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Good news for the allegedly "soulless" suburb? By Benjamin Freed
America's third-best place, according to the internet. Photograph by Flickr user Ayrcan.

Oh, look. Another website declaring itself the supreme arbiter of standards of living has issued a ranking of the best cities in the United States. Livability, a site devoted to ranking towns, cities, and states, is out with the 2015 model year edition of its 100 Best Places to Live list, and Arlington is ranked third among all small and midsize cities.

Arlington—created in 1846 when it was lopped off from the District—gets plaudits for high median household income ($102,459), along with its underground Metro stations, high-density development, and the “urban village” of Rosslyn and Ballston. But Livability also defines Arlington largely by its attachment to DC, which gives the 209,000-population county a very transient character.

“Like a giant college town, many residents come to work for an administration and leave after four or eight years when that administration is out of office,” Livability writes. “But many also choose to settle down and stay for the safety, parks, easy access to D.C. on the Metro or by joining the more than 1,000 people who bike across the bridges each day into the capital.”

Only Madison, Wisconsin—an actual college town—and Rochester, Minnesota, ranked higher on Livability’s chart.

There’s a brief nod to Arlington’s restaurant scene, but this list does not place too high a premium on Arlington’s culture. Being ranked the third-best place to live is nice, but it doesn’t do too much to fend off New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s recent admission that she moved her family across the river to Capitol Hill to escape Arlington’s “soulless” suburban doldrums.

The Washington region did well in Livability’s top 100 small and midsize cities, which is quite an accomplishment, considering this is from the same website that brought us equally weighty rankings like Ten Unique Popsicles Summer and Where to Find Them. Rockville is number 19, Alexandria is number 63, and Silver Spring is number 72. Tysons Corner and North Bethesda made the list, too, though not Bethesda proper.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed

Posted at 05:32 PM/ET, 09/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
It's okay, it was his own son. By Carol Ross Joynt
It's all in the family: Alix, Daniel, Julien, and Katherine Boulud at the opening party for the new DBGB DC.

When chef Daniel Boulud opened his new DBGB DC restaurant on Friday night, he got upstaged by a baby. It was his son, Julien, who arrived with mother Katherine after dark, as the crowded party hit maximum capacity and volume. it was only a matter of minutes before the whole family, including Boulud’s daughter, Alix, were pounced upon by photographers. Julien, in red bow tie and red-and-white-striped socks, appeared to take it in stride, as if this is what happens whenever he goes out with his famous father.

Boulud has restaurants in nine cities around the world, including New York, Singapore, and London, but DBGB DC is significant because this new venture is a kind of homecoming. Boulud started his career in the US in Washington, in the early 1970s, when he arrived from France to be chef to the French ambassador to the European Union. From DC it was off to New York, and the acclaim and awards followed. He has eight restaurants in Manhattan.

DBGB DC, a bistro concept that intersects French and American fare, is located at the new CityCenter complex in downtown near the Convention Center. It opened to the public on Saturday, but Friday evening was the “grand opening” party for 350 invited guests. They were welcomed with house cocktails and buffet tables of Boulud specialties, ranging from pâtés and sausages to hand-carved roasted lamb with couscous and an assortment of cheeses. Servers passed Boulud’s signature hamburgers (a version with crabcakes topping the beef patty), plus fried calamari, cheese gougères, and smoked salmon canapés.

Also on hand to wish Boulud well were chefs Patrick O’Connell of the Inn at Little Washington, Mark Furstenberg of Bread Furst on Connecticut Avenue, and chef/television personality Carla Hall, who lives in Washington; as well as media, publicists and notables of Washington’s food community, including La Piquette owner Francis Layrle, who has known Boulud since the early days in DC, when Layrle was chef at the French Embassy.

Find Carol Ross Joynt on Twitter at @caroljoynt.

Posted at 03:02 PM/ET, 09/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The planned expansion of a school parking lot threatened to divide the neighborhood. By Emma Foehringer Merchant
Twin Oaks Community Garden. Photograph by Flickr user Rock Creek.

