Repeat argument: Washington D.C. is the real second city in the United States

Aaron Renn argues that Washington D.C., and not Los Angeles or Chicago, is the real “second city” in the United States:

During the first decade of the twenty-first century, the Washington metropolitan area overachieved on a variety of measurements versus its peer metro areas—that is, the rest of the ten largest metros in the country, plus the San Francisco Bay Area (which federal classifications divide into two, neither of which would make the Top Ten on its own). Among these regions, Washington ranked fourth in population growth from 2000 to 2010, trailing only the three Sunbelt boomtowns of Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston (see “The Texas Growth Machine”). Washington is currently the seventh most populous metropolitan area in America.The region has performed even more impressively on the jobs front. Since 2001, Washington has enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate of its peer group. Over the course of the entire decade, it ranked second in job growth, trailing only Houston. That wasn’t just because of the federal agencies and gigantic contractors of Washington stereotype. The region has also been a hotbed of entrepreneurship—much of it, to be sure, dependent on federal dollars. During the 2000s, it had 385 firms named to the Inc. 500 lists of fastest-growing companies in America, according to Kauffman Foundation research—by far the most of any metro area. From 2000 through 2011, according to rankings developed by Praxis Strategy Group, Washington’s low-profile but powerful tech sector had the country’s second-highest job growth, after Seattle’s. The region is also one of America’s top life-sciences centers.

Then there’s economic output. During the 2000s, per-capita GDP grew faster in Washington than in any of its peer regions except the Bay Area. Today, Washington’s per-capita GDP is the country’s second-highest—again, after the Bay Area. Unlike Washington, however, the Bay Area hemorrhaged jobs over the course of the decade. Related to Washington’s impressive output is its astonishing median household income, the highest of any metro area with more than 1 million people. A remarkable seven of the ten highest-income counties in America are in metro Washington. And during the 2000s, per-capita income rose in Washington faster than in any of its peer metros.

Finally, Washington’s population is the best-educated in America. Almost half of all adults in the Washington region have college degrees, the highest proportion of any metro area with more than 1 million people. The same is true of graduate degrees: almost 23 percent of Washingtonians hold them…

But what solidifies Washington’s emerging status as America’s new Second City isn’t its economic performance or its emerging global-city profile. Both of those are secondary effects of the real change in Washington: the increasingly intrusive control of the federal government over American life.

Washington has changed in recent decades and Renn highlights some of these shifts. Three things strike me about his analysis:

1. Washington still lags compared to Los Angeles and Chicago in being a world city. According to the 2012 A.T. Kearney Global Cities Index, New York is #1, Los Angeles #6, Chicago #7, Washington #10, and Boston is the next American city at #15.


This may not be a huge gap but L.A. and Chicago particularly have edges in business activity, human capital, and cultural experience while Washington has the clear edge in political engagement.

2. The choice to build a new capital in the United States back in the late 1700s is still having far-reaching implications today. Imagine New York City as both #1 global city and center of US government. While Renn argues the federal government in Washington is helping propel it up the rankings of cities, I wonder how government centers will fare in the future versus business and trade centers like New York, L.A., and Chicago (which aren’t even the state capitals). We might then benefit from a cross-national comparison with other countries that have similar set-ups.

3. Renn has made this argument before. I wrote a post titled “Washington D.C., not Chicago or LA, the real “second city” of the United States?” back on April 7, 2012 based on Renn’s piece on titled “The Great Reordering of the Urban Hierarchy.” So Renn is making this argument…is anyone else?

h/t Instapundit

8 thoughts on “Repeat argument: Washington D.C. is the real second city in the United States

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