Planning around Queer Time: The District of Columbia’s African American Heritage Trails and the Maturation of Black Urbanity

Sunday, January 4, 2015: 9:40 AM
Midtown Suite (New York Hilton)
Kwame Holmes, University of Colorado Boulder
In 1996, the D.C. Humanities Council, Washington Historical Society and the D.C. Preservation Office joined forces with over 15 preservationist groups to promote “the city beyond the monuments” by marking cultural heritage trails that would attract tourists from downtown into the neighborhoods. This essay argues that heritage tourism work to redeem the post-Reagan framing of black urban life as “irresponsible” and “immature” by emphasizing a narrative of black Washington that not only point to histories of black normativity, on multiple scales, but which presents a narrative of a properly maturing black community. The City Within a City: U Street heritage trail avoids both black queer bodies and what I call queer eras; bringing travelers through Shaw’s “innocent” pre-1968 riot years with placards that combine images of functional black childhoods, marriage and responsible, reasonable civil rights struggle. The trail spatially elides edificial evidence of Shaw’s “shameful” adolescent flirtation with redistributionist development, keeping travelers away from the remnants of public housing constructed in the more radical 1970s; developments that now attract the ire and anxiety of newcomers. Ultimately, I argue, that the historiogrpahic investments on the heritage trail reveal the close relationship between the logics of postwar urban planning, in particular planners concerns with the “life cycle of the neighborhood” and anti-black narratives which marks urban black life as too queer for capital investment.
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