Visiting Professor, University of Georgia
Pulitzer Prize for Commentary – 2007
This book tells the remarkable story of how tireless individuals and whole communities came together to revitalize the urban core of America’s capital, Washington, D.C. —left for dead after the riots of 1968. It wasn’t a miraculous transformation that just happened; it was the result of decades of work by visionary advocates, community leaders, politicians and business executives who understood that the neighborhoods’ greatest strength was the people who lived in them. “Becoming What We Can Be” is a must-read for anyone who cares about strong, vibrant cities.
Clarence Page, Pulitzer Prize-winning (1989) syndicated columnist for the Chicago Tribune
Yes, there is some good news to report in Washington. One of the most under-reported stories in the nation’s capital city is the block-by-block revival of its neighborhoods in recent decades. Much of that success has come because LISC helped to develop productive partnerships between community leaders and the business, government and foundation sectors. Becoming What We Can Be explains how it happened in a way that offers new hope for our cities and a valuable how-to book for developing local leaders and giving old neighborhoods a new life.
Jonathan O’Connell of The Washington Post
The District was coming off a decade in which it had lost more than 100,000 residents.
Marion Barry was in his first term as mayor and a number of city agencies were on a path of trouble that would land them under the control of the federal government.
Main commercial corridors remained hollowed out from the riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. 14 years prior.
Needless to say, the city’s neighborhoods — many suffering from drug-related crime and lack of city investment — were not considered a prime investment opportunity to banks and real estate developers.
Thirty years later things could not be more different in the District and one of the groups that played a big role in the turnaround, the D.C. office of Local Initiatives Support Corporation, is taking a look back.”
Alexander von Hoffman of Harvard University
For anyone interested in nonprofit community development, and especially its history, Tony Proscio’s Becoming What We Can Be is a treasure. It provides the untold story of the comeback of Washington’s neighborhoods — such as Columbia Heights, Marshall Heights, H Street, and the Parklands — that in the 1980s many thought were beyond redemption. Proscio also draws individual portraits of the unknown heroes of this surprising movement to save the District. He does not shy from describing the challenges and setbacks to community development, including the devastating 2002 Washington Post article that exposed the waste in the local system without acknowledging the substantial achievements. Anyone who wants to know more about the recent history of the nation’s capital and the remarkable people who cultivated attractive new stores, schools, and low-income housing in its once depressed neighborhoods should read Proscio’s book.
Robert Pohl of The Hill is Home
Lost Capitol Hill: The Hechinger Mall
“I have, obviously, mentioned only at one small part of Proscio’s book. In other chapters, he looks at other neighborhoods and projects, and the people and groups that did the work there. I was particularly fascinated by the story of Shaw’s Whitelaw Hotel, D.C.’s first luxury hotel for African Americans. It went into decline after desegregation, and finally was closed in 1977, before reopening as condos in 1992. Much as in the case of the Hechinger Mall, the renewal was driven by people who had a vision for the future, and were willing to try new and different ways to make it work; and with that, give a path forward for other projects still to be tackled.
If you’re interested in the subject of urban renewal, and the changes that D.C. has seen in the last 50 years, I can highly recommend this book.”
Elizabeth Falcon of Greater Greater Washington
“The book then goes on to chronicle the magnificent turn-around of first the Parklands, then the neighborhood as a whole. […] This large-scale redevelopment was made possible because of the commitment of the private, nonprofit, and government sectors. It was the ability to leverage investment in a multitude of ways that made redevelopment of the Parklands inclusive for all levels of income. The redevelopment of St. Elizabeth’s and Walter Reed should look to emulate this model.
For more stories of community redevelopment in Washington, including Columbia Heights, Edgewood Terrace and H St, check out Becoming What We Can Be: Stories of Community Development in Washington, DC by Tony Proscio.”