Washington, D.C.

Washington, D.C.
Washington, D.C.
—  Federal district  —
District of Columbia
Top left: Healy Hall at Georgetown University; top right: U.S. Capitol; middle: Washington Monument; bottom left: Frederick Douglass National Historic Site; bottom right: African American Civil War Memorial


Motto: Justitia Omnibus  (Justice for All)
Location of Washington, D.C., in the United States and in relation to the states of Maryland and Virginia.
Coordinates: 38°53′42.4″N 77°02′12.0″W / 38.895111°N 77.03667°W / 38.895111; -77.03667Coordinates: 38°53′42.4″N 77°02′12.0″W / 38.895111°N 77.03667°W / 38.895111; -77.03667
Country United States
Federal district District of Columbia
Approved July 16, 1790
Organized 1801
Consolidated 1871
Granted limited self-government 1973
Named for George Washington
 – Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D)
 – D.C. Council Kwame R. Brown (D), Chair
 – Federal district 68.3 sq mi (177.0 km2)
 – Land 61.4 sq mi (159.0 km2)
 – Water 6.9 sq mi (18.0 km2)
Elevation 0–409 ft (0–125 m)
Population (2010)[1][2]
 – Federal district 601,723 (26th in U.S.)
 – Density 9,800.0/sq mi (3,784.4/km2)
 – Metro 5.58 million (7th in U.S.)
 – Demonym Washingtonian
Time zone EST (UTC-5)
 – Summer (DST) EDT (UTC-4)
ZIP code(s) 20001-20098, 20201-20599
Area code(s) 202
Website www.dc.gov

Washington, D.C., formally the District of Columbia and commonly referred to as Washington, "the District", or simply D.C., is the capital of the United States. On July 16, 1790, the United States Congress approved the creation of a permanent national capital as permitted by the U.S. Constitution. The federal district is therefore not a part of any U.S. state. It was formed from land along the Potomac River donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia; however, the Virginia portion was returned by Congress in 1846.

A new capital city named after George Washington was founded in 1791 to the east of the preexisting port of Georgetown. Congress consolidated the City of Washington, Georgetown, and the remaining unincorporated area within the District under a single government in 1871. Washington, D.C., shares its name with the U.S. state of Washington, located on the country's Pacific coast.

Washington, D.C., had a resident population of 601,723 in 2010, the 26th most populous city in the country. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city's population to over one million during the workweek. The Washington Metropolitan Area, of which the District is a part, has a population of nearly 5.6 million, the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the country.

The centers of all three branches of the federal government of the United States are located in the District, as are many of the nation's monuments and museums. Washington, D.C., hosts 176 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States (OAS), the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO). The headquarters of many other institutions such as trade unions, non-profit organizations, lobbying groups, and professional associations are also located in the city.

The District is governed by a locally elected mayor and 13-member city council. However, the United States Congress has supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws. Residents therefore have less self-governance than residents of the U.S. states. The District has a non-voting, at-large Congressional delegate, but no senators. D.C. residents could not vote in presidential elections until the ratification of the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution in 1961.



An Algonquian-speaking people known as the Nacotchtank inhabited the area around the Anacostia River when the first Europeans arrived in the 17th century.[3] However, Native American people had largely relocated from the area by the early 18th century.[4]

In his "Federalist No. 43", published January 23, 1788, James Madison argued that the new federal government would need authority over a national capital in order to provide for its own maintenance and security.[5] Five years earlier, a mob of unpaid soldiers besieged the Congress while meeting in Philadelphia, but the Pennsylvania government refused requests to forcibly disperse the protesters. This situation emphasized the need for the national government to not rely on any particular state for security.[6]

Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution therefore permits the establishment of a "District (not exceeding ten miles square) as may, by cession of particular states, and the acceptance of Congress, become the seat of the government of the United States."[7] The Constitution does not, however, specify a location for the capital. In what later became known as the Compromise of 1790, Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Thomas Jefferson came to an agreement that the federal government would assume the states' war debt on the condition that the new national capital would be located in the Southern United States.[a]

The U.S. Capitol after the burning of Washington during the War of 1812

On July 16, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital to be located on the Potomac River, the exact area to be selected by President George Washington. The initial shape of the federal district was a square measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (260 km2), formed from land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia.[b]

Two preexisting settlements were included in the territory: the port of Georgetown founded in 1751,[8] and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749.[9] During 1791–92, Andrew Ellicott and several assistants, including Benjamin Banneker, surveyed the borders of the federal district and placed boundary stones at every mile point. Many of the stones are still standing.[10]

A new "federal city" was then constructed on the north bank of the Potomac, to the east of the established settlement at Georgetown. On September 9, 1791, the federal city was named in honor of President Washington and the district itself was named Columbia, which was a poetic name for the United States in use at that time.[11][12] Congress held its first session in Washington on November 17, 1800.[13]

Shortly after arriving in the new capital, Congress passed the Organic Act of 1801, which officially organized the District of Columbia and placed the entire territory under the exclusive control of the federal government. Further, the unincorporated area within the District was organized into two counties: the County of Washington to the east of the Potomac and the County of Alexandria to the west.[14] After the passage of this Act, citizens located in the District were no longer considered residents of Maryland or Virginia, which therefore ended their representation in Congress.[15]

Ford's Theatre in the 19th century, site of the 1865 assassination of President Lincoln

On August 24–25, 1814, in a raid known as the Burning of Washington, British forces invaded the capital during the War of 1812, following the sacking and burning of York (modern-day Toronto). The Capitol, Treasury, and White House were burned and gutted during the attack.[16] Most government buildings were quickly repaired, but the Capitol, which was at the time largely under construction, was not completed in its current form until 1868.[17]

