subway on the regular. So it goes to say that historians and literary scholars have a lot to learn from one another, hence the reason for this blog’s “Fiction and the City” month, in which historians deployed their knowledge of fiction to explore urban history around the globe.

Though The Metropole published Fiction and the City in February 2018, it remains an ongoing pursuit. With the year coming to a close, The Metropole‘s editors have rounded up all those who provided contributions. Below you’ll discover links and descriptions for each.

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“Welcome to Fiction and the City”The Metropole

A general overview of our historical and literary purposes; it’s short and sweet, including the Kevin Kruse twitter thread on writing.

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“Mickey Spillane’s Hell of a Town” – Brian Tochterman

“Spillane’s representation of a city in the throes of crisis may have been a stand-in for the atomic anxieties of the immediate postwar era,” writes Northland College professor Tochterman, “but it was also quite prophetic about the discourse of cities like New York in the not too distant future.” In many ways, Spillane’s problematic view of NYC served as a harbinger of things to come, a point which the writer explores through Spillane’s work, the history of domestic America during the Cold War, and New York City’s always unstable place in U.S. culture.

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“The Urbanization of Chinese Fiction” – Kristin Stapleton

Outgoing UHA board member, University of Buffalo historian, and general Chinese literary enthusiast Kristin Stapleton takes readers through a tour of urbanity in Chinese literature. In particular, Stapleton notes fictional discourse about Chinese cities remains a relatively new development, yet serves as an indicator of great change underfoot in the East Asian power. “Much of the popular fiction of the last forty years reflects the fast-paced new culture of China’s megacities,” notes Stapleton.

Crabgrass Science: Failed Suburbs in Science Fiction – Carl AbbottMetatropolis

The former editor of Pacific Historical Review and Portland State Professor knows more than a bit about history and popular culture. As discussed at this past year’s UHA conference in Columbia, the Rose City resident has been working for several years with artists and others producing comic books about Portland’s urban history. Therefore, this Mike Davis/Eric Avila-like piece on the suburbs in science fiction speaks to old and new depictions of suburbia all while adjusting for issues of race, gender, and class over recent decades. “If science fiction suburbs are usually troubled and dangerous places,” notes Abbott “it’s in part because popular discourse about suburbia has been equally negative—from aesthetic and moral censure in the 1950s to critiques of suburban isolation in the 1980s and the trope of ‘slumburbia’ in the present century.”

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The View from 71st and Jeffrey”– Carl Rotello

Boston University American Studies chair Carl Rotello opens one of The Metropole’s most literary posts rather simply: “The best spot for ectoplasmic people-watching in South Shore is the raised wooden platform of the Bryn Mawr Metra station at 71st and Jeffery.” From there he cleverly uses the Metra stop as a means for evaluating local histories, known and lost, and the people and communities who populated them. “From the platform you can catch glimpses of the converging ghosts, and the lost cities they represent, that move among the current-day hangers-out on the corners, commuters waiting for buses or trains, and local residents running errands at the neighborhood’s principal intersection.”

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“Contending Urbanization Through Satire: Late Imperial Baku As Seen in Uzeyir Hajibeyov’s ‘If Not That One, Then This One’” – Kelsey Rice

Few genres elicit the kind of responses that satire does. When Jonathan Swift wrote “A Modest Proposal,” some people truly believed he advocated eating Irish babies. Yet even amidst such confusion, it remains hard to deny the power of satire as means for resistance to prevailing political, social, or economic trends. University of Pennsylvania PhD candidate Kelsey Rice explores the work of Uzeyir Hajibeyov, a writer who arrived in booming turn-of-the-century Baku, a city one historian describes thusly: “It was as if the industry of Pittsburgh and the frontier lawlessness of Dodge City had been superimposed on Baghdad.” According to Rice, Hajibevov created some of the first operettas to engage Baku urbanity, as the city’s demographics, economy, and politics shifted. The operetta If Not That One, Then This One, “one of Hajibeyov’s most popular, grappled with the social challenges and violence presented by urbanization through a combination of biting satire and catchy tunes.”

 

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“Race, Sexuality, and Noir in Chester Himes’ Wartime Los Angeles” – The Metropole

Today the works of Walter Mosely – Devil in a Blue Dress and Fearless Jones among several others – stand as testament to the power of noir fiction when retreating from the kind of mid-century tropes of the genre that regrettably equated blackness with dark corners of the changing postwar metropolis. However, the lesser-known Chester Himes contributed mightily to the Walter Mosely’s of the future when he penned If Hollers, Let Him Go in the 1940s. “Himes offers a dark vision of American racial relations in If He Hollers while also charging headlong into the fraught dynamics of interracial sexuality,” notes The Metropole, “all under a sun-drenched Southern California sky that casts brighter light on Black Los Angeles.”

 

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Romance Novellas and the Post African City” – Emily Callaci

Recipient of the Urban History Association’s Arnold Hirsch Award for Best Scholarly Article on Urban History,  University of Wisconsin historian Emily Callaci explores the role of popular romance novels in the 1970s postcolonial city of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. Featuring male protagonists styled in the fashion of Muhammad Ali, Bob Marley and Bruce Lee, such characters and the stories they offer up function “as an unintended archive of the emotional lives of Dar es Salaam’s young men in the mid-1970s through 1980s, the final decade of Tanzania’s socialist experiment,” writes Callaci. Of course, the novels do more than simply chart the paths of fictional lotharios across the city; they also speak to the tensions at the heart of a city escaping colonialism while mapping its own course toward the future.

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Children’s Fiction in the City” – Avigail Oren, Kevin Seal, Melanie Newport and other #Twitterstorians

The Metropole co-editor Avigail Oren, Pittsburgh educator Kevin Seal, and University of Connecticut historian Melanie Newport present a compendium of children’s works that engage urban life, including Faith Ringgold’s Tar Beach, When the Beat was Born by Laban Carrick Hill, Sandra Cisnero’s The House on Mango Street, and One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams Garcia among many, many others. Oren, Seal and Newport break down individual works and discuss the importance of “fiction and the city” for both young readers and adults.

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Didionesque Sacramento: Race, Urban Renewal and Loss in Joan Didion’s ‘Run River’The Metropole

Perhaps it’s no secret that at least of one of The Metropole’s editors has a possibly unhealthy obsession with the work of Joan Didion. Still, the famed California writer continues to produce interesting and compelling works well into her 80s. In this piece, The Metropole examines how her first work of fiction explores the state of burgeoning post-World War II Sacramento and Didion’s own blindspots in regard to race and class. Though part of our April Metro of the Month on Sacramento, it neatly fits into Fiction and the City as well.