DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA, USA

Geography:

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 Residence Act approved the creation of a capital district as permitted by the U.S. Constitution. The District is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the United States Congress and is therefore not a part of any U.S. state.

The states of Maryland and Virginia donated land along the Potomac River to form the federal district; however, Congress returned the Virginia portion in 1846. The City of Washington, located east of the preexisting port of Georgetown, was founded in 1791 to serve as the new national capital. Congress consolidated the whole District under a single municipal government in 1871. The city and the U.S. state of Washington, which is on the country's Pacific coast, were both named in honor of George Washington.

Washington, D.C., had an estimated population of 617,996 in 2011, the 25th most populous place in the United States. 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 in the District, including the Congress, President, and Supreme Court. Washington is home to many national monuments and museums, which are primarily situated on or around the National Mall. The city hosts 176 foreign embassies as well as the headquarters of many international organizations, trade unions, non-profit organizations, lobbying groups, and professional associations.

A locally elected mayor and 13-member city council have governed the District since 1973; however, the Congress maintains supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws. D.C. residents therefore have less self-governance than residents of U.S. states. The District has a non-voting, at-large Congressional delegate, but no senators. The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution, ratified in 1961, grants the District three electoral votes in presidential elections.

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. 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. Tiber Creek, a natural watercourse that once passed through the National Mall, was fully enclosed underground during the 1870s. The creek also formed a portion of the now-filled Washington City Canal, which allowed passage through the city to the Anacostia River from 1815 until the 1850s. The present Chesapeake and Ohio Canal starts in Georgetown and was used during the 19th century to bypass the Great Falls of the Potomac River, located upstream (northwest) of Washington.

The highest natural elevation in the District of Columbia is 409 feet (125 m) above sea level at Fort Reno Park in northwest Washington. The lowest point is sea level at the Potomac River. The geographic center of Washington is near the intersection of 4th and L Streets NW. Contrary to the urban legend, Washington was not built on a reclaimed swamp, but wetlands did cover areas along the water. The United States government owns about 23% of the land in the District; lower than the percentage of federal lands in 12 states.

The District has 7,464 acres of parkland, about 19% of the city's total area and the second-highest percentage among high-density U.S. cities. The large percentage of city land dedicated to park areas contributes to a high urban tree canopy coverage of 35%. 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, Columbia Island, Fort Dupont Park, Meridian Hill Park, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and Anacostia Park. 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.

History:

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

In his "Federalist No. 43", published January 23, 1788, James Madison argued that the new federal government would need authority over a national capital to provide for its own maintenance and safety. Five years earlier, in an event known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, a band of unpaid soldiers besieged Congress while its members were meeting in Philadelphia. The Pennsylvania government refused requests to forcibly disperse the protesters, which emphasized the need for the national government not to rely on any state for its own security.

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." However, the Constitution does not 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 pay each state's remaining Revolutionary War debts in exchange for establishing the new national capital in the Southern United States.

On July 9, 1790, Congress passed the Residence Act, which approved the creation of a national capital on the Potomac River; the exact location was to be selected by President George Washington, who signed the bill into law on July 16. Formed from land donated by the states of Maryland and Virginia, the initial shape of the federal district was a square measuring 10 miles (16 km) on each side, totaling 100 square miles (260 km2).

Two preexisting settlements were included in the territory: the port of Georgetown, Maryland founded in 1751, and the city of Alexandria, Virginia, founded in 1749. 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.

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 three commissioners charged with overseeing the capital's construction named the city in honor of President Washington. The federal district was named Columbia, which was a poetic name for the United States in use at that time. Congress held its first session in Washington on November 17, 1800.

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. 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.

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 Battle of York. The Capitol, Treasury, and White House were burned and gutted during the attack. 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.

In the 1830s, the District's southern territory of Alexandria went into economic decline partly due to neglect by Congress. 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.

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. Confirming the fears of pro-slavery Alexandrians, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the District, though not slavery itself.

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. 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. In 1868, Congress granted male African American residents of the District the right to vote in municipal elections.

By 1870, the District's population had grown 75% from the previous census to nearly 132,000 residents. 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.

Congress passed the Organic Act of 1871, which repealed the individual charters of the cities of Washington and Georgetown, and a created a new territorial government for the whole District of Columbia. President Grant appointed Alexander Robey Shepherd to the new position of governor in 1873. Shepherd authorized large-scale municipal projects, which greatly modernized the city. However, the governor spent three times the money that had been budgeted for capital improvements, which ultimately bankrupted the District. In 1874, Congress replaced the territorial government with an appointed three-member Board of Commissioners.

