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City Limits: The No-Go District

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I was at the Newseum last night when I met D.C. Council member Phil Mendelson. He asked where in the District I lived and when I said, "Er, I don't live in Washington; I live in Silver Spring," he gave me a sad and disappointed look. He couldn't imagine an intelligent, cultured person living anywhere else than within the city limits.

Fine. He's a D.C. politician. That's to be expected. But then I thought of my reaction to a story I read in The Post this week by Tara Bahrampour. It was about a Loudoun family's attempts to cut back on their spending. At one point, the mother mentioned that they wanted to get the two kids out of their "Ashburn bubble." Said the father:

We want the kids to see D.C. And I thought, the zoo -- that's a cheap thing to do. Well we went, and by the time we paid for pizza, two cups of coffee, hot chocolate and parking, it came to $100. We're not going to D.C. again.

"We're not going to D.C. again." I can't imagine saying such a thing, and yet I don't think it's so uncommon a sentiment. I remember watching focus groups of area residents talk about their leisure activities and being surprised at the high number of suburbanites who wouldn't go to the Mall, the Smithsonian museums, the theaters and nightclubs. They just wouldn't go to Washington.

Some of them equated D.C. with crime, their image of the city having been formed during a more lawless time. Some no doubt saw D.C. as too expensive. When you're used to parking for free at the shopping mall or the megaplex you might bristle at shelling out money for a spot in a garage.

My Ashburn family seemed to fall into this category, denying themselves the cultural attractions of a great city because the coffee is expensive here. But then I wondered if perhaps I was being too harsh. Was I Mendelsoning these people? Should I just allow them to be happy in Ashburn, the way I'm happy in Silver Spring?

What do you think?

What's in a Name?
I was at the Newseum for an event hosted by the charity that runs the summer camp we raise money for during Send a Kid to Camp. For decades the nonprofit has been called Family and Child Services of Washington, D.C. Last night they announced that they'd changed the name to Family Matters of Greater Washington.

The reason? For starters, too many people confused them with Child and Family Services, the often-troubled D.C. government agency. The new name--Family Matters--may sound like a sitcom from the 1980s, but it should avoid that problem.

Last night's event honored three women who worked on our Send a Kid to Camp campaign. Alice Reid, former Post reporter and editor, wrote the columns last summer while I sipped Pimm's in England. For years Postie Gerri Marmer has handled the money end of things for me. And Tani Lublin is a reader who organizes donations from her neighbors at the Marina Towers condo complex in Alexandria. She's helped raise thousands of dollars in donations.

Thanks you, ladies. And thank you to Maureen Bunyon, another award winner for her work in the community. A former Girl Scout, she promises to join us out at Camp Moss Hollow this summer.

Chatterbox
It's time once again for my weekly online chat. Post a comment or question now or join me--live!--at noon.

By John Kelly  |  April 17, 2009; 9:00 AM ET
 
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Comments

Part of the reason I'm happy to be in Silver Spring is that I have easy access to the various downtown amenities, whereas if you live in Ashburn you're pretty far from everything that's not in NoVa. So it might not be a fair comparison. Still, they should go downtown every once in a while.

Posted by: Lindemann777 | April 17, 2009 10:01 AM | Report abuse

I worked very hard when I saw that article to not comment on the fact that for the price of a packed lunch, a few Metro fares and a little extra walking - consider how much walking you do at the Zoo on much hillier terrain than walking down from Cleveland Park - they could have had a much less expensive Zoo experience.

I figured this common sense observation would be drowned among a lot of the nastier comments that went along with that article.

I can't believe you would live that close to DC and expose your kids to all the cool stuff (much of it FREE) it has to offer. I mean, they can be happy in Ashburn - nice house, good neighborhood, all good stuff. But if they want out of their Ashburn bubble, then they have to realize that some of the coolest places around don't have free parking.

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | April 17, 2009 10:07 AM | Report abuse

I tend to agree with Chasmosaur1...you really don't have to spend $100 on a trip to the zoo (or the Mall, Smithsonian museums, viewing the monuments and memorials, enjoying the Tidal Basin, hiking Rock Creek Park or the C&O canal, etc.) if you spend just a little time and energy on planning. We live just outside the Beltway in Fairfax...sometimes we drove, sometimes we took Metro, but we still took our kids into DC at least once a month until they were in their early teens. Often it was when friends or relatives were visiting from out of town, but how can you not take advantage of this city?

