As my internship comes to a close, I thought today I would try and relate my experience living in Washington D.C. and my overall perspective on the city. In a lot of ways, Washington D.C. is a very unique city. Even now, having spent 9 weeks here, it still surprises and impresses me. Now that I’ve had time to absorb D.C., I think this is for a few reasons.
First, and what I love most about the city, are the aesthetics. The way this comes through the most is definitely the architecture. I have to hand it to the Government, but whenever you walk passed an impressive structure, it’s almost assuredly a government building. Most common are the powerful Greco-Roman style columns that line the front of many buildings. Yet this doesn’t even include the two most iconic buildings in the city, those being the White House and the Capitol. Seeing the Capitol lit up at night, a shining pearl-white building in a pure black sky, really is a sight to behold. This is not to mention my own personal favorite, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which with its elegant Victorian style resembles more of a European palace than a government office building. Of course then there are the Smithsonian museums, including the aptly-named Smithsonian Castle, and the Museum of Natural History, which looks almost like a temple with its prominent dome. All of this and I still haven’t gotten to the various memorials. The city is adorned by the sky-high obelisk memorializing George Washington, the gigantic statue of Abraham Lincoln overlooking the reflecting pool, and my own favorite, the WWII Memorial with its great fountain and majestic eagles holding wreaths, just to name a few. Not only do these amazing sites appeal aesthetically, but they serve as constant reminders to the residents and visitors of D.C. that this is the center-point of a country marked by a rich and powerful history.
On a less grandiose note, one of the simplest ways that Washington communicates its visual appeal is through the sky. By that I mean actually being able to see the sky from within the city. Washington D.C. has a height limit of 12 stories for all buildings (similar to many European cities, for instance Paris). This way the monuments and government buildings retain prominence in the skyline. For the normal person walking around the city, however, what you notice is that, unlike other big cities like New York and Chicago, there are no skyscrapers towering over you. While this may be missed by the ardent city-dweller, being a kid from the suburbs who fell in love with European cities while abroad, Washington to me brings none of that daunting atmosphere while all of the majesty.
What is a city without its people? Ruins. Don’t get me wrong, having a degree in history I love to visit and study the artifacts of past cultures. But it’s the people that keep a city working and thriving. In Washington, it is a one-of-a-kind environment. Politics is clearly the heart of the city, and this comes through as soon as you strike up a conversation with someone. For instance, the vast majority of fellow interns I live with at GW and speak to are working for some aspect of government, most often on Capitol Hill. Even striking up a conversation in the bar with a stranger, politics will almost assuredly come up at some point. While this can be both a pro and con of the city, it’s definitely unique. Also, as a result, there is an innate competitiveness here that is hard to explain, but hard to miss once you’re here. Then there is the international flare. While many may be tourists, Washington D.C. is also a haven of foreign officials and international businesses. Many times I’ve walked down the street and heard foreign languages, ranging from Chinese and Japanese, to German and Russian, to the (for me) familiar sound of Spanish from Northern Spain. Yet there is still a fun-loving side to the city and its people as well. One trip on the metro on the day of a Nationals game and you’ll see the strong support that D.C. sports teams receive from their fan base. Growing up a staunch Detroit sports fan, this pride definitely speaks to me (not to mention I couldn’t think of a better summer pastime than going to a baseball game). Also, with a fairly vibrant nightlife, it’s not hard to have fun in D.C. if you’re out on the town. Not to mention, any city that embraces happy hour and brunch the way that the people of Washington D.C. do is alright in my eyes.
The final characteristic that I think has really stood out to me while I’ve lived in D.C. is the general magnitude of the city itself. By that I mean it’s hard to walk around and not be cognizant of the many important things that happen here. For example, as I’ve mentioned, the memorials serve as a constant reminder of our country’s history. The impressive government buildings underline their importance and the fact that this is the capital of our nation. By the time you’ve walked by your second or third mansion-looking embassy, you’ll understand the international significance of this town also.
Clearly, I’ve enjoyed my time in Washington D.C., and am looking forward to experiencing even more of the city in my last few weeks here. Who knows, maybe the District will represent something else to you, but there is only one way to find out.