In the 1830s, the District's southern territory of Alexandria went into economic decline partly due to neglect by Congress.[18] Alexandria was a major market in the American slave trade and residents feared that abolitionists in Congress would end slavery in the District, further depressing the economy. As a result, Alexandrians petitioned Virginia to take back the land it had donated to form the District; a process known as retrocession.[19]

The state legislature voted in February 1846 to accept the return of Alexandria and on July 9, 1846, Congress agreed to return all the territory that had been ceded by Virginia. Therefore, the District's current area consists only of land donated by Maryland.[18] Confirming the fears of pro-slavery Alexandrians, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the District, though not slavery itself.[20]

The outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861 led to notable growth in the District's population due to the expansion of the federal government and a large influx of freed slaves.[21] President Abraham Lincoln signed the Compensated Emancipation Act in 1862, which ended slavery in the District of Columbia and freed about 3,100 enslaved persons, nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation.[22] In 1868, Congress granted male African American residents of the District the right to vote in municipal elections.[21]

By 1870, the District's population had grown 75% from the previous census to nearly 132,000 residents.[23] Despite the city's growth, Washington still had dirt roads and lacked basic sanitation. The situation was so bad that some members of Congress suggested moving the capital further west, but President Ulysses S. Grant refused to consider such a proposal.[24]

Crowds surrounding the Reflecting Pool during the 1963 March on Washington

In response to the poor conditions in the capital, Congress passed the Organic Act of 1871, which revoked the individual charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, and a created a new government for the District of Columbia.[25] The act provided for an appointed governor, a locally elected assembly, and a board of public works charged with modernizing the city.[21] By creating a consolidated government for the whole District, the Organic Act effectively formed present-day Washington, D.C., as a single municipality.[26][c]

President Grant appointed an influential member of the board of public works, Alexander Robey Shepherd, to the post of governor in 1873. Shepherd authorized large-scale municipal projects, which greatly modernized Washington. In doing so, however, the governor spent three times the money that had been budgeted for capital improvements, bankrupting the city.[27] In 1874, Congress abolished the District's local government and instituted direct rule that would continue for nearly a century.[28] Additional projects to renovate the city were not executed until the McMillan Plan in 1901.[29]

The District's population remained relatively stable until the Great Depression in the 1930s when President Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal legislation expanded the bureaucracy in Washington. World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital;[30] by 1950, the District's population reached its peak of 802,178 residents.[23] The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1961, granting the District three votes in the Electoral College for the election of President and Vice President, but still no voting representation in Congress.

After the assassination of civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on April 4, 1968, riots broke out in the District, primarily in the U Street, 14th Street, 7th Street, and H Street corridors, centers of black residential and commercial areas. The riots raged for three days until over 13,000 federal and national guard troops managed to quell the violence. Many stores and other buildings were burned; rebuilding was not complete until the late 1990s.[31]

In 1973, Congress enacted the District of Columbia Home Rule Act, providing for an elected mayor and city council for the District.[32] In 1975, Walter Washington became the first elected and first black mayor of the District.[33]

On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and deliberately crashed the plane into the Pentagon in nearby Arlington, Virginia. United Airlines Flight 93, believed to be destined for Washington, D.C., crashed in Pennsylvania when passengers tried to recover control of the plane from hijackers.[34][35]


The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal passes through the Georgetown neighborhood.

The District has a total area of 68.3 square miles (177 km2), of which 61.4 square miles (159 km2) is land and 6.9 square miles (18 km2) (10.16%) is water.[36] It is no longer 100 square miles (260 km2) due to the retrocession of the southern portion of the District back to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1846. The city is therefore surrounded by the states of Maryland to the southeast, northeast, and northwest and Virginia to the southwest.

Washington has three major natural flowing streams: the Potomac River and its tributaries the Anacostia River and Rock Creek.[37] Tiber Creek, a watercourse that once passed through the National Mall, was fully enclosed underground during the 1870s.[38] Contrary to the urban legend, Washington was not built on a reclaimed swamp but wetlands did cover areas along the water.[39] The Great Falls of the Potomac River are located upstream (northwest) of Washington. The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which starts in Georgetown, was used during the 19th century to allow barge traffic to bypass the falls.[40]

The highest natural point in the District of Columbia is Point Reno, located in Fort Reno Park in the Tenleytown neighborhood, at 409 feet (125 m) above sea level.[41] The lowest point is sea level at the Potomac River. The geographic center of Washington is located near the intersection of 4th and L Streets NW.[42] The United States government owns about 23% of the land in the District; lower than the percentage of federal lands in 12 states.[43]

Approximately 19.4% of Washington, D.C., is parkland, which ties New York City for largest percentage of parkland among high-density U.S. cities.[44] The large percentage of park area contributes to high urban tree canopy coverage of 35%.[45] The National Park Service manages most of the city's parkland, including Rock Creek Park, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, the National Mall and Constitution Gardens, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Fort Dupont Park, Meridian Hill Park, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and Anacostia Park.[46] The only significant area of natural habitat not managed by the National Park Service is the U.S. National Arboretum, which is operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[47]


The National Cherry Blossom Festival is celebrated around the city each spring.