Heck, with a little research you can get free or 2-for-1 Nationals tickets. We have purchased a discount card the past three years for $40 and our total out of pocket cost for 4 games with parking and some ballpark food is under $200 (including the coupons) - and that's for 4 people at each game.

Posted by: skipper7 | April 17, 2009 10:41 AM | Report abuse

I still think you have to be an idiot to chose to live in DC!

Posted by: gm123 | April 17, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

How can you spend $100 at the zoo? Since admission is free, they must have really gorged themselves at the snack bar (how much are those pizzas?) or went wild with the souvenir shopping.

And you can save money on parking by driving to the Metro and taking the Red Line to Woodley or Cleveland Park. Parking is (for now) free on weekends.

Posted by: mkarns | April 17, 2009 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Why not pack a lunch and save a lot of money?

It's a shame to deprive yourself and your children of some great experiences to be had in D.C. - many of which are FREE.

Posted by: swissmiss150 | April 17, 2009 1:04 PM | Report abuse

re: Living in the city.

I do it for my kid. Most weekend days, we ride our bikes the 15 minutes to the Mall, hit the museums, or go to the Library of Congress for a kids program. We live about 3/4 of a block from a *very* good elementary school on Capitol Hill, and our neighbors are fantastic.

I'll probably have to pay for about three years of private school in grades 6-8, but then it's one of DCs 4-5 great academic magnet schools.

Best of all? No ignorant suburbanites to deal with!

It's so odd to me to go out to some suburban Trader Joes, and see all the oddballs who live out there, and are so crippled from social phobia they can't even manage to say, "Excuse me" when they run you over with their shopping carts.

Posted by: icoleman | April 17, 2009 1:09 PM | Report abuse

I also want to know how expensive those pizzas and coffees were. Just brown-bag it, or stick your food into a backpack. I can see a one-time expense of close to $100 if you have to buy a couple of thermoses (one for coffee and one for hot chocolate), a backpack or two, and an insulated sack for sandwiches, assuming you don't already have those and can't bargain hunt for lower prices.

Honestly, do suburbanites just not know how to survive? It's really not that difficult to see DC on the cheap.

Posted by: dkp01 | April 17, 2009 3:57 PM | Report abuse

I may never understand the need for coffee. Like, those two cups of coffee were a necessary cost to see DC.

I think that comment may have seemed more outrageous if they commented on the price of cigarettes in the district. Addictions have a double standard.

Posted by: crs-one | April 17, 2009 5:43 PM | Report abuse

A good public school in DC come on? Good public colleges in DC? Add up your taxes in DC and compare to Ashburn for your income, real estate and sales taxes etc. How many murders were there in DC compared to Ashburn? And last but not least you can own fire arms and get carry concealed in Ashburn! And its only a short drive to Gold Cup in Ashburn as compared to DC. And at least Ashburn doesn't have a corrupt mayor and city council! Why you all put up with Comrade Fenty is beyond me!

Posted by: sheepherder | April 20, 2009 7:59 AM | Report abuse

Thinking that people would be happier if they just live where you live, do what you do, read what you read, vote the way you vote, and think the way you think, etc., is just the height of unjustified moral superiority.

Stop looking down your noses at people who aren't like you.

Posted by: WashingtonDame | April 20, 2009 12:01 PM | Report abuse

A good public school in DC come on? Good public colleges in DC? Add up your taxes in DC and compare to Ashburn for your income, real estate and sales taxes etc. How many murders were there in DC compared to Ashburn? And last but not least you can own fire arms and get carry concealed in Ashburn! And its only a short drive to Gold Cup in Ashburn as compared to DC. And at least Ashburn doesn't have a corrupt mayor and city council! Why you all put up with Comrade Fenty is beyond me!

Posted by: sheepherder | April 20, 2009 7:59 AM | Report abuse

All fine reasons to *live* in Ashburn, but none addressing whether or not one should avoid visiting DC.

Posted by: crs-one | April 21, 2009 9:34 AM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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