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Washington, DC
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Washington, DC

Washington, DC, officially the District of Columbia (also known as DC; Washington; and, historically, Federal City) is the capital city and administrative district of the United States of America. It is most often referred to simply as the District by residents, while "DC" is used to refer to the greater metropolitan area, including the Virginia and Maryland suburbs. Washington is not part of any state, but rather composes a unique, federally managed district within the United States, with limited local rule. As the seat of national government as well as the home of numerous national landmarks, museums, and sports teams, Washington is a popular international destination for tourists and school trips.

The centers of all three branches of the U.S. federal government are in Washington, as well as the headquarters of all federal agencies (with the notable exceptions of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention which is headquartered in Atlanta, Georgia, the Central Intelligence Agency located in Langley, Virginia, and the National Science Foundation in Arlington, Virginia). Washington also serves as the headquarters for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organization of American States. All of this has made Washington the frequent focal point of massive political demonstrations and protests, particularly on the National Mall.

The population of Washington, as of the 2000 census, is 572,059. It is smaller in area than the smallest state, but in population Wyoming is even smaller. Together with nearby portions of Virginia and Maryland, and Baltimore and its environs, it is part of a large metropolitan area known as the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area.

For non-federal and historical geographical information on the District of Columbia, go to the District of Columbia (geography) page.

Table of contents
1 Law and Government
2 History
3 Geography
4 Demographics
5 Economy
6 Cultural features
7 Transportation
8 To See
9 External links
10 Sources

Law and Government

DC License Plate

Residents of the District vote for the President but do not have voting representation in Congress. Citizens of Washington are represented in the House of Representatives by a non-voting Delegate, who sits on committees and participates in debate, but cannot vote. DC does not have representation in the Senate. Citizens of Washington, DC are thus unique in the world, as citizens of the capital city of every other country have the same representation rights as their fellow citizens.

There have been efforts to attain voting representation for many years, including the District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment passed by Congress in 1978 but unratified by the states. These efforts are endorsed by the current Mayor, Anthony Williams and by the current Delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton. To further this effort, the words "Taxation Without Representation" were added to DC license plates in 2000 and there is a current movement to the add the words "No Taxation Without Representation" to the DC flag. Advocates of statehood who have supported these changes have said that they are intended as a protest and to raise awareness in the rest of the country. These measures in particular were chosen because the DC flag is one of the few things under direct local control without requiring approval from Congress.

Various approaches for attaining voting representation in Congress have been proposed. These include:

  1. Treating DC in some way as a state:
    1. Have Congress pass legislation that would treat DC as if it were a state for the purposes of voting representation in Congress. Senator Joseph Lieberman introduced The No Taxation Without Representation Act of 2003 (S. 617) on March 13, 2003, to the U.S. Senate, and Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced the same Act in the U.S. House of Representatives (H.R. 1285).
    2. Amend the U.S. Constitution. In 1978 an amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have given full congressional voting representation to residents of the District of Columbia passed through both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives. However, by 1985 when the seven year limit on ratification of the amendment expired, the amendment had only passed in 16 of 38 states necessary.
    3. Statehood for the District of Columbia. Statehood for DC was last discussed in the U.S. House of Representatives in November 1993, and was defeated by the vote of 277 to 153.
  2. (Re)combining DC with Maryland in some way:
    1. Retrocession (Reunion with the State of Maryland). The current land of DC was originally Maryland and Virginia's land, and from 1790 until 1801 citizens living in DC continued to vote for, and even run as, candidates for the U.S. Congress in Maryland or Virginia. In 1846 the land from Virginia was given back to Virginia, so all current DC land was originally from Maryland. If both the U.S. Congress and the Maryland state legislature agreed, DC land (except for federal land) could be given back to Maryland with only a small federal area.
    2. Treat District Residents as Maryland Voters for Federal Congressional Elections. Congress could give DC residents the right to vote as if they were part of Maryland for the Senate and House of Representives (including the calculations for apportioning House seats).

On a local level, the city is run by an elected Mayor and City Council. The school board has both elected and appointed members. However, Congress has plenary power over the district. It has the right to review and overrule laws created locally, and has often done so.

DC residents pay all federal taxes, such as income tax, as well as local taxes. The Mayor and Council adopt a budget of local money with Congress reserving the right to make any changes. Because so much of the valuable property in the district is federally-owned and hence exempt from local property taxes, the city is frequently cash-strapped; public services in the city suffer as a result.


German map of Washington, DC]]
Washington was selected as the site of the national capital city after a sitdown dinner deal between Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. Jefferson agreed to support Hamilton's banking and federal bond plans in exchange for the choice of a Southern locale for the capital. It was initially 100 mi² (260 km²).

The signing of the Residence Bill on July 16, 1790 established a site along the Potomac River as the District of Columbia (seat of government) of the United States. Land for the district was given to the federal government by the states of Virginia and Maryland and the city was named after George Washington. On February 27, 1801 the district was placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Congress. The town of Georgetown already existed at the time.

