Washington, D.C., is the fourth-best city to live in the United States based on factors such as quality of life and desirability, according to a study from U.S. News and World Report released Tuesday, despite reports of an increase in racial and economic inequality across the city.
The “2017 Best Places to Live” report placed the District only behind Austin, Texas; Denver, Colo.; and San Jose, Calif. The 100-city ranking consisted of a scoring system that ranked each city out of a total 10 points as an average of five categories. D.C. recorded 7.3 points compared to Austin’s 7.8.
While recognizing that the District’s cost of living is above the national average — with the average cost to buy a home at $371,772 compared to the nation’s average of $211,731 — the report cites the attractions of living in the nation’s capital, including monuments, museums and national landmarks.
Additionally, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s performance, diversity in the city and the cherry blossom season are among the assets listed in the description of life in D.C. included in the report.
“The D.C. population is diverse, with the area’s strong job market attracting people from around the world. Cultural variation can be seen throughout the metro area, from the colorful Chinatown archway to the Ethiopian and Latin American restaurants lining Adams Morgan’s streets,” the report reads.
D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute Executive Director Ed Lazere also noted the vibrancy of the city, but said that the attractiveness of living in the District does not apply equally to all its residents.
“I would say that D.C. is a booming and vibrant city, and that D.C. government has done a lot to invest in the quality of life — schools, libraries, parks, health care and more. But the benefits clearly are not equally shared, and in fact many residents have become victims of D.C.’s growth, rather than beneficiaries,” Lazere wrote in an email to The Hoya. “More families are homeless, more are spending upwards of 80 percent of their income for housing, and incomes are not rising for any group other than college educated residents.”
A December 2016 report from the U.S. Conference of Mayors found that Washington ranks No. 1 in rates of homelessness among the 32 cities it studied, with a significant increase in homelessness between 2009 and 2016. A study from the Urban Institute released in October 2016 called “The Color of Wealth in the Nation’s Capital,” also showed that white households in the District have a net worth that is 81 times greater than that of black households.
Jessica Chilin-Hernández, who works at the Georgetown Kalmanovitz Initiative for Labor and the Working Poor and advises Alternative Spring Break program Worker Justice D.C., said the District’s historic ties to the black community have been forgotten as gentrification accelerates.
“It is important to remember that D.C. was the first city in our country to have an African American majority. Yet as of 2011, this is no longer the case. Revitalization projects have driven out long-time residents of historically black neighborhoods such as Shaw and Petworth,” Chilin-Hernández wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Rent and property taxes in these neighborhoods have increased dramatically over the last decade.”
The Georgetown neighborhood is an example of the report’s description of the city’s attractiveness due to its residential areas and diverse commercial districts, according to Georgetown Business Improvement District Communications Director Lauren Boston.
“From the historic C&O Canal to unique small businesses on Wisconsin Avenue, world-class shopping on M Street, amazing dining in every direction, and a recreational paradise on the waterfront, Georgetown represents the very best that the city as a whole has to offer,” Boston wrote in an email to The Hoya. “This is a vibrant community, with engaged, caring and happy residents, employees, students, locals and tourists alike.”
U.S. News used indexes on job markets, value, quality of life, desirability and net migration in its ranking. Each factor was weighted in the total score based on a nationwide public survey on the importance of each.
The job market index, which accounted for 20 percent of the total score, included the unemployment rate and average salary. The value index looked at blended median annual household income and blended annual cost of living and made up 25 percent of the score. The quality of life index was 30 percent of the score and included the factors of crime rates, quality and availability of health care, quality of education, well-being and commute time. The desirability index was 15 percent of the total score while net migration into D.C. was 10 percent.
Surveys like U.S. News’ do not take into account the quality of life of all D.C. residents, according to Eliza McCurdy (COL ’17), who participated in a project with Carlo Izzo (COL ’17) as part of their “Research Methods in Justice and Peace” class to outline the dangers that homeless residents face when temperatures drop. They collaborated with the Center for Social Justice and the Georgetown Ministry Center to create an interactive map of services in the District for individuals experiencing homelessness.
“Clearly reports like that ask only about the quality of life of residents who have permanent addresses. In fact, most of our Georgetown community only consider property owners to be our neighbors,” McCurdy wrote in an email to The Hoya.
Izzo added that the U.S. News report overlooks the areas of the District that are seen as less desirable to live in. While the report cites public transport in D.C. as above the national average in terms of commute time, Izzo said Metro does not serve all residents equally.
“In terms of transportation, there’s one Metro stop in Wards 7 and 8 so I think it’s interesting what parts of the city people actually care about getting to and what parts people don’t,” Izzo said. “Whenever people think about it, they always think of the monuments and politics and I think they completely ignore the rest of the city, which is the parts of the city that obviously aren’t the ‘best places to live,’ aren’t being gentrified, all those other things.”
According to Chilin-Hernández, to counter the inequality in D.C., policy must account for the differences in marginalized communities living in the District.
“Any policy that seeks to address housing must by default also address, disability, family structure, racial and gender disparities,” Chilin-Hernández said.
Have a reaction to this article? Write a letter to the editor.