Walking tour takes you through ‘turbulent redevelopment’ of Southwest DC

Wander into Southwest and you’ll see world-famous museums, the favorite local fish market, the new soccer stadium and the marinas.

But before it became a D.C. destination, it was home to a tight-knit, multigenerational African American community.

A walking tour through historic Southwest aims to tell the story of the people who lived there and the “turbulent redevelopment” that changed the landscape of the neighborhood. It’s called “Before the Bulldozers: Historic Southwest D.C. Exposed,” and you can take the tour using an app.

The free app uses your location, augmented reality and audio to “examine larger issues of housing inequality through the lens of Southwest.”

For the best experience, start the tour at the Waterfront Metro Station and bring headphones. Three characters act as your guide as you meander the Southwest streets, with lessons and resources along the way.

“By moving through the Southwest neighborhood, seeing how the area changed and learning at whose cost those changes came to be, audiences better understand the role housing inequity plays out in everyday life — in D.C. and beyond,” Anacostia Community Museum Director Melanie Adams said in a statement.

Southwest was one of the first and largest neighborhoods in the U.S. targeted for “urban renewal” in 1950, an Anacostia Community Museum news release said. In the process, the government razed schools, houses and churches to “create space for development by claiming eminent domain.”

This led to the displacement of more than 20,000 African Americans.

“Today’s Southwest neighborhood is unrecognizable to former residents. As the neighborhood experiences a current economic boom and struggles to keep its affordable community intact, ‘Before the Bulldozers’ offers lessons from the not-so-distant past,” said the museum, which is part of the Smithsonian Institution.

What happened first in Southwest then proliferated to communities in the United States in the following decades, said Michael Epstein of Walking Cinema, a partner of the walking tour.

For those outside the D.C. area, there is a video version of the tour available on the museum’s website. There are also videos on the museum’s YouTube channel.

“Before the Bulldozers” is part of the museum’s larger feature this year, which examines the themes of housing and racial inequity. “Our Housing, Our Future” includes in-person and digital exhibitions, community programs and educational partnerships.

The “Before the Bulldozers” app is available for iPhones and for Android devices.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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