The city's first motorized streetcars began service in 1888 and spurred growth in areas of the District beyond the City of Washington's original boundaries. The City of Washington formally annexed Georgetown in 1895, which until then had maintained a nominal separate identity. Washington became the first city to undergo city-wide urban renewal to enhance public spaces during the nation's "City Beautiful movement" in the early 1900s. Washington's city plan was expanded throughout the District in the following decades, forming new neighborhoods. As a result, the entire city eventually took the name Washington, D.C.

Increased federal spending as a result of New Deal legislation in the 1930s led to the construction of new government buildings, memorials, and museums in Washington. World War II further increased government activity, adding to the number of federal employees in the capital; by 1950, the District's population reached its peak of 802,178 residents. 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 13,600 federal troops managed to stop the violence. Many stores and other buildings were burned; rebuilding was not complete until the late 1990s.

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

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.

Culture and Arts:

The National Mall is a large, open park in downtown Washington between the Lincoln Memorial and the United States Capitol. Given its prominence, the mall is often the location of political protests, concerts, festivals, and presidential inaugurations. The Washington Monument and the Jefferson Pier are near the center of the mall, south of the White House. Also on the mall are the National World War II Memorial at the east end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

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

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. 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. The United States Supreme Court Building was completed in 1935; before then, the court held sessions in the Old Senate Chamber of the Capitol.

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. The most visited of the Smithsonian museums in 2010 was the National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall. Other Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries 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.

The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are in the same building, the Donald W. Reynolds Center, near Washington's Chinatown. The Reynolds Center is also known as the Old Patent Office Building. The Renwick Gallery is officially part of the Smithsonian American Art Museum but is 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.

The National Gallery of Art, 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. 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.

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; and The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle, the first museum of modern art in the United States. 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 near the National Mall maintains exhibits, documentation, and artifacts related to the Holocaust.

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. 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.

The Marine Barracks near Capitol Hill houses the United States Marine Band; founded in 1798, it is the country's oldest professional musical organization. American march composer and Washington-native John Philip Sousa led the Marine Band from 1880 until 1892. 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.

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. 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. 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.

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. 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.

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. 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.

Washington, D.C., is a planned city. In 1791, President Washington commissioned Pierre (Peter) Charles L’Enfant to design the new capital. A French-born architect and city planner, L'Enfant first arrived in the colonies as a military engineer during the American Revolutionary War. The L'Enfant Plan for Washington featured broad streets and avenues radiating out from rectangles, providing room for open space and landscaping. He based his design on plans of cities such as Paris, Amsterdam, Karlsruhe, and Milan brought from Europe by Thomas Jefferson in 1788. 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.

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 tasked with completing the design. 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.

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. 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 to have largely preserved L'Enfant's intended design.

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.

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. 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).

The City of Washington was bordered by Boundary Street to the north (renamed Florida Avenue in 1890), Rock Creek to the west, and the Anacostia River to the east. Washington's street grid was extended, where possible, throughout the District starting in 1888. Georgetown's streets were renamed in 1895. Some streets are particularly noteworthy, such as Pennsylvania Avenue, which connects the White House to the U.S. Capitol and K Street, which houses the offices of many lobbying groups. Washington hosts 297 foreign embassies and related buildings, many of which are on a section of Massachusetts Avenue informally known as Embassy Row.

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 in the District of Columbia: 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.

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. 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. 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. 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).

Sports:

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; D.C. United has won four (the most in MLS history); and the Washington Wizards (then the Washington Bullets) has won a single championship.

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 and is sometimes called "The People's Marathon" because it is the largest marathon that does not offer prize money to participants.

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. The D.C. area is home to one regional sports television network, Comcast SportsNet (CSN), based in Bethesda, Maryland.

Media:

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. It is probably most notable for its coverage of national and international politics and for exposing the Watergate Scandal. "The Post", as it is popularly called, had the sixth-highest print circulation of all news dailies in the country in 2010.

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.

Some 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.

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). Several media companies and cable television channels have their headquarters in the area, including C-SPAN; Black Entertainment Television (BET); Radio One; 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 near the Capitol in Southwest Washington.

Government:

Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution grants the U.S. Congress "exclusive jurisdiction" over the city. The District did not have an elected municipal government until the passage of the 1973 Home Rule Act. The Act devolved certain Congressional powers 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 council and intervene in local affairs.

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. 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.

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. 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. 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.

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 and the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, which only hear cases regarding federal law. 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. 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.

