Last spring, Sylvia Robinson visited a monthly meeting of freshmen residing at Charles R. Drew Hall. She was there to garner support and input from students regarding the drastic changes that are occurring in the community, changes that have since begun to take shape. She left by encouraging students to get involved.

Sylvia Robinson works with the Georgia Avenue Community Development Task Force and is always seeking input from the community. She insists that all of these changes will affect the students of the University, including the three-phase multi-year university facelift that is in progress. “For each of these projects, there is a public hearing phase in which we seek out ideas.” This is what led her to Drew Hall last spring; a trip she said was worthwhile because it increased awareness on campus and attendance at the task-force’s monthly meetings, a trend she would like to build on this year.

More than eight major developments are underway in the area from the Shaw-Howard Metro to the Petworth Metro. The projects range from the office building being erecting at the Shaw Metro stop that will become home the home of the United Negro College Fund, to the Park Morton public housing complex, which is being torn down to make way for an 83-unit apartment building called “The Avenue,” completing just the first phase of a $130 million project. The projects are designed not only to change the face of Georgia Avenue, but to also attract new businesses and new residents to the area.

Robinson works closely with Howard University Professor Ernest Quimby, whose students sit in on the biweekly task force meetings from time to time.
Quimby teaches Sociology and Criminal Justice at Howard University. A critical part of his course includes a Community Technical Assistance Project (CTAP). The aim of CTAP is for students to do community based participatory research work directly with leaders in the community in a joint effort to improve the community. Quimby says CTAP frequently partners with Robinson to publicize development in the District and encourage participation.

“It’s important not just for students to know what’s going on, but to be involved and to be active in helping to assist others who are trying to shape that development. To help minimize the negative effects of gentrification…”

CTAP’s most public project is the “Lift Every Voice: Georgia Ave./Pleasant Plains Heritage Trail.” It conducted critical research for these 19 poster size signs that provide a two-hour self-guided tour between the Shaw-Howard Metro and the Petworth Metro Stops. It’s projects like these that make CTAP a vital tool to be used not to necessarily fight gentrification, but soften the blow to the current residents of the community, Quimby said.

“…Development that maintains the positives of people’s culture, people’s heritage, people’s history, and people’s housing and so on prior to the new developers and new folks coming in.”

While Robinson values the input of CTAP and its students, she wants greater representation from the general student body, including professors and faculty.
“This is their community too, we want residents to be involved. They need to be connected,” Robinson emphasizes as she pleas for university input.

The Community Development task force meets every second Monday and 4th Wednesday of the month from 7-9 p.m. Robinson says the meeting usually includes about 25 people including a mix of business leaders, small business owners, and local residents. For more information about the development on Georgia Ave. or the Georgia Avenue Community Development Board, email: GA_Ave-Community_Development@yahoogroups.com.

 

Shannon McCaffrey

Associated Press