By an act of Congress, the area south of the Potomac (39 mi² or about 100 km²) was returned to Virginia on July 9, 1846 and now is incorporated in Arlington County and a part of the City of Alexandria.

On August 24, 1814, British forces burnt the capital during the most notable destructive raid of the War of 1812. British forces burned public buildings including the White House, the Capitol, the Arsenal, the Dock-Yard, Treasury, War office, and the bridge across the Potomac.

President James Madison was forced to flee to Virginia and American morale was reduced to an all-time low. The expedition was carried out between August 19 and August 29, 1814, and was well organized and vigorously executed. On the 24th the American militia, who had collected at Bladensburg, Maryland, to protect the capital, fled almost before they were attacked.

US President Herbert Hoover ordered the United States Army on July 28, 1932 to forcibly evict the "Bonus Army" of World War I veterans that gathered in Washington, DC to secure promised veteran's benefits early. US troops dispersed the last of the "Bonus Army" the next day.

The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified on March 29, 1961 which allows residents of Washington, DC to vote for President (popular election) and have their votes count in the Electoral College the same as the least populous state, which currently is three (3).

The first 4.6 miles (7.4 kilometers) of the Washington Metro subway system opened on March 27, 1976.

Walter Washington became the first elected mayor of the District in 1974. Four-term mayor Marion Barry was arrested for drug use in an FBI sting on January 18, 1990. He was acquitted of felony charges, but convicted of the misdemeanor of marijuana use. On January 2, 1991 Sharon Pratt Kelly (elected as Sharon Pratt Dixon but married later that year) was sworn in as mayor of Washington, DC becoming the first black woman to lead a city of that size and importance in the USA. After her term was up in 1994, Marion Barry was once again elected mayor for his fourth term. The current mayor, Anthony Williams, a Yale educated lawyer, became mayor in 1998. He was reelected in 2002. See List of mayors of Washington, D.C

The Washington area was the target of at least one of the four hijacked planes in the September 11, 2001 attacks. One plane struck the Pentagon in Arlington County, killing 125 people in addition to the 64 aboard the plane, while another that was downed in a field in Pennsylvania is believed by many to have been intended to hit either the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

Shortly after September 11, Washington was once more subject to fear from an anthrax attack, when what may have been a domestic terrorist sent anthrax-contaminated mail to numerous members of Congress. 31 staff members were infected, and two U.S. Postal Service employees at a contaminated mail sorting facility later died of pulmonary anthrax.

During three weeks of October 2002, John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo perpetrated what became known as the Beltway Sniper attacks in Washington and across the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. Muhammed and Malvo killed ten people and critically injured three others with a high-powered rifle. The apparently random selection of victims (crossing racial, gender, and socioeconomic categories) caused a general panic in the Washington area and led schools to cancel all outdoor activities. Muhammed and Malvo were arrested on October 24 at a highway rest stop. In March 2004, Muhammad was sentenced to death and Malvo to life imprisonment for the attacks.

In November of 2003, the toxin ricin was found in the mailroom of the White House, and in February of 2004, in the mailroom of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist. As with the earlier anthrax attacks, no arrests have been made.

Partly in response to these events from the past few years, the Washington area has taken many steps to increase security. Screening devices for biological agents, metal detectors, and vehicle barriers are now much more commonplace at office buildings as well as government buildings. After the 2004 Madrid train bombings, local authorities have decided to test explosives detectors on the vulnerable Washington Metro subway system. False alarms due to suspicious chemical or powder substances or suspected explosives have led to fairly frequent evacuations of buildings, Metro stations, and local post offices.


satellite image of Washington, DC, taken April 26, 2002.  The Potomac River and its eastern branch, the Anacostia, are visible.  Virginia lies across the Potomac from Washington, while Maryland surrounds it on all other sides.  The black "crosshairs" in the image mark the quadrant divisions of Washington, with the U.S. Capitol at the center of the dividing lines.  To the west of the Capitol extends the National Mall, visible as a slight green band in the image.  The Pentagon is also visible in Virginia, near the Potomac.]]

Washington is located at 38°54'49" North, 77°0'48" West (38.913611, -77.013222)1.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 177.0 km² (68.3 mi²). 159.0 km² (61.4 mi²) of it is land and 18.0 km² (6.9 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 10.16% water.

Washington is surrounded by the statess of Virginia (on its southwest side, and a small part of its northwest one) and Maryland (on its southeast and northeast sides, and most of its northwest one); it interrupts those states' common border, which is the Potomac River both upstream and downstream from the District. The city contains the historic federal city, the territory of which was formerly part of those two adjacent states before they respectively ceded it for the national capital. The land ceded from Virginia was returned by Congress in 1847 (present day Arlington County and Alexandria), so what remains of the modern District was all once part of Maryland.

See also District of Columbia (geography).

