Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Little D.C. Rant

I was down in Washington, D.C. for a party this weekend. It's a fine city. I lived there for some time before moving to Philadelphia ten years ago. Some things have changed: It's unbelievably clean. Some things haven't: It's unbelievably arrogant.

Everyone knows the D.C. pick-up line, "So where do you work?" It never bothered me when I lived there and still, I find it just moderately irritating. It's a conversation starter. What does annoy me are the comments like those regarding Philadelphia that I was fed throughout the night.

"Philadelphia is a nice, little town," "It reminds me of Baltimore," and "I was really surprised how desolate it was downtown."

There's a reason that many from New York comment on how much Philadelphia reminds them of New York City, and those from D.C. claim Baltimore: New Yorkers have bothered to visit, Washingtonians have only seen Philadelphia from their Amtrak ride north. And not only is our downtown populous, it's the third most populous "downtown" in the nation. If anyone is referring to a desolate downtown, they're referring to West Market Street or JFK on a weekend. Do Washingtonians think D.C.'s "downtown" is in Adams Morgan or Georgetown? D.C. has a very literal downtown and it's completely devoid of life after 5PM.

Despite their ignorance, I was once one of them. I was a young, hot 25 year old. I was also a young, stupid 25 year old. I'd even made comments in the past about the city that I'd one day call home. When others were moving to Philadelphia I'd ask in disgust, "Why would you move there?" Of course I knew better. I had been here many times and loved Philadelphia, but ego feeds ego, and Washington has the ultimate Napoleon complex.

It's bland, corporate, and a one trick poney. The monumental edifices surrounding the National Mall are grand and somewhat humbling, but much of what its skyline imposes are historical interpretations of European architecture. Its history is bold but unoriginal. What history it once had has been replaced with midcentury low rise corporate architecture that seems more appropriate in King of Prussia than Connecticut Avenue. The largest of its corporate buildings look like skyscraper podiums you'd find in New York or Chicago, dated from the 80s and unimpressive, these structures lack towers like Liberty Place that keep the dated design relevant.

D.C. however is much more than its architecture, and its residents ruthlessly know this. It is, in some respects, the most powerful city in the world. It doesn't have to be authentic or unique to impress. But even that impression is misguided, as faux as the grandiose mansions lining Embassy Row. New York City may not hold the literal seat of national power or global politics, but as the world's financial power, it owns Washington and everyone in it.

After nearly rear ending a license plate that read, "TAXATION WITHOUT REPRESENATION" I even started thinking about the D.C. statehood cause I was once so passionately in favor of, and how blindly two sided the debate has become. It's an effort that speaks volumes about how sheltered those are inside the Beltway, and how little those running the rest of the nation really know about the rest of the nation.

While it's true that Washington's 600,000 taxpaying residents deserve a voting presence in the House and Senate, many in favor of statehood haven't truly considered what that means. Washington is a Federal District, which means much of the city is maintained and funded by the Federal Reserve. States like Pennsylvania and Illinois use the House and Senate to bicker over which city deserves funding for things like transportation and education. While D.C. doesn't have a voting presence in that fight, the Federal Government takes care of its home.

If Washington, D.C. were in fact a state, the Metro would not exist as we know it. The "state" would have one Congressperson and one Senator fighting on the same floor for Federal funds with states like California and Texas, states comprised of multiple major metropolitan areas. As a state, D.C. would be devoid of any revenue but that which it provided by itself and what it could lobby for from the Federal Reserve. Philadelphia and Chicago receive funds generated by Pennsylvania and Illinois. Washington, D.C., as a state, would have no such support.

It would need to prove its position legislatively rather than resigning to accept the funds that Federal Reserve sets aside to maintain a city technically governed by the whole of the nation, not itself. If Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.'s non-voting Congressional Representative, had to go head to head with Rep. Maxine Waters or Rep. Chuck Schumer to prove the District of Columbia needed Federal Transportation Funds towards a new Metro station, she probably wouldn't get it.

Perhaps D.C. does need statehood, if only to show those governing the nation from inside the Beltway how the nation's more authentic cities operate, and the struggles we're faced with. Nothing fades an unwarranted ego like a tough gut check.

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