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East of the River Residents Aim to Reclaim Their Neighborhoods

by Nena Perry-Brown

Rendering of the redevelopment planned for Deanwood's historic Strand Theater. Click to enlarge.

Two years ago, former mayor and Ward 7 councilmember Vince Gray beta-tested the term "East End" when referring to East of the River (EOTR), sparking a conversation about neighborhood rebranding and citywide inequities despite the new name not catching on.

Last night, a few dozen residents of Wards 7 and 8 gathered at a church in Fairlawn, along with Gray, Ward 8 councilmember Trayon White, and the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), for a meeting to discuss whether to maintain the EOTR moniker. The conversation ended up covering ground well beyond the name.

The meeting began with an informal poll to see who preferred East of the River or East End; while most of the hands in the room rose in favor of EOTR, no one favored East End. Gray clarified that it wasn't his intention to "rename" this section of the city, so much as refer to Wards 7 and 8 as the "East End" of the city when introducing legislation. He and White noted that they were less interested in the name than in changing the connotation associated with EOTR and the mindset of residents there.

Most of the meeting attendees who spoke specifically referenced the neighborhoods where they live, noting that rather than be concerned with the EOTR moniker, individual neighborhoods EOTR should be given greater visibility.  

Angela Joyner described her experience moving to her neighborhood and conferring with neighbors to determine what the neighborhood was called, finally getting an answer from a 50-year resident who identified it as Benning Ridge. "I used to live in Brookland," Joyner said. "When you drive in Brookland from any direction, you see a sign that says 'Welcome to Brookland', or 'Welcome to North Michigan Park'."

Another resident, who previously worked with Cultural Tourism DC as the group was compiling the Black history of DC neighborhoods years ago, expressed a desire to see the resources gathered during those efforts implemented throughout neighborhoods EOTR with signage and heritage trails. Councilmember White agreed that the city could be doing more to disperse branding identifying neighborhoods EOTR; ACC executive director Philip Pannell also noted that Anacostia and Deanwood are the only EOTR neighborhoods with Heritage Trails.

"We suffer from, so many times, being geographically mischaracterized," Pannell stated, pointing out that even 'Anacostia' has neighborhoods within itself. "There are people who think that all of Ward 8 is Anacostia or Southeast. We need to send a message that we here, in Ward 8, have identifiable neighborhoods." By Pannell's count, there are 25 neighborhoods in Ward 7 and 16 in Ward 8.

Towards the meeting's conclusion, both councilmembers expressed support for allocating funds in the next budget cycle toward neighborhood signage and identifying markers. Some in attendance also noted that the conversation of neighborhood identification and preservation was arriving at an important time, with updates expected to the Comprehensive Plan in the next several months and as the District prepares to redraw Ward boundaries following the Census in 2021.

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/anti-renaming-east-of-the-river-residents-aim-to-reclaim-that-name/15463

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