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, founded on July 16, 1790. The City of Washington used to be a separate municipality within the District of Columbia until an Act of Congress in 1871 effectively merged the City and the District into a single entity. It is for this reason that the city, while legally named the District of Columbia, is known as Washington, D.C. The city is located on the north bank of the Potomac River and is bordered by the states of Virginia to the southwest and Maryland to the other sides. The District has a resident population of 588,292; however, due to commuters from the surrounding suburbs, its population rises to over one million during the workweek. The Washington Metropolitan Area, of which the District is a part, has a population of 5.3 million, the eighth-largest metropolitan area in the country.
Article One of the United States Constitution provides for a federal district, distinct from the states, to serve as the permanent national capital. 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 172 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 other institutions such as trade unions, lobbying groups, and professional associations are also located in the District.
The United States Congress has supreme authority over Washington, D.C.; residents of the city therefore have less self-governance than residents of the states. The District has a non-voting at-large Congressional delegate, but no senators. If Washington, D.C. were a state, it would rank last in area (behind Rhode Island), second to last in population (ahead of Wyoming), first in population density, 35th in gross state product, and first in percentage of African Americans, which would make Washington, D.C. a minority-majority state.
The authority to establish a federal capital was provided in Article One, Section Eight, of the United States Constitution, which permits 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". James Madison explained the need for a federal district on January 23, 1788 in the Federalist No. 43, arguing that the national capital needed to be distinct from the states, in order to provide for its own maintenance and safety. An attack on the Congress at Philadelphia by a mob of angry soldiers, known as the Pennsylvania Mutiny of 1783, had emphasized the need for the government to see to its own security. The Constitution, however, does not specify a location for the new 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 war debt carried by the states, on the condition that the new national capital would be located in the South.
On July 16, 1790, the Residence Act provided for a new permanent capital to be located on the Potomac River, the exact area to be selected by President Washington. As permitted by the U.S. Constitution, the initial shape of the federal district was a square, measuring on each side, totaling . During 1791–92, Andrew Ellicott and several assistants, including Benjamin Banneker, surveyed the border of the District with both Maryland and Virginia, placing boundary stones at every mile point; many of the stones are still standing. A new "federal city" was constructed on the north bank of the Potomac; however, two independent municipalities were already located within the District: the City of Alexandria, founded in 1749; and the City of Georgetown, founded in 1751. On September 9, 1791, the federal city was named in honor of George Washington and the district was named the Territory of Columbia, Columbia being a poetic name for the United States in use at that time. Congress held its first session in Washington on November 17, 1800.
The Organic Act of 1801 officially organized the District of Columbia and placed the entire federal territory, including the cities of Alexandria, Georgetown, and Washington under the exclusive control of Congress. Further, the unincorporated territory within the District was organized into two counties: the County of Washington on the north bank of the Potomac, and the County of Alexandria on the south bank. Following this Act, citizens located in the District were no longer considered residents of Maryland or Virginia, thus ending their representation in Congress.
On August 24–25, 1814, British forces burned the capital during the most notable raid of the War of 1812, in retaliation for the sacking and burning of York (modern-day Toronto). 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, would not be completed until 1868.
During the 1830s, the District's southern county of Alexandria went into economic decline, due in part to heavy competition with the port of Georgetown, which was further inland and on the C&O Canal. At the time, Alexandria was a major market in the American slave trade, but rumors circulated that abolitionists were attempting to end slavery in the nation's capital. Partly to avoid an end to the lucrative slave trade, a referendum to ask for the retrocession of Alexandria passed in 1846. On July 9 of that year, Congress agreed to return all the District's territory south of the Potomac River back to the Commonwealth of Virginia. Four years later, the Compromise of 1850 outlawed the slave trade in the District, though not slavery itself.
Washington remained a small city until the outbreak of the American Civil War in 1861. The significant expansion of the federal government as a result of the war led to notable growth in the city's population, as did a large influx of freed slaves. By 1870, the District's population had grown to nearly 132,000. Despite the city's growth, Washington still had dirt roads and lacked basic sanitation; the situation was so bad that some members of Congress proposed moving the capital elsewhere.
With the Organic Act of 1871, Congress created a new government for the entire federal territory. This Act effectively combined the City of Washington, Georgetown, and Washington County into a single municipality officially named the District of Columbia. Even though the City of Washington legally ceased to exist after 1871, the name continued in use and the whole city became commonly known as Washington, D.C. In the same Organic Act, Congress also appointed a Board of Public Works charged with modernizing the city. In 1873, President Grant appointed the board's most influential member, Alexander Shepherd, to the new post of governor. That year, Shepherd spent $20 million on public works ($357 million in 2007), which modernized Washington but also bankrupted the city. In 1874, Congress abolished Shepherd's office in favor of direct rule. Additional projects to renovate the city would not be executed until the McMillan Plan in 1901.
