Iweala as a child. Though the community has changed, Iweala still loves the city
In DC, as people come for the good stuff in this case, the cheaper real estate of fringe communities the shared memory changes, and communities lose their distinct social identities, falling into the trap of market-defined millennial America. Suddenly, the face of a neighbourhood in real-estate brochures and tourism posters becomes an appropriately bearded 30-something white man or his smiling, blue-eyed girlfriend, their ethnically ambiguous interracial couple friends, and occasionally someone who looks like me. Meanwhile, the original resident is left wondering whether each potential new face represents the increased possibility that they will be excluded from their own story.
My friend Aaron who grew up in Northeast Washington DC with his mother and grandmother (and now lives in New York) told me: I dont know if I could really go back and live there. DC for me was close-knit, working-class residential communities. Its like the city wants something different for itself now. I dont know if Id fit in.
A lot of original Washingtonians I know (rich and poor) share this sentiment, even as there is a recognition that many of the changes have improved the overall perception and standard of living in the city. But there is also recognition that these changes have hardly been beneficial for everybody.
Before I retired, the people who lived around the hospital were all black. Now when I go around there, I notice the faces are different: they are all white and Hispanic and suddenly its become a more desirable place to live, my father said when I asked him what he thought about DCs transformation. I just wonder where everyone went. I just wonder why its only when white people move to a place that people suddenly pay attention.
As the citys demographic shift results in better services for once-black areas that now have increased white populations; as newcomers without concern for the citys rich history and implicit biases become more populous, and unconsciously use the citys security apparatus to neutralise difference that makes them uncomfortable; and as the citys police department itself becomes less black, less integrated with the communities it serves, and more aggressive, people lose faith that the city they once knew still wants to know them.
Like all things, cities must change even a city as enamoured of the past and memory as DC. But one hopes that, however seductive the pressures of new investment and economic growth, a fusion of social and economic identities, rather than erasure of one to accommodate the other, is allowed to form a new city soul which respects all of its histories.
Months before my friend Mary graduated from law school, she told me I had absolutely no choice but to present myself for her pre-graduation gala: an elaborate affair in which the almost-lawyers and their visibly relieved significant others, parents and sometimes children, dress up for a night of horror that can only be called adult prom.
The event, held at the National Portrait Gallery in the now-revitalised Chinatown, was close to where I had my horror of a high school prom at the Verizon Center just up the street. After a night of awkward conversation and observing awkward flailing that is future lawyers dancing, we left the event tipsy, holding each other for support.
Driven by an overwhelming feeling of nostalgia, I insisted we walk down towards the Capitol Building. We strolled slowly, occasionally turning to admire the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial shimmering in their floodlights behind us.
The street was empty, and the only sound came from our feet crunching the gravel paths as we walked. A soft drizzle fell, catching in the lights and obscuring the buildings so that everything suddenly felt otherworldly, unreal.
I love this city, Mary said, as I took her hand and we walked towards our waiting Uber. I love my city, I replied.
Uzodinma Iweala is the author of Beasts of No Nation. Order the book for 7.37 (RRP 8.99) at the <a href="https://bookshop.theguardian.com/catalog/product/view/id/37