Washington, D.C. - Expensive, but not Taxing: 1. Time
The nation’s capital has gained a reputation,and rightly so, for being an expensive city. According to a 2014 USA Today article on “America’s Most Expensive States”, Washington D.C. came in at 2nd, losing out only to Hawaii (Yeah, surprised me too!). D.C.’s high standard of living can be strongly attributed to the red hot housing market in the city, fueled by its global attractiveness toward young millennials and of course the presence of the federal government always helps to keep any local economy strong. Average rents hover between $1,500 a month, in many cases not including utilities and other luxuries like cable, internet, etc. The low and high extremes of this average are differentiated by choice of neighborhood, type of rental (i.e. Townhouse, Apartment, Rowhouse, Single fam. detached), and number of roommates. For those that are looking to buy, the median price of a home is around $775,000 dollars. Other budgeted costs such as food, taxes, and entertainment options are all at the nation’s average or slightly over. While the pockets of your average tax paying Washingtonian might be a tad bit lighter, other areas of their lives prove to be lacking a lot less in contrast to lesser performing cities. These areas I consider to be more important to the quality of life an individual lives in their respective cities.
Coming from Detroit, a place where the rents and other living costs have been relatively low for quite some time now, I offer a very unique perspective toward these conversations about the living costs in cities such as D.C. Back home I was at the mercy of my vehicle, having to drive everywhere to do everything. Before I made my move to D.C. in the summer of 2012, there were no major grocery stores in Detroit's entire 149 square mile area.Think about that for a second - not a Safeway, Kroger, Costco, Sams Club, Meijer (mid-westerners no what I'm talking about). Nothing! What little money I did make as a financially struggling undergraduate student went toward gas and low quality food. Yes, these are all typical experiences for most college students. The only difference was that there was no promise of better days after school had ended. Jobs were in few supply. Money was wasted on things other than self investment. Time was wasted on ridiculously long commutes. Health suffered as a consequence of all the aforementioned. The past three years I have been living in the DMV area and this January I was able to call myself a D.C. resident when I finally moved inside the city limits after completing graduate studies at the University of Maryland. Though my time here has been brief, the severity of the effects the city has had on my life has prompted me to an immediate conclusion. Yes, it costs more to reside in Washington D.C. but in return the city does not 'tax' the other more important faculties of your life. The quality of life is substantially improved. By quality I don't mean things like thoughtlessly planted street trees, expensively furnished and finished buildings, and manicured but poorly located parks. These things have little to do with the quality of a place when used and positioned in the wrong way. By quality I mean the overall essence of living and being - how existing in a place improves your life and those around you. To further elaborate, Iv'e dissolved my idea of quality into five categories: Time, Money, Body/Wellness, Environment, and Social Life. Ending with a postscript, this entire six part blog series will show how it maybe expensive, but much less taxing to live in D.C. (or any city like it).
The average human can walk ¼ mile (1300 ft., 400 meters, 4-6 city blocks) in approximately 5 minutes. This ¼ mile metric has been used for millennia by civilizations such as the Romans, Greeks, and Anglo-Saxons when layout a town or village. In fact, whenever the Roman's conquered new territory they would set up new towns or military posts called castrums. Today, these castrums have turned into some of the world's most beloved and visited cites. In its truest and most ideal form, a Roman Castrum would measure 1/4 mile in each direction from its center totaling to 1/2 mile on every side of its perimeter. This meant that the average human could walk completely across town in 10-15 minutes time! In reality these towns were slightly smaller or larger but never exceeding a 1/2 mile walking radius from the center. Seeing that human physiology hasn’t changed much in millions of years, the utilization of this measurement is still applicable.
