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Life in Washington, DC


Washington DC has been my primary residence since September 1973 when my wife Alaire and I moved here from Indonesia with our one-year-old son Marc. We expected to stay only a year or two in DC and then move to Massachusetts or New York where Alaire could practice law having passed the Bar exams in both states. The idea was to buy a fixer-up house instead of renting, and come out ahead by doing much of the fixing up ourselves. We settled on a 4-story Victorian Row House in the Dupont Circle neighborhood. It was a stretch on my salary, at $58,500. And it was a “shell”. It was a Rooming House when we bought it and it needed completely new plumbing, electricity, and heating/cooling before we could get a proper bank mortgage. Our roots in the city went fast and deep. In 1975, I moved from USAID to the US Treasury Department. In 1976 our second son John was born. In 1977, Alaire was elected to a 4-year term on the DC Board of Education. I’m still living in the same neighborhood, but now in a newly renovated 2-bedroom apartment. Here is my quick take on how life in our nation’s capital has evolved over the past 49 years: --Demographically, massive gentrification. The Dupont Circle neighborhood in 1973 was just emerging from 3-4 decades of decline as wealthy families moved to the suburbs where they could have garages for their new cars. When Marc entered kindergarten at our neighborhood elementary school, there was only one other Caucasian kid in his class of about 25 students. --Until recently, the counties around DC in Maryland and Virginia grew more rapidly than DC did, especially the suburbs in Northern Virginia led by a tech-oriented business community around Dulles Airport. A good measure is the expansion of I-66, which was under construction from the Beltway across the Potomac River into DC in 1973. Beyond the Beltway, it was two lanes in each direction and then four lanes. Now they are almost finished adding two more toll lanes in each direction. --Between 1973 and the mid-1990s, new commercial and residential construction in DC proceeded at a slow pace, despite the expansion of the Metro system that opened within a year of our arrival. Then DC started to explode. Fire-bombed 14th Street NW was one of the first new hot neighborhoods. High-rise luxury condo apartment buildings were erected along Massachusetts Avenue between 7th Street NW and Union Station, and now they are expanding behind the station into a neighborhood of warehouses. More condos emerged like mushrooms around the new Washington Nationals baseball stadium. The latest hot neighborhood is the Southwest Waterfront, about ten blocks West of the stadium. --The sad part is that DC has become an expensive city to live in, partly because the public high schools are far from achieving the academic standards of the many private schools that only high-income parents can afford for their children. For us, it was a great city for raising two boys (who started in public schools but graduated from a private day school). But the city no longer has a majority Black population, which means it has lost a lot of its soul. Politically, the city is held hostage by the Congress because none of the efforts to gain Statehood over the past century have been successful. --I expect DC will always be an attractive city because of the Smithsonian Institution and its family of outstanding museums. People for the foreseeable future will be attracted to the White House, the Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, etc. It will remain a very livable city, in my opinion, because of the limit on building heights: roughly 13 stories. There are no “dehumanizing” skyscrapers in DC. DC really should become the 51st state, and not just because I was a member of the DC Statehood Commission for a few years.

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