Wednesday, September 26, 2007

What City Do You People Live In?

I like dcblogs new little brain tickler at the top of the page each day. Nice addition!

So I’ll devote this posting to a response to DC’s not quite an urban paradise yet, but we’re getting there.

My response is to the original post(s) at American Prospect by Ezra Klein and the comments specific to DC.

My first response: what city do you people live in? Cause it ain’t MY city.

The amount of mis-information floating around in the original posts and the comments is astounding, such as:

"...a plurality of [DC's] population is well educated and in many ways upper middle class, while far more of its population is poor and not well educated..."


(First, I think the word “plurality” is misused: you’re either well educated, or you’re not.)

Some facts: DC Poverty Rate: 18.3%; Percentage of DC residents with a BA or higher: 39.1%
(From the U.S. Census) Please don’t comment that 18.3% is high. It is, but it is not a majority. And 39.1% is also high. Extremely.

DC has a bad rap as being a poor, crime-ridden place. There, of course, is a racial overtone to that bad rap, since DC is 57% black. But the statistics don’t back up the rap.

The black middle class in DC is HUGE, but they live in places few white people have ever heard of, because nothing ever happens there to make it onto the evening news and they don’t have any trendy night spots: Riggs Park, Michigan Park, Brightwood, Hillcrest, Fort Dupont, Fort Totten, etc. (Also in places you’ve heard of, like Capitol Hill and Anacostia and Bloomingdale and Ladroit Park and Shaw.) These people may or may not have college degrees (although many do), but they all have good, stable jobs (either blue or white collar), or own businesses. It’s true that some of these neighborhoods don’t have many “coffee shops,” but neither did McLean, Bethesda, Silver Spring, or Arlington until a decade ago.

The symbolic "coffee shop" comes down to culture: 20 years ago, a coffee shop was a diner. You went there for breakfast and a cup of coffee and sat at the counter. The United States has never had a tradition of cafes, or tea houses, or tea rooms, or hookah bars, or Hamams, or bath houses, or any other kind of "third place" (save neighborhood bars), except in ethnic enclaves, where people brought their old world traditions with them. (And by “old world”, I’m including Asia, the Middle East, and Africa: check out the coffee ceremony at Dukem some time.) To claim coffee shops are white is silly. They are a new phenomenon in most of the U.S., and are slowly spreading everywhere. At most, they are bell-weathers of new prosperity, which says little about race. By the way, Mocha Hut, Love Cafe, and Jolt-n-Bolt are all minority owned businesses. To add to the confusion, many of the new places on U Street (that cater to “Yuppies”) are owned by immigrants, minorities, or, brace yourself, partnerships consisting of whites and minorities together! How does this fit into the rich/poor/race/class/new-comer/old-resident/owner/renter/working class/yuppie calculus that so frustratingly dominates such discussions?

Ezra Klein seems to think that a city government conjures up things like coffee shops (and other amenities that make a city “livable”). While a city government can encourage local businesses in a variety of ways (something I think DC does a poor job of), the “free market” plays the largest role in how a city develops.

Moving on: the idea that DC doesn't have any University ties is also absurd. The city is full of Howard lawyers, doctors, and dentists who stuck around, as well as lawyers, doctors, and dentists (and every other profession you can name) from Georgetown, GW, American, CUA, Trinity, even UDC.

The assertion that DC doesn’t have bookstores or an arts culture is also ignorant. Within walking distance of my place, there are the following bookstores, some new, some old (you know, before all the hated yuppies moved in):
Red Onion Books, Second Story Books, Idle Time Books, Candidas, Books-a-Million, G Books, Kramer Books, Busboys and Poets, Lambda Rising, Howard University Bookstore, and I'm sure I'm forgetting some.

There is a large and dynamic arts scene is DC. It’s just that it’s filled with people who actually spend their time painting, writing, sculpting, acting, and dancing, and not a bunch of highly visible posers who hang out at cafes NOT painting, writing, sculpting, acting, or dancing, like in other cities. Because to be able to afford to live in this city, you better get off your ass and do some work. Here are some fine examples:

Washington Writer’s Publishing House
Capitol Hill Arts Workshop
Mid City Artists
Brett Busang
Anna Demovidova
Solas Nua
Lines and Stars
Burlesque Poetry Hour

And these are just the ones I know about.

Finally, I came to DC to go to grad school, and discovered that it is awesome, and so I found a job here so I could stay. It’s awesome because, unlike Portland and Seattle (overwhelmingly white, overwhelmingly boring, overwhelmingly easy to live in (or "livable")), DC is diverse and challenging and stimulating. You’ll find a lot of people like me in DC, at least the DC in which I live.

1 comment:

Mr T in DC said...

Yeah, I didn't even know where to begin with the Ezra Klein thing! Eesh.