The Washington DC area is an odd duck in some ways. Incredibly dynamic, well-educated, well-to-do, and….split over multiple governmental jurisdictions as well as the Potomac River. Although one could certainly argue that New York’s metropolitan area does share some similar traits (it’s often called the Tri-State area), I’d argue that the history of the two places combined with their core businesses make for apples and oranges comparisons.
Part of the history of the Washington DC area (if we exclude Baltimore) is that the historically older institutions of higher education are 1) small (relative to say the big Ivy League schools) and 2) private.
The two state publics, University of Maryland at College Park and George Mason, are quite large, but relative to the other major public research universities, not yet dominating the city’s culture the way University of Texas or Ohio State do for Austin and Columbus respectively.
Thus, unlike many other major US cities, DC isn’t dominated by a single institution (or even two) the way for example Boston, Chicago and San Francisco are.
Another way of putting this notion is that, projecting into the future, the DC area is still up for grabs.
Thinking this way, I see two key points: first, the derivative of growth (writ large) is more important than size. Second, past-decisions put real constraints on the future.
Anyone who has visited Mason over the last several years can’t help but notice how rapid the growth has been. It’s singular frankly.
But more important is that Mason is still young enough, that key decisions (and opportunities) remain for the future. In other words, Mason isn’t constrained for its future growth and has the opportunity to become what UofM is to Ann Arbor, what UCSD is to San Diego.
That’s an exciting future, especially in the Nation’s Capital.