Brooklyn vs. DC
May 19, 2010 4:17 AM   Subscribe

Benefits of living in Washington, DC vs. Brooklyn, NYC? Work-related caveat involved.

I'm going to be moving from Boston to either Brooklyn or Washington DC in the fall to start a new job teaching middle school. I'm having trouble deciding which is a better fit for me.

Me: 22 year old, educated, ambitious, loves being near the water, nightlife, morninglife (cafes, etc), good restaurants.

Brooklyn: The school that hired me is oooookay, but not amazing. Brooklyn's culture is very intriguing to me. I'd also be working with a current colleague at this new job, which would be nice.

DC: The school that hired me is amazing. But, I can't get excited about DC as a city. It seems to have no character and be very non-committal. However, one of my good friends will be living there next year and teaching at a middle school just down the road.

So, aside from city-specific things (of which I would LOVE to hear a ton), does WHERE I live affect my quality of life, especially as a busy first-year teacher? Or should I focus on where I WORK?

posted by brynna to Society & Culture (19 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What neighborhoods would you like and be able to afford, that would also be a good commute?

Brooklyn, I'm personally a fan and not so much a fan of DC but depending on the neighborhood DC might be okay. I didn't live there for that long.

How much do you like walkability and transit? Because NYC kicks DC's ass in that regard with about a billion walkable neighborhood full of cafes and restaurants and everything you could need.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 4:27 AM on May 19, 2010

I've lived in both cities (living in Fort Greene, Brooklyn currently) and can't recommend Brooklyn highly enough. It's very culturally vibrant, there's always a new bar or restaurant to visit, and people there are used to the flux of newcomers moving in and so will generally make friends easily.

I hated DC for opposite reasons. It's really small and (to me) boring. Adams-Morgan is a sleek pit of soulless clubs, U street and Petworth are pretty cool but nothing compared to Brooklyn, and lots of people opt to live in NOVA rather than the city itself. Like you, I was also not a policy geek, so I felt alienated by the wonks. Yes, people in NYC will care about your career, but less so in Brooklyn. But in DC did I have people literally give me the cold shoulder when they found out I didn't work on Capitol Hill. My (super cute, funny) friend worked in retail in Pentagon City and couldn't meet a single friend to save her life.

Granted, I wouldn't go crazy in Brooklyn and say, have a family. It's too expensive and the wave of gentrification that washed over Manhattan is already high tide in Brooklyn - I don't know where a middle class family could live and expect decent public schools and affordable rents. But for your mid-twenties? Brooklyn can't be beat. If you're leaning towards this borough, definitely check out old threads about our neighborhoods or start a new one to get insight into different neighborhoods.

I have a lot of great friends who still live in DC, but they complain about the airlessness and the local obsession with beltway politics. Many of them are there for law school, but a lot got bored and left for New York or other cities.
posted by zoomorphic at 4:38 AM on May 19, 2010

"But in DC But ONLY in DC..."
posted by zoomorphic at 4:39 AM on May 19, 2010

This is a biased answer because I'm from the DC area but have spent a good amount of time in both Brooklyn and DC.

There's this huge misconception that DC is comprised only of wonks, yuppies and stuffy old suits. The reality is that there is a HUGE contingent of kids in their 20's who came here to try and save the world, and are having a giant party about it. People here are very active, very busy, and very social. LOADS of group houses - especially in neighborhoods like Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, and Petworth. Lots of bikers, lots of kickball leagues and lots of concerts at the 9:30 Club and the Black Cat. You can find pretty much any type of restaurant, bar, or club that you want, though you have to look a little bit harder than you would in New York.

If New York would score a 99 on my "things to do" index, then DC would be like a 90. Things are definitely going on here, and while New York is awesome, DC is great. I'd take the awesome job in a great city before taking a mediocre job in an awesome city.
posted by windbox at 4:52 AM on May 19, 2010 [7 favorites]

I second everything windbox said about DC. It seems like DC never gets a fair shake because it's always getting compared to New York (in this case, that's completely fair), but in general DC has a lot to do and there are so many fun, interesting, intelligent people here with more diverse interests than I've found anywhere.

