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D.C. Gets its Close-up

By Tim Shey
Huffington Post

As someone who until recently was a resident of Washington for twelve years, it's fun watching D.C. have its biggest moment in a long time. When I was there, getting friends to visit from places like New York, Los Angeles or San Francisco was a pretty rare event, but this week, I'm seeing many of them converging on the city and having a blast discovering old hangouts I know like the back of my hand.

D.C.'s a great place, and it's a special thrill seeing so much attention focused there right now. Not only because of the inauguration and a new administration, which always brings a fresh batch of people and interest to the city every four to eight years, but because this is the first big focus on D.C. since the spread of HDTV, and on every channel, D.C.'s never looked more interesting, more multicultural, and more ready for its close-up. I've gotten a kick out of watching the new season of 24, with lots of location filming around Washington (and their highly entertaining decision to not even attempt to try to portray the FBI, Secret Service, or distances in downtown D.C. with any amount of realism); HBO's and CNN's coverage all weekend has done the impossible and actually made Washington look glamorous (much thanks to Obama and countless celebrities and excited visitors from all over the world); and tonight, Anthony Bourdain's show hits Washington to visit local places like Ben's Chili Bowl and hang with one of the most innovative, fun chefs in America, Cafe Atlantico's Jose Andres.

Longtime residents of D.C. are pretty used to not getting a lot of respect or attention from other cities, but we were also intensely proud of the city and what a unique place it was -- many of us felt it was the best place to live on the East Coast, all things considered. In recent years, it's gotten even better. The city has plenty of problems -- the local government's always struggled to have adequate money and services, and as a Democratic stronghold, it felt like the Bush administration did everything it could to make that worse. But watching the rebirth of neighborhoods I lived and worked in like Shaw, U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, Chinatown, and Capitol Hill over the last ten years, and remembering what things were like in 1992 when I first arrived, was nothing short of mind-blowing.

This coincided with the rebirth of many other cities' downtowns and the real estate boom, but now, when the recession casts doubt on whether that progress will continue, D.C. has a chance to be a beacon to the rest of the country. The influx of new administration-related jobs. which will attract lots of people who will actually want to live in downtown D.C., will keep the growth going and new businesses opening, and, as a recent New York Times story notes, likely continue to revitalize historic minority neighborhoods like Shaw, Petworth, and Columbia Heights. With all this momentum, D.C. during the Obama administration could become a model for the kinds of diverse, progressive urban communities we may need to create in every city to get the country back on track.

I wonder if Obama's had a chance yet to read Van Jones' The Green Collar Economy; Hilda Solis, his choice for Labor Secretary, probably has. The book links the uplift of communities like D.C. with opportunities to reinvent and green the economy, and D.C. should be one of the first cities where this can happen. There will be a lot of other pressing things on Obama's plate -- just this moment, I hear of NASA scientist Jim Hansen's dire warnings about climate change, for instance -- but for all the people in D.C. who have been making things better the past decade without a friend in the White House, just having Obama in the neighborhood will change everything.

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