Upgrading public schools and promoting community gardens are both goals laid out in Mayor Vince Gray’s 2011 Vision for a Sustainable DC. This summer, the expansion of a faculty parking lot at Petworth’s Powell Elementary School showed how even laudable aims can end up clashing in an increasingly crowded District.

Powell’s new lot is part of a long-awaited modernization of the Upshur Road school that most residents applaud and that the city’s Department of General Services had been working on for months. But this spring, neighbors began to hear rumors that the new parking spaces would be built over a portion of the Twin Oaks Community Garden, a ¾-acre fixture in Ward 4 since the 1960s.

Only after Twin Oaks gardeners inquired did DGS confirm the garden was in the way. “There was not an effort in the first place to involve us or even inform us that this is happening,” says Mark Betancourt, a Twin Oaks gardener.

The planned lot threatened to divide gardeners with children and those without. “Some in the garden community wanted to fight this no matter what, without considering what this expansion meant not just for the kids at the school, but for the neighborhood,” says Michael Wasse, who has a plot at Twin Oaks and a preschooler on the waiting list for Powell. 

“Powell lost funding for a renovation plan years ago,” says Wasse. “When it came up again, some parents were very concerned that if this fight got heated, they may lose that funding again.”

The city admitted its mistake—“They were notified late, and we took responsibility for notifying them late,” says Kenneth Diggs, a spokesman for DGS—and partnered with a newly formed Twin Oaks Transition Team to develop a compromise. Even so, a solution took most of the summer to reach. 

On September 16, the partners are expected to formally approve a new plan in which Twin Oaks will swap the contested north end of the garden for a new lot a block away, beside the Upshur Recreation Center. The space will include 28 plots plus composting stations and beehives, and will be entirely ADA accessible. The new plan will be announced at a community meeting on October 7. 

Construction of the new garden is planned to begin in October after soil remediation at the site. DGS has also written a letter assuring Twin Oaks the old garden will not be destroyed until the new one is completed.

Some gardeners, like Twin Oaks board member Mark Seltzer, had initial reservations. “It will be in an isolated location up on a hill where passersby, as we routinely have, won’t have the opportunity to enjoy the space. It will be more for the privileged few who know where the garden is,” Seltzer says.

And Seltzer is concerned the agreement concedes to DGS the power to take more gardens. “It definitely sets a potential precedent for destruction of community gardens at the whim of a perceived higher development need,” he said.

But Betancourt points out that the deal with DGS includes creating a new usage agreement for community gardens, which prevents similar situations from befalling other gardens. He also hopes it will provide other communities an opportunity to discuss land use in their neighborhoods.

“Ideally what we can achieve through this process is to establish better protocols for how the garden community and the community at large is engaged when the city wants to change how public land is used,” he says.

If this situation has split the garden itself, it’s also shown Twin Oaks gardeners the importance of pulling together. “We’ve had this completely different idea of what it means to be part of the community,” said Betancourt. “We need to be able to compromise and do that as a whole garden, instead of be fractured in any way.”

Posted at 02:00 PM/ET, 09/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Marijuana activists are getting puffy about the paper's stance, saying it relies on old, faulty arguments. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

Just like Nancy Reagan and early-1990s television specials, the Washington Post wants you to just say no to marijuana.

In an editorial Monday, the Post comes down harshly against Initiative No. 71 appearing on DC voters’ ballots this November:

“But the rush to legalize marijuana gives us — and we hope voters — serious pause. Marijuana, as proponents of legalization argue, may or may not be less harmful than alcohol and tobacco, both legal, but it is not harmless. Questions exist, so it would be prudent for the District not to make a change that could well prove to be misguided until more is known. Foremost here are the experiences and lessons learned by states that have opted for legalization.”

The Post backed DC’s young marijuana decriminalization law, which changed possession of one ounce or less from a criminal charge to a civil offense payable by a $25 fine, but that’s as far as the paper is willing to go.

In fighting legalization, the Post strangely uses outdated language about marijuana's reputation as a guaranteed "gateway" to harder drugs. The "gateway" effect has been widely debunked over the past 15 years, from a 1999 study by the National Institutes of Health to one in May from researchers at Emory University.

