Those living above 130 feet were skeptical. Some worried about the expense. Supporters devised a clever plan, however. Washington leaders in bygone times had established a trust fund into which a share of property tax receipts from tall buildings flowed. Money from denser areas had paid for new infrastructure investments around the District. But that would be unnecessary in a city without tall buildings, and so the money for the gambit was found.
The mayor declared the first day of deconstruction “Topless Day.” Men and women dashed about the city dressed as buildings wrapped in scaffolding. The displaced stratosfolk picketed the proceedings, but no one paid any mind. Eventually everyone went back to their normal routines.
Yet things weren’t quite as they had been. Rents skyrocketed. Many of those displaced from their lofty perches left Washington. Others worked in businesses that depended on the government and found it harder to go. They made increasingly outrageous bids for suddenly scarce living space.
Not everyone complained. Middle- and lower-class households embraced the windfall, mostly, and left for places with more affordable real estate.
Sleepier neighborhoods became hotbeds of construction. Successful lawyers descended on Logan Circle; less successful ones settled for new condos farther out. The District became a sea of Brooks Brothers and Burberry. Wine bars and loft buildings sprung up — no higher than 130 feet, of course, as befits a decent city. The shopkeeps and small-business owners who had lined the main streets didn’t earn fancy cocktail-lounge profits, so they closed down. The doctors and accountants who had served the neighborhoods weren’t quite the newcomers’ cup of tea, so they shut down, too. The city started to seem a little one-note.
Life was especially hard for the start-up scene. The charmingly gritty neighborhoods northeast of Union Station had housed a cluster of mobile-technology entrepreneurs operating out of old warehouses. Rents were cheap there, and the buildings were close to a sizable concentration of customers in the banks, consultancies and corporate headquarters in downtown office towers. When the tops came off, those advantages vanished. Landowners jacked up rents in expectation of the lawyer boomlet to come. The techies fled elsewhere, leaving empty, graffitied warehouses.