Washington is located in the humid subtropical climate zone (Köppen: Cfa) and exhibits four distinct seasons.[48] Its climate is typical of Mid-Atlantic U.S. areas removed from bodies of water. The District is located in plant hardiness zone 8a near downtown, and zone 7b elsewhere in the city, indicating a temperate climate.[49]

Spring and fall are warm, while winter is cool with annual snowfall averaging 14.7 inches (37 cm). Winter temperatures average around 38 °F (3.3 °C) from mid-December to mid-February.[50] Summers are hot and humid with a July daily average of 79.2 °F (26.2 °C) and average daily relative humidity around 66%, which can cause medium to moderate personal discomfort.[50][51] The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area.[52]

Blizzards affect Washington on average once every four to six years. The most violent storms are called "nor'easters", which often affect large sections of the U.S. East Coast.[53] Hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall, but are often weak by the time they reach Washington, partly due to the city's inland location.[54] Flooding of the Potomac River, however, caused by a combination of high tide, storm surge, and runoff, has been known to cause extensive property damage in Georgetown.[55]

The highest recorded temperature was 106 °F (41 °C) on July 20, 1930, and August 6, 1918, while the lowest recorded temperature was −15 °F (−26 °C) on February 11, 1899, during the Great Blizzard of 1899.[53] Over the year, the city averages 37 days hotter than 90 °F (32.2 °C) and 64 nights at or below freezing.[50]

Climate data for Washington, DC (Reagan National)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 79
Average high °F (°C) 42.5
Average low °F (°C) 27.3
Record low °F (°C) −14
Precipitation inches (mm) 3.21
Snowfall inches (cm) 5.9
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10.5 9.3 10.6 9.6 11.2 10.2 10.4 8.6 8.1 7.8 8.5 9.5 114.3
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 3.1 2.2 1.1 .1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .5 1.1 8.1
Sunshine hours 145.7 152.6 204.6 228.0 260.4 282.0 279.0 263.5 225.0 204.6 150.0 133.3 2,528.7
Source no. 1: NOAA (1971−2000) [50], HKO (sun only, 1961−1990) [56]
Source no. 2: The Weather Channel (record temperatures) [57]


The L'Enfant Plan for Washington, D.C., as revised by Andrew Ellicott in 1792

Washington, D.C., is a planned city. The design for the City of Washington was largely the work of Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant, a French-born architect, engineer, and city planner who first arrived in the colonies as a military engineer during the American Revolutionary War. In 1791, President Washington commissioned L'Enfant to layout the design of the new capital based on plans of cities such as Amsterdam, Paris, Frankfurt, Karlsruhe, and Milan brought from Europe by Thomas Jefferson in 1788.[29][58] The L'Enfant Plan for Washington was modeled in the Baroque style and incorporated avenues radiating out from rectangles, providing room for open space and landscaping.[29] L'Enfant's design also envisioned a garden-lined "grand avenue" approximately 1 mile (1.6 km) in length and 400 feet (120 m) wide in the area that is now the National Mall.[59]

In March 1792, President Washington dismissed L'Enfant due to his insistence on micromanaging the city's planning, which had resulted in conflicts with the three commissioners appointed to supervise the capital's construction. Andrew Ellicott, who had worked with L'Enfant surveying the city, was then commissioned to complete the plans. Though Ellicott made revisions to the original plans, including changes to some street patterns, L'Enfant is still credited with the overall design of the city.[60] The City of Washington was bounded by what is now Florida Avenue to the north, Rock Creek to the west, and the Anacostia River to the east.[29]

By the start of the 20th century, L'Enfant's vision of a capital with open parks and grand national monuments had become marred by slums and randomly placed buildings, including a railroad station on the National Mall.[29] In 1900, Congress formed a joint committee, headed by Senator James McMillan, charged with beautifying Washington's ceremonial core. What became known as the McMillan Plan was finalized in 1901. It included the re-landscaping of the Capitol grounds and the Mall, constructing new federal buildings and monuments, clearing slums, and establishing a new citywide park system. Architects recruited by the committee kept much of the city's original layout, and their work is thought have largely preserved L'Enfant's intended design.[29]

Washington, D.C., is divided into four quadrants.

By law, Washington's skyline is low and sprawling. The first building height restrictions in D.C. were put in place following the construction of the twelve-story Cairo Apartment Building in 1894. The Heights of Buildings Act of 1910 amended the restrictions to allow buildings that are no taller than the width of the adjacent street, plus 20 feet (6.1 m). Despite popular belief, no law has ever limited buildings to the height of the United States Capitol or the 555-foot (169 m) Washington Monument, which remains the District's tallest structure. City leaders have criticized the height restriction as a primary reason why the District has limited affordable housing and traffic problems caused by urban sprawl.[61]

The District is divided into four quadrants of unequal area: Northwest (NW), Northeast (NE), Southeast (SE), and Southwest (SW). The axes bounding the quadrants radiate from the U.S. Capitol building.[62] All road names include the quadrant abbreviation to indicate their location, and house numbers are assigned based on the approximate number of blocks away from the Capitol. In most of the city, the streets are set out in a grid pattern with east–west streets named with letters (e.g., C Street SW) and north–south streets with numbers (e.g., 4th Street NW).[62] Some Washington streets are particularly noteworthy, such as Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the White House with the U.S. Capitol, and K Street, which houses the offices of many lobbying groups.[63] Washington hosts 176 foreign embassies,[64] many of which are located on a section of Massachusetts Avenue informally known as Embassy Row.[65]


The White House ranked second on the AIA's "List of America's Favorite Architecture" in 2007.