The editorial also cites information about increased rates of “stoned driving” in Colorado furnished by a group called Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a milquetoast non-profit that says it “believe[s] in an approach that neither legalizes, nor demonizes, marijuana,” yet can’t bring itself to utter the word “decriminalization.” The editorial board might have also checked the paper's own reporting. As Radley Balko pointed out in August, the reason the number of drivers who test positive for weed is up is because drug tests only detect marijuana’s chemical residue—which can remain in a user’s system for days or weeks—rather than actual inebriation. Fatalities on Colorado’s highways are actually down this year from a 13-year average.

Perhaps the Post would have arrived at a different position if its editorial board had spent more time with Adam Eidinger, the legalization initiative’s author. Eidinger tells Washingtonian he offered to make a presentation—similar to how a candidate for office seeking the paper's endorsement would—but all the editorial board granted was a quick phone call after the decision was already made. Eidinger e-mailed editorial writer Jo-Ann Armao, who writes about DC issues, last Friday requesting a meeting “in the coming month.” Armao wrote back about 35 minutes later, saying a phone call that day would be better.

In a phone call, Armao says there’s nothing new about the Post’s stance against legalization. The editorial board sounded off on the issue in January when Maryland lawmakers toyed with the notion and urged the state’s leaders to “slow down” on the rush toward legalized pot. While the Post has long favored decriminalization efforts, going on a week-long tear in favor of legalization like the New York Times did earlier this summer.

The legalization being weighed by DC voters is a much mellower strain than in other places. While it would permit possession of up to two ounces of marijuana for personal use for people 21 and over, home cultivation of as many as six cannabis plants, and the permission to transfer as much as one ounce—without payment—to another consenting adult, it would not create a regulated and taxed retail market like Colorado’s.

A newspaper's editorials don't have to agree with its readers' opinions, but the Post is in the minority on this one. Polling conducted by the paper in January showed that 63 percent of DC residents favor legalization, making its approval this November a safe bet.

Eidinger also slams the Post’s "out-of-touch" rationale for relying on fusty, institutional views on pot use. The editorial quotes the American Medical Association’s warning that “cannabis is a dangerous drug and as such is a public health concern” and states that marijuana use leads to the use of hard drugs.

“Okay, hang your hat on the most stagnant medical group that isn’t willing to go beyond medical marijuana,” Eidinger says. “There are many doctors who believe that sitting in jail is more harmful to your health than marijuana.” 

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed

Posted at 01:45 PM/ET, 09/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The longtime Washington influencer died of a heart attack, his family says. By Benjamin Freed

Photograph courtesy of Squire Patton Boggs.

Thomas Hale Boggs Jr., the chairman emeritus of the big-time lobbying firm Squire Patton Boggs, is dead from a heart attack at age 73, his sister, the journalist Cokie Roberts, tells the Washington Post.

Boggs reportedly died at his home in Chevy Chase, Maryland, on Monday morning, leaving behind a legacy of being one of Washington's biggest political dealmakers and fundraisers, but one whose clout had declined in the last year. A quick glance of Senate lobbying disclosures on which his name appears reads like a Fortune 500 list, including companies such as Amazon, Citgo, and AIG.

Boggs's influence on K Street was diminishing earlier this year in the wake of declining revenues and a long-running, costly case against Chevron. Patton Boggs was rescued in early June by merging with the law firm Squire Sanders, though as Washingtonian reported earlier this year, one of the longstanding problems at the old Patton Boggs was that there was no apparent successor to its founder.

Boggs was the son of two former members of Congress: Thomas Hale Boggs Sr., a Democratic leader from Louisiana until his death in 1972, and Lindy Boggs, who took over her late husband's seat and later served as the US ambassador to the Holy See.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

See also: Business Hall of Fame—Thomas Boggs Jr.

