The revitalization of historic African-American neighborhoods is a central research focus for Derek Hyra, associate professor, Urban Affairs and Planning Program, Virginia Tech National Capital Region.
Author of The New Urban Renewal: The Economic Transformation of Harlem and Bronzeville (University of Chicago Press 2008), Hyra is currently engaged in a two-year ethnographic investigation of the redevelopment of the Shaw/U Street neighborhood in Washington, D.C. In the early 1900s, this community was the center of black life in the city. In 1968 riots burned down sections of this community and Shaw began a serious decline into poverty and social disadvantage; however, in the 1990s and 2000s the area has experienced an economic revival.
In conjunction with this research, the Urban Institute, a non-partisan, Washington, D.C., think tank, has posted a two-part video interview with Hyra. In Part 1 he discusses “The History, Decline, and Revitalization of the Shaw Neighborhood” and in Part 2, “Who Benefits? Gentrification and Social Integration.”
Supported by Virginia Tech’s School of Public and International Affairs and Institute for Society, Culture and Environment, Hyra’s study is one of the first to investigate the processes associated with and the meaning of multiracial gentrification, where upper- and middle-income whites, blacks, and Hispanics, both gay and heterosexual, move into a low-income black neighborhood. His research will demonstrate how race, class and sexual orientation become embedded within local civic organizations, such as neighborhood planning bodies and associations, which attempt to influence community conditions. The study will also assess whether and how low-income people benefit from living in a racially diverse, mixed-income neighborhood.
Hyra collects much of his information about the neighborhood by participating in community life. During the spring and summer of 2010, he volunteered as a community organizer with ONE DC, a group dedicated to preserving racial and economic equity in Shaw. This experience helped him better understand the plight of those concerned with housing affordability due to mounting gentrification pressures. Hyra also conducts in-depth interviews with residents and attends community meetings.
Hyra’s work will enhance society’s understanding of the dynamics related to and conflicts within America’s burgeoning diverse urban neighborhoods. “Findings from this research will help inform local elected officials of the social and political challenges across race, class, and sexual orientation that need to be addressed in order to create and maintain truly inclusive and integrated neighborhood environments,” said Hyra. “And hopefully it will provide insights that can contribute to federal policy, such as President Obama’s Choice and Promise Neighborhoods Initiatives.”