The architecture of Washington varies greatly. Six of the top 10 buildings in the American Institute of Architects' 2007 ranking of "America's Favorite Architecture" are located in the District of Columbia:[66] the White House; the Washington National Cathedral; the Thomas Jefferson Memorial; the United States Capitol; the Lincoln Memorial; and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The neoclassical, Georgian, gothic, and modern architectural styles are all reflected among those six structures and many other prominent edifices in Washington. Notable exceptions include buildings constructed in the French Second Empire style such as the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.[67]

Outside downtown Washington, architectural styles are even more varied. Historic buildings are designed primarily in the Queen Anne, Châteauesque, Richardsonian Romanesque, Georgian revival, Beaux-Arts, and a variety of Victorian styles. Rowhouses are especially prominent in areas developed after the Civil War and typically follow Federalist and late Victorian designs.[68] Since Georgetown was established before the city of Washington, the neighborhood features the District's oldest architecture. Georgetown's Old Stone House was built in 1765, making it the oldest-standing original building in the city.[69] The majority of current homes in the neighborhood, however, were not built until the 1870s and reflect late Victorian designs of the period. Founded in 1789, Georgetown University is more distinct from the neighborhood and features a mix of Romanesque and Gothic Revival architecture.[67] The Ronald Reagan Building is the largest building in the District with a total area of approximately 3.1 million square feet (288,000 m2).[70]


Historical populations
Census Pop.
1800 8,144
1810 15,471 90.0%
1820 23,336 50.8%
1830 30,261 29.7%
1840 33,745 11.5%
1850 51,687 53.2%
1860 75,080 45.3%
1870 131,700 75.4%
1880 177,624 34.9%
1890 230,392 29.7%
1900 278,718 21.0%
1910 331,069 18.8%
1920 437,571 32.2%
1930 486,869 11.3%
1940 663,091 36.2%
1950 802,178 21.0%
1960 763,956 −4.8%
1970 756,510 −1.0%
1980 638,333 −15.6%
1990 606,900 −4.9%
2000 572,059 −5.7%
2010 601,723 5.2%
Source:[1][23] Note:[d]

The 2010 United States Census found that the District had a population of 601,657, the first recorded growth since 1950.[71] The city is therefore the 26th most populous incorporated place in the United States.[72] During the workweek commuters from the suburbs increase the District's population by over 70%, to a daytime population of over one million people.[73] If the District were a state, it would rank 50th in population ahead of Wyoming.[74]

The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the District and surrounding suburbs, is the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the United States with approximately 5.6 million residents as of the 2010 Census.[2] When the Washington area is included with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore–Washington Metropolitan Area had a population exceeding 8.5 million residents in 2010, the fourth-largest combined statistical area in the country.[75]

According to the 2010 Census, the population of Washington, D.C., was 50.7% Black or African American, 38.5% White, 3.5% Asian, and 0.3% American Indian. Individuals from other races made up 4.1% of the District's population while individuals from two or more races made up 2.9%.[76] In addition, Hispanics of any race made up 9.1% of the District's population.[77] About 16% of D.C. residents were age 18 or younger as of 2010; lower than the U.S. average of 24%. However, at 34 years old, the District also had the lowest median age when compared to the 50 states.[78] As of 2007, there were an estimated 74,000 foreign immigrants living in Washington, D.C.[79] Major sources of immigration include individuals from El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, with some concentration of Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.[80]

Unique among cities with a high percentage of African Americans, Washington has had a significant black population since the city's creation. This is partly a result of the manumission of slaves in the Upper South after the American Revolutionary War. The free black population in the region climbed from an estimated 1% before the war to 10% by 1810.[81] By 1860, approximately 80% of the city's 11,000 African American residents were free persons.[82] Black residents composed about 30% of the District's total population between 1800 and 1940.[23]

Washington's African American population reached a peak of 70% by 1970. Since then, however, the percentage of black residents has steadily declined due to many African Americans leaving the city for the surrounding suburbs.[83] At the same time, the city's white population has steadily increased, due in part to the effects of gentrification in many of Washington's traditionally African American neighborhoods. This is evident in a 11.5% decrease in the black population and a 31.4% increase in the non-Hispanic white population since 2000.[83] Even still, Washington, D.C., is a top destination for African American professionals who are moving to the area in a "New Great Migration."[84]

Researchers using data from the 2010 Census revealed that there were 4,822 same-sex couples in the District of Columbia, about 2% of total households.[85] The city council passed legislation in 2009 authorizing same-sex marriage and the District began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March 2010.[86]

A report published in 2007 found that about one-third of District residents are functionally illiterate, compared to a national rate of about one in five. This is attributed in part to immigrants who are not proficient in English.[87] In contrast to the high rate of functional illiteracy, nearly 46% of D.C.'s residents have at least a four-year college degree.[88] In 2006, D.C. residents had a personal income per capita of $55,755, higher than any of the 50 U.S. states.[89] However, 19% of residents were below the poverty level in 2005, higher than any state except Mississippi.[90] According to data from 2008, more than half of District residents identify as Christian: 28% of residents are Baptists, 13% are Roman Catholic, and 31% are members of other Christian denominations. Residents who practice other faiths make up 6% of the population and 18% do not adhere to a religion.[91]

Over 90% of D.C. residents have health insurance coverage; the second-highest rate in the nation. This is due in part to city programs that help provide insurance to low-income individuals who do not qualify for other types of coverage.[92] A 2009 report found that at least 3% of District residents have HIV or AIDS, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) characterizes as a "generalized and severe" epidemic.[93]


During the violent crime wave of the early 1990s, Washington, D.C., was known as the murder capital of the United States and often rivaled New Orleans in the number of homicides.[94] The number of murders peaked in 1991 at 479, but the level of violence declined drastically in the 1990s. By 2009, the annual murder count in the city had declined to 143, the lowest number since 1966.[95] In total, reports of violent crimes and property crimes have both declined by half since 1993.[96]

Like most large cities, crime is highest in areas associated with illegal drugs and gangs. A 2010 study found that 5% of city blocks contributed to over one-quarter of the District's total crime.[97] The more affluent neighborhoods of Northwest Washington are typically safe, but reports of violent crime increase in poorer neighborhoods generally concentrated in the eastern portion of the city.[97] Approximately 60,000 residents are ex-convicts.[98]

