Is Washington D.C. The New Brooklyn?

This picture never gets old.

  • This picture never gets old.

No, probably not. In spite the Times‘ recent reports of of burgers topped with “applewood bacon and Roquefort cheese,” and turkey burgers made from meat that is “free range, of course” — and in spite of its new status as “a mecca for young professionals” — D.C. still has a long way to go before people will earnestly think of it as in any way a desirable hipster destination. Well, people other than Forbes, who notably included H Street list of “20 Best Hipster Neighborhoods” this past fall.

But is it, at least, getting kind of, sort of cool? Slowly losing its reputation as a place where even young people lucky enough to have job offers are often scared to move because there will be nothing fun to do there, ever? No longer the urban nightlife equivalent of your dad trying out a snazzy new hat? Perhaps. And this, the Times explains, is largely due to the social influence of hipster-in-chief Barack Obama.

Which makes a certain degree of sense. Presidents do tend to shape the social life of the city during their time in office (arguably a big factor in its perennial square-dom), and given Bill Clinton’s “love of jazz and late-night pizza policy sessions” and George W. Bush’s penchant for country music on the South lawn, Obama’s maybe not competing with a lot in the hip department.

But how, then, did he bring about what the Times calls a “population boom and heightened hipness quotient” (and what other people call an influx that is systematically raising rents and driving out the city’s African-American population)? Was it by “listening to Nicki Minaji on his iPod” or recently affirming via press conference that he “like[s] a good party?” No, it was just becuase his administraiton hired a ton of young people. 61% of D.C.’s 22 to 34-year-olds now work for the federal government, and as such, have created a higher demand for reasonably interesting restaurants and bars.

Which is a very good thing! Young people need jobs, I hear. But employed, beer-drinking, food-eating youths do not necessarily a hip city make. After all, this is a city where (I’m pretty sure) cameras watch you everywhere you go! And even a young Chicago native the Times spoke with “was not convinced that the city is truly hip.” Chicago! If those people don’t think you’re cool, well, I don’t know what to tell you. Granted, D.C. does have cell phone reception in the subway and a large portion of the world’s great art, both of which are actually great. But nonetheless, perceived coolness typically (or ideally) focuses on the creation of something culturally new, or the existence of any factor other than professional obligation that might draw new residents to the city. If we’re being fair, though, the Times maybe isn’t totally off-base here. Things in D.C. are undoubtedly much cooler than they would have been if, say, an aging Mormon and a PX90 freak had moved in to town. Plus, those burgers do sound pretty good.

Follow Virginia K. Smith on Twitter @vksmith.

8 COMMENTS

  1. DC is way to much of a conservative corporate-y area to be saying it is the new Brooklyn. Majority of the population still look like their Mom’s dress them. Their interests in fun are just overpriced suburban chain-style establishments. Its the reason I left that area and moved to Brooklyn. I totally agree with “employed, beer-drinking, food-eating youths do not necessarily a hip city make”.

  2. The issues I have with this article are huge. I am pretty sure you have never been to DC, and instead you wrote this article from with little knowledge and even less research (need I say that one phone call to someone from Chicago doesn’t count?). It’s called the metro, not the subway- pretty much nowhere outside of NYC calls it the subway. You don’t get service while on the train. And it’s called P90X, but PX90. Please, when insulting anyone, even if it’s Mitt Romney, do a google search before you throw down your zing. I won’t even get into the meat of this article, the point of which is… I’m not totally sure. That’s how lackluster it is. The reality is a DC is a fascinating city with so much history, culture, and fun to offer. But don’t worry about coming down here…I’m sure Brooklyn has all the pretension and misinformation you need.

  3. “But nonetheless, perceived coolness typically (or ideally) focuses on the creation of something culturally new, or the existence of any factor other than professional obligation that might draw new residents to the city.”

    Contrary to popular belief, DC has a great music and art scene. In addition to that, it’s a hotbed of tech and policy innovation — various internet start-ups are based there, and there are quite a few pilot programs (bikeshare, to name one). There’s a lot of creativity down there; you just can’t put it all on your walls or your iPod.

    I’d say a trip down I-95 might be worth your while — though you might have to deign to talk to residents to find all the cool stuff DC has to offer.

  4. The author appreciates the abundance of dog bakeries and grittiness as an urban pioneer in Bushwick so much that she decided to pick up a newspaper to see how awful everywhere else is. Later, she learns that the white people from the suburbs who moved to Brooklyn are edgier and less employable than the white people from the suburbs who moved to DC. Amazed at this original and creative line of thought, she earnestly pens a hit-piece on the city to the south.

    New Yorker, here we come.

  5. You *can* get cell service on the Metro underground…only if you have Verizon Wireless as a carrier. I know; I took advantage of that when I worked in downtown DC and rode the Metro for three years. (I also discovered two dead spots underground while riding on the Red line.)

    My understanding is cell service for other carriers has been expanded only within certain stations on Metro(rail) like Metro Center, which is a main transfer point.

    I lived in the area from 2002 to 2005 and I watched other DC neighborhoods gentrify-Chinatown (which increasingly only seems to be “Chinatown” in name only), Columbia Heights, the eastern edges of Capitol Hill, and U Street (which yuppies tended to stay away from like yuppies here previously stayed away from Fulton Mall).

    While I don’t think that “DC is way to much of a…corporate-y area to be saying it is the new Brooklyn”, there are more people who are conservative. It just has a vibe that is so completely different, it cannot be the new Brooklyn…just like Philly isn’t the new Brooklyn.

  6. DC will never be like Brooklyn. DC can’t never be Brooklyn. The comparison (without having read the Times piece) is simply like comparing Apple and Oranges. I have live in DC for the last 12 years, I came here right out of college and I can tell you the city has change drastically. I don’t think that has to do with Obama, the changes were taking place way before he took office. DC is far from a being corporate or even conservative city. The great majority of people who live here are very liberal. Instead of writing about DC – I invite the writer to come visit. In fact, I’ll even offer to cover all the cost of a weekend trip here.

    Come take a look (free) for yourself! I will beat your impression after a weekend will be different.

  7. “I don’t think that has to do with Obama, the changes were taking place way before he took office.”
    Agreed. I know that a lot of progress was made while Anthony Williams was the mayor of DC. He was mayor while I was in the region; W. was president (and was re-elected!) at the time.

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