Saturday, March 30, 2013

Still Life With Robin: Down With the D-M-V!

DC Boundary Stone Marker
Photo by Thomas S. Mann

by Peggy Robin

Down with the D-M-V, I say, and I don't mean the Department of Motor Vehicles. I wish I did, because that's what the letters D, M, and V stand for. And that's the *only* thing they should stand for. But lately everywhere you look, someone's writing about the D-M-V using this hyphenated format, intending it to be understood as shorthand for the District, Maryland, and Virginia.

The first and most obvious problem here is that these three entities, the District of Columbia plus the two contiguous states, are being treated as a synonym for the DC metropolitan area. It's just not so. People in Cumberland, Maryland and Lynchburg, Virginia certainly don't think they're part of the D-M-V -- and it's wrong to throw around a term that treats them as if they are. It treats as non-entities all residents of these two states who live outside the suburban and exurban counties clustered around the city of Washington.

Part II of the problem is that by using three equal initials, D for the District, M for Maryland, and V for Virginia, all three hurisdictions are put on equal footing, denying the centrality of the urban core of DC, the city around which everything revolves. While there may be many people in the DC metropolitan area who live and work outside the city and hardly ever visit, there's still no denying that the vibrancy, the cultural heartbeat, the soul (well, now maybe I'm going overboard) all derive from the city itself.

Whatever the virtues of living out in reinvigorated town centers like Reston or Bethesda, there's something that still triggers recall of Gertrude Stein's famous sneer at Oakland, the lesser city across the bay from San Francisco: "There's no *there* there."

So let's keep the DC regional designation that puts DC in its rightful primary place. It is the DC metropolitan area, or DC metro area for short. The next time you hear someone refer to the D-M-V, look puzzled and say, "Oh, you mean where you get your car registered?" and help prevent the misuse of those initials to describe our fair city and its surrounding counties.


Still Life With Robin is published on the Cleveland Park Listserv,, and All Life Is Local on Saturdays.

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