The city's local government, particularly during the mayoralty of Marion Barry, was criticized for mismanagement and waste. During his administration in 1989, The Washington Monthly magazine claimed that the District had "the worst city government in America." 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. Mayor Anthony Williams won election in 1998. His administration oversaw a period of greater prosperity, urban renewal, and budget surpluses. The District regained control over its finances in 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.

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, ending slavery in the District of Columbia in 1862.

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. The District 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, D.C. residents are subject to all U.S. federal taxes. 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.

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. Efforts to raise awareness about the issue have included campaigns by grassroots organizations and the featuring of the city's unofficial motto, "Taxation Without Representation", on D.C. vehicle license plates. 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. 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.

Education:

District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) operates the city's 123 public schools. 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. DCPS has one of the highest-cost yet lowest-performing school systems in the country, both in terms of infrastructure and student achievement. 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.

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

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.

Transportation:

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. However, 37% of Washington-area commuters take public transportation to work, the second-highest rate in the country. An additional 12% of D.C. commuters walked to work, 6% carpooled, and 3% traveled by bicycle in 2010. 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.

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. The interstate highways that do continue into Washington, including Interstate 66 and Interstate 395, both terminate shortly after 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. With an average of about one million trips each weekday, Metro is the second-busiest rapid transit system in the country. Metrobus serves over 400,000 riders each weekday, making it the nation's sixth-largest bus system. The city also operates its own DC Circulator bus system, which connects commercial areas within central Washington.

Union Station is the city's main train station and services approximately 70,000 people each day. It is Amtrak's second-busiest station with 4.6 million passengers annually and is 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. Following renovations in 2011, Union Station became Washington's primary intercity bus transit center.

Three major airports serve the District. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport is 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. Major international flights arrive and depart from Washington Dulles International Airport, 26.3 miles (42.3 km) west of the District in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport is 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. Construction has also started on an additional Metro line that will connect Washington to Dulles airport. 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 1,500 bicycles and 165 stations. Marked bicycle lanes currently exist on 48 miles (77 km) of streets and the city plans to further expand the network.

Economy:

Washington has a growing, diversified economy with an increasing percentage of professional and business service jobs. 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. The gross product of the Washington Metropolitan Area was $425 billion in 2010, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan economy in the United States. 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. The District of Columbia itself had an unemployment rate of 9.8% during the same time period.

In 2012, the federal government accounted for about 29% of the jobs in Washington, D.C. This is thought to immunize Washington to national economic downturns because the federal government continues operations even during recessions. 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. Washington also hosts nearly 200 foreign embassies and international organizations such as the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Organization of American States, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the Pan American Health Organization. In 2008, the foreign diplomatic corps in Washington employed about 10,000 people and contributed an estimated $400 million annually to the local economy.

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. According to statistics compiled in 2011, four of the largest 500 companies in the country were headquartered in the District.

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. In 2006, Expansion Magazine ranked D.C. among the top ten areas in the nation favorable to business expansion. 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.

Weather:

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

Spring and fall are warm, while winter is cool with annual snowfall averaging 15.6 inches (40 cm). Winter temperatures average around 38 °F (3.3 °C) from mid-December to mid-February. 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. The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area.

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. 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. 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.

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. During a typical year, the city averages about 37 days at or above 90 °F (32.2 °C) and 64 nights at or below freezing.

Visiting in District of Columbia:

If you fly to Washington, D.C. on Southwest or AirTran, you’ll probably land at Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport (BWI). It takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive from the airport to Washington, D.C., so if you’re not renting a car the cheapest option for getting into town is probably the MARC commuter train (forty minutes to an hour to Union Station, trains every half hour). The fastest option will probably be Amtrak (half an hour to Union Station, trains every hour). If you are thinking about renting a car, check out their discounted rates. The Super Shuttle can also get you to downtown.

If you fly United, Jet Blue, or American, your flight is probably bound for Washington Dulles International Airport (IAD). There is no rail service to Dulles, so your options for getting to downtown Washington, D.C. are pretty much limited to the Super Shuttle, a taxi (35 to 50 minutes, depending on traffic, for between $50 and $60) or the Washington Flyer Coach Service bus, which will drive you as far as the West Falls Church Metro Station, in about 20 to 30 minutes. Or you can rent a car.

The closest in of Washington, D.C.’s airports is Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA). That’s your likely destination if you fly U.S. Airways. The U.S. Airways Shuttle and the Delta Shuttle also land there. You can get directly on the Metro from National, or you can take the Super Shuttle or rent a car.

As air travel becomes more of a hassle, more visitors arrive in Washington, D.C. by Amtrak train, especially those coming from Philadelphia, New York, Boston, or one of the smaller cities in between. From Union Station you can get straight on the Metro or take a relatively quick cab ride to your hotel. Or you can hop on one of the tour buses run by Old Town Trolley, Gray Line, or Open Top Sightseeing.

