Housing Complex

Uber As Proxy For D.C.’s Nouveau Riche

In the current issue of Time, Andrew Ferguson takes a crack at that most overdone of "local" Washington stories: How separate and apart the regional economy is from the rest of the country, how difficult it must be for us to feel the nation's pain. Using the popularity of the pricey personal cab service as an indicator of the wealth coursing through D.C.'s leisure corridors, he terms these new young things "Uber-Washingtonians":

The young fill entire neighborhoods with an undergraduate air. On a warm night in Clarendon in northern Virginia or in the H Street NE corridor, with the crowded sidewalks and lines outside the door-to-door bars, you might think you've landed on fraternity row in Chapel Hill, N.C., or Charlottesville, Va. They've brought the college lifestyle with them—group houses, hookups, late-night cram sessions and lots of drinking. The local drugstores seem to devote more shelf space to condoms and pregnancy tests than diapers and formula. (Another big seller at pharmacies: Pedialyte, used as the ultimate hangover cure.)

Et cetera.

I'll point out a couple things. One: The trend of increasing wealth in the Washington area is true enough, but the activity he notices downtown is more than that. It's also the result of a gradual move to cities, D.C. in particular, as they've become more attractive places to live. Those young folks wouldn't necessarily be having as much fun as they are without the city investment and planning that helped bring neighborhoods back from ruin.

And two: Ferguson does recognize the stark divide that marks the city, quoting Danny Harris talking about how little his young professional cohort seems to understand what's going on a few neighborhoods over. But he cites the region's unemployment rate of 5.5 percent, well under the national average of 8.2 percent—not unemployment in the District itself, which stands at 9.5 percent. That's lower than it has been, which could be because the long-term unemployed are getting jobs, or because they've just stopped looking. In any case, it would seem to disprove the idea that it's hard to find people still struggling in the midst of the recession. You just have to look.

  • Dan

    Also, the popularity of Uber is driven by DC having a taxicab system that fails in comparison to many other major metropolitan areas. Especially when a cab drivers will often refuse to take an Arlington or Alexandria resident home in the evening.

  • Cabs

    DC's pedicabs are more reliable, less dangerous and a nicer experience than the average DC cab.

  • Wonderland_Fan

    @Dan: Your NoVA bourgeoisie bias is so evident. How I cry that you can't take a cab back to your group home of your likely frat brothers in Arlington. I bet you live in Clarendon too. Try getting a cab back home to your basement apartment in Truxton Circle. If I didn't think cabs were keeping society down and promoting inequality, I would tell you that it's hard. Especially after I spend my parents money on PBR and facial piercings. I recommend you find a 3 wheeled solar powered scooter instead. It's carbon neutral, dog.

  • puzzled

    ferguson is a hack, and the story sounds like a hacks story. There are young professionals in NYC and SF and Boston in similar areas, where you could tell the same story. But that wouldn't have the "Govt is predatory" bite, now would it? Also the suburbs of DC are doing better than suburbs elsewhere - the contrast between NoVa and suburbs in places like Miami and Las Vegas is MORE glaring than that between H Street NE and say Greenpoint Brooklyn. But that wouldn't have the same "overentitled 20something bite" Plus the thing about condoms - My GOODNESS, these folks have sex, but not babies - enough to start a full moral and demographic panic.

    As for the group homes, I think that has a lot to do with the cost of real estate here. And I bet you can find a lot of drinking all across the sunbelt.


  • puzzled

    "his young professional cohort seems to understand what's going on a few neighborhoods over."

    because, you know, people in Orange County CA really understand whats going on in East LA, right?

    But its young urbanites who have the obligation to understand, because they are "progressives" (except they arent all) and they are "hypocrites" if they dont understand, but someone in a McMansion who doesnt know any minorities other than the team that tends his lawn, hes part of the "productive" class.

    enough with this shit.

  • J

    Its much faster and easier to get a Uber sedan - from what Ive heard- than an average cab. Plus they keep your credit card on file and tip is included - so now worries of dangerous ATM journey.