Posted at 12:42 PM/ET, 09/15/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Our books editor loved the newly released "Station Eleven" by Emily Mandel. By Bethanne Patrick

A month or so ago a fellow critic and I lunched and chatted about books, as we do, and one of the books we discussed was Station Eleven by Emily Mandel. The critic had read it; I hadn’t. “Oh! There are so many inconsistencies in that book!” said my colleague, going on to list several of them. While I mentioned that I’d loved Mandel’s previous novels (which is true, although I had a couple of problems with her first one, Last Night in Montreal), we shared a good snicker about books that don’t close their own loops. Yes, I’m keeping it real, folks; when book people gather, we sometimes say things for our own amusement.

I kept the caveats about inconsistencies in mind when I finally had time to pick up Station Eleven this week. One that we’d talked about seemed glaring to me (and I’m going to attempt to analyze this without spoilers): Why didn’t the characters ever camp out in private homes? Since even the most cursory reviews of the novel will tell you that it’s about a near-future version of our society after “civilization’s collapse,” no one’s reading will be ruined when I say that I originally hypothesized that people were avoiding any structure that might be occupied. But I could be completely wrong, and after reading several dozen more pages, I realized this: It doesn’t matter one bit.

Yes, Mandel is writing dystopian fiction with science-fiction shadings--and I know that many fans of such fiction love inner consistency in their reads. (Not that my aforementioned colleague falls into that category.) Mandel is also writing the kind of high-concept book that puts its author on the high wire: How will she connect her cast of characters? isn’t simply a brain-teaser of a question. It’s one that adds a layer (or layers) of meaning to the book. When you go beyond plot and beyond theme to the next level of symbolism and purpose, then add plot devices, character connections, and atmosphere, you’re writing a high-concept book. It tickled me that Mandel references Justin Cronin’s wildly popular The Passage in Station Eleven, not just because she’s tipping her hat to a master of “Armageddon Lit,” but also because it seems like a “Look Ma! No hands!” moment where she admits that hers is no step-by-step survival guide and is instead a book about references and ineffabilities, like the Lufthansa scarf one male character wears. Even when no one else remembers why he keeps it around his neck, he does.

By the time I was halfway through Station Eleven, any and all holes in its logic mattered not a wit. Jeevan, the EMT-in-training who attempts to resuscitate actor Arthur Leander during a performance of “King Lear”, and his brother Frank mattered more to me than figuring out how many packs of toilet paper Jeevan managed to smuggle back to their apartment before the Toronto power grid shut down. Publisher’s Weekly wrote “...this book shouldn’t work nearly so well,” and they’re right. That’s the magic of Mandel’s high-wire performance. She should fall, leaning so far--but she doesn’t. Our disbelief should not suspend, but it does.

Woven into the scenes of past and present that truly are eventually resolved are chapters about The Traveling Symphony, a group of performers who cart their instruments and costumes wherever they can, embodying their slogan “Because Survival Is Insufficient.” Hidden within the elliptical exchanges (sometimes printed as interviews, sometimes as conversations, sometimes through other bits of media) are very big questions about why we perform, and for whom. No wonder the glowing tents on the cover are there: Within them, people who have survived calamity and tragedy continue to go through their paces as human beings.

Posted at 06:30 PM/ET, 09/12/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
There are 93 names, 30 billionaires, 13 millennials—and basically no one from DC. By Carol Ross Joynt
Discovery Communications' David Zaslav made the list. Photograph by Flickr user The Cable Show.

Vanity Fair magazine has come out with its 20th-annual list of the “new establishment,” and the lack of local names is glaringly obvious.

Though Jeff Bezos, the still relatively new owner of the Washington Post, is fourth on the list, he landed that spot not as a Washingtonian, but for his day job in Seattle.

In a category called “powers that be,” David Zaslav, president and CEO of Silver Spring-based Discovery Communications, ranks seventh; after him at number nine is presumptive presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton. She counts, sort of—she has, in fact, been spotted walking a dog with her husband in DC—but she lives in New York.

Two DC-based media darlings, The Dish blogger Andrew Sullivan and Ezra Klein of Vox, do show up on yet another sub-list called “news disrupters.” But can disrupters really be establishment, too? Would either want to be?

Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 09/11/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
And a bit of World Trade Center trutherism, too. By Benjamin Freed
Photograph via Shutterstock.

