The top 10 things I miss about Washington, D.C.

I’m thankful for the opportunity we’ve had to move to New York, but that doesn’t mean I don’t miss Washington, D.C. Here are the things I miss most about our former home.

I’ll miss D.C.’s flag, too. It’s better than New York’s (both the state and the city).
I’ll miss D.C.’s flag, too. It’s better than New York’s (both the state and the city).

10. The lack of a death penalty

Currently, the District of Columbia joins 14 states—Alaska, Hawai‘i, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont, West Virginia, and Wisconsin—in completely abolishing the death penalty. Fortunately, New York is among the states that effectively have no death penalty. New York’s last execution took place in 1963, and though a 1995 statute establishing lethal injection as the state’s method of execution remains on the books, the New York Court of Appeals—the state’s highest—ruled it unconstitutional in 2004. Subsequent attempts to “fix” or replace the statute and thereby reinstate capital punishment have failed, and in 2008 then-governor David Patterson issued an executive order disestablishing the state’s death row and requiring the removal of the state’s execution equipment.

9. Bike lanes and so many bike commuters

Like the death penalty, this is an area where D.C. doesn’t have an absolute edge over New York, but the scales tip in the District’s favor, at least for the time being. New Yorkers have hotly debated bike lanes, and the city’s government has been forced to remove some bike lanes because of neighborhood opposition. Washington is clearly past that point, with widespread support for bike lanes throughout the city.

The nation’s capital is years ahead of New York in establishing a bike-sharing system. Bike racks are also provided on all Metrobus and Circulator vehicles in D.C., whereas New York City buses don’t allow bikes. And in the five years I lived in the District of Columbia, I definitely saw a noticeable increase in the number of bike commuters. All in all, while New York is making progress in establishing bicycling as a viable travel option in the city, District of Columbia residents have the advantage for now.

8. The height limit

I love Manhattan’s skyscrapers. But I also love Washington’s low Europesque profile. Architecture there relies on more than just height to impress. The height limit gives the city a skyline of stability and permanence, not one that changes over the years, and I think that reflects what we want in our government (whether or not that is actually the reality). Washington’s skyline is dominated not by corporate headquarters but by the buildings where laws are made and where we come together as a nation to plot our common future. Its pinnacles are monuments to our nation’s heroes—the temples of our civic religion to which many Americans make a pilgrimage at some point in their lives. We were blessed to live among them.

These buildings and structures belong to all of us as Americans, and not just to wealthy shareholders. They are not mere office towers whose corporate names (which you never knew to begin with) change with the most recent round of mergers. When you see a photo of Washington’s skyline, you recognize it and you recognize the individual structures. You see it as the national capital, a city that belongs to all of us, not simply as some other city that’s not your home. It’s really a wonderful, fitting thing for the capital of the world’s greatest democracy.

7. Metro

I love the New York City Subway. But Washington’s Metro was the first heavy-rail rapid-transit system I used on a daily basis for an extended period of time. For that reason, among the world’s subways it will always have a special place in my heart. I love its subtle, indirect—albeit at times too dim—lighting and coffered vaults, especially the intersecting vaults at Metro Center. I miss seeing the flashing lights at the platform’s edge as a train enters a station, and I can still hear the whir of the electric motors as a train begins to leave. Those who fought for Metro’s construction and those who designed it had incredible foresight, even if they did design Shady Grove with way too few exits for today’s evening rush hours, or Columbia Heights with half as many exits as it should have. More than America’s Subway, as some signs above station exits in downtown Washington proclaim, I will always consider it my subway.

6. Pierre Charles L’Enfant’s design

It is probably safe to say that Washington is one of the most beautifully designed cities in the world. Its grid of north-south numbered streets crisscrossed by east-west lettered and alphabetically named streets, all overlain by broad avenues running diagonally at 15-, 30-, and 45-degree angles, connecting monuments and grand civic buildings and circles and squares and parks and fountains. Whenever I crossed Pennsylvania Avenue, I always had to pause and take a moment to look at the view down to the Capitol. And I will always remember days spent in Dupont Circle with Fiona, reading with her on a bench or splashing in the fountain. All of us who have ever experienced Washington’s beauty and grandeur are indebted to L’Enfant for enriching our lives in such a simple and yet profound and beautiful way.

5. Places with so many memories

Especially places that I so strongly associate with Susan: Union Station, where we went on our first date; the Strathmore Music Center, witness to our first kiss; and the Jefferson Memorial and the Tidal Basin, where I proposed to her.

4. The streets

I just realized writing this how much I will miss particular streets, especially those in our neighborhood and nearby areas. I will miss 16th Street, with its impressive churches and the view down the hill to the White House and the Washington Monument from in front of Dorchester House (our old apartment building). I will miss the gentle uphill curve of Crescent Street and the alleys behind 17th Street. I will miss the eclectic shops and restaurants of 18th Street. I will miss the charm of Mintwood Place and the beautiful scale of the apartment buildings at Kalorama Road at 20th Street. I will miss the historic rowhouses of Lanier Place and its Spanish Revival firehouse. I will miss the stairways to Quarry Road. I will miss sunset bike rides on the streets of Mount Pleasant and Saturday morning walks to the farmers’ market at the end of Mount Pleasant Street. I will miss …

3. Being able to take Fiona’s stroller on the Circulator without removing her and folding it up

You can’t do that on any bus in New York City. ’Nuff said.

2. Our apartment and our neighborhood

I loved our apartment in Washington, D.C. It was the first home that was truly mine, and the first home Susan and I shared as a married couple. I will miss our sweeping view of the nation’s capital from Washington National Cathedral to the Washington Monument and across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery and the office and residential towers of Arlington. I will miss living so close to a nice, large grocery store. I will miss our neighborhood and Meridian Hill Park and its fountain and Sunday drum circle. And I am saddened to realize that I will probably never again set foot in that wonderful, beautiful, safe, cozy apartment.

1. The Washington Post

I have always loved newspapers. And I love just about any newspaper that tries to be decent. But some local newspapers are clearly better than others, especially these days. The first time it hit me just how good a newspaper The Washington Post is occurred in 2008, when we went to Utah for Christmas. The Salt Lake Tribune is an excellent local newspaper—certainly better than the Deseret News, Salt Lake’s other daily—and, visually, one of the best designed in the country. But there’s nothing to it. You can read the entire newspaper in about 20 minutes. It practically floats to the ground. I really missed the daily thud that accompanied the Post’s delivery at our front door and how it could keep me engaged for hours.

Now, The New York Times is also an excellent newspaper—really, it’s the highest calibre of newspaper, the gold standard against which all others can be measured (and it’s all downhill from the Times). But with a subscription cost that is double that of the Post, it’s a bit out of our price range for the time being. So, the #1 thing I miss about D.C.: the hefty, affordable, engaging, and wonderful Washington Post.

Honorable mentions

The top 10 things I will not miss about Washington, D.C.

In no particular order (and with maybe a little hyperbole):

  • Bikers flaunting the law, safety, and consideration for others.
  • Metrobus’s inane bus routing.
  • Not having skyscrapers.
  • Lack of regional rail service on weekends. Or evenings. Or the middle of the day.
  • Having to use your SmarTrip card or farecard to exit the subway.
  • Lack of transit passes.
  • Overuse of honorifics and postnominals.
  • The Washington Times and The Examiner.
  • Politics nonstop everywhere all the time no matter the situation.
  • Competitive know-it-alls who have all sorts of college degrees and yet not one iota of common courtesy.

This article appeared on pages 28–29 of Issue 4 | October 2011.

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