DC has just as many types of people as any other city, and probably more than a most similarly-sized cities. A lot of folks I hang out with are what I would consider normal, if nerdy, 20-early 30something professionals who have 9-5 jobs and like 30 Rock, game nights, soccer, and indie music. My next door neighbors have a sort of anarchist collective house, one spins poi, another brews beer, two are teachers, and one runs a biodiesel school bus/sustainable living education center - not completely apolitical, but definitely not policy wonks. Even the people I know who work in politics often don't want to spend their time talking about it because they have to do it all day, every day as it is.

You never mentioned what your interests are - If you give us some ideas of things you like to do, it'll be a lot easier to give you specific pro & cons.

As for your other question, I think where you work affects how much you like where you live a lot more than where you live affecting how much you like your work. I've had both miserable and great jobs in the same city and felt completely different about the whole city and my life there depending on the job.
posted by SugarAndSass at 5:41 AM on May 19, 2010

The descriptions of DC here read like they were written by people who came in for school or a brief job in the late 90s or early 00s and left without actually doing any exploring outside of a few neighborhoods. This is a typical experience for many who come here, but it is not truly an authentic impression of our town. DC is not confined to Georgetown. There is a whole city here. There are tons of walkable, vibrant, transit-oriented neighborhoods, more every day. There are endless things to explore and do. There are any number of cultures and sub-cultures from transient students to wonks and snobish hill people to immigrant communities to all the shades of the african-american community. There are lectures and free museums and the library of congress and visiting heads of state and political scandals (national and local) and wierd ethnic restaurants and concerts and protests and counter-protests and tourists and old timers and... If you are bored here you aren't trying.

Most people actually do live here and will be here for the foreseeable future. We have a vested interest in the town and improving it, unlike those that come and go. As a middle school teacher you will be encountering us, the ones who are raising our famililies here, not the short-timers.

Lord knows we need you.
posted by Pollomacho at 5:44 AM on May 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

I've been a teacher at a public school in NYC for two years and I now live in Brooklyn (former Manhattanite). I love love love Brooklyn. There really aren't enough good things I can say about it. Living in Manhattan was a fine experience, but when I walk around my new neighborhood, Kensington, I feel like I'm living in a place that is a true extension of me. There are so many things here to keep me busy and I enjoy spending my free time exploring all that Brooklyn has to offer.

If only I didn't have to teach in an NYC public school.

What do you know about the school you'll be working in? What do you know about the administrators? Did you get this job through word of mouth? Through the Teaching Fellows? BE CAREFUL. There are a ton of poorly managed schools in this city that will make every moment of your working life miserable. The kids here are rough, but that would be the least of your problems if your administrators are incompetent, abusive, or both. Classroom management comes with experience, and it ain't easy, but bad administrators don't get better.

You can check my posting history to see some of the things I've been dealing with here. Let me just say that as much hard work as you think teaching will involve, you'll be dumbstruck by the enormity of the workload when it hits you. Sometimes you'll feel like the work you're doing is worthwhile and paying off. Many times you'll feel like your school, and the Dept of Ed, are sitting in a room devising schemes to make you miserable and preclude you from doing what would be most beneficial for your students by making incredibly unreasonable demands of your personal and, most importantly, instructional time with assessments, excessive paperwork, and counterproductive instructional mandates.

There are some stellar schools in this city, but I would never, ever take a job in one I had heard is just "oookay." Check what's been written about your school at and Finally, use the DOE's website to read your potential school's Learning Environment Survey and see what teachers have said about your school. Is turnover high? Do teachers feel safe? Does the administration support teachers? Do careful research before accepting a position.
posted by HotPatatta at 5:51 AM on May 19, 2010

Thank you for all of the thoughtful comments! My reservations about DC are pretty typical it seems (if unfounded).

hotpatatta, I would be working at a charter school in Crown Heights - the administration seems a little less organized than the admins at the DC charter. I've visited both schools for sample lessons. Thanks for the link, though - I will definitely check that out!
posted by brynna at 5:59 AM on May 19, 2010

I don't know too much about Brooklyn (although I have enjoyed walking around there) but I always say the best thing DC has going for it is the amount of free stuff going on. I regularly have to decide between the two or three free things I'd like to do on the same day.