Many neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights and Logan Circle are becoming safer and vibrant. However, incidents of robberies and thefts have remained higher in these areas due increased nightlife activity and greater numbers of affluent residents.[99] While instances of property crime remain high, reports are still half the level cited during the mid-1990s, and the patterns of theft continue to disperse to the north and east of downtown.[100]

On June 26, 2008, the Supreme Court of the United States held in District of Columbia v. Heller that the city's 1976 handgun ban violated the Second Amendment right to gun ownership.[101] However, the ruling does not prohibit all forms of gun control; laws requiring firearm registration remain in place, as does the city's assault weapon ban.[102]


Washington has a growing, diversified economy with an increasing percentage of professional and business service jobs.[103] The gross state product of the District in 2010 was $103.3 billion, which would rank it No. 34 compared to the 50 U.S. states.[104] The gross product of the Washington Metropolitan Area was $425 billion in 2010, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan economy in the United States.[105] As of June 2011, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 6.2%; the second-lowest rate among the 49 largest metro areas in the nation.[106] The District of Columbia itself had an unemployment rate of 9.8% during the same time period.[107]

A wide, one story red brick building with a sloping black roof behind numerous white-topped tents selling assorted wares.
Eastern Market on Capitol Hill houses food vendors and artisan stalls.

In 2008, the federal government accounted for about 27% of the jobs in Washington, D.C.[108] This is thought to immunize Washington to national economic downturns because the federal government continues operations even during recessions.[109] However, as of January 2007, federal employees in the Washington area comprised only 14% of the total U.S. government workforce.[110] Many organizations such as law firms, independent contractors (both defense and civilian), non-profit organizations, lobbying firms, trade unions, industry trade groups, and professional associations have their headquarters in or near D.C. to be close to the federal government.[63]

The District has growing industries not directly related to government, especially in the areas of education, finance, public policy, and scientific research. Georgetown University, George Washington University, Washington Hospital Center, Children's National Medical Center and Howard University are the top five non-government-related employers in the city as of 2009.[111] According to statistics compiled in 2011, four of the largest 500 companies in the country were located in the District.[112]

Washington became the leader in foreign real estate investment in 2009, ahead of both London and New York City, in a survey of the top 200 global development companies.[113] In 2006, Expansion Magazine ranked D.C. among the top ten areas in the nation favorable to business expansion.[114] Despite the national economic crisis and housing price downturn, Washington ranked second on the Forbes list of the best long-term housing markets in the country.[115]

Historic sites and museums

The Lincoln Memorial had over six million visitors in 2010.[116]

The National Mall is a large, open park area in the center of the city. Given its prominence, the area is often the location of large-scale political protests and demonstrations. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Pier are located near the center of the mall, south of the White House. Also located on the mall are the Lincoln Memorial, the National World War II Memorial at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.[117]

Directly south of the mall, the Tidal Basin features rows of Japanese cherry blossom trees that originated as gifts from the nation of Japan.[118] The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, George Mason Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, and the District of Columbia War Memorial are located around the Tidal Basin.[117]

The National Archives houses thousands of documents important to American history including the Declaration of Independence, the United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.[119] Located in three buildings on Capitol Hill, the Library of Congress is the largest library complex in the world with a collection of over 147 million books, manuscripts, and other materials.[120] The United States Supreme Court Building was completed in 1935; before then, the court held sessions in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol.[121]

The Smithsonian Institution operates 19 museums and the National Zoo, all free to the public.

The Smithsonian Institution is an educational foundation chartered by Congress in 1846 that maintains most of the nation's official museums and galleries in Washington, D.C. The U.S. government partially funds the Smithsonian, thus making its collections open to the public free of charge.[122] The most visited of the Smithsonian museums in 2010 was the National Air and Space Museum located on the National Mall.[123] Other Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries located on the mall are: the National Museum of Natural History; the National Museum of African Art; the National Museum of American History; the National Museum of the American Indian; the Sackler and Freer galleries, which both focus on Asian art and culture; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Arts and Industries Building; the S. Dillon Ripley Center; and the Smithsonian Institution Building (also known as "The Castle"), which serves as the institution's headquarters.[124]

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are located in the same building, the Donald W. Reynolds Center, near Washington's Chinatown.[125] The Reynolds Center is also known as the Old Patent Office Building.[126] The Renwick Gallery is officially part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum but is located in a separate building near the White House. Other Smithsonian museums and galleries include: the Anacostia Community Museum in Southeast Washington; the National Postal Museum near Union Station; and the National Zoo in Woodley Park.[124]

The National Gallery of Art, located on the National Mall near the Capitol, features works of American and European art. The gallery and its collections are owned by the U.S. government but are not a part of the Smithsonian Institution.[127] The National Building Museum, which occupies the former Pension Building near Judiciary Square, was chartered by Congress as a private institution to host exhibits on architecture, urban planning, and design.[128]

There are many private art museums in the District of Columbia, which house major collections and exhibits open to the public such as: the National Museum of Women in the Arts; the Corcoran Gallery of Art, the largest private museum in Washington;[129] and The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle, the first museum of modern art in the United States.[130] Other private museums in Washington include the Newseum, the O Street Museum Foundation, the International Spy Museum, the National Geographic Society Museum, and the Marian Koshland Science Museum. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum located near the National Mall maintains exhibits, documentation, and artifacts related to The Holocaust.[131]

Performing arts and music

Washington, D.C., is a national center for the arts. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts is home to the National Symphony Orchestra, the Washington National Opera, and the Washington Ballet. The Kennedy Center Honors are awarded each year to those in the performing arts who have contributed greatly to the cultural life of the United States.[132] Other prominent institutions such as the National Theatre, the Warner Theatre, and DAR Constitution Hall host live performances from around the country. The historic Ford's Theatre, site of the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln, continues to operate as a functioning performance space as well as museum.[133]

