Leah Brooks, GWU

The Long-Run Impact of the 1968 Washington, DC Civil Disturbance

with Jonathan Rose, Daniel Shoag, and Stan Veuger

Abstract: This paper studies the urban development impacts of the civil disturbances that took place in Washington, DC following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968. We collect novel archival data that allow us to compare lots destroyed during the disturbances to neighboring properties on the same block. Though these lots exhibit no ex ante differences, destruction in 1968 led to large and persistent disinvestment. Destroyed properties were more likely to remain empty for 30 years and remain 20 percent less capital dense today. This finding, which contrasts with rapid rebuilding that has occurred after urban destruction in other historic episodes, highlights the stigmatization that resulted and the challenges that city leaders faced in taking on the redevelopment effort themselves.

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