Who's Your City?, by Richard Florida
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Washington, D.C.

Like many who graduated from my college, I got a job in Washington, D.C. I moved here 4 years ago and the difference between where I live now and where I am originally from, a rural-suburban area, is staggering. There are a lot of both good and bad things about living here, and whether you like it here or not depends on what is important to you as a person. I will start with the good things. First, there are a lot of stable jobs here. As the seat of the federal government, DC may lead the country in job stability. In addition, many people work for contractors who pay more, but while any given job is unstable, the contract is likely to stay in the DC area, and many contractors migrate from company to company to follow the contract.

The DC metro area has 3 airports, including 1 major international airport, making it easy to get anywhere in the US, Europe or certain other parts of the world. Another plus is the high average salary and education levels. Arlington, which belonged to DC proper until 1846, has the highest rate of people with graduate degrees in the US. There’s also a lot to do here with the monuments, museums, sports teams and restaurants, plus there’s a lot of free stuff to do. There is a thriving night life and the city is rich in international culture.

However, there are quite a few negatives to living in the DC area. The traffic is the second worst in the US. Public transportation is inadequate, as are the number of good roads leading into downtown DC from Maryland. The majority of the city itself has a crime problem and appears run down. There is a very high cost of living. Many people deal with this by buying houses 15-50 miles outside the city and commuting (which can mean 5 hour commutes round trip). The city is very political, which extends to almost every aspect of life. I do not find people here particularly friendly; they seem to be rather cliquish. The nightlife is pervasive, leaving young adults not into that scene to feel like outcasts. Everybody seems busy all the time, and everything is always rush rush rush.

Also, despite what certain magazines may say, DC is a bad city for singles. It is difficult to form a meaningful bond or connection with people, possibly due to the high stress/rush/cliquish mentality, so that people can’t spend true quality time with each other. Some of these factors tend to affect other areas of life. The DC area has a lot of workaholics. With the emphasis on work, there are many 2 income households. The problem this creates is that the average household income is high, which drives up the cost of living, and singles often can’t compete. On a recent search, I found that houses in a safe neighborhood started at 100,000, an amount too high for most singles to pay. Since it is a bad place for singles, one can not expect to meet and marry someone anytime soon to help with mortgage payments. This is why people tend to live in far off suburbs or even exurbs.

I recently polled the people in my office on living situations and found everyone fit into one of two groups: young people who had roommates who rented and lived close to the city, and middle aged/older people who had houses, but who lived at least 15 miles away from downtown, giving them a bad commute. This was not a choice, it was mandated by cost of housing. Overall, I would say that DC is a good place for Type A, driven, career oriented people. However, if your focus is on your family, it’s probably not the best place.

Sent by Mark from Washington, D.C.

9 Responses to “Washington, D.C.”

  1. Libby Says:

    I have to say that I agree with almost everything you’ve said in your post. I think you’ve been very fair about the pros and cons of the city and anyone thinking about making D.C. home would be wise to take your thoughts into consideration.

    I too moved to D.C. from a rural area for grad school and was stunned by how different life is here. Almost 10 years later, I’m still here… and that’s mostly because I met my husband. (Though until I met him I was right with you on the “D.C. stinks for singles” wavelength.)

    We live in the outskirts of MD now – one of those couples who are pre-kids, who want a house, but can only afford it outside of the city. This is more than OK with me. I avoid D.C. and the metro like the plague. I prefer a quiet neighborhood to downtown any day, particularly for traffic reasons. I’m lucky enough to work from home so in the past few years I’ve thankfully avoided the headache of 66, 495, and 270.

    D.C. can be a creative city but the available jobs for creatives aren’t particularly plentiful. While I love our home, I would not be sad to leave this area for something more rural, slower, more friendly (I totally agree with you on the unfriendliness of people). As long as there’s a bookstore within a 10-mile radius, I’ll be happy.

    Good luck to you.

  2. Jennifer Says:

    I think your assessment of D.C. is dead on. I’m from a smaller town suburb and after 10+ years here I still haven’t managed to adjust and embrace the area. I dream of leaving, daily.
    I have one of the “stable jobs” and as a result am chained by the “golden handcuffs”. At this point I have lived in suburb/city approx. 30miles outside of D.C. and currently, closer in with great metro access but still outside the city limits. I hate it and don’t recommend it if you like any kind of greenery or space to breathe. Its crowded and like both of you said, people come off as unfriendly. I think y’all have it right though, most people aren’t truly unfriendly just incredibly busy. It helps to remind myself of that daily. The combination of traffic and workaholic atmosphere brings out our Survival of the Fittest and Carpe Diem attitudes in the worst ways. I’m still amazed that one can live in middle of so many people from so many places and not be able to meet people you can truly connect with. Happy Hour just doesn’t cut it.

  3. Mark Says:

    Sorry, I meant to say that safe housing starts at $450,000, not at $100,000. Also, Jennifer brings up a good point. It is very crowded here and as soon as I step outside my building, I feel like 99% of the time I am either in someone’s way or someone is in my way. There is a lack of greenery, or at least green that you can appreciate. For example, driving along 495 you can see a lot of trees on either side of the road, enough to possibly make you forget you are in a major metropolitan area. However, what you dont see is that there are only enough trees to make you think that and that if you were to try and take a walk through those woods, you wouldnt be able to do so, either due to inaccessibility or their small size. To me, this epitomizes much of DC culture – it puts up a pleasant facade, but the reality is quite different.

