- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 13, 2003

The implementation of the “city living, dc style!” campaign in June is one sign of urban cool emanating from the mayor’s office.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams, the policy wonk with the bow tie and Ivy League credentials, is working to attract 100,000 new residents to the District in the next decade.

This was the hopeful vision of his inaugural address in January.

Mr. Williams is in the beginning stages of what promises to be an arduous undertaking, if not a hard sell, in a region that has seen people fleeing the city since the 1950s.

From a population high of 802,178 in 1950, to 571,000 in 2000, the city has made it a practice to send its middle-class denizens to the ever-growing suburbs.

Most of the survivors of the city want what anyone wants: affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, decent public schools and adequate basic services. That does not seem to be a lot to ask of public servants living off the taxpayer dime.

Mr. Williams is concentrating his energies on the neighborhoods east of Rock Creek Park, as well he should. The upper Northwest enclave is hopelessly out of touch with the rest of the city, and hopelessly out of the price range of the urban professionals who are being targeted by the mayor’s office.

Sticker shock goes with all too many of the home listings in upper Northwest. Pick a neighborhood, any neighborhood, and the price tag is liable to induce a hard gulp. A glorified tar-paper shack in the Palisades neighborhood, for instance, carries an $875,000 symptom of incredible optimism on the part of the seller.

This reflects the great divide between the haves and have-nots of the city. The difference seemingly extends to basic services as well, considering the anomaly of the well-paved, litter-free, tree-lined streets of upper Northwest.

The gentrification of certain neighborhoods in the city is a politically tricky exercise, if displacing the old en masse is the result. Gentrification is a battle all itself, seemingly forevermore along vast stretches of Capitol Hill, where well-to-do homeowners invest in bars on the windows and eye warily the riffraff loitering in parks and on street corners.

Do you have a dollar?

This has come to be one of the principal forms of interaction in large swaths of the city, compounded by the summer weather that brings out all the dollar-seeking souls: the professional car-watchers, the human support beams holding up one side of various buildings and the Statue of Liberty-like fellow with a torch in his hand at a Metro Stop near Eastern Market.

The issue of dollar fatigue is no small factor in the city-suburb equation, if those in the mayor’s office are inclined to take notes.

Dollar fatigue creeps up on its victims. It rarely overwhelms anyone in the beginning. No one rushes to the office of the nearest therapist after being asked: Do you have a dollar?

In fact, dollar fatigue often begins with the innocent exchange of a dollar. Yes, here is a dollar for you and here is a dollar for you. Then yes evolves into no, and then no evolves into that blank stare associated with victims of shock and then, one day, the blank stare is replaced by an outburst of resentment.

No, you do not have a dollar. What, do you look like a banker? Do you have Riggs Bank plastered on your back? Is there something in your aura that exudes automated teller machine?

City leaders have a tendency to discuss quality-of-life concerns in almost the abstract.

Let’s start with a simple premise.

People used to say, “How are you doing today?”

Now they say, “Do you have a dollar?”

This is almost as annoying as the neighbor who comes knocking on the door looking for two eggs.

If you are going to go there, you might as well ask for a whole carton of eggs, a pound of bacon and a loaf of bread. You might as well make it worthwhile. How about a car loan, too? Anyone need a car loan?

The challenge of luring 100,000 new residents to the District has been calibrated by the urban planners, the demographically obsessed and the best smarty-pants money can buy.

Let’s keep it real simple here.

One more time: affordable housing, safe neighborhoods, decent public schools and adequate basic services.

One other thing, as it pertains to the “city living, dc style!” marketing exercise: Do you have a dollar?

Just trying to get into the spirit.

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