Producing Authenticity: The Process, Politics and Impacts of Cultural Preservation in  Washington, DC

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Virginia Tech

This dissertation investigates how the process, politics, and impacts of culturally-framed redevelopment balance growth and equity within inner-city neighborhoods experiencing change. Redevelopment programs that draw upon existing arts and cultural assets have been supported and identified by planners as a strategy of local economic development. However, critiques of cultural preservation as a form of economic development argue that the norms and goals of such planning efforts and their impact on existing residents require further evaluation. For example, planning scholars find that cultural preservation may reinforce both existing spatial divides and forms of social exclusion. At the same time, the recognition of ethnic and minority heritage by non-local forces has been identified by some scholars as an opportunity to further the multicultural transformation of public history as well as locally sustainable community development that benefits the neighborhood's original inhabitants.

I employ an extended case study research design and ethnographic methods to analyze how the process of producing authenticity contributes or impinges on development and market potential as well as social preservation efforts in a historic African American neighborhood, U Street/Shaw, within Washington, DC. An analysis of the implementation of the guiding vision for the neighborhood's cultural redevelopment, The DUKE Plan, occurs on three scales: neighborhood, anchor institutions, and individual (residents and visitors). Pro-growth strategies that bolstered the marketable "Black Broadway" place brand were supported at each scale rather than opportunities to preserve the neighborhood's identity through the retention of long-term residents and interpretation of the breadth of the community's identity. As a result of culturally-framed redevelopment, the U Street/Shaw neighborhood continues to gentrify causing a loss of belonging and ownership of cultural heritage among long-term residents. Solutions to ensuring that social equity provisions are delivered in culturally-framed redevelopment requires the adoption of accountability measures defined by existing residents during the planning process that commercial and government stakeholders must continually adhere to throughout and after implementation.

Cultural preservation, redevelopment, authenticity, place branding, gentrification, community engagement, anchor institutions, c