I've been in the Dc area (on and off, went away for college) since the mid-80s and the change in this place in the last 10 or even 5 years is amazing. Dig below the wonky, short-timer surface and there's a lot of cool people doing cool things.
posted by JoanArkham at 6:05 AM on May 19, 2010

You will spend most of your week working. Neither place is a cesspit. Which school is better is the more important consideration.
posted by massysett at 6:21 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

As someone who's watched my mother work in a ton of schools of varying quality for the past twenty years or so (and in suburban New Jersey, to boot!), I have to say that you definitely need to go to whatever school offers an environment more conducive to teaching. As a first-year teacher, you're going to be spending most of your time and 90% of your energy at work. Might as well pick an environment you can stand.

I'm moving to the DC area over the next few months. At first, I had reservations that it wasn't quite crusty enough for my tastes, but even in light of those fears, I'm not quite sure where you get the idea that it has no character. This isn't, say, a new city out in the desert like Vegas where most everything is strip malls. This is an incredibly historic city with beautiful architecture, fairly astounding history, and plenty of cultural stuff to do (I've only spent a decent amount of time there as an adult once, but that consisted of staying in a beautiful historic apartment with some friends of my sister, marching for women's rights, going to an amazing restaurant and dancing at a gay club that was just as fun as its equivalents in NYC). However, I acknowledge that part of my feeling this way might be a way to justify my own decision. In light of this, I suggest to you this: any place will seem more likable once you give it an honest and earnest chance, which becomes much easier once you've made your decision.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:48 AM on May 19, 2010

Something to offer is that your living expenses will be lower in DC. Your taxes will be lower in DC. Your rent will be lower in DC. Food, going out, EVERYTHING. Yes, there are tons of free or cheap things to do in NYC, but this is the city where we joke that it costs you $20 just to walk out the door to 'take a walk'.

It is also harder to live here than just about anywhere else. I know all big cities are hard but this one is the hardest. It gets to you sometimes, even if you're from here and know your way around. It is hard to meet people here, even if you are friendly and garrulous and get involved in your neighborhood & local activities. Everything here is hard. I won't argue that NYC and Brooklyn especially isn't awesome, because I live here, but I'm not going to sugar coat it and tell you that it's a cakewalk.

If I was evaluating an okay job in NYC vs a great job in DC, and it was the start of my career, I'd move to DC. And having the support of a friend ALREADY THERE cannot be underestimated. there was a study done within the past few years that friends actively impact your happiness more than just about any other factor. one friend can be a lifeline when you are new to a city.

Finally, you say that Brooklyn's culture is 'intriguing' to you. Brooklyn doesn't have ONE culture. it is an INCREDIBLY diverse borough whose character can literally change on a block by block basis, and I am not exaggerating for effect. Now, if by "culture" you mean "the six square blocks around the Bedford L stop in Williamsburg" I will tell you that that will get old very very fast. No doubt that there are still fascinating people doing interesting things in Brooklyn but this place is huge. Have you looked at a map of the borough? My neighborhood is incredibly different than the one adjacent to it, and that's true in every part of this place. On a teacher's salary, you will not be able to afford to live in the hip and chic places in Brooklyn, or you'll be living with three roommates in an impossibly tiny apartment with one bathroom on the top floor of a 4th floor walkup. I do not know, but I will bet, that that situation will be better in DC.
posted by micawber at 7:28 AM on May 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I really love DC. It's really important to me to live somewhere beautiful, and though there are lovely parts of Brooklyn, I just don't think it has the beauty that Washington has. DC also has a lot more breathing room -- a lot of wide boulevards and big open spaces and the like. It also doesn't feel as cramped as NY/Brooklyn. I personally don't like to live somewhere where I feel all closed in, but I don't know how important that is to you.

The weather's better too, though of course the summers can be brutal. And there can definitely be snow (check out this past winter)

Good luck!
posted by imalaowai at 7:30 AM on May 19, 2010

I live in DC and there is an vibrant scene here, but it is a bit more niche than the eclectic choices you have in NY. I mean you simply can't compare the two in terms of culture. However, DC has smaller doses of most of the draws of NY: great food scene, decent nightlife, decent culture (maybe a tad pretentious, in a prepster way versus an emo way?)

NY - sensory innundation, grime, glory, adventure
DC - a mix of suburban sensibility with educated posh and pseudo-multicultural ambition

DC is probably going to be my stepping stone to NY fwiw
posted by Hurst at 7:59 AM on May 19, 2010

Yeah, so I think that the friends I've moved to DC with have kind of a curve of satisfaction - it seems like a completely lame place at first and indeed there are a bunch of really boring humans here. Randos who work for the government and are at their happy hours at 5:00 sharp in khakis. Not great.

