Let DC Be DC

You Can Take Manhattan; I’ll Take The District

It’s pretty much a certainty here that whenever we post something that questions a new development proposal – any new development proposal – for our little neighborhood, some one will respond by saying “I can’t wait for DC to become more like New York City!” If not those exact words, then something darn close.

Best. Museum Display. Ever.

It’s always puzzled us a bit, this adoration of Manhattan. We say this having been a resident of both cities: then, Second and A in the area they used to call Alphabet City, and now 13 and U in the hood they called “Black Broadway.” Manhattan was good to us, but DC has been even better. That’s why we chose to live here. DC is its own place, with its own style, pace and culture. If someone really yearns to live in Manhattan, it would seem the easiest thing to do would be…to move to Manhattan. Rather than trying to convert a totally different place into their foreign ideal.

Now comes a new study from Economist Intelligence Unit – whoever they are – that ranks the world’s most (and least) livable cities. The top U.S. city comes in at 14, behind such places as Amsterdam, Stockholm and Paris. And guess which one it is? Yeah, that’s us. As a friend would say, “Now we know who’s really hood!”

DC ranks higher than Chicago, San Francisco and New York on such measures as scale, sprawl, assets, pollution, green space and a host of others. (We even surpass such utopia as Seattle and – gasp! – Portland.) Yes, traffic in Northern Virginia on the weekend is worse than kidney stones, and yes, we have a regional tendency to fall flat on our face at the first snowflake, temblor or bolt of lightning. We’re comically self-important when it comes to all politics except local issues, which get pathetically limited coverage save for independent publications like the CityPaper or neighborhood blogs, like the excellent Borderstan. There’s still far, far too little accountability from the City Council straight down to the ANCs…or especially at the ANCs.

But all in all, this is a city we like. It’s a city that works at the scale it’s at. It’s not a place that needs 100 new high-rise apartments, because it would no longer be DC anymore. Development can be good, as we’ve consistently pointed out with any number of projects in the U Street area. But it can also be bad, and lead to even worse consequences.

The point is: next time you find yourself wanting to tell us how much you can’t wait for DC to become more like Manhattan with 24-hour dog washing and a dry cleaner on every corner, pause a moment to consider what makes DC so valuable as it is. And if you don’t agree, we would respectfully encourage you to follow your dreams, and live in the city you truly want to be in.




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6 responses to “Let DC Be DC

  1. Well said. I’ve also lived in NYC. Amazing city, but I prefer DC, too.

  2. Arch-Critic

    In that farce of an ANC1B meeting last night, know-nothing (or know very little) Chairperson, Myla Moss, tried to make the argument that DC was becoming like NYC. She was long on opinion and conjecture, but very short on facts as she smeared around some paint-by-numbers anecdotes to support her vote in support of JBG’s behemoth @ 13 and U. If nothing else, ANC meetings make for good theater; that is, if you like Theater of the Absurd.

    • Pat

      My impression of Myla Moss is that she actually listens to the majority of her constituents. I have been very impressed. Is “little accountability” at the ANC level Doug-speak for “the ANC doesn’t agree with me?”

      • Doug

        no, Pat. notice I didn’t say anything against Ms. Moss .. That was a resident. However, it’s undeniable our ANC is a mess, notable for a near complete lack of organization and, yes, accountability. How much money do they have? Do they spend? On what? Where does the community have input, certainly not at public meetings when debate is sealed down. I’m glad you find the ANC and its chair helpful and responsive, just realize that many others don’t.

  3. Logan Res

    Doug, You and I usually differ a lot on opinions but my comment isn’t to point out any of that today. I would say that DC is more similar to Paris or Barcelona rather than NY. Our street grid with the circles and open squares and tons of green space. Both Paris and Barcelona have height restrictions but are much denser than DC. Their density is what brings the great shopping and all their great little cafes. Both cities are mostly historic but where they do build new projects, they build them very modern which is what I wish we could do better here. Nobody wants to see a gigantic building plopped in on a block of beautiful small rowhomes but on large streets such as 14th and U eight levels is not that outrageous. Both streets are major transit corridors and are slated for future street cars. Getting more density into our hood will get us better retail options and hopefully less of the bars and large restaurants. More residents equals more voices to demand these services or less of the undesirable services. You have a great passion for the neighborhood but I wish you could channel that into working with the developers to get us some neighborhood amenities and some responsiveness from them to create better retails options such as small spaces that will cater better to small establishments rather than the large scale restaurants that keep coming. Change can sometimes be good.

    • Doug

      Yes, LoganRes, change can be good. We’re blue in the face repeating how much we like some of the change in the neighborhood – and how some of that involves – gasp! – new buildings. It’s a question of proportion. Proportionally there are too many bars and restaurants packed into our area, pushing up rents and pushing out more local enterprises. Take a wander in Pittsburgh’s hot hoods – not a chain to be found, and nothing over 5 floors.
      The point is that every city has its own flavor, and it should be respected. We simply disagree that the 9-floor JBG project at 13 and U respects the neighborhood and needs to be that tall.
      Oh by the way, the City Council has nixed U Street rail, so that’s gone before it was born.

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