As with pretty much every other national commemoration, the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks have morphed into an opportunity for companies to extend their brands by tacking somber memorials on top of their regular promotions. Among the national brands marking the 9/11 anniversary with an awkardly timed tweet are Applebee’s, Build-a-Bear Workshop, the Kardashian family, and sex-toy manufacturer Fleshlight. (Actually, Fleshlight’s was probably the most respectful of those four.)

But the most blatant appropriation of 9/11 we’ve seen comes from our own turf with a painfully crafted promotion from Bikram Arlington. The local yoga studio began the anniversary with a one-day special offering 20 percent off class packages. Why 20 percent? Because, the studio explained in a since-deleted tweet, 20 is the sum of nine and 11. Woof.

The 9/11 yoga special sparked immediate outrage. Bikram Arlington initially defended it, and threw in a bit of trutherism for good measure:

Screenshot via Twitter.

 

The Building 7 tweet has also since been deleted, and Bikram Arlington is now apologizing profusely.

If only all brands that feel compelled to insert themselves into a national day of mourning were as tasteful as Fleshlight.

Posted at 12:09 PM/ET, 09/11/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
The transit agency is going to test out mobile payments. By Benjamin Freed
Pay like this. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Apple’s announcement of a new mobile payment system has the potential to replace the need to carry cash and credit cards for just about any transaction. Turns out Metro is a step ahead of the computing giant.

While tech journalists in California were fawning over Apple’s newest gizmos on Tuesday afternoon, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority announced the introduction of a pilot program that will install turnstiles at ten Metrorail stations and on six bus lines equipped to take payments through mobile phones, contact-less credit cards, federal identification badges, and other nontraditional forms of payment.

The technology, known as near-field communication (NFC), will be deployed at the Shady Grove, Eisenhower Avenue, Bethesda, Pentagon City, Pentagon, Ballston, Gallery Place (Seventh and F streets), Farragut West, Navy Yard, and Suitland stations, Metro says. (The parking lots at Suitland and Shady Grove will also be outfitted with the new system.) It will also appear on the 37, X9, 39, K9, J4, and Richmond Highway Express bus routes. Installation will begin in October, with the pilot program set to begin in January, around the time Apple’s fancy new watch goes on sale.

There’s no reason to panic about carrying around fare cards and SmarTrip cards for now—the pilot program will run for about six months. If the test run goes well, Metro says it plans to install the NFC-equipped gate at every rail station and on every bus starting in 2017. Metro’s long-term plan is to make it much more efficient for people to enter and exit the system. The prospect of waving one’s phone (or wrist accessory) at the gate to board a train seems far speedier than having to queue at a kiosk to ensure there’s enough money on your fare card.

And early adopters don’t need to worry about using the right payment platform, says Metro spokesman Dan Stessel. The new fare gates will work with devices using Apple Pay, Google Wallet, “and probably devices that haven’t been invented yet,” he says.

“Most important, though, is that residents and visitors alike will no longer have to convert US Currency into ‘Metro money’ before traveling, making for a more convenient travel experience,” says Stessel.

Find Benjamin Freed on Twitter at @brfreed.

Posted at 05:40 PM/ET, 09/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Every week, we'll pick a winning photo to showcase on our website.
Photograph via Shutterstock.

The start of fall brings with it the return of many wonderful things—football, your favorite television shows, an excuse to wear your comfiest pair of boots. And this month we're excited to announce we're bringing back another favorite: Washingtonian's Photo Contests. 

To refresh your memory, we pick a different theme each time, and shutterbug readers submit a photo they've taken that exemplifies it. The best photo will be featured on our website. Rinse, repeat. 

This week, we'd like to see how you're spending the last warm days before fall sets in. Share photos of beach days, great outdoor cookouts, or anything that highlights your final days of summer. If you need inspiration, take a look through our Photo Contest archives

Submit your photos by e-mailing photocontest@washingtonian.com or by tagging #WashMagPhoto on Instagram or Twitter. Please include where the photo was taken and your name with each submission. We'll highlight our favorite photo on Monday, September 15.

Posted at 04:40 PM/ET, 09/09/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()