The Marine Barracks near Capitol Hill houses the United States Marine Band; founded in 1798, it is the country's oldest professional musical organization.[134] American march composer and Washington-native John Philip Sousa lead the Marine Band from 1880 until 1892.[135] Founded in 1925, the United States Navy Band has its headquarters at the Washington Navy Yard and performs at official events and public concerts around the city.[136]

Washington has a strong local theater tradition. Founded in 1950, Arena Stage achieved national attention and spurred growth in the city's independent theater movement.[137] In 2010, Arena Stage opened its newly renovated home in Southwest D.C., which has become a centerpiece of the city's emerging waterfront area.[138] Organizations such as the Shakespeare Theatre Company and Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company in Penn Quarter, as well as the Studio Theatre and the Source Theatre on 14th Street NW, feature classical and new American plays. The GALA Hispanic Theatre, now housed in the historic Tivoli Theatre in Columbia Heights, was founded in 1976 and is a National Center for the Latino Performing Arts.[139]

The U Street Corridor in Northwest D.C., known as "Washington's Black Broadway", is home to institutions like Bohemian Caverns and the Lincoln Theatre, which hosted music legends such as Washington-native Duke Ellington, John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.[140] Other jazz venues feature modern blues, such as Madam's Organ in Adams Morgan and Blues Alley in Georgetown. Washington has its own native music genre called go-go; a post-funk, percussion-driven flavor of R&B that blends live sets with relentless dance rhythms. The most accomplished practitioner was D.C. band leader Chuck Brown, who brought go-go to the brink of national recognition with his 1979 LP Bustin' Loose.[141]

The District is an important center for indie culture and music in the United States. The label Dischord Records, formed by Ian MacKaye, was one of the most crucial independent labels in the genesis of 1980s punk and eventually indie rock in the 1990s.[142] Washington's indie label history includes TeenBeat, Simple Machines, and ESL Music among others. Modern alternative and indie music venues like The Black Cat and the 9:30 Club near U Street bring popular acts to smaller more-intimate spaces.[143]


Washington's Newspaper Row on Pennsylvania Avenue in 1874

Washington, D.C., is a prominent center for national and international media. The Washington Post, founded in 1877, is the oldest and most-read local daily newspaper in Washington.[144] It is probably most notable for its coverage of national and international politics as well as for exposing the Watergate scandal.[145] "The Post", as it is popularly called, had the sixth-highest print circulation of all news dailies in the country in 2010.[146]

The Washington Post Company has a daily free commuter newspaper called the Express, which summarizes events, sports and entertainment, as well as the Spanish-language paper El Tiempo Latino. Local dailies The Washington Times and The Washington Examiner as well as the alternative weekly Washington City Paper also have substantial readership in the Washington area.[147][148]

A number of community and specialty papers focus on neighborhood and cultural issues including: the weekly Washington Blade and Metro Weekly, which focus on LGBT issues; the Washington Informer and The Washington Afro American, which highlight topics of interest to the black community; and neighborhood newspapers published by The Current Newspapers. Congressional Quarterly, The Hill, Politico and Roll Call newspapers focus exclusively on issues related to Congress and the federal government. Other publications based in Washington include the National Geographic magazine, and political publications such as The New Republic and Washington Monthly.[149]

The Washington Metropolitan Area is the ninth-largest television media market in the U.S. with two million homes (approximately 2% of the U.S. population).[150] Several media companies and cable television channels have their headquarters in the area, including: C-SPAN; Black Entertainment Television (BET); the National Geographic Channel; Smithsonian Networks; National Public Radio (NPR); Travel Channel (in Chevy Chase, Maryland); Discovery Communications (in Silver Spring, Maryland); and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) (in Arlington, Virginia). The headquarters of Voice of America, the U.S. government's international news service, is located near the Capitol in Southwest Washington. The D.C. area is home to Radio One, the nation's largest African American television and radio conglomerate.[151]


Washington is one of 12 cities in the United States with teams from all four major professional men's sports and is home to one major professional women's team. The Washington Wizards (National Basketball Association), the Washington Capitals (National Hockey League), and the Washington Mystics (Women's National Basketball Association), play at the Verizon Center in Chinatown. Nationals Park, which opened in Southeast D.C. in 2008, is home to the Washington Nationals (Major League Baseball). D.C. United (Major League Soccer) plays at RFK Stadium. The Washington Redskins (National Football League) play at nearby FedExField in Landover, Maryland.

Current D.C. teams have won a combined ten professional league championships: the Washington Redskins has won five;[152] D.C. United has won four (the most in MLS history);[153] and the Washington Wizards (then the Washington Bullets) has won a single championship.[154]

Other professional and semi-professional teams in Washington include: the Washington Kastles (World TeamTennis); the Washington D.C. Slayers (American National Rugby League); the Baltimore Washington Eagles (USAFL); the D.C. Divas (Independent Women's Football League); and the Potomac Athletic Club RFC (Rugby Super League). The William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park hosts the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Washington is also home to two major annual marathon races: the Marine Corps Marathon, which is held every autumn, and the Rock 'n' Roll USA Marathon held in the spring. The Marine Corps Marathon began in 1976 is sometimes called "The People's Marathon" because it is the largest marathon that does not offer prize money to participants.[155]

The District's four NCAA Division I teams have a broad following. The Georgetown Hoyas men's basketball team is the most notable and also plays at the Verizon Center. Since 2008, the District has hosted an annual college football bowl game at RFK Stadium, now called the Military Bowl.[156] The D.C. area is home to one regional sports television network, Comcast SportsNet (CSN), based in Bethesda, Maryland.


