Someone once asked me if I thought apathy plagued DC residents, and if that was why no one expected anything better than what we have. I answered yes, saying that's true for a lot of people. It's true because many who move here make no long-term commitment to the city. On the flip-side most people who have been in this city for a long time have seen this city go through very hard times. They have lived through generations of either neglect or disinterest from the Federal government followed by the incompetence and corruption of their own elected officials.
There's a small sliver of people who genuinely hope for better, and an even smaller percentage of people who see the problems facing this city and region and dedicate themselves to fixing it. However, there are so many obstacles that it's not entirely surprising that not much is accomplished, and that many things stay the same. Improvements have been made, make no mistake, but not at a rate befitting of the capital of the United States.
No city is perfect, and many have bigger problems than DC. However, that's still not an excuse for the many ways this city is failing to live up to its potential. We are the capital city of the United States of America, and while some may argue to the contrary, we are a pretty advanced and dare I say inspiring nation. Is there any good reason why our capital city should not be an example of everything the United States hopes to be?
I mean, imagine if President Obama decided to make improving the capital city (not just the federal area) a high priority. Imagine if he organized a group within the White House to work with Congress and the District of Columbia government to create a plan to improve all aspects of the District, in order to fulfill the potential that lies within. Imagine if with Michelle Obama, Adrian Fenty, the Eleanor Norton Holmes, and other local and federal officials, the President gave a speech like this outside the Reeves Center:
It is with honor and humility that I stand here at a landmark both to the struggles this city has endured and the potential that has yet to be realized. Forty-one years ago, fires burned up and down these streets in the aftermath of deadly riots. It is said that time heals all wounds, yet almost forty years later our nation's capital still suffers.
As President of the United States, it is both an obligation and a privilege to live in the city of Washington. However, any President would be lying to you if he told you he understands the city of Washington. The President does not have to worry whether or not his children will be tempted to join a gang, or deal drugs. The President does not have to worry about himself or his family getting robbed on his way home from work. The President does not have to worry if his children will have textbooks at their school, or even have a school that is not crumbling to the ground.
It is unacceptable that the President of the United States can live in the nation's capital and not make these concerns his own. It is time that the city of Washington fulfill its potential to truly be a city on a hill. To serve as a shining example of what a great city can be. To inspire the nation, and the world. The United States of America deserves a world class capital city.
This is no easy task. This is not a simple matter of patching potholes and putting up flags. This starts from the ground up. This is a time for innovation. This is a time for imagination. The problems facing this city have been institutionalized for decades and change will not come overnight. But I know that it is possible.
I stand here, where forty-one years ago little more than ash and rubble remained. The citizens of this city, despite the challenges, rebuilt. This is now a vibrant and diverse neighborhood filled with locally owned businesses. This change did not come overnight. In fact, some would say it took too long. For years, people who want to make a difference have not had a government that worked for them. For too long they have had a government that has worked against them.
To this extent, I am calling upon the Congress, the Government of the District of Columbia, and the appropriate federal agencies to dedicate themselves to making real change. For as long as I am President this will be a priority. There is much work to be done. Across the nation there is a shift towards sustainable communities and livable cities. Local leaders across this land are looking for an example. We will give them one.
Our nation's capital should be a beacon of hope. There is no reason this city should not have the best schools in the country. There is no reason this city should not have the best public transportation in the country. For too long people have accepted things they way are. It's time for people to dream of how they could be. One cannot look forward if they live consumed by the problems of yesterday.
Under the Constitution of the United States of America, this city remains a federal district. In the future that may change, but for as long as that remains true the citizens of the District of Columbia should be given the full support of the government of the United States of America. It's time that the government dedicate itself to giving the people of Washington, and the people of the United States the capital city they deserve.But I'm a dreamer. The federal government and Congress likes exploiting our city for political gain (e.g. abortion, school vouchers, guns, voting, etc.), but doesn't meet the implicit obligation it has to our well-being in the Constitution.
It seems unlikely the federal government will ever take an interest in making this city a truly world class city. Perhaps they believe it's too tall a task, or they don't care. Perhaps they aren't interested in having a completely vibrant and thriving city surround the L'Enfant City. Maybe they don't have the time or energy to invest in such a daunting project. Maybe it's too hard to sell to their constituents. Whatever the reasoning, it's a sad situation.
So long as both the local and federal governments fail the people so miserably, I find it hard to hold out hope for change from the bottom up. People get too discouraged, and many fail to make any sort of meaningful commitment to their city or their fellow citizens. It doesn't have to be that way.