Just Read: Dream City – the incredible story (and social determinants) of Washington, DC

This book is what I would call the climax of three books devoted to the history of (one of) the most important cities in the world, definitely the most important city in my world.

The other two, also reviewed here are Just Read: S Street Rising: Crack, Murder, and Redemption in D.C. and Just Read: Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr..

There was also a book published around that summer of 1994 called Dream City by two white Washington reporters, Tom Sherwood and Harry S. Jaffe. In this book, I was essentially blamed for everything that was wrong with Washington. I was fairly satisfied with Tom’s historical reporting of my public service in Washington, but not with Harry’s reporting of my current life. It was if I had done nothing right int he city in my recent years. Of course, that was always the case for some white Americans. Any black man who dared to look out for the progress of his people became an immediate political enemy to some whites. – Marion Barry, Mayor for Life: The Incredible Story of Marion Barry, Jr. (2014)

Most Americans and world citizens, including myself, have grown up to idealize this place, where everything must work, as much as a society is going to, and yet:

Americans feel that this federal city belongs to them, but if they lay claim to the national treasures, they can’t deny their collective responsibility for the other Washington where drugs, murder, and poverty are testaments to the nation’s failure. Washington is America’s city, in glorious myth and tragic reality.

Jaffe, Harry (2014-04-22). Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. (Kindle Locations 148-150). Argo-Navis. Kindle Edition.

That quote is from the era of the book’s authorship, 1994, which is when the book was written. However, it’s been updated with an epilogue that takes it to 2014.

It turns out, as almost everyone acknowledges, Washington, DC is not yet complete. It is in many ways a divided place (see this post: New Maps of DC health data – Not yet one culture of health), with limitations placed on its innovation and survival by our federal government.

That’s the history that this book covers. If you live here or have ever lived here, I guarantee your pupils will dilate every other page, the stories are too incredible.

Against a national trend that showed the number of households with phones climbing slowly to 94 percent in 1992, the number fell in the District from a high of nearly 95 percent in 1988 to 88 percent in 1992. In numbers, 14,000 households didn’t have phones in 1988; four years later, 27,000 were without phone services. In essence, the poor parts of the city were becoming unhitched from the upper and middle-class sections of the capital— and from the rest of America. The message inherent in these grim statistics is that a fundamental dream died in Washington over the last thirty years. The dream was that if integration could work anywhere, it could work in the District. It was a dream that wasn’t taken lightly by people like Willard Wirtz, the labor secretary who launched Marion Barry into Pride, Inc. in 1967.

Jaffe, Harry (2014-04-22). Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. (Kindle Locations 5784-5790). Argo-Navis. Kindle Edition.

Our history, triumphs, tragedies are what also makes Washington the most amazing learning lab for any innovator. A 2 mile walk can span 10 years of life expectancy and 20 or 250 years of history, with more emotion than in a lifetime anywhere else. If you think about purpose and meaning in life being related to making the world better, this is the place to do it.

The street corner where the riots started in 1968 that destroyed Washington, DC, following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., will, in 2015, host Capital TransPride for the first time ever.

There’s no mistaking the society-leading nature of this place. Nothing else like it anywhere.

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The Reeves Center, 2015, nidus of the rebirth of Washington, DC, USA (View on Flickr.com)

Remember that Stokely Carmichael helped start the 1968 riots by chucking a brick through the window of People’s Drug Store at the corner of 14th and U Streets in Shaw? And Marion Barry had made a symbolic point of locating the Franklin Reeves Municipal Center at that same corner in the late 1980s? In early 2014 the city was negotiating to trade the Reeves building as part of a land swap to build a new soccer stadium. So much for symbolism.

Jaffe, Harry (2014-04-22). Dream City: Race, Power, and the Decline of Washington, D.C. (Kindle Locations 117-120). Argo-Navis. Kindle Edition.

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14th and U Streets at night, alive again in 2015 (View on Flickr.com)
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Two cranes and a plane, taking off from Washington National Airport (View on Flickr.com)

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