The John A. Wilson Building houses the offices of the mayor and council of the District of Columbia.

Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution grants the U.S. Congress ultimate authority over Washington, D.C. The District of Columbia did not have an elected municipal government until the passage of the 1973 Home Rule Act. The Act devolved certain Congressional powers over the District to a local government administered by an elected mayor, currently Vincent C. Gray, and the thirteen-member Council of the District of Columbia. However, Congress retains the right to review and overturn laws created by the city council and intervene in local affairs.[28]

Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council and four at-large members represent the District as a whole. The council chair is also elected at-large.[157] There are 37 Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) elected by small neighborhood districts. ANCs traditionally wield a great deal of influence and the city government routinely takes their suggestions into careful consideration.[158]

The mayor and council set local taxes and a budget, which must be approved by Congress. The Home Rule Act prohibits the District from imposing a commuter tax on non-residents who make up over 60% of the city's workforce. In addition, over 50% of property in the District is also exempt from taxation.[159] The Government Accountability Office and other organizations have estimated that these revenue restrictions create a structural deficit in the city's budget of anywhere between $470 million and over $1 billion per year.[159][160][161] While Congress typically provides larger grants to the District for federal programs such as Medicaid and the local justice system, analysts claim that the payments do not resolve the imbalance.[160][161]

The District's local justice system is centered on the Superior Court of the District of Columbia and the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, whose judges are appointed by the President. The District's local courts, though operated by the federal government, are separate from the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, which only hears cases regarding federal law.[162] The United States Attorney for the District of Columbia is also appointed by the President and is responsible for prosecuting both federal and local crimes.[163] In addition to the District's own Metropolitan Police Department, many federal law enforcement agencies have jurisdiction in the city as well; most visibly the U.S. Park Police, founded in 1791.[164]

The city's local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Marion Barry, was criticized for mismanagement and waste.[165] During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the District had "the worst city government in America."[166] Barry was elected mayor in 1978, serving three successive four-year terms, followed by a fourth term starting in 1995. That year, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all municipal spending and rehabilitate the city government.[167] Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998. His administration oversaw a period of greater prosperity, urban renewal, and budget surpluses.[159] The District regained control over its finances in 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.[168]

Washington, D.C., observes all federal holidays. The District also celebrates Emancipation Day on April 16, which commemorates the signing of the Compensated Emancipation Act by President Abraham Lincoln in 1862.[22]

Federal representation and taxation

The United States Congress has ultimate authority over the District.

Residents of the District of Columbia have no voting representation in Congress. They are represented in the House of Representatives by a non-voting delegate, currently Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C. At-Large), who may sit on committees, participate in debate, and introduce legislation, but cannot vote on the House floor. D.C. has no representation in the United States Senate. Unlike residents of U.S. territories such as Puerto Rico or Guam, which also have non-voting delegates, citizens of the District of Columbia are subject to all U.S. federal taxes.[169] In the financial year 2007, D.C. residents and businesses paid $20.4 billion in federal taxes; more than the taxes collected from 19 states and the highest federal taxes per capita.[170]

A 2005 poll found that 78% of Americans did not know that residents of the District of Columbia have less representation in Congress than residents of the 50 states.[171] Efforts to raise awareness about the issue have included campaigns by grassroots organizations as well as featuring the city's unofficial motto, "Taxation Without Representation", on D.C. vehicle license plates.[172] There is evidence of nationwide approval for DC voting rights; various polls indicate that 61 to 82% of Americans believe that D.C. should have voting representation in Congress.[171][173] Despite public support, attempts to grant the District voting representation, including the D.C. statehood movement and the proposed District of Columbia Voting Rights Amendment, have been unsuccessful.

Opponents of D.C. voting rights propose that the Founding Fathers never intended for District residents to have a vote in Congress since the Constitution makes clear that representation must come from the states. Those opposed to making D.C. a state claim that such a move would destroy the notion of a separate national capital and that statehood would unfairly grant Senate representation to a single city.[174]


District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) operates the city's 123 public schools.[175] The number of students in DCPS steadily decreased for 39 years until 2009. In the 2010–11 school year, 46,191 students were enrolled in the public school system.[176] DCPS has one of the highest-cost yet lowest-performing school systems in the country, both in terms of infrastructure and student achievement.[177] Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration made sweeping changes to the system by closing schools, replacing teachers, firing principals, and using private education firms to aid curriculum development.[178]

The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board monitors the 52 public charter schools in the city.[179] Due to the perceived problems with the traditional public school system, enrollment in public charter schools has steadily increased.[180] As of fall 2010, D.C. charter schools had a total enrollment of about 32,000, a 9% increase from the prior year.[176] The District is also home to 92 private schools, which enrolled approximately 18,000 students in 2008.[181] The District of Columbia Public Library operates 25 neighborhood locations including the landmark Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library.[182]

Private universities include American University (AU), the Catholic University of America (CUA), Gallaudet University, George Washington University (GW), Georgetown University (GU), Howard University, and the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). The Corcoran College of Art and Design provides specialized arts instruction and other higher-education institutions offer continuing, distance and adult education. The University of the District of Columbia (UDC) is a public university providing undergraduate and graduate education. The District is known for its medical research institutions such as Washington Hospital Center and the Children's National Medical Center, as well as the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. In addition, the city is home to three medical schools and associated teaching hospitals at George Washington, Georgetown, and Howard universities.[183]


Metro Center is the transfer station for the Red, Orange, and Blue Metrorail lines.