  4. scott Says:

    The crime problems and run down buildings you’re referring to, it is my guess, you would say about most big cities. DC is a large American city that is generally much better off than others. Our crime rates don’t even break into the top 10 for big cities (in every category) and yet, there will always be suburban and rural folks who only see it through their car windows because they’re afraid of it.

  5. Curt Canada Says:

    Washington DC like most other large cities has its share of problems but it is also rich in cultures native and international. I agree that some of the neighborhoods may not reflect the safe neighborhood that you came from but how will you know if only you only read about it in the news or from one of your friends. I spent almost 30 years living in Tenlytown, Friendship Heights, and Glover Park saying the same things about Washington dc, its crime and underdeveloped areas. I thank my wife for getting me out of those neat, safe-like areas into a home with parking,a front porch, huge back yard, and yes,real neighbors who are more likely to share their yogurt, yoga, Whole Foods, and social and political wit. We repaired our house in, yes, Northeast DC where thier are folks doing the leg work to bring about a city that’s livable for all. Be a part of the change my friend, be a part of the solution, and don’t get left behind. Washington DC is more about what you want this place to be for you! Mark , Welcome Home!

    Mr. Canada

    Graduate – The American University
    The University of Iowa

  6. Norman Says:

    While the D.C. area does have horrible traffic, it still has the second largest rail system in the country that provides a clean and safe way to get around (even if it can be overcrowded and late at times). I personally find the number of streams valleys (Rock Creek Park for instance which goes 16 miles into the Maryland suburbs to its mouth on the Potomac near the infamous Watergate hotel). Also a number of old railway rights of ways that have been converted to parkland to be great recreational areas with many biking and hiking opportunities where you can go for miles (they don’t all link up particularly in the Maryland suburbs which is a problem).

    I do have to agree that it can sometimes be very hard to get to know your neighbors but once you do you can find yourself having a curry Thanksgiving dinner at the home of Goan-American neighbors or empanadas for Christmas at the home of a Panamanian-Chinese-American and her Vietnamese-American husband, in the some of the surprising diverse suburbs. You can meet people through houses of worship (as my parents did) and volunteer organizations. Also as a first generation native of the area I would suggest that those of us who were born here are a little more laid back than the type-A’s that are drawn by all the high profile jobs.

    In sort there are just a few places that I would ever think of living other than the D.C. area.

    Hope everyone enjoys their stay!


  7. Doug Says:

    The original post and comments come from people who live in the suburbs and yearn for a far more all American lifestyle than DC can offer.

    The fact that they avoid the Metro, one of the best mass transit systems in the world, like the plague, speaks volumes.

    Be wary their opinions. They belong not in a big city.

  8. Erik Says:

    After reading the first 7 comments, I do have to agree that Doug is probably right, that the original commenter isn’t the “city” type. I would say though that DC proper (not the suburbs) is definitely more laid-back than a place like NY City. And for good reason. The planned nature of it (going back to Pierre L’Enfant’s design) does provide for some of the spread of buildings and large parks that give it this characteristic. I feel like there are upsides and downsides to this though, because a lot of the streets mainly right downtown are like interstate highways (penn ave, some of the numbered streets heading into the burbs and a lot of the street-named streets that go diagonal throughout the grid) with super-wide lanes that only encourage traffic.

    I agree about the people culture of DC. It’s a transition city, mainly for young professionals looking to get their foot in the door somewhere after recently graduating college and then it’s unlikely they will stay long there. I have relocated here about 2 years ago now, but having been familiar enough with the area by growing up in Sterling, VA – an exurb of DC. I agree the people are generally unfriendly on the street. They are the working-stiff types, power-suit, talking on the cell-phone types that litter the downtown streets during the day. The city has a VERY calm feel after 5pm and on into the night though. The entire downtown empties because most people just work there and commute to the suburbs to go home. For the ones who hang around, they stuff the bars for happy hour every night of the week. I lived on Mass Ave very near the capitol for a year and couldn’t get over how dead the place was on the weekend. Sure there are spots of activity, like Chinatown and the Mall and others, but for the most part where the large apartment/condo highrises are on the east end (which is a somewhat new development) it was amazingly quiet and not busy in the evenings and on weekends.

    I live now in Takoma, right on the edge of DC and MD about a 15-min metro ride to downtown and I love it. Takoma Park is a very progressive area with a local mom-and-pop oriented downtown and also an old railroad suburb from the turn of the century, so many historic houses. There are pocket communities in DC that have long-time residents, but for the most part on any given day, the people downtown are mainly the worker bees who are in transition.

  9. richard Says:

    Lived here for 30 years after living in a few small Midwestern cities. I love it here. I have friends from every corner of the globe. It’s very progressive/liberal and gay-friendly, highly educated, lots to do, close to the mountains/ocean/bay, good arts and music scene, good public transportation. great universities and hospitals, and for the most part, decent public officials. I grew up in a very conservative state where anyone with an original thought was considered dangerous. Why wouldn’t I like this area?

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