He's Cool. How About D.C.?

By Rachel Dry
Sunday, January 25, 2009

If we have to ask, the answer's probably no.

But let's do it anyway.

Will Washington now be cool?

That query -- posed with a reflexive mix of irony, earnestness and a cautious eye toward upward-creeping rent -- came up last weekend as an aura of cool descended, temporarily, on this capital city and its inaugural pomp and party hats.

For answers, we turn to those for whom cool is a science, an academic pursuit. It's a fittingly Washington (and Outlook) thing to do.

First, what are we talking about when we talk about cool?

Carl Rohde has an idea. He teaches cultural sociology in the Netherlands and runs a Web site called "Science of the Time -- the science of cool." He oversees a network of trendspotting "cool-hunters" who troll major cities for the next next things. There are no cool-hunters in Washington. And he says he has no real plans to find any. He has also never been to our nation's capital. But he's game to consider the question anyway.

"The definition of cool is not hip, it's nothing that's painfully hip. With that, you are in fashion-model territory," he says. "Cool for us -- and this is how we train our cool-hunters -- is that something must be attractive and inspiring, with future growth potential."

So, kind of like a city you know?

He won't say for sure. (He's never been here, after all.) But Rohde and other practitioners of the business of cool-hunting do offer some insight into how the city might be transformed into a trend-setting hub.


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