According to a 2010 study, Washington-area commuters spent 70 hours a year in traffic delays, which tied with Chicago for having the nation's worst road congestion.[184] However, 37% of Washington-area commuters take public transportation to work, the second-highest rate in the country.[185] An additional 12% of D.C. commuters walked to work, 6% carpooled, and 3% traveled by bicycle in 2010.[186] A 2011 study by Walk Score found that Washington was the seventh-most walkable city in the country with 80% of residents living in neighborhoods that are not car dependent.[187]

An extensive network of streets, parkways, and arterial avenues forms the core of the District's surface transportation infrastructure. Due to protests by local residents during the freeway revolts of the 1960s, much of the proposed interstate highway system through the middle of Washington was never built. Interstate 95, the nation's major east coast highway, therefore bends around the District to form the eastern portion of the Capital Beltway. The funds that had been dedicated for additional highway construction were instead redirected to the region's public transportation infrastructure.[188] The interstate highways that do continue into Washington, including Interstate 66 and Interstate 395, both terminate shortly upon entering the city.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates the Washington Metro, the city's rapid transit system, as well as Metrobus. Both systems serve the District and its suburbs. Metro opened on March 27, 1976 and presently consists of 86 stations and 106.3 miles (171.1 km) of track.[189] With an average of about one million trips each weekday, Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the country, after the New York City Subway. Metrobus serves over 400,000 riders each weekday, making it the nation's sixth-largest bus system.[190] The city also operates its own DC Circulator bus system, which connects commercial areas within central Washington.[191]

Union Station is a transportation hub for passengers on Amtrak, commuter rail lines, and the Washington Metro.

Union Station is the main train station in Washington, D.C., and handles approximately 70,000 people each day. It is Amtrak's second-busiest station with 4.6 million passengers annually and serves as the southern terminus for the Northeast Corridor and Acela Express routes. Maryland's MARC and Virginia's VRE commuter trains and the Metrorail Red Line also provide service into Union Station.[192] Expansion plans announced in 2011 will make Union Station the city's primary intercity bus transit center.[193]

Three major airports serve the District. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is located across from downtown Washington in Arlington, Virginia and has its own Metrorail station. Given its proximity to the city, Reagan National has extra security precautions required by the Washington Air Defense Identification Zone.[194] Major international flights arrive and depart from Washington Dulles International Airport, located 26.3 miles (42.3 km) west of the District in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is located 31.7 miles (51.0 km) northeast of the District in Anne Arundel County, Maryland.

An expected 32% increase in transit usage within the District by 2030 has spurred construction of a new DC Streetcar system to interconnect the city's neighborhoods.[195] Construction has also started on an additional Metro line that will connect Washington to Dulles airport.[196] The District and adjacent Arlington County launched Capital Bikeshare in September 2010; it is currently one of the largest bicycle sharing systems in the country with over 1,100 bicycles and 110 stations.[197] Marked bicycle lanes currently exist on 48 miles (77 km) of streets and the city plans to further expand the network.[198]

Sister cities

Washington, D.C., has twelve official sister city agreements. Each of the listed cities is a national capital except for Sunderland, which includes the town of Washington, the ancestral home of George Washington's family.[199] Paris and Rome are each formally recognized as a "partner city" due to their special one sister city policy.[200]

City Country Year
Bangkok Thailand Thailand 1962, renewed 2002
Dakar Senegal Senegal 1980, renewed 2006
Beijing China China 1984, renewed 2004
Brussels Belgium Belgium 1985, renewed 2002
Athens Greece Greece 2000
Paris France France 2000, renewed 2005
Pretoria South Africa South Africa 2002, renewed 2008
Seoul South Korea South Korea 2006
Accra Ghana Ghana 2006
Sunderland United Kingdom United Kingdom 2006
Rome Italy Italy 2011
Ankara Turkey Turkey 2011

See also


^[a] By 1790, the Southern states had largely repaid their overseas debts from the Revolutionary War. The Northern states had not, and wanted the new federal government to take over their outstanding liabilities. As this would effectively mean that the Southern states would assume a share of the Northern debt, the South lobbied for a federal capital located closer to their own agricultural and slave-holding interests in return. See: Crew, Harvey W.; William Bensing Webb, John Wooldridge (1892). Centennial History of the City of Washington, D. C.. Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House. p. 124. http://books.google.com/?id=5Q81AAAAIAAJ. 
^[b] The Residence Act allowed the President to select a location within Maryland as far east as the Anacostia River. However, Washington shifted the federal territory's borders to the southeast in order to include the city of Alexandria at the District's southern tip. In 1791, Congress amended the Residence Act to approve the new site, including territory ceded by Virginia. See: Crew, Harvey W.; William Bensing Webb, John Wooldridge (1892). Centennial History of the City of Washington, D. C.. Dayton, Ohio: United Brethren Publishing House. pp. 89–92. http://books.google.com/?id=5Q81AAAAIAAJ. 
^[c] The name "City of Georgetown" continued in use until Congress passed an additional law in 1895, which formally revoked Georgetown's separate identity and renamed its streets to conform to those in Washington. See: Tindall, William (1907). Origin and government of the District of Columbia. U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 27. http://books.google.com/books?id=JUg-AAAAYAAJ. 
^[d] Until 1890, the U.S. Census Bureau counted the City of Washington, Georgetown, and unincorporated portions of Washington County as three separate areas. The data provided in this article from before 1890 are calculated as if the District of Columbia were a single municipality as it is today. Population data for each specific area prior to 1890 are available. See: Gibson, Campbell (June 1998). "Population of the 100 Largest Cities and Other Urban Places in the United States: 1790 to 1990". United States Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/population/www/documentation/twps0027/twps0027.html. Retrieved July 29, 2008. 


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