In Defense of D.C.’s Uncoolness

Sure the District’s a great place to live, but know thy strengths, people.

National Journal
Lucia Graves
Aug. 6, 2014, 1:46 p.m.

Earli­er Wed­nes­day, to the de­light of the In­ter­net, For­bes Magazine, hence­forth known as “the ar­bit­er of cool,” made a de­clar­a­tion that got some laughs. Namely, that Wash­ing­ton tops the list of Amer­ica’s coolest cit­ies.

Per­haps it’s ap­pro­pri­ate that something with ex­actly as much so­cial cachet as a pub­lic rank­ing should be the thing to come to the city’s de­fense. (And there’s no ques­tion that too of­ten at hol­i­day parties, or at some dis­tant re­l­at­ive’s wed­ding, a de­fense of D.C.-dwell­ing must be made.) But nobody in D.C. lives here be­cause they think it’s cool, or be­cause they think some­body else might think it’s cool. There are a lot of reas­ons to live in the Dis­trict, most of them in­clud­ing vari­ous de­grees of nerdi­ness, but “cool” is simply not one of them.

If you’re a pointy-headed health care policy per­son, if you’re pas­sion­ate about edu­ca­tion re­form, if you want to be a journ­al­ist or make your mark in in­ter­na­tion­al de­vel­op­ment — then you might want to con­sider mov­ing here or at least stay­ing past the end of your sum­mer in­tern­ship. But keep­ing up with the latest trend? I’m afraid you have the wrong city.

For­bes’s reas­on­ing es­sen­tially boils down to this: There are a lot of mil­len­ni­als in D.C., and “many mu­seums along the Na­tion­al Mall,” to say noth­ing of “simply en­joy­ing the cherry blos­soms in spring­time.” Find me a hip­ster en­joy­ing the cherry blos­soms in spring­time and I’ll find you a cherry on the moon. Sure D.C. has a few good bars, and cer­tainly a few more now than it used to, but most people in the Dis­trict aren’t above get­ting a drink at Lauri­ol Plaza.

In­deed, to ask if D.C. is cool is to mis­un­der­stand the city com­pletely. CityLab‘s Som­mer Math­is pres­ci­ently an­ti­cip­ated this mis­taken ef­fort to lend the na­tion’s cap­it­al (be­cause yes, that’s something Amer­ica’s “coolest city” some­times gets called) some cool, ex­plain­ing in The Wash­ing­ton Post that people in D.C. simply don’t care.

“D.C. is a city of smart people,” Derek Brown, who runs a mini-em­pire of craft cock­tail bars and res­taur­ants in the Dis­trict, told her at the time. “What’s mak­ing D.C. cool is the fact that smart people do­ing things they’re pas­sion­ate about is cool.” He was right about the smart, but not the cool.

Yet the For­bes list does not seem to be en­tirely off. Oth­er cit­ies that top its rank­ing, in­clud­ing Seattle, Los Angeles, and New York, do ap­pear to have that glim­mer of hip­ness. But put­ting D.C. at the top of the cool list is a Slate-pitch too far.

Nobody ac­tu­ally be­lieves D.C. is hip, with the ex­cep­tion of cer­tain may­or­al can­did­ates hop­ing to win over mil­len­ni­als. We’ll stick with our bur­eau­crats, blazers, hor­rible in­come dis­par­it­ies, and polit­ic­al dis­en­fran­chise­ment. Thanks, though!

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