- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Once, we were known as the “murder capital” of the world.

Our repeat appearances on assorted Top 10 lists for road rage, polluted air, traffic woes and overpriced real estate is legendary. We’ve been ranked dead last for small businesses and almost dead last for the taste of our tap water. We were even rated No. 5 for bicycle thievery.


Times have changed.

The District - yes, that bastion of strife and angry gesticulation - was named Tuesday as the best place to live in the whole country by Outside magazine.

The city sits atop a list brimming with poetic promise.

“Where to live now: The 20 best towns in America (make the move, live the dream),” the roster advises.

It’s Washington, D.C., they’re talking about. Really.

“We wanted to show towns where you can feel like you love the place where you live. Maybe D.C. has gotten beat up in the past, but our point is to show places which reflect the zeitgeist of change and progressive reinvention,” said Jeremy Spencer, who is a senior editor at the Santa Fe, N.M.-based magazine.

“Town is a relative term, too. This list offers a mix of sizes, from little to metropolitan. Perhaps Washington wasn’t always a great place to live, but we perceive it as a place of culture, great natural resources and much more intelligent infrastructure these days - like its alternative transportation and a potential for a smaller carbon footprint,” Mr. Spencer said.

Yes, he has visited Washington. Many times, in fact.

There may be something to the District’s increasingly greener cast, however.

Common Current, a California group promoting ecologically minded economic strategies, last week placed the city fifth on a list that rated the preparedness of 50 metropolitan areas for dealing with an oil crisis. Last year, the District made the Top 10 list of the nation’s best “bicycle commutes” included in the U.S. Census Bureau’s “America’s Community Survey.”

Meanwhile, our city’s previous associations with urban challenge of the most trying sort is not necessarily a bad thing.

“Criticism can be good. A town can listen to those voices out there and improve its image, and improve the life there, too,” Mr. Spencer said.

Washington in all its roiling glory trumped such picturesque, civilized enclaves as Portsmouth, N.H., Tacoma, Wash., and Ithaca, N.Y.

Naturally, this unexpected victory has pleased those who must contend with critics.

“Whether it´s running, biking or exploring our diverse neighborhoods, District of Columbia residents have always taken advantage of the many activities that make our city great. We are honored to have Outside magazine recognize us as the best town in America.” said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty, a Democrat.

“We’re thrilled,” said William A. Hanbury, president and chief executive officer of Destination DC, the city’s official convention and tourism office.

Still, the prowess of a city is subject to much interpretation.

Forbes magazine, for example, can’t make up its mind. The magazine ranks Washington No. 7 on a list of cities that are “worst for commuters” but sixth on a list of places that are “best for single people.” The District is only so-so on the global scale, named 44th on a list ranking the 50 best international cities released in June by Mercer Consulting, which used 39 “key quality-of-life determinants” to pass judgment.

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