Busiest Town in America

As I pushed open the big red door at the back of a very average looking church, I made my way quickly up the stairs to avoid questions from security or random people in the hallway.  Several steps and doors later, I see the sign I’ve been looking for: HacDC, Washington DC’s first hacker space.  As I reach for the door I picture a huge room with computer parts everywhere, funny robots designed by creative minds, and a few people hanging out on a Thursday afternoon typing away on their laptops. But after attempting to push he doors opened and knocking, it became obvious not only that the place was locked, but that no one was home.

A text message from my friend from HacDC: I’ll be right there.

Rushing over from his job, he’s glad to see us and unlocks the doors, turning on the lights and revealing a good sized room with a long table, and indeed, plenty of computer and machine parts scattered in different corners of the place.  He explains to us what usually happens on the average week at HacDC and that there aren’t typically people hanging around working on projects during the day. “We don’t have students, unemployed or self-employed people like you might see at other hacker spaces in the US or in Europe. Here in DC all our people are very busy with their jobs and they don’t hang out much unless for a specific event.”

I thought about those words and what I had seen of the DC world over the few days I was in town. As someone who visits here only every other year for the past decade, I’ve long noticed that people in this town are among the busiest people I know. Even when they’re relaxing in a café or chatting at a party late at night, they’re talking about what they are busy with during the day.  A pretty big different from other cities I know where people work as freelancers or consultants and take time during the week to do something completely different or simply relax in the middle of the day.

While I watch all the busy Washingtonians getting on the metro with their heads already buried in their smart phones, I think about the Climate Change Conference going on in Copenhagen at that very moment.  Here we sit on a comfortable and efficient metro system, while out the window I can see traffic jams and parking lots. Hardly any of my good friends in DC have cars, and if you ask them about the Climate Conference, they’re concerned and quite informed.  But as I watch everyone inside and outside the train, busy in their hectic work worlds that seem so demanding, Copenhagen and climate change seem pretty far away.

Writing this several days later, I now know about the “deal” world leaders reached at Copenhagen.  Naturally, opinions on what the results are worth, vary.  The critical and experienced voices on the ground at the conference are talking about the deal as coming up well short of what is needed to stave off the severe effects of climate change in the near future.  We needed a strong and comprehensive deal, that goes for those us on the metro in Washington or those working the fields in Thailand, but our leaders came back with something less than what we needed.

Lot’s of reasons can be and are being listed to explain why they came up short in Copenhagen.  Myself I think back to my Washington visit, and all those busy people. Surely I don’t know everyone’s story and I can’t know what they’re really worried about. But when it comes to the Climate Conference of 2009, like many places around the world, the nation’s capital that I observed seemed to have its focus elsewhere.