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Ten years ago, I enrolled in grad school and began to get to know my classmates. I befriended two transplants from elsewhere who were several years older than me. I confided to them that I hoped to leave the Deep South behind someday. With a knowing chuckle, they told me that blue states were very expensive. While I heard them, I admit that I didn’t fully understand until years later.

In accordance with my wishes, the chance to leave behind my native region eventually arrived and I took it. Since then, I know something of what it is like to have an immigrant experience. Though I’m happy being a Washingtonian, I find that I still identify with the Old Country and likely always will. I am far from alone, since fully 70% of the residents of the District of Columbia are from elsewhere. In the past six years, I’ve viewed a cross-section of the District's character and observed the particulars up close for myself.

A recent article in The Washington Post discusses the unanticipated downside of living in a boomtown. Entitled “Millennials consider leaving Washington as the city becomes more costly,” I find that the column needlessly overgeneralizes, beginning with its headline. While it is true that the cost of living has increased and some businesses are relocating elsewhere, not everyone is flying the coop en masse. Washington is a transient city by its very nature. Many land here for what seems like a fraction of a second, knowing from the outset that their time is limited.

Transient residents often don’t build relationships with their neighbors, they note, and the churn could serve to perpetuate tensions between native Washingtonians and newcomers. Short-term residents also are less likely to pressure city government for services, like repairing roads and fixing streetlamps. And in local elections, newcomers often don’t vote.
Many people see their stay in DC as a means to an end. They enroll in an elite, highly competitive college, knowing at the outset that once graduation is achieved, they’ll head elsewhere. They work an internship or residence for a year, then consider the experience just another rung in their working career. DC, for many, is a resume-padder.  It’s always been this way and indeed, the system is set up for the short-term resident, rather than those in it for the long haul. Those who want to settle down and stay face additional challenges, like struggling with the financial ability to own a home or a condo.

It cuts both ways. The trend is felt by everyone, regardless of age or income. Longer-term DC residents often avoid building relationships with newcomers, assuming they will only leave eventually. In my own life, I found I had to demonstrate that I was in it for the long haul before anyone willingly incorporated me and took me seriously. Having seen half of my social network relocate for parts elsewhere has led me to adopt similar strategies, especially since saying goodbye has never been easy for me.  

The aforementioned Washington Post column highlights the lives of a young couple in their early 30’s, John Van Zandt and Florencia Fuensalida.

Like many millennials in their 30s, Van Zandt and Fuensalida have begun using a different sort of mental math to calculate whether they should stay:

How much of their identity is tethered to the District? Is being able to walk to work and bars worth a lack of living space, especially when they seem to be overrun by the just-out-of-college set? Could they move to an up-and-coming neighborhood where crime is higher just to stay in the District?

Among liberals, it is trendy to be eco-friendly, but environmental causes are difficult to adopt when one has no choice but to buy a car. Everyone wants to do his or her part, even when many people are heavily inconvenienced by the limitations of the world around them. The result is almost like a torturous exercise in aestheticism. I have no particular need to stake my claim as an urban pioneer, but I know many who do to get more space at lowered cost. Each of us pinches pennies somehow, as our priorities differ.

Much of the blame in this article is placed upon the youngest set, who are in a very different place in their lives. From direct personal experience, I can attest that, while there may be a housing shortage, there is no shortage of recent college graduates flooding the job market. It has benefited me to remain anchored to a small apartment that is six decades old, but in good shape. Rent is nearly $1500 a month for a one-bedroom. Now I know what my classmates meant when they told me that blue states and blue cities were expensive.

The article concedes that the greater impact of this influx of young adult remains unknown. Indeed, in the heat of the action, it’s difficult to understand the current trends in totality. Washington may be suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. Does it wish to be the training capital of the world, content to be merely a stop along the way? Even with the new growth, DC has never really changed its modus operandi.

To visitors, DC is a tourist mecca. In contrast, its residents increasingly shape the city’s ingrained, East Coast, Type A character. Though they are different from the norm, in many ways these new immigrants are in the same mold as those who have always been drawn here. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (10+ / 0-)

    I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

    by cabaretic on Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 06:43:50 AM PDT

  •  I am in the process of leaving (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    My house in NE goes on the market in 48 hours.

    I've been here for years and still own my condo in Columbia Heights that I rent out to 20-somethings that split the $3000/month rent three-ways.  I tried to sell it 2 years ago and no one could get approved for financing or had any money to use as a down payment.  Sat on the market for months.  Switched it to a rental property and had over a dozen offers within 24-hours.  

    It's a weird city.  But I think I'm done.

    Everything is ridiculously expensive.  The pretension is worse then its ever been.  Traffic is worse, and I'm not sure how that is even possible.  Violent crime is down (which is good) but property crime is INSANE in all but the best neighborhoods.  The redlight/speed camera racket is booming exponentially, followed closely by the parking enforcement shakedowns.  The local government is more corrupt then even in the Marion Barry years.

