City Matrix: Washington D.C.

I recently returned from a brief visit to Washington D.C. to present at an environmental tech conference. I will preface this City Matrix by stating that we did not stay in downtown or Old Town or any hip-trendy-town. We stayed at National Harbor, Maryland, with which I have many qualms. I did create a City Matrix for actual D.C. below, however. But first, here’s the thing: upon entering the main street, I immediately felt nauseated and off balance. The whole “harbor” felt manufactured and plunked down based on some grand fantasy for consumerism heaven/hell (however you see it). The buildings were all identical in style and clearly designed and built at the exact same time within the last ten years. There was a giant television screen blocking the waterfront with ads running continuously throughout the night. The scale of the buildings left me and my humanness feeling obsolete and without a sense of belonging or comfort. It was clear that the “harbor” was not created to improve a human experience but to retrieve the fastest ROI for a massive pie-in-the-sky capitalistic project. Now this may all seem pretty harsh, but I’m sharing my experience as it was. Based on the photos I took below, it is seemingly picturesque, but by far overbuilt.

National Harbor, Maryland. Convention Center (left) and view from Harbor shore (right).

I did create a city matrix for what I was able to experience in actual D.C., which overall was pretty unique.

  1. Access to nature and trails

Trails everywhere! Mostly cityscape trails to the monuments and such. But, the connectivity to neighborhoods, greenspace, and restaurants was very easy and enjoyable to walk.

2. Safe foot & bike travel

Very walkable, especially to see all the touristy things. We saw many bikers (most without helmets) navigating the busy city streets. Bike lanes or designated routes were not as apparent, but people seemed to be getting around just fine.

Covered bike parking (shown to the left middle of the image)

3. Available public transportation

That rubber wheel subway knows what it’s doing.

4. Avoidance of urban sprawl

I think National Harbor is an example of the extended city sprawl. The DMV area is unique, which makes it difficult to tell where a city starts and stops.

5. Public art & sculpture

Everywhere. You’ll get your patriotic eagle here and there too.

Casual outdoor places of rest (near George Washington University)

6. Initiatives to end poverty

Let’s sure hope so where the nation’s policies are made. I did not stay long enough to deep dive into this on a community level, but I would like to explore this on my next visit.

7. Countless cultural events

ETHIOPIAN FOOD. I’m going to count this as a cultural event because it is so prolific, authentic, and delicious in D.C. We went to Queen of Sheba on 9th and felt so full and happy afterwards.

8. Live music: free and/or often

Didn’t have a chance to experience, but am open to suggestions for next time.

9. Access to organic, affordable food

10. Available recycling & composting

11. Air quality & cleanliness


12. Unique style & architecture

Very colonial residences and regal government building with some European influences. There were a surprising amount of curved wall buildings for apartments and business buildings.

13. “Funky” attitude & personality

Diverse and vibrant! I would like to go back to get a better sense of the city’s personality as a whole.

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