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Pity the poor Washington Post reporter tasked with writing about young adults. You start with a sufficiently straightforward piece of newsworthy information—say, U.S. Census figures showing the folks between ages 20 and 34 now make up a third of Washingtonians, and represent nearly all of the past decade’s population growth—but before you know it you’re busily evoking the “humming singles vibe” populated by cool cats riding “neon blue” Schwinns.
D.C., of course, has been declaring the end of its status as a “sleepy southern town” for well over a century. Back in 2003, Washington City Paper did a story on the phenomenon: A quick trip to the library revealed historians who’d placed Washington’s awakening in the 1890s, a memoirist who traced it to the 1921 arrival of the Warren Harding administration, and popular journalists who gave credit to the glory days of the New Deal.
But to believe today’s triple-bylined Post story—its A1 headline in the dead-tree edition is “CAPITAL HIP”—it’s the 21st century arrival of the youngsters who now make up 40 percent of the population in booming Wards 1 and 2 who get credit. “A city once renowned as a mecca for workaholics is starting to be thought of as a place that’s fun,” the paper of record declares.
I’m not quite ready to declare Washingtonian workaholism dead. And I’d argue that the evidence in CAPITAL HIP backs me up. Take, for instance, the case of 29-year old David Helfrich, who the Post scribes catch up with while shopping at the P Street Whole Foods (fun!). An aspiring intellectual-property lawyer, Helfrich’s reasons for settling in the District include….”the robust legal scene.”
Yes, it’s true that this new Washingtonian is a “frequent partier at Josephine and Recess,” but I’d lay good money that he’ll be putting in some pretty long hours trying to rise in that robust legal scene, too. And I think I’m on pretty safe grounding in assuming that the parents of my generation of Washingtonians—you know, the parents who came for the Great Society and stuck around for the ambitious careerism—had their own favorite nightspots and once thought of themselves as cool, too.
None of this changes the fact that the District’s demographic transition towards a younger population is significant news. But all these ambient vignettes of hipness—that guy who “practices yoga and bar-hops not just in Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle, but lately also around H Street, Penn Quarter and Logan Circle!”—seem a bit much, no? He’s still a lobbyist, for an insurance firm no less. It’s good news for the city that he chooses to live here, and here’s hoping he sticks around after diaper-changing replaces bar-hopping on his agenda. I’m just not quite ready to declare a lobbyist who enjoys nightlife as a sign of bohemian transformation.