[from April 2001 issue]


Yes, you've read it here. We do acknowledge vast improvements in our overall quality of life in DC. We see strong evidence of this every day in all parts of the many neighborhoods about which report.

There is no single factor pointing to why this has come about. Some people will say it's all due to the departure of Marion Barry and the coming of Tony Williams; others will give more credit to an invigorated city council which has been exercising the kind of oversight that the voters had long wished for; others will credit the control board; others will claim these positive developments have nothing to do with the activities of the politicians or other government "experts" but is entirely due to the economy and an invigorated and diversifying private sector.

We suspect, however, that all these views are in one way or another on target, for what we are seeing these days is the result of all these disparate factors now coming together into a critical mass of positive energy which now seems to be fueling something that is clearly taking on a life of its own.

The challenge at this juncture will be to avoid complacency and to continue holding the decision-makers and the bureaucrats and the leaders of the private and nonprofit sectors accountable for what they do or will be planning to do. So also must individual residents continue to be exhorted to be good neighbors, something that is much easier, we believe, nowadays than a few years ago when so many of us harbored negative feelings about our city.

Why do we suddenly seem to be in such a positive frame of mind about matters municipal? (Regular readers of this column may not unreasonably ask.) After all--and we are the first to acknowledge this--we have been far from upbeat about city management than many would wish us to be. Yes, that is true and yes, this may seem to be an inconsistency hard to ignore.

Well, it is really not inconsistent. Just because things that were once so terrible are now much improved is no reason to cease pushing for even better. There is really no justification to stop short of governmental perfection, even if such a goal might in practical terms never be reached; that does not mean we should not continue to strive. That is why we write the things we do. But it doesn't mean we hate the place. On the contrary, if we didn't love our city, we wouldn't care when we encounter things as being less than perfect.

Right about this point we can bet that readers are wondering what is it that set us off on this discourse? Did the mayor's minions finally return one of our phone calls? Did the rat problem suddenly go away? Was that alley finally re-paved (you know, the one we've been harping about for two years to no avail)? Actually, to these questions and others, the answer is still "no."

Then what?

The answer lies in the enthusiasm we encounter constantly among people from all over when we are out and about. We are astounded (having still vivid memories of the dark days) by the hordes--yes, seeming hordes--of energetic and productive new residents flocking downtown to live and of longer term residents being committed to staying. And all these folk anxious to pitch in and make this a better place.

Of course, the outward sign is the incredible residential real estate boom, along with serious new interest in downtown and nearby neighborhoods by retailers and other businesses. But it's not just that, it's also in what these people are striving for in terms of creating a dynamic and interesting environment. We see it in the urge to build loft-like living spaces (like one finds in the exciting cities of the world) which are attracting residents who are looking to make this the kind of place where they will actually want to be as opposed to just a place to hang a hat before moving on. Just look at what's happening east of 15th Street, as with beautifully designed small-scale projects like the one in the single-block street known as Johnson Avenue, and one will understand our enthusiasm.

So the momentum is with us now and the challenge is to keep it going, but at the same time not losing sight that there remain in our city myriad serious social and economic problems that need to be addressed. But with the new optimism we see around us, we are hopeful that there will be even greater incentive to ensure that this optimism is translated into positive results that will spread far and wide.