Explorations of D.C.

Quintessential DC

When I think of a place that is “quintessentially D.C.,” my mind jumps to the National Mall, specifically the Lincoln Memorial.  With the Washington Monument visible across the pool, the Lincoln serves as a reminder of what this city means to the people of the United States.  This is a city where our nation was saved after nearly crumbling – where great leaders have served us in trying times.  D.C. as a city carries so much history and people come from far and wide to explore it.  The Lincoln Memorial is filled with tourists, students, and locals, and each has a distinct approach to the memorial.  The tourists are vocal and engaged, arranging their families and friends into various poses with Lincoln in the background, then quickly turning around to get the Reflecting Pool.  They point to the giant statue of our former president excitedly while reading the signs and the writing on the walls.  The students, meanwhile, are often in running clothes and are also taking pictures, but they’re mostly cool selfies – the “I’ve been here before but just want to let people know I’m being active” kind.  There’s less focus on the history and more attention devoted to social media.  Finally, the people who I’ve assumed are locals – usually families, often with young kids, simply sitting at the Lincoln, enjoying the view and the good weather.  They watch their kids run up and down the stairs, and they don’t have their cameras out.  That’s the biggest difference there.  I was there last weekend, and as I watched people interact with each other and with the monument, I got the sense of D.C. as a place of hustle and bustle, of history and of fame.  It seems people here are often more focused on the destination than the journey (people going to these memorials just to take a photo to say they’ve been there).

I think, in reflecting on this prompt, it’s interesting that I chose the Lincoln Memorial as representative of D.C.  On the one hand, as explained above, it represents a lot of our nation’s history.  But it is also a tourist destination – millions of people come to see it, and it really does not define the group of people who live in D.C., in its various neighborhoods, because the citizens are not tourists with cameras.  But I think at the same time, it does capture a certain spirit of D.C.  To me, cities have different elements, and the tourist/historical element is such a big part of Washington that I think it’s impossible to imagine the city without it.  So while I don’t think the Lincoln Memorial is representative of the entire city, I do think it is still something that is quintessentially D.C.  The majority of people there may not be natives to the District, but perhaps that’s part of its identity as well.

unnamed-5view from the steps of the Lincoln – I am also guilty of the student selfies but they will not be posted here.

 

Apps for Washington DC

When I opened the App Store, I looked up “washington dc.”  As I scrolled through the results, I saw numerous apps for DC Tours (monuments, museums) and DC transportation.  Many were free and some cost up to $4.99.  I would think it would be impossible to get lost in D.C. if one had access to the app store!  The apps are all titled differently, and some focus on the monuments while others are more about tourism in the District in general.  Others are advertised as the “smart travel guide” or “Washington DC: A to Z.”  All of them, regardless of title, focused on the “must-see” places along the mall, the stuff people read about and come to DC to experience.  Which definitely makes sense, because the people who want to see that stuff are newcomers, and they’re looking for guides like this.  I downloaded what seemed to be the most comprehensive one, creatively titled “Washington DC.”

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It was extremely comprehensive, with separate categories for monuments, Smithsonians, sightseeing tours, ticketing events, performance venues, public transportation, dining, accommodations, weather, services, and statues.  Each section came with anywhere from 30-90 recommendations, and with a click of the destination, a description would come up with a link to the website and a navigation device to get to the selected location.  It’s a pretty inclusive, all-encompassing app – for tourists.

As I got further down the list, I started finding apps that were more specific, like these:

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There’s an app for where to bike, where to find local bars and clubs, and even a crab snack guide devoted solely to… you guessed it… crab shacks.

But everything I’d found so far was geared toward tourists, giving them hip, cool and famous places to go and experience.  Even the dining and accommodations are listed for the popular areas.  This makes sense, because these apps are geared toward tourists.  But I started wondering if there were any apps for locals, so I searched: “washington dc for locals.”

The search failed miserably.  The first listing was an app called Got Eventz for local venues and performances in DC, and everything after that was various local news apps – CBS, NBC, ABC, etc.  As far as I’ve been able to ascertain, there are no apps that explore the regular neighborhoods of the District, and that’s probably because there’s not really a market for it.  The apps that are out there serve their purpose perfectly.  They offer a look into the part of D.C. that people are most interested in.  But in doing that, they represent D.C. as a city solely of tourism, restricted to a three mile radius, and exclude entire neighborhoods and communities that are absolutely a part of the identity of Washington D.C.  I think, therefore, there’s an opportunity to expand into these areas and give interested people an chance to see what’s out there.  However, there’s not really a market for that.  So when D.C. gets represented as solely a tourist attraction in apps, maybe that’s because that is its sole identity in the technological world.

 

Third Exploration: Walking Tour 10/25

Major Logan’s statue sits high above the crowds around the circle, the pigeons perfectly aligned atop his horse’s head so that they resemble decorative bunches of mane.

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Logan has watched as the neighborhood around his circle has either improved or has been disrupted, depending on who you talk to. Many people consider the gentrification to be for the good of the community. According to the sign “A Fitting Tribute: Logan Circle Heritage Trail,” the neighborhood had decayed, had hit bottom and was filled civil disturbance. It then began to improve when wealthy people started moving in and restored the old historic houses and turned the neighborhood into a community. However, to many others, the gentrification destroyed the already existing community of lower-income immigrants who made their homes and small businesses there and were subsequently forced out. As Mrs. Davis says in The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, “Some of them have been living here their whole lives just to find that one day they can’t afford to pay the rent. I don’t have to tell you this isn’t right” (199). What seems right to one person is not to another. The restoration of Logan Circle forced evictions and business closures, but it also created a new community. How should that be received? It’s difficult to reconcile from either side.

The neighborhood is definitely different from the one described by Dinaw Mengestu. On P and 14th, there is now a PNC Bank, a CVS and a Chipotle. Continuing down P, there is a giant Whole Foods, the ultimate grocery store symbol of white affluence. On the other side, a fancy optometry store shows off expensive glasses, and Sweetgreen, part of the health food fad, is advertising its fall salads. A lady walks by in sweats carrying a yoga mat and a man jogs by with his headphones in. They are both white. By the time we get to Dupont Circle, we’ve passed three CVS stores and 2 Starbucks. The area is definitely different from the circles described by Stephanos. His little store would have no place in this corporate world.

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It’s such a different place now that it’s hard for me to picture the rundown area described in the book twenty years ago. For better or for worse, the neighborhood has been changed dramatically. That is a part of the history of the city. And somewhere out there is the collective memory of the people displaced, maybe being eroded by the new collective of wealthier people who have taken their place. The one thing that’s unchanged: Major Logan, still sitting atop his horse, maybe even a little worse for wear.

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