Our nation’s capital doesn’t always get a lot of love. Built along a swampy section of the Potomac River, it’s historically been thought of as hot and muggy in the summer and rife with government drones and graft the year ’round. The Trump administration hasn’t helped its reputation: The Right thinks of the seat of government as a swamp; the Left thinks of it as the victim of a hostile takeover.
But there’s a big difference between Washington, D.C., site of our sprawling federal bureaucracy, and Washington, D.C., the nearly 700,000-person city of beautiful neighborhoods and long-standing ethnic diversity. The city has been undergoing radical changes in recent years, becoming more cosmopolitan, more inviting, more fun. Even—dare we say it?—a little bit hip.
Take, for instance, the National Mall, that 146-acre expanse of grass extending from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. The instantly acclaimed Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture opened in 2016 to great fanfare on the Mall’s penultimate plot of land, and PeaceTech Lab, a tech incubator devoted to reducing global conflicts, opens this summer. The Lab is located in the Mall’s final developable location, a former Navy hospital next door to the United States Institute of Peace.
Two years after the African American History and Culture museum debuted, a line of visitors still stretches beyond the museum’s front doors, and its exhibits—starting with the harrowing days of slavery, Jim Crow and the Civil Rights movement on the lower levels and rising up to a glorious celebration of African American art, culture and music on its top floor—are choked with visitors. The District’s population, until 2011, was majority African American, and the new museum is a visible monument to this heritage in a can’t-miss location. A short Lyft ride away, in some of D.C.’s tonier environs, the bars at the Ritz-Carlton (now serving an unusual flight of “sound-aged” whiskys) and Blue Duck Tavern (part of D.C.’s years-long food renaissance) are full of lobbyists and government contractors. No surprise there. But instead of working for defense contractors or the oil and gas industry, these patrons seem to skew toward the Bay Area’s tech giants. On a late June evening, in between the NBA Draft and World Cup rumblings, the barstool chatter was all about technology, ethics and what role government should or shouldn’t play.