From the top of 35th Street NW in Georgetown, you can look out over the quaint and colorful rooftops of the city, gently sloping toward a hazy downtown. It doesn't take much imagination to get the feeling of being in some old European town, with cobblestone streets and even a horse-drawn buggy along the way.
The Adams-Morgan neighborhood is splendid, too, with a vibrant mesh of cultures that lets you escape in the blink of an eye to the Caribbean or South or Central America. To get from Little Haiti to Guadalajara, one need only turn off Columbia Road and head down Mount Pleasant Street.
These images come to mind when I think about the District's new slogan, "Celebrate the city -- discover the world!" It is a refreshing change from the old slogan, "Washington is a Capital City," and the images of capital crimes that it has come to symbolize.
Washington is truly an international city, with people from all nations making a rich and wonderful melting pot.
Nevertheless, there is more to be done than writing songs and slogans if this city is to realize even greater achievements.
Standing at the top of Morris Road in Southeast, you can look out over that federal expanse of which civics text legends are made. Monuments that have been sandblasted and steam-cleaned are shining testaments to truth, justice and the American way.
But one need only do a 180-degree turn and look at the massive housing projects and the poor people who live there to know that much of what this city claims to stand for is far from true.
There are half-naked children playing within sight of the gleaming dome of the nation's Capitol, eating for breakfast foods such as Hostess Twinkies while taking swigs of Coca-Cola. This is not just the stuff of Cold War Soviet propaganda.
It's happening now, and this kind of poverty and neglect is what is really taking a toll on Washington and its future.
Against this backdrop, the new slogan can be easily mocked.
Imagine "celebrating the city and discovering the world" while on a guided tour of the real District.
" . . . And to your left is Southeast, where many of the nearly 300 murders so far this year have occurred. Celebrate the city -- discover Bogota, or Beirut."
" . . . And to your right are the steam grates on the Mall. Celebrate the city -- discover Calcutta."
Because of problems associated with being poor, including drug abuse and violent crime that goes with the drug trade, Washington has developed a reputation as a place to avoid.
Tourism at the national monuments was down 17 percent last year, and experts blame tourists' concerns about violence for at least part of the downturn.
"I think we definitely need the new image," said Dan Mobley, executive vice president of the Washington Convention and Visitors Association.
But to get a lasting new image, the city needs some firm new substance. Priorities need changing. Proposals for reforming health, education and welfare must be taken at least as seriously as the words that were submitted for the city's slogan contest.
The new slogan does offer a hint of change. And it comes with a quick-paced new song and new license plate that reads "Celebrate and Discover" across the top and "Washington, D.C." across the bottom.
The release of the new slogan, song and tags marks the 200th anniversary of the Residence Act, which pinpointed Washington as the future site of the nation's capital. It also coincides with Mayor Marion Barry's drug and perjury trial.
But most important, I believe, is the coincidence with the political changes underway at the top levels of District government. A new song and slogan alone would never be enough to offset the District's battered image, but with fresh voices singing from the District Building as well as Congress, we may well be on our way to a celebration.