But there's also a great other side of it - music venues like the Paper Sun, Black Cat, DC9, Velvet Lounge can be gems when good bands stop through (or live here). The Red Derby and a handful of other good bars. Supposedly it's golden for great restaurants. Like other cities, there's more stuff to do than you'll have time to do it.

Both are expensive cities. Both have great and non-great people. You have jobs in both. You won't lose here.

One thing that might count in one direction: you're young and smart and a teacher, which means that you might be a policy person at some point. I don't think there's anywhere more interesting to teach than DC right now, with the victory/tragedy of Rhee and the state of the schools right now.
posted by tmcw at 8:56 AM on May 19, 2010

I could go on and on about how awesome NYC is, because it just is. But NYC can be hard to live in. It takes getting used to and getting used to NYC as well as a new job/school could be hard for you. Both cities probably have fine enough restaurants and all that stuff. NYC can be very strenuous and here are some questions to think about that will really pinpoint some of the more difficult parts of NYC according to me and other people I know who have moved here (mostly from non-cities in the midwest).

--Do you have a car? Do you want to keep it? Yeah it will be miserable for you. Enjoy whatever the fuck alternate-side parking is. There are calendars about it. Calendars for when you don't have to move your car and then you have to move it on specific days or it will get towed. In my neighborhood people nap in their cars so they can drive them around the block when the street sweeper comes and then park them again immediately. A row of cars with guys in suits just snoozing. Fun, right?

--Do you enjoy grocery shopping in large, uncrowded, grocery stores, where you can amble around just chilling out and thinking about what you might make? Ha ha ha! All the grocery stores here have a major flaw. Crowded to the point of insanity, overpriced, horrible produce, rude employees, funny smelling, no selection. On the other hand, if you're cool with getting groceries delivered, you can do that.

--Do you like ambling, in general? I guess some people here amble but for the most part ambling just gets in someone's way.

--Speaking of, you often are thinking about other people and their relationship to you in space.
Brooklyn actually has more space than where I live (Manhattan) so this might not necessarily be as bad as it seems from my description. My friend just moved here and people were giving him grumpy faces and he didn't know why. I was like "woah you are doing the umbrella sidewalk thing all wrong". If you have roommates, you have to think about when they (and you) can cook, get ready in the bathroom, have sex. You also have to think about the other people trying to get coffee at the same stand. The people on the subway who maybe want to get off or sit down. The person walking behind you and your significant other. The bicycles that whiz by you. The cars trying to turn as you're crossing the street. Especially when you first move here and you're not used to the rhythms, you have to be aware and alert. Sucks for people like me who like to chill out and like, read while we're walking places.

--Do you hate walking? You will be walking.

--Do dirt and grime bother you? There is a lot of it, especially on the subway.

--Do you like listening to your ipod? It makes things much better so if you like it, yay!

--Are you willing to live with roommates? Do you have good credit? Do you have a guarantor or someone who can help you monetarily if you need a security deposit ASAP or need to move? Housing can be a complete fucking nightmare here, for real.

--Are you good at rolling with the punches and dealing with random shit (or better yet, do you enjoy it)? Can you deal if you have to suddenly move, the trains are fucked up, there's a blizzard, some dudes get in a fight in front of husband is NOT like this, he hates emergencies and sudden changes, and it's really hard on him sometimes because of the sheer volume of unexpected shit that can happen. Of course the support of friends is really important when it comes to dealing with these changes.

--Are you a natural networker? Not in the annoying MBA sense, but are you extroverted, highly socially motivated, open to various kinds of people, generally positive about people? Are you aggressive and tenacious about getting involved in new social circles even if people don't seem to care about you all that much at first? Willing to do socially uncomfortable and maybe borderline rude stuff like inviting yourself to things if other people don't take the initiative to invite you, talking to people you don't know, asking for contact information from people you just met? Do you like going to metafilter meetups?

