Five-minute living in Washington DC


A view of the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial in downtown Washington DC.

A view of the Washington Monument from the Lincoln Memorial in downtown Washington DC.

WASHINGTON DC – Bicycle lanes, buses, trains and pedestrian crossings are a distinct feature of the streets of the US capital, Washington DC.

This is a city on the move, constantly.

The greater metropolitan area of Washington, which includes the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia, is home to more than 6-million people and many commute from neighbouring states during the work week.

“It’s a city where you can have a more livable, walkable lifestyle, and this is attracting young people from all over the US, because you don’t need a car to live here,” said Tommy Wells, director of Washington&39;s Department of Energy and Environment.

“It’s what I call five-minute living. That you can walk to and get to what you want in about five minutes and if you can’t, then you can get on great transportation that will get you there,” he said.

Avery Snipes moved to DC from rural North Carolina two years ago.

“Lots of young 20-somethings are coming here to work on the hill, to work in non-profits there’s so many different jobs, If you cant’ find a job in DC, you’re not going to find a job anywhere,” she says.

More people around the world are moving to cities. The UN has reported that 54 percent of the world’s population lives in cities. This is projected to grow to 66 percent by 2050 and Africa will see a major part of this growth.

Speaking at a clean-up event in Alexandra in January this year, Gauteng Premier David Makhura said the province is facing huge infrastructure problems with more people moving to Gauteng every month.

“In the past five years, a million people moved to Gauteng. There&39;s almost 20,000 people who move into the different parts of our province every month and so it puts lots of pressure on education, healthcare and the demand for housing,” said Makhura.

City officials in Washington say planning and efficient use of spaces are part of the solution to addressing the demands of urbanisation.

“Land use planning is probably the most powerful city a thing can do around managing transportation and reducing greenhouse gases,” said Wells.

Cities around the world are estimated to be responsible for 75 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, a major driver of climate change.

Wells says Washington is leading the way in preparing the city to adapt to the impact of climate change.

“All the younger people that are moving into Washington, that’s what they expect. There’s no debate about climate change, they expect to have a government that’s responding to the challenges of the world,” he said.

Efficient public transport, green building codes and getting more government buildings powered by renewable energy are just some of the ways that the city is planning to meet its ambitious climate change targets.

The City of Johannesburg is facing similar issues. In September last year, executive mayor Parks Tau tried to stop private cars from entering Sandton during the Ecomobility World Festival for an month.

This initiative was aimed at reducing congestion and also to reduce the city’s transport emissions, which are destroying the air quality and making the city a major driver of climate change in South Africa.

“The economic impact of congestion around South Africa is R1-billion. Joburg has the most of that with 2,5-million cars registered around our city,” said Tau at the time.

That’s not where the similarities between Johannesburg and Washington end. Both cities also face a large divide between rich and poor.

Street performer, Albert Covington, says that when he comes to the city centre to perform for tourists in front of the White House, he feels like a visitor himself.

“It’s like two different sides really, it&39;s like we’re visiting DC but we live on the other side,” he said.

Covington is from an area which is classified as a "food desert". Wards 7 and 8 in north-east DC are about a 30-minute drive from the White House. In these neighbourhoods, household food insecurity is a big problem.

Convenience stores and fast food restaurants are on every corner, offering much cheaper food for families while healthy fresh produce shops are few and far between.

DC Urban Greens, a non-profit organisation, is introducing vegetables for locals at a more affordable price.

Green leafy edible plants are carefully harvested at urban farms and then sold weekly in the neighbourhood.

Apprentice Crystal Bullock spends her days getting her hands dirty in soil learning about composting.

“When I come here I learn that different things grow at in different seasons and in different weather and climate and its really down to Mother Nature. You know we can have the best soil and grow it on time but Mother Nature dictates if the plants going to grow or not,“ she said.

This farm is one of three operations in the city, and it runs off the grid throughout the year.

Aside from eating healthy foods, there are other benefits that extend to beyond nutrition.

“If you don’t have the right nutrition your mind doesn’t work as fast as it should, or at the levels that it should so it impacts (on) the way you think; it impacts (on) the way you move (and) the way you live because if you can’t live the same way (everyone) else in the world is living, then you get into this thing, survival mode,” said Ashleigh Mitchell.

While Washington has become a healthier and more convenient place to live, city officials say they now face the task of meeting the demand for safe and affordable housing closer to job opportunities a problem South African city officials are also trying to solve.

"Now the challenge of course is to try and be sure that an area where everyone wants to live is affordable and that’s been one of the greatest challenges," said Wells. 

Please note this was a sponsored trip. eNCA journalists were guests of the US Embassy in South Africa.