  • NE John

    All that stuff sounds great to me. If I was just 30 years younger I'd be having a rockin good time.

  • JoeEsq 74

    NE John - Preach.

  • TM

    Pay wall at Time means I don't know if he gets around to it, but the class of people who have benefited by far the most from the massive increase in government spending in the DC region are defense and security contractors in NoVa. It's easy to play off sneering stereotypes of urban hipsters, and it makes for fun copy. But the vast majority of the security industrial complexes lucre has ended up in the cul-de-sacs of Fairfax and Loudoun counties. It's a lot less interesting to write about these "teat suckers" particularly when the target demographic of Time magazine generally identifies with them.

  • thatshitcray


    You mad brah!

  • harry

    Uber rocks!!! love it

  • Jane

    Uh, maybe I'm just dumb (or missing something behind the pay wall) but is that actually a reference to the Über cab service? Isn't it much more likely they mean the German word in its conventional sense of "superior"?

  • oboe

    "his young professional cohort seems to understand what's going on a few neighborhoods over."

    What @puzzled said.

    Things were so much better when the young professional cohort was ignoring the plight of the underclass from across the river--and paying income taxes there as well. This harks back to the good old days when all the middle-class folks lived outside the city, and spent their days tut-tutting about how DC just couldn't get its act together.

    As if they bore no responsibility whatsoever for poverty in the region.

  • ben

    @TM: That's a great point

  • Hillman

    I'm too cheap to crack Time's pay wall, but if this is related to Uber the car service I'd say Uber was born of necessity. DC cabs are abysmal, and the cab industry has Vince Gray and Kwame Brown pretty much on payroll, so services like Uber were sure to rise once the technology was there.

    It's telling that the DC Taxi Commission has done all they can to crush Uber.

    Why? Because it threatens the horrible status quo.

  • W

    Not to mention that pregnancy tests and condoms are in fact two of many family planning tools, so their abundance is no indication of a lack of families. To get into the TMI moment of this comment, I have found myself buying both diapers and condoms on recent drugstore runs. I can also tell you that the diaper section is always larger than the condom/pregnancy test section, and every grocery store will have an ample diaper/baby food section, whereas they may not have any condoms or pregnancy tests. Pedialyte is also a big seller among parents with sick kids.

    This guy is a total hack. He takes a bunch of evidence that indicates families are present, and somehow convinces himself of the opposite. All he'd have to do is take a walk around Cap Hill, Georgetown, Petworth, Columbia Heights, Brookland, Logan Circle, etc and he'd see all the dreaded yuppie moms pushing strollers.

    Lydia, isn't there some sort of review process that major publications have before they publish things? I remember them being called "editors", and I think they had to have a college degree and maybe some experience. I guess Time must have let them all go when everyone abandoned the mag due to paywall.

  • Lydia DePillis


    Just the right amount of information, in fact.

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  • anon

    @W -- amen!

    I'll 2nd the shopping experience, and while I may have picked up some pedialyte for my dyspeptic toddler, I've never done the trifecta of diapers, condoms, and pregnancy test

  • jp

    I'll agree with the author that the post-grad yuppie neighborhoods in Arlington are annoying, awful places, but disagree with his resentment of the strong local economy.

    DC definitely attracts a less culturally aware yuppie then other Metro areas. The majority of young people moving to the area choose to live in VA or MD and relive their college experience until they get married.

    They occasionally venture into the city on the weekend to wreak havoc on H St. NE or Dupont. Not sure why anyone would disagree the observation that frat bro douchieness is pervasive in the entire metro area.

  • Kes

    @W I was wondering myself what pharmacies this guy could possibly be shopping at to miss the massive diaper & formula aisles. Dupont Circle CVS, maybe? Cause the ones in Columbia Heights and H St are crammed with baby-rearing supplies. Not mention canes, shower stools, and other aids for the aged. And expired fancy chocolates.

    When the Hechinger Mall CVS starts stocking non-expired Godiva bars, I will take it as sign that the neighborhood has "gentrified."

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