If yes, then you will probably have zero problem meeting people. I met acquaintances within about two weeks of moving here and had a good social circle going in no time. Since then I have met dozens of people who were open, friendly, kind, accepting, and just generally good to me even before we were friends. I invited 100 people to my birthday party because there are a million awesome people here. There are just so, so many people here who are your age and share interests with you because there are so many people in general. And the people who move here tend to have high openness to experience--meaning they are totally down with whatever you weird ass does, thinks, or comes up with and probably want to try it too.

Some people do have a really hard time making friends here, though. I think if you are someone who needs lots of social interaction but doesn't have practice at initiating it or maybe is a little shy, reluctant, hesitant, polite, really entrenched in "guess" culture, doesn't like being around alcohol--it will be hard on you. I have known people who were really really isolated for a long time before they figured out where to find people. Great, friendly people, but just not with the skill set they needed. And in a stressful situation like your new job, that's not really cool.

There is a built-in group of great Mefi New Yorkers (and specifically Brooklynites) here, and we will be happy to show you around and hook you up if you do move here. But maybe for you, and you know yourself better than I do, having one good friend you already know would be a huge comfort and help to you in establishing a social circle.

So, whew, that was a torrent of mostly negativity.

When I moved here, I didn't find it too stressful because I fucking loved the city, found it exhilarating and awesome and freeing because I finally FINALLY didn't have to drive and could still enjoy the same activities as everyone else. There were finally people like me around, and not just around, but somewhat normal. Weird shit happening everywhere! Loud things! I can buy mac and cheese at 3AM! But the city has, over the years, ground me down a bit, even as I have had some of the best experiences of my life here and met the most amazing and wonderful people.

In summary, if you're the kind of person who would feel really uncomfortable asking someone for directions, or if you love to drive or grocery shop, or you don't want other people to hear you pee, maybe NYC is not so much for you.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:14 AM on May 19, 2010 [5 favorites]

i was born & raised in dc (upper northwest), went to college in new england, and i'm typing this live from bk.

when you say "being near the water" could you be more specific? the ocean? a large body of water, like the great lakes? either way: brooklyn for the win. you can take the subway to coney island and the promenade, and the lirr goes all the way out to montauk. other than the potomac "river" dc proper has rock creek and the c&o canal, both of which are rather lovely. BUT to get to the ocean, you need a car.

also, since you're teaching, what would you like your summers to be like?

regardless of which city you choose, please remember 22 year olds need work/life balance, too.
posted by blerg at 9:15 AM on May 19, 2010

Not in the annoying MBA sense,

By the way, I'm not saying that sense is bad and if you're like that, A+ it will help. I just think the articles about it are really annoying and that's not exactly what I mean.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:18 AM on May 19, 2010

I'm one of those horrible Hill staffers everyone loves to hate, so I guess what I have to say doesn't count for much, but I love DC madly (and am really distressed that I'm leaving in a few months), and I don't think it's all a bunch of uptight wonks. I have friends who aren't political, and I hate when people talk about work too much outside of the office. I do like: shows at the Black Cat (and other venues mentioned above), farmers markets, weird arty little theater troupes, my local library, my dance class, bars on H Street and in Columbia Heights (you will almost never see me in Georgetown or Adams Morgan), Screen on the Green, my pub trivia team, ethnic restaurants, volunteering at the local elementary school, house parties, wandering in and out of the Smithsonian (and the zoo!) whenever and for as long as I feel like because it is freaking FREE, my neighborhood coffeeshop, daytrips to Annapolis/Charlottesville/camping in the Shenandoah...etc. My friends have art shows and dj nights and softball teams and foodie blogs and all sorts of non-DC hobbies. I live (quite cheaply) in a funky old townhouse in a neighborhood that I think has plenty of personality.
But I haven't lived in Brooklyn, so I can't really compare the two. I imagine that the two biggest drawbacks to DC are:
- It's just small. You really just can't expect it to compete with New York when it's a fraction of the size. Accordingly, your options for stuff to do are going to be fewer.
- The Metro blows. Sure it's cleaner than the NYC subway, but the hours are total crap and the stops are fewer and farther between.
It is true that a lot of people will come and go in DC (and I'm guilty, as someone about to go, but I'm also somewhat of a local, having grown up right outside the city), but there are also more natives than you'd think, and plus NYC is a somewhat transient place as well.
Overall, I'd say that DC is at least decent enough that you shouldn't give up a better job so as not to have to live here.
posted by naoko at 11:22 PM on May 19, 2010

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