The Seattleization of Washington D.C.

The nation's capital has been converted to the Seattle culture of recycling and caring. Guess which city now has a bag tax?
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DC mayor Adrien Fenty, transit guy

The nation's capital has been converted to the Seattle culture of recycling and caring. Guess which city now has a bag tax?

Anyone who has ever made the eastward migration from the Pacific Northwest to Washington, DC knows what a psychological challenge it is. Giving up mountains for monuments, coffee for congressmen (and women), microbrews for Michelob, are not even trade-offs. It is not just the quality of life changes that are difficult; nor the transition from stoic, aloof Northwest personality types to the self-promotional East Coast careerists. Rather, it'ꀙs leaving behind the culture of recycling and caring for the environment for the gritty, litter-strewn, rundown urban east.

After my move from Olympia to DC in 2003 (one of five west-to-east migrations in my lifetime), I was horrified by the absence of recycling bins, the cavalier attitude of Beltway denizens about throwing bottles in the trash, the widespread littering in certain neighborhoods, and the general lack of respect for nature and neighborhoods. It felt like I had moved to a city that deliberately mocked the values instilled in me by living in Seattle through most of my 20s.

Then, a funny thing happened on the way to the new decade — DC started acting a lot like the Emerald City. Bike lanes began popping up all over town. Car- and bicycle-sharing programs spread rapidly. Dog parks became neighborhood gathering places. The city established a Department of the Environment, an agency with a mission to 'ꀜimprove the quality of life in the District of Columbia by protecting and restoring the environment.'ꀝ Programs that promoted reusing water, composting, planting trees, and making your home more energy-efficient proliferated in the nation'ꀙs capital.

DC has even surpassed Seattle'ꀙs enviro-trendiness in one measure. At the start of the new year, a 5-cent tax was imposed on consumers for every plastic bag used to take away food or alcohol. It'ꀙs an environmentalist'ꀙs dream — both a means of reducing the use of unnecessary, nearly indestructible bags and a source of revenue to pay for the cleanup of the Anacostia River watershed, a long-neglected environmental challenge in the region. Seattle, as you may remember, voted down a similar measure last year.

It'ꀙs helped that DC now has an extremely health-conscious mayor. The 39-year-old mayor, Adrian Fenty, is a triathlete, a marathon runner, and, when he'ꀙs not engaged in petty fights with the city council, an all-around good guy. In fact, his emphasis on exercise, parks, and recreation has gotten him in some political trouble and even sparked questions about whether his overly obsessive exercise regimen is clouding his judgment.

Add to the mayor'ꀙs efforts the worldwide trendiness of green living and you have a city that has changed dramatically in the past seven years. With the DC area'ꀙs many public transportation options, it is arguable that the nation'ꀙs capital even has an edge over Seattle in its environmental friendliness. You can actually live in DC and travel throughout the Northeastern U.S. without owning a car.

It'ꀙs great to see that the Seattle area is finally redeeming itself for the short-sighted and self-destructive error it made decades ago in turning down federal funds for public transportation, with the (albeit slow) progress of Sound Transit. It'ꀙs even more satisfying to know that you can transplant Earth-friendly Seattle values to a place like DC. Now, if we could only get some mountains around here....


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