The Capital of Diversity: Difference, Development, and Placemaking in Washington, D.C.

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Diversity has long been a part of the urban landscape, both as a demographic fact and as a valuable commodity used to attract development. Both kinds of diversity move through Columbia Heights, the rapidly (re)developing neighborhood in Washington D.C. that serves as my case study. It is home to residents of varying racial, ethnic, sexuality and class-based identifications as well as the rhetoric that selectively values them.

  In this dissertation, I argue that a rhetorical commitment to diversity has been an integral part of uneven development in Columbia Heights. It is the cornerstone of neoliberal development, a process in which government subsidized, private development benefits middle and upper-middle class (often white) residents, while low-income residents of color are increasingly denied quality housing, employment, and education. 

  This interdisciplinary project draws on urban, cultural, ethnic, and queer studies scholarship to illustrate how representations of difference affect material development. I argue that they create ideological "maps" of the neighborhood that value some markers of difference while erasing and policing others. In turn, these maps guide who invests in the neighborhood and who belongs where.  I chart how representations have changed over time, from the appropriation of civil rights rhetoric in the mid to late 20th century, to more recent multicultural imagery and gay-led gentrification narratives used to sell a "new," upscale Columbia Heights. 

  Using a mixed methodology of textual and ethnographic analysis, I examine different sites of discursive production: city planning documents, real estate marketing, and an online neighborhood listserv. I also interview longtime and incoming Columbia Heights residents with various social locations, illustrating how dominant narratives of difference and development are reinforced and/or challenged among residents. 

  This project expands existing development, gentrification, and gay enclave scholarship. It challenges singular analyses of difference and examines how multiple markers of difference affect spaces. All middle-class newcomers are not white, nor are all lesbian, gay, bisexual, and queer residents middle-class. In addition to suggesting policy solutions, I suggest how "contact" between residents of different social locations has the potential to counteract uneven development and the discourse that reinforces it.