Investigating Where We Live: Change in Focus

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Teens reflect during 20th Anniversary of Investigating Where We Live. Photo by Museum Staff.

Launched in 1996, Investigating Where We Live brings together teens from across the D.C. area to learn about urban design in a five-week program. Participants go beyond the classroom walls to connect with the people and history of the District, collecting their views of the city and its changes. As the program culminates, the teens create an exhibition in the Museum, showcasing their findings through their stories and photos. This unique format has led to recognition—the program received the National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities, and the Excellence in Programming Award from the American Alliance of Museums. 

Investigating Where We Live continues to challenge teens to think critically about the places they explore. In the latest installment, participants discovered how D.C. has changed during the last decade by looking more closely at six neighborhoods along the Anacostia River. The exhibition, Change in Focus, captures the teens’ reflections and understanding of who and what influences a city’s evolution. Using photography, writing, and interviews, they traced neighborhood transformations along the Anacostia River. After talking to residents, developers, and government officials to better understand who influences a city’s evolution, the teens reflected on how Washington has changed both to the world and in their own understanding.

We talked to five teens from Investigating Where We Live and asked how their own perceptions of Washington, D.C. have changed since the program began in early July.


Shaniah T., Maryland, 1st year in program: 

“We learn to look beneath the surface, to actually dig into the culture. At first, I was skeptical going to a neighborhood I hear portrayed in a certain way on the news. You’ll hear about a shooting but not about the community living there. Investigating Where We Live not only changed my perspective of these neighborhoods but also on the people who live there.

Every group has the big idea of ‘change’ [in their exhibition]. For instance in Deanwood there’s only one grocery store, whereas you go to a more recently developed Navy Yard and there’s grocery stores everywhere.

We talked about the question ‘Is change always good?’ Sometimes you want a place to change, but other times with change you lose something. In Navy Yard the culture there five years ago is getting pushed out with new development.”

Michael E., Washington, D.C., 2nd year in program: 

“Every neighborhood has its own culture to it. In school you don’t learn about the cultures of D.C., whereas in Investigating Where We Live we learn how D.C. breaks down into specific neighborhoods. I really like that we get to make our own exhibition in the end. It’s not only about photography, but there’s a way to tell a story in a picture.”

Kwayera C., Maryland, 2nd year in program: 

“Being in Investigating Where We Live, I learned to be more aware of my surroundings and identify the changes in different D.C. neighborhoods. People like to stereotype a neighborhood without really understanding its history. In Investigating Where We Live we got to learn about the different communities first-hand by talking to people in them. We learned that change isn’t always visible.”

Amara M., Virginia, 3rd year in program: 

“I lived most of my life in the Virginian suburbs, so I like coming into D.C. and experiencing things I wouldn’t have experienced on my own. I think one of the best things about this program is you get to understand D.C. in a way most people living outside the city never see. Each neighborhood has a distinct and separate history. I didn’t know neighborhoods like Anacostia had so much history. There’s so much to learn about it.”

Terris J., Maryland, 1st year in program: 

“Going through this program I learned D.C. neighborhoods are closer than what I thought before. The people who live in these neighborhoods have a stronger connection to these places than I expected. I want to be a photojournalist someday, so this program was helpful in teaching me to take photos and tell a story.”