Somewhat simular to the castrums of old, the neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. function much the same way. Using my townhouse in D.C.’s Shaw Neighborhood as a central marker, everything that I need or want to do on a daily basis is close to an approximate mile of being reached. The architecture firm that I work for is exactly 1 mile east of me in the energetic U-Street Corridor area. Less than a mile to the north is the Historic Howard University (the Shaw-Howard Metro stop is my neighborhood rail stop). A mile to the south of me is D.C.’s regional rail hub - the majestic Union Station – as well as the U.S. Capital Building. The White House, Smithsonian Complex and the National Mall are just outside of that mile metric. To the east of me, is Gallaudet University. These locations are to the extents of my neighborhood. However, within that 1-mile radius of my home there is a melting pot of diverse building uses that mix in well with each other, accented by the District's eclectic yet handsome architecture. Bars, beer gardens, fine dining restaurants and casual bistros lounges, grocery stores, neighborhood markets, dancing and music venues, theaters, local businesses of all kinds, schools for all grade levels, parks, sporting fields and courts, churches, pharmacies, post offices, and much more, all located within blocks - not miles of each other. There is even a 7-11 (for those Slurpee lovers like myself)!!!
Below is a short list of places and tasks I would generally complete in a week. They correspond to diagrams above and the ¼ mile = 5 min walking metric using my home as the point of departure...
· To Work @ Bonstra|Haresign Architects: 1 mile away, 15-20 minutes walking, 8-10 minutes biking
· Larger groceries @ Safeway: ¾ mile away, 15 min. walking, 7 minutes biking
· Larger groceries @ Giant: 1/2 mile away, 10 minutes walking, 5 minutes biking
· Groceries @ Trader Joe’s: 1.25 miles away, 20-25 minutes walking, 12 minutes biking
· Smaller groceries @ All in One Market: 1 block away, 1 minute walking, why even bother biking?
· Coffee/Breakfast/Farmer's Market @ Big Bear Cafe: 3 blocks away, 3 minutes walking, 1 minute biking
· Local Bar @ Shaw Tavern: 1/2 mile away, 10 minutes walking, 5 minutes biking
· Picnic and Park Spot @ Logan Circle: 7/8 miles away, 15 minutes walking, 7 minutes biking
· Shopping @ Chinatown/Gallery Place: 1 mile away, 15-20 minutes walking, 8 minutes biking
· Shaw/Howard University Subway Station: 5/8 mile away, 12 minutes walking, 6 minutes biking
· To National Mall/Smithsonian Area/Washington Monument: 1.25 miles to Mall, 25 minutes walking, 12 minutes biking
There is a simple equation for this urban phenomena: Diversity of Uses + Density of uses and people = TIME SAVINGS. Because there is a variety of uses located in close proximity to each other, people are afforded the opportunity to effectively combine tasks and errands completing them quicker and more efficiently. As listed above, it takes me 15 minutes to walk to work in the mornings and five minutes by bike. During lunch or after work I have the option of picking up groceries from Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods, both located two blocks from my office. If I need smaller things then I defer to the local neighborhood market a block from my house. Meeting friends after work at a bar or at a restaurant for a midday weekend brunch is an easy traveling task as D.C. is full of places for these sorts of things . Afterwards, on nice days, we can stroll through one of the many historical residential neighborhoods admiring the charm or opt to visit the National Mall and join in the tourist frenzy. Whatever we'd like. The point here is that I have options. I have quality options. I have quality options and they are all within blocks of each other which saves me time.
His face forever cemented on the One Hundred Dollar Bill, Benjamin Franklin (and a boatload of rappers) educated to the youth of his era that 'Time is Money'. It's no wonder why this iconic founding father figure has become synonymous in pop culture circle with wealth and "gettin' money". In America, it is certainly "All about the Benjamins" albeit "the mo' money you come across/The mo' problems you see." His words and teachings continue to hold substantial truth and relevance in modern times. Yet, I tend to disagree with ol' Ben in theory. Time maybe viewed as a kind of currency, but it must exist within a category all by its lonesome. Time is humanity’s most valuable commodity. It is something we cannot make, nor destroy nor can we get back. As a result of the type of city I live in, I am able to spend more of this precious commodity enjoying, experiencing, producing, creating and living my life. I get to spend it on me. And that my friends is what I call keeping it "100".