“It’s a great day in Anacostia, because it’s morning again!”
The speaker was Eugene Kinlow, president of the Far Southeast Family Strengthening Collaborative, but the sentiment was just about universal in the cold, vacant building on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, where a who’s-who crowd of Anacostia neighborhood leaders were huddled two weeks ago. The occasion was the announcement of a Busboys and Poets restaurant that will come to the space, likely in 2016. For residents who have craved places to eat and gather in a neighborhood that has few of them, the arrival of the coveted local chain was cause for celebration.
It also seemed to mark the long-awaited start of the neighborhood’s promised revitalization. Anacostia residents have been hearing for years that their area is on the cusp of development. “Let me put it this way,” says David White, who’s lived in Anacostia for 44 years and serves as president of the Chicago Shannon Civic Association, representing a portion of the neighborhood. “I was hearing about plans for this area when I was 15 years old. When I got out of the U.S. Army, the only thing I saw was that the few amenities we did have east of the river had disappeared.”
The seemingly eternal delay in Anacostia’s rumored development boom is both a source of frustration—when is the neighborhood finally going to get a supermarket or a CVS?—and a strategic advantage. In other neighborhoods, residents and city officials have sometimes been taken by surprise by the speed of transformation, making developments aimed at spurring growth look like ill-thought-out mistakes.