In 2024, the District of Columbia will celebrate 50 years of “home rule.” An Act in 1973 authorized  “Home Rule” to take effect in 1974. 

I promised my DC Cultural Narratives Working Group members I would rummage through my files and locate “the home rule themes” I never fully developed. I thought we could use them to create projects to commemorate DC’s 50th anniversary.  

What’s my overarching theme?  Home Rule & Who Shall Rule At Home

How we divide the spoils after attaining a “victory” is a recurring historical theme. So I had intended to apply this theme to the District’s Home Rule History. But unfortunately, I never got around to developing it.

Below are some notes and musings from my files. Instead of remembering what I had in mind, I’m using this outline to “crowd-source” some thinking around the last and next 50 years.

Help me modify and flesh out my outline. What questions would you like to pose? What would you add? Subtract? How would you frame the issues? Undertake a study?

I look forward to getting your ideas, whatever they are.

What say you?

Who Gets To Govern At Home?

Topics include political transformations and changing forms of governance. Related to these transformations have been accompanying narratives like emancipation, home rule, and statehood. The first mayoral campaign between Walter Washington (long-time Washingtonian) and Marion Barry (newcomer) set the stage for this. In addition to an internal struggle, there was the continuing struggle between congressional oversight and local autonomy, and the ever-present business community concerns.


Who Gets To Live At Home?

Like the governance struggle, the forces driving who gets to live in DC started long-before Home Rule. Several concepts summarized what was happening: slum removal, public urban renewal, private urban renewal, community development, model cities, displacement, neighborhood revitalization, spatial de-concentration, gentrification, and white and Black suburbanization. Other driving forces included expanding the construction of federal office buildings and the urban development models adopted by local and national policymakers. The question of who gets to live at home is framed demographically by the rapid increase and decline in the District’s Black population. Another significant demographic driver up until the mid-1990s was the decline in population and the rise in the number of households, which meant that the average household size was falling. 

Who Gets To Work At Home?

Economists frequently characterize cities by their occupational structure – the commercial, industrial, service, and information city. Now we have characterizations like the creative and creator economy. However, by the time we get to Home Rule and given the District’s role as a governmental center, most of the jobs in the city have been held by people who live outside of it. Related to who gets to live and work at home are characteristics of the District as a central, global (world), and cosmopolitan city. Against these backgrounds, there’s been continuously strong job growth and high local unemployment, particularly among Blacks. Today, we have a driver, work-from-home.

Who Gets A Voice At Home?

Before Home Rule, citizen and civic associations were among many groups that had brought “power to the people.” The struggle for home rule began with the debates leading up to the creation of the District of Columbia in 1790. There’s been an ongoing tension between national and neighborhood interests. The District has a rich history of political and social groups (white and Black pushing for reforms in schools, housing, public utilities, and transportation, for example. One addition to these groups in 1974 was Advisory Neighborhood Commissions. 

Who Gets To Gain Economically At Home?

Unfortunately, the income-wealth racial disparities present at Home Rule have continued for the last 50 years and, according to some measures, that gap has increased. There are poles of poverty and wealth in the city. Economic revitalization without displacement remains elusive. We’ve been unable to dismantle the institutional racial structures that have been a part of our national and local history. 

Who Gets To Thrive At Home?

In a course I taught on the city, I challenged the students to define a “successful city.”  As a result, we viewed a  thriving city as a city without crisis. For us, a city (or, for that matter, any political jurisdiction) was an organizing device. It organized all economic, social, cultural, and political activities. Thus, a successful city (or suburb or metropolitan region) is a political organization providing economic opportunity. It enhances social mobility and generates sufficient public revenues to provide for its residents’ individual and collective consumption needs. It manages without undue conflict the interaction of diverse groups and maintains a political structure that accommodates competing claims and interests, and for which is their widespread support.  In other words, a successful city determines who gets to thrive at home.