The Statesman’s Yearbook Online

edited by Dr Barry Turner

WASHINGTON

Image courtesy of wikipedia

INTRODUCTION

The nation's capital, Washington, D.C. (which stands for District of Columbia) is a unique federal district established specifically to seat the government. It is home to iconic government buildings and national monuments, while the Smithsonian Institution celebrates the nation's history of achievement.

KEY HISTORICAL EVENTS

The area was first settled by the Patawomec and Piscataway tribes. The first European exploration was by Capt. John Smith in 1608. In 1651 a tobacco shipping port called Georgetown was established.

In 1790 the site was chosen by George Washington as seat of a new permanent capital. With the location satisfying both the Northern and Southern states, Virginia and Maryland agreed to cede land to establish the District of Columbia and an area of 'ten miles square' was laid out on the banks of the Potomac river. President Washington commissioned Pierre L’Enfant to design the new capital. L'Enfant envisioned a city reminiscent of Paris, with sweeping boulevards and large ceremonial spaces, but he was dismissed shortly after the construction began and received only a fraction of the monies he claimed he was owed. By 1800 the city was taking shape and the government, made up of 131 elected officials and permanent staff, was transferred from Philadelphia.

The capital was captured by the British forces in the War of 1812 (1812–15) and many public buildings, including the White House, were badly damaged in the Burning of Washington. In 1846 a portion of the District of Columbia west of the Potomac called Alexandria was retroceded to Virginia after lengthy legal wrangles over the representation of residents in Congress and the legality of slavery.

Despite the lack of basic facilities, the Union Army set up headquarters in the capital during the Civil War and the population tripled. The conflict left Washington in such a bad state that Congress proposed moving the capital elsewhere. This prompted a raft of infrastructure projects, during which a sewer system, roads and bridges were built, gas lighting installed and a streetcar system established. The Washington Monument and the first of the Smithsonian museums were also constructed.

In 1900 an architectural committee was established as part of 'the City Beautiful Movement', reviving many unrealized elements of L'Enfant's original plans. The committee devised the McMillan Plan for urban renewal, which included a redesign of the National Mall to clear it of trees and to create an open area in the heart of the city. The slums surrounding the Capitol were replaced with government buildings and public monuments. Many of Washington's famous landmarks—the Lincoln Memorial at the west end of the Mall, the Library of Congress and Union Station—were erected over the following decades.

Roosevelt's New Deal of the 1930s saw the population grow as new federal agencies were established. Most of the Federal Triangle, an area containing ten major government buildings, was constructed at this time. The Pentagon, one of the largest office buildings in the world, was built in nearby Arlington in the early years of the Second World War.

In the 1950s Washington, with a majority black population, was a hub for the Civil Rights movement. In 1963, 250,000 people attended the March on Washington to hear Martin Luther King, Jr deliver his 'I have a dream' speech. In the same year the capital had to come to terms with the assassination of the president, John F. Kennedy. For the remainder of the twentieth century, it witnessed sporadic rioting as much of the resident population contended with poverty. It was also beset with countless political scandals, from Watergate to the attempted impeachment of Bill Clinton. Nonetheless, the city thrived and remains a beacon for Free World democracy.

TERRITORY AND POPULATION

Washington, D.C. lies midway along the eastern seaboard of the United States. Situated on the northern bank of the Potomac river it is divided into four quadrants, with the Capitol at their centre. The city has an area of 68 sq. miles (177 sq. km) and is home to 632,323 people in 2012.

GOVERNMENT

Although the US Congress has 'exclusive jurisdiction' over the city, certain powers are devolved to the mayor and the city council. Eight of the 13 council members are elected one each from the city's eight wards, while five are elected from the populace at large.

The current mayor, Vincent G. Gray, is a native of Washington. Born in 1942, he graduated in psychology from George Washington University before working for many years with disadvantaged people. He was elected to the city council in 2005 and became its chairman the following year. After winning the mayorship in 2011, he launched a five-year economic development strategy aimed at creating 100,000 new jobs and raising US$1bn. in tax revenue. He has also prioritized strong fiscal management that gave the city record budget surpluses in his first two years in office.

ECONOMY

The economy is reliant on federal spending, comprising mostly of private sector contracts. In 2012 federal spending made up 36% of local GDP, while the federal government also accounts for 29% of employment. The foreign diplomatic corps employs about 10,000 people, with Washington home to nearly 200 embassies plus international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the Organization of American States. In 2012 almost 19m. visitors spent an estimated US$4.8bn., making tourism the second largest industry.

The city economy has outpaced national growth and is projected to continue doing so until at least 2017. In 2010 the median household income in the metropolitan area was US$84,523, the highest in the country against a national median of US$50,046.

TRANSPORT

Over a third of Washington's workforce commutes to work using public transport, the second highest rate in the country. The Metro, which operates an average of a million trips on weekdays, is the second busiest rapid transit system in the USA and the Metrobus carries over 400,000 passengers per working day. In 2010 Capital Bikeshare began and was the largest bike-sharing system in the country until duplicated in New York in 2013.

There are three major airports: Washington Dulles, 46 km west of Washington; Ronald Reagan Washington National, 5 km south of the city; and Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, 51 km to the northeast.

CULTURE

Festivals

The National Cherry Blossom Festival, held between mid-March and mid-April, celebrates the arrival of spring and attracts more than 1.5m. visitors. It dates from 1912 when Tokyo's mayor, Yukio Ozaki, gave the trees to Washington.

Places of interest

A stroll down the National Mall, envisaged by L'Enfant as a garden-lined 'grand avenue', offers visitors the best way to see most of the city's major museums, monuments and memorials. At its western end is the Lincoln Memorial, dedicated to the 16th president, Abraham Lincoln. Completed in 1922, it resembles a Greek temple, with 36 Doric columns representing each state of the Union at the time of Lincoln’s death. Two miles to the east, the Mall is crowned by the Capitol on Capitol Hill, home of Congress. Its 540 rooms are connected by winding corridors, tunnels and an underground train.

At the north end of the Mall is the White House, the official presidential residence, and to the south is the Jefferson Memorial. Thomas Jefferson, the third president of the USA and one of the authors of the Declaration of Independence, allowed public tours of the White House for the first time in 1805, though access is now limited. Also in the Mall is a 169-metre tall obelisk, the Washington Monument—the highest man-made structure in the world at the time of its completion in 1884. Dedicated to the nation's first president, there is an observatory at its peak offering views over all of Washington.

The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool stretches from the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial and is surrounded by memorials to conflicts including the Second World War, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

Museums

Many of the city's best museums are in the Mall, including the National Gallery of Art, home to a collection of Western art and sculpture spanning from the Middle Ages to the present day, and the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, which boasts the largest collection of air- and spacecraft in the world. Nearby are the National Museum of Natural History, the most visited natural history museum in the world, and the National Museum of the American Indian, housed in a curvilinear limestone building imitating desert rock formations.

MEDIA

The Washington Post is the most widely circulated daily published in Washington, though the daily Washington Times also has a significant readership. Special interest titles include the weekly Washington Blade and Metro Weekly (focusing on gay issues), the bi-weekly Street Sense (homelessness and poverty) and the Washington Sun and Washington Informer (African American issues).

Pictures


Washington Monument


Capitol


Lincoln Memorial

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