City layout

The original street layout was designed by Pierre Charles L'Enfant at the time of the city's founding. Washington is divided into four quadrants, directly along the four compass directions: Northwest, Southwest, Northeast, and Southeast. Every street name has appended to it the abbreviation of the quadrant that it is in—e.g., Connecticut Ave., NW, New York Ave., NE. A street's quadrant is necessary to include in postal addresses, especially because much of the city's street layout repeats within each quadrant. The north-to-south numbered streets in Washington and count upwards from east to west in NW/SW (1st St NW, 2nd St NW, 3rd St NW, etc.); these streets repeat in NE/SE, counting upwards from west to the east. The east-to-west lettered streets (A St, B St, etc.) "count" upwards from south to north in NW/NE, and likewise repeat in the opposite direction in SW/SE.

The center of the north/south and east/west dividing lines is the U.S. Capitol, which is offset from the physical center of Washington's diamond shape making the quadrants inequal in size. Additionally, much of what was SW is now Arlington County, Virginia (or the Potomac River), making it by far the smallest quadrant; NW is the largest.

L'Enfant's plan also includes many diagonal avenues named after the states, such as Pennsylvania Avenue which connects the Capitol and the White House.


Washington includes many distinct and historic neighborhoods:


As of the census of 2000, there are 572,059 people, 248,338 households, and 114,235 families residing in the city. The population density is 3,597.3/km² (9,316.4/mi²). There are 274,845 housing units at an average density of 1,728.3/km² (4,476.1/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 30.78% White, 60.01% African American, 0.30% Native American, 2.66% Asian, 0.06% Pacific Islander, 3.84% from other races, and 2.35% from two or more races. 7.86% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 248,338 households out of which 19.8% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 22.8% are married couples living together, 18.9% have a female householder with no husband present, and 54.0% are non-families. 43.8% of all households are made up of individuals and 10.0% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.16 and the average family size is 3.07.

In the city the population is spread out with 20.1% under the age of 18, 12.7% from 18 to 24, 33.1% from 25 to 44, 21.9% from 45 to 64, and 12.2% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 35 years. For every 100 females there are 89.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 86.1 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $40,127, and the median income for a family is $46,283. Males have a median income of $40,513 versus $36,361 for females. The per capita income for the city is $28,659. 20.2% of the population and 16.7% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 31.1% are under the age of 18 and 16.4% are 65 or older.


Several major companies are based in Washington, including the Carlyle Group.

America Online is based in nearby Dulles, Virginia. MCI is based in nearby Ashburn, Virginia. US Airways is based in Arlington County, Virginia. Lockheed Martin is based in nearby Bethesda, Maryland. Alhurra is based in Springfield, Virginia.

Cultural features

Jefferson Memorial

Local media

The Washington Post is the oldest and most read daily newspaper in Washington. The Post is also one of the most reputable daily newspapers in the U.S. and is highly influential in its political reporting, particularly after the role of its reporters in cracking the Watergate scandal. The daily Washington Times and the free weekly Washington City Paper also have substantial readership in the District. The weekly Washington Blade focuses on gay issues.

Washington is served by the following local broadcast television stations:

Landmarks and museums

Washington is the home of numerous national landmarks and is a popular tourist destination. Landmarks include:

Colleges and universities

Sports and entertainment

Washington is home to several professional sports teams: the Major League Soccer D.C. United, the NHL Washington Capitals, the WNBA Washington Mystics, and the NBA Washington Wizards.

The NFL Washington Redskins formerly played in the District, but are now based in Landover, Maryland.

There were two major league baseball teams named the Washington Senators in the early and mid-20th century, which left to become respectively the Minnesota Twins and the Texas Rangers. As of 2004, the closest team to Washington D.C. is the Baltimore Orioles of Baltimore, Maryland. There are many in Washington who are currently interested in acquiring a pro baseball team, however.

The MCI Center in Chinatown, home to the Capitals, Mystics, Wizards, and the Georgetown Hoyas, is also a major venue for concerts, WWE professional wrestling, and other events. The Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts hosts the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington Opera, the Washington Ballet, and other musical and stage performances. Notable local music clubs include Madam's Organ Blues Bar in Adams Morgan, and the Black Cat, the 9:30 Club, and the historic Bohemian Caverns jazz club, all in the U Street area.


The I-495 Beltway surrounds the Washington area. The I-270 spur connects I-495 with I-70. The I-395 spur breaks off of I-95 at the Beltway to connect northern Virginia with downtown Washington.

The Washington area is serviced by the Washington Metro public transportation system, which operates public buses and the region's subway system.


Washington is located in proximity to three airports: Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD) between Dulles, Virginia and Chantilly, Virginia; Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA) in Arlington County; and Baltimore/Washington International Airport (BWI) near Baltimore, Maryland.

National is used by most travellers coming in from within the United States and Canada. Dulles is used mostly for international travel to DC, while DC domestic travel tends to go from Reagan. Baltimore/Washington is used for a little of DC's international travel, but mostly for low-cost traffic into the DC area, and international and domestic service serving the Baltimore PMSA.

To See

External links


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