Washington, DC has a great mode of public transportation in the Metro system, but sometimes you just want a car to get out and explore. If you are thinking about renting a car, check out their discounted rates.

Getting around downtown D.C. can be a breeze or it can be a confusing mess. Choose a hotel near the sites or near a Metro stop and you’ll be well on your way to a happy stay in Washington, DC.

The fastest and cheapest way to get most places in Washington, D.C. is by Metro, which starts running at 5 a.m. (7 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday) and stops at midnight (3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights). An interactive map of the Metro system is available here. You can also take a cab (now with metered fares) or buy a full-day ticket and hop on and off tour buses like those run by Old Town Trolley or Gray Line.

Washington, D.C. has one of the best public transportation systems in the country, so if you have the option, you’re usually better off taking the Metro to get where you need to go. Even if you’re coming from out of town, most Metro stations in the suburbs have lots or garages where you can leave your car all day. All Metro parking is free on weekends or holidays, and three stations even have lots where you can leave your car for up to 10 days. Check out WMATA’s site for details on your nearest station.

But let’s say you must drive into the city, for whatever reason. Then you basically have two options (assuming the business or attraction you visit doesn’t have its own garage): street parking or a pay garage.

If you choose to park on the street, you might be lucky enough to find a free spot, especially if you’re nowhere near a commercial area, but in most residential neighborhoods where those spaces exist, there is a strict two-hour time limit for non-residents. Usually those limits are in effect Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 8:30 p.m.

More likely you’ll find one of the city’s 17,000 metered spaces. In most areas these cost $0.75/hour from 7 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.

Fortunately, you no longer have to lug around rolls of quarters to use meters in the district. While they all still accept coins, they also all accept credit cards. Or, for an additional $0.32 transaction fee you can use a mobile app and pay with your phone.

Unfortunately, most have a maximum time limit of two hours, so however you pay you will have to go outside and refill the meter periodically.

Most likely of all, if you drive into the city you’re going to end up paying to park in a garage. Most of these have steeply declining rates where you pay heavily for the first hour and then pay only about double that first hour amount to stay for the rest of the day. That means your best value is almost always to find one place and leave your car there all day.

Rates vary by neighborhood, but generally in neighborhoods with visitor attractions they hover between about $16 and about $22 for the full day. You’ll notice the same company names in multiple neighborhoods: Colonial, LAZ, Altman’s, Central. You can compare the prices on their websites, but the simplest one-stop way to find the best price is the Best Parking app, available for free for iPhone, Android, or Blackberry. You can search it by neighborhood, address, or attraction.

Even garages fill up, though, especially on parade or festival days. You really are better off on the Metro.

Guided tours are the best way to see Washington, D.C. The city has an incredible amount to offer, and a guided tour can show you things even locals don’t know about.

Join a Segway tour and zip around the National Mall on two wheels. Or go on a walking tour of Georgetown and learn about the ghost known to haunt its Victorian houses…and cemeteries.

Washington DC – Old Town Trolley: Named Washington’s Best Tour by Washingtonian Magazine. Discover the nation’s capitol during this two hour tour. See the best first and enjoy the stories of the men, women and events that shaped our nation. With well planned stops you can visit Georgetown, the Mall, the National Cathedral, Lincoln Memorial, the Smithsonian museums and much, much more!

Washington DC – Monuments by Moonlight: Washington DC’s spectacular monuments at night are not to be missed on this 2 1/2 hour fully narrated tour. With stops at the Iwo Jima Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Veteran and Korean War Memorials you will definitely want to bring your camera. Washington, D.C. is most beautiful after the sun sets.

Washington DC eTicket Center: Buy tickets online for the Old Town Trolley or Monuments by Moonlight as well as tickets to shows, museums, and sporting events.

Spirit Dinner Cruise - Quite simply, a Spirit dinner cruise is the perfect night out. A magical setting enhanced by dazzling city sights and harbor lights. An evening filled to the brim with wonderful cuisine, live music and dancing under a canopy of stars. For a party of two, a couple of couples, or a grand affair for up to 600 guests, this is the ultimate Washington experience.

Odyssey Dinner Cruise - Step aboard Odyssey and enjoy a two-or three-hour escape to the signature elegance and total entertainment experience only a true luxury cruising vessel can provide. Creative appetizers, entrees and desserts prepared fresh onboard, daily. Award-winning wines. Dancing to live music. And unmatched views of the nation’s greatest monuments drifting past your table. Explore and discover Washington’s most luxurious dining cruise ship!

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