NEA Big Read
The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears

by Dinaw Mengestu

The stories he invented himself he told with particular delight. They all began in the same way, with the same lighthearted tone, with a small wave of the hand, as if the world were being brushed to the sideā€¦

Dinaw Mengestu. Copyright Matthieu Zazzo.

Peter Tatian: Logan Circle is one of the places that has changed dramatically in recent Washington history. Washington's going through a bit of a revival at the moment, in terms of population growth. We had lost population for many decades and over the past ten to fifteen years now, that has changed dramatically. Washington is growing in population again, and many neighborhoods like Logan Circle, which had seen very hard times—this was a very affluent neighborhood way back in its heyday, very beautiful, expensive houses, very well-established neighborhood, centrally located in the heart of Washington—but because of the outflow of folks that occurred, you know, over the past several decades, really had fallen on hard times. Very high rates of poverty in its more recent history. Houses becoming run down and abandoned and vacant. Not very prosperous community.

And now that's changing again. Because the people who have come to Washington more recently have seen what is actually good about Logan Circle and recognized that there is a lot of intrinsic value to this neighborhood because of the housing stock, because of the location, and it being such a great location in the heart of the city. So people are now reinvesting in Logan Circle and buying property there again, and investing in businesses. And it's a complete dramatic change. I've lived in Washington for over 20 years, so I know what Logan Circle was like before, and it was a place where for many people, you simply wouldn't go there. It was considered too dangerous, and too run-down, and not really a place you'd want to go visit. And that is totally different from what you have today, where now there's a Starbucks and a Whole Foods and a whole range of very high-end restaurants and shops and places that many people are frequenting.

And so homes in the Logan Circle area, for example, prior to 2000, you could have bought a home for, say, under $200,000. Now the median home in that area is over $600,000. So yes, it is very challenging for the folks who had been living there a long time to remain there, if their rents are rising or if they are going to be leaving the neighborhood, even if they owned the properties, so many people who owned property saw those prices going up and saw an opportunity to capitalize on that, which I think is very reasonable. But then that means the person coming in needs a much higher income to be able to afford to buy that house, so it means you might have a lower income person who's lived in that home for a long time selling their home, but now the person who wants to buy that home is going to be a very socioeconomic class than that original resident. So even if people aren't necessarily being pushed out—maybe they're choosing to leave—though I think what happens then is that it affects who comes in to replace them. And in the past, you would have the same kinds of people coming in to replace those who left. But now you're seeing very different people coming in.

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