D.C: One City?

D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray delivered his State of the District speech Monday night, and to the dismay of reporters assembled, there was little to no mention of recent scandals or specifics on upcoming budget decisions. But he did mention “One City.” Seven times.

Other notable mentions: comparing crossing the Anacostia River to entering a new continent, allusions to food deserts and boat metaphors. Read the full text here, but here’s an excerpt that may be of particular interest to our readers:

… The 2010 Census data we received last week had some good news: For the first time in 60 years, the population of our city has grown from one census to the next. Almost 20 thousand new residents have made D.C. their home in the last decade. And we now have more than 600 thousand residents! People are finding the District of Columbia an attractive place to live, and are moving back to our city – increasing our tax base and infusing our city with new vibrancy, life and creativity. But as we grow, we also need to be sure that our city is a place where those who have been here for many years continue to have the chance to live.

We have much to be proud of and much to look forward to. But yet, something feels curious about this litany of successes. We must consider a painfully obvious fact: the city that wins these accolades isn’t the same one that many of you wake up to each day.

The truth is that the growth in our city has been a miracle for some —and a mirage for others. For those left behind, the picture I have just painted of the city’s success is not a self-portrait, but something closer to a foreign landscape; you can gaze at it admiringly, but it doesn’t look anything like your neck of the woods.

The facts are troubling, but they bear acknowledging: there are parts of this city where over half of our high school students do not graduate. In some neighborhoods, one out of every three adults is unemployed. Of those who are working, one-fifth earn less than $11 per hour in wages. Twenty percent of our citizens live below the poverty line—a number that has actually gone up over the last few years, even though the city’s overall economic activity has increased.

At its widest, the Anacostia River spans barely half a mile —but when you pass over it, it can feel like you’ve left one continent for another. In a city that has been growing, the child poverty rate east of the river is double, yes, double!—the national average. In the healthiest city in America, the rate of HIV/AIDS infection east of the river is as severe as it is in Africa; it’s the highest rate of infection in the United States by a wide margin. In a city that has been ranked as the third-best location for chefs nationwide, we have a grand total of five sit-down restaurants east of the river – two in Ward 7 and three in Ward 8. That might not seem important, but it matters because with so few restaurants serving fresh food and with so few grocery stores where food can be purchased, families struggle each day to ensure their children eat nutritiously—and in some cases, just eat.

Let’s be clear: my intention is not to pit one part of the city against another. I don’t believe in that kind of division. I too am proud of our successes west of the river, and I know those triumphs encompass the hard work of many people in this room. But I do believe that too many of us have operated under the false assumption that a rising tide therefore would lift all boats…

  • http://profiles.google.com/kristianperry75 Kristian Perry

    I voted for Gray’s opponent because I wasn’t convinced that Gray would genuinely put governing the city first. I hope I’m wrong – he brings up excellent points and I wish him every success in solving those problems.

  • http://www.susanaraab.com Jaleo2000

    They are excellent points but I can guarantee you several things: 1) Individuals need to take responsibility for their own actions. That means not getting pregnant till you’re married. Not telling your kid its okay not to pay attention in school because it’s too hard. Things like this. I work east of the river, and I have never heard so many excuses and resentment. The cultural acceptance of people having babies in their teens, is astounding. It is not okay. Most people have not developed good parenting skills by this point. I see lots of kids being yelled at by their Moms. It’s not a great way to grow up and learn about conflict resolution.

    2) the summer jobs program is total BS. They learn no skills, the program is completely unsupervised and it’s just this sort of quasi welfare program for kids where very little gets done. We all know how well the welfare system is doing as a way out. Even Marion Barry admitted it wasn’t doing anything to change the problem. (Not that I am suggesting on cutting people off, I would like to think we could do a job training for money type system instead).

    3) About the diet thing. There are grocery stores over here, a Yes organic store (you can argue about the affordablility if you must), a Giant and a Safeway. So there is access. However the preponderance of fried foods, vegetables covered in Ranch dressing and sugary drinks is a way of life. Re the affordability thing, I have a lot of starving artists friends that are making it work on brown rice and beans. And it’s healthy. And cheap. Put some mambo on it if you must.

    I agree it would be helpful if more people were aware of how the EOR is. It would also be helpful if there were hegemonic cultural influences over here that prefaced learning and education and hard work and healthy diet and birth control until you are ready to start a family. Is this wrong?

  • Blanonymous Male

    I heard that since Clinton’s welfare reform in the 90s that you couldn’t make it your “career” and pass it on as an inheritance to your kids. That you could only stay on it for a limited time and you were aided in getting a job. Is that not the case? If not then I say to hell with it – lets chuck welfare out the door forever and for good. Its a system that hoholds people back, perhaps on purpose – so that the US will always have a “victim class”.