    I moved down here from Maryland when my wife and I both worked on K Street.  It made sense then.  It doesn't now.

    I am actively looking forward to getting out.

    Красота спасет мир --F. Dostoevsky

    by Wisper on Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 06:59:03 AM PDT

    •  Best of luck to you (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I'm glad I haven't had the experiences you've noted and I can tell you're ready to go.

      This is indeed a strange place, for sure.

      I would not lead you into the promised land if I could, because if I lead you in, some one else would lead you out. - Eugene Debs.

      by cabaretic on Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 07:06:19 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I have been on this journey (0+ / 0-)

    I relocated to NYC when I was in my early 20's from the Bay Area.  It was great.  I lived in the city, paid enormous amounts of rent so that I could stumble out of bars and be close to home.  

    Then I got married and my priority changed.  We were willing to give up space to live in a better neighborhood.  

    Then came the space issue, in which you started to look at more "questionable" neighborhoods.  

    The final issue came when we started to pop out kids.  Everything was fine until you hit the schooling issue.  Are you willing to send your child to a school that has less than a perfect rating next to it.

    Proper Gentrification shouldn't be the pushing out of "natives" of the that particular hood.  It should be the rise of everyone in the neighborhood.  It's complicated issue.

  •  Interesting to read about DC. (2+ / 0-)

    Here in San Francisco we're experiencing a lot of upheaval over gentrification, due in part to an extremely hot employment market (in certain sectors like tech companies). The median home price here is now over $1,000,000 and rent for a one-bedroom apartment is typically $2,500 or more (I recently saw a listing for a four-bedroom apt for $20,000/month). I am fortunate to have lived in a rent-controlled apartment for 20 years now.

    Even in my out-of-the-way corner of the city we've begun experiencing creeping gentrification, with many decades-old business shuttering and being replaced by chi-chi boutiques and restaurants. The neighborhood is now regarded as "up-and-coming." Heh.

    It's all very definitely a mixed blessing — good for those on top, but not so good for what remains of working class or lower-middle class folks.

    There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

    by slksfca on Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 07:55:22 AM PDT

    •  The last job I did in SF( 20 yrs ago was a remodel (0+ / 0-)

      of some warehouse space in SOMA- four doors down from the apt I was living in. His cost on the project was ~1M. We were paying $800 mo for three bedrooms- two musicians and a sculptor.

      Bet there aren't a lot of working artists in that neighborhood anymore

      •  There's something of a building boom... (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        ...going on here in SOMA and the mid-Market area. But it's nearly all (multi-storey) luxury condos/apartments, with just a few units set aside as "BMR" (below market rate) housing.

        I used to know people who lived in SOMA lofts that they remodeled themselves and where they lived quite modestly, but folks like that are mostly long gone.

        There are, in every age, new errors to be rectified, and new prejudices to be opposed. ~Samuel Johnson (1709-1784)

        by slksfca on Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 08:50:47 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  I love living in DC. (0+ / 0-)

    - Very diverse city with interesting people from everywhere but here.

    - This city has changed drastically for the better in the 13 years I've lived here.  I mean, look at U St., H St. NE, Columbia Heights, Petworth, even Chinatown and Penn Quarter.  When I moved here, those were not nice places to go.

    - There are so many fascinating work opportunities here! Government, nonprofit, etc.

    - Lots of great bars/restaurants.

    - DC knows how to do brunch!

    - Museums.

    - The Metro...when it's working.

    - I like my job (for the most part).

    - It's a pretty area.

    - 92% Dem voters!


    - We do not have voting representation in Congress!

    - Friends come and go...often.  It's hard to watch so many people leave year after year.

    - It's ridiculously expensive and near impossible to afford to buy property.  I only managed it because I have VA benefits.  Also childcare....holy shit.

    - People tend to be very snobby and competitive about where/who they work for, which gets tiresome when you're not a an A-type personality.

    - The Metro Board of Directors is totally, utterly, incompetent and I hate them all!

    - Tourists descend on the city like locusts every summer.

    - Maryland drivers are the absolute WORST.

    - ALLERGIES!!!!!!

    "Give to every other human being every right that you claim for yourself." - Robert G. Ingersoll

    by Apost8 on Wed Jun 18, 2014 at 08:04:17 AM PDT

  •  I'm one of those who came and left (0+ / 0-)

    Just for college. I got there many moons ago in 1987, and coming from California it was stunning to see just these old nearly abandoned neighborhoods in the middle of town. Now when I go back, the transformation is equally stunning. It was a fun city, but I thought at the time that it was severely lacking in the sort of food/arts/culture/music side of things, as compared to other big cities like NY, SF, and LA. I gather that's changed some in the years since . . .

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