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; by 1950, the District's population reached a peak of 802,178 residents.
After the assassination of civil rights leader 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. 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; most remained in ruins and were not rebuilt 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. Marion Barry was elected mayor in 1979, serving three successive four-year terms; however, due to legal problems, Barry decided not to run for reelection. In 1991 Sharon Pratt Kelly became the first black woman to lead a major U.S. city. Barry was elected again in 1994, and by the next year the city had become nearly insolvent. In response, Congress created the District of Columbia Financial Control Board to oversee all city spending. The District regained control over its finances in September 2001 and the oversight board's operations were suspended.
On September 11, 2001, terrorists hijacked American Airlines Flight 77 and deliberately crashed the plane into The Pentagon, located outside the city in Arlington, Virginia. Either the White House or the United States Capitol was another intended target for United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The Pentagon Memorial was dedicated on September 11, 2008, at the site of the attack.
Washington, D.C. has a total area of , of which is land and (10.16%) is water. The District is no longer due to the retrocession of the southern portion of the District back to the Commonwealth of Virginia in 1846. The District's current area consists only of territory ceded by the state of Maryland. Washington is therefore surrounded by the states of Maryland to the southeast, northeast, and northwest and Virginia to the southwest. The District has three major natural flowing streams: the Potomac River, the Anacostia River, and Rock Creek. The Anacostia River and Rock Creek are tributaries of the Potomac River.
Contrary to the urban legend, Washington was not built on reclaimed swampland. While wetlands did cover areas along the two rivers and other natural streams, the majority of the District's territory consisted of farmland and tree-covered hills. The highest natural point in the District of Columbia is above sea level in Tenleytown. 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.
The U.S. National Park Service manages most of the natural habitat in Washington, D.C., including Rock Creek Park, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park, the National Mall, Theodore Roosevelt Island, 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. The Great Falls of the Potomac River are located upstream (i.e. northwest) of Washington. During the 19th century, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, which starts in Georgetown, was used to allow barge traffic to bypass the falls.
Summers tend to be hot and humid, with daily high temperatures in July and August averaging in the high 80s °F (about 30 °C). The combination of heat and humidity in the summer brings very frequent thunderstorms, some of which occasionally produce tornadoes in the area. While hurricanes (or their remnants) occasionally track through the area in late summer and early fall, they have often weakened 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 on July 20, 1930 and August 6, 1918, while the lowest recorded temperature was on February 11, 1899, during the Great Blizzard of 1899. The city averages 36.7 days hotter than , and 64.4 nights below freezing.
Washington, D.C. is a planned city. The design for the City of Washington was largely the work of Pierre Charles L’Enfant, a French-born architect, engineer, and city planner who first arrived in the American colonies as a military engineer with Major General Lafayette. In 1791, President Washington commissioned L'Enfant to plan the layout of the new capital city. L'Enfant's plan was modeled in the Baroque style, which incorporated broad avenues radiating out from rectangles and circles, providing for open space and landscaping. In March 1792, President Washington dismissed L'Enfant due to his insistence of micromanaging the city's planning, which had resulted in conflicts with the three commissioners appointed by Washington to supervise the capital's construction. Andrew Ellicott, who had worked with L'Enfant surveying the city, was then commissioned to complete the plans. While 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. The City of Washington was bounded by present-day Florida Avenue to the north, Rock Creek to the west, and the Anacostia River to east.
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, and included the re-landscaping of the Capitol grounds and Mall, constructing new Federal buildings and monuments, clearing slums, and establishing a new citywide park system. Architects recruited by the committee kept the city's original layout, and their work is thought to be the grand completion of L'Enfant's intended design.
After the construction of the twelve-story Cairo Apartment Building in 1899, Congress passed the Heights of Buildings Act, which declared that no building could be taller than the Capitol. The Act was amended in 1910 to restrict building height to the width of the adjacent street plus . Today the skyline remains low and sprawling, in keeping with Thomas Jefferson's wishes to make Washington an "American Paris" with "low and convenient" buildings on "light and airy" streets. As a result, the Washington Monument remains the District's tallest structure. However, Washington's height restriction has been assailed as a primary reason why the city has limited affordable housing and traffic problems as a result of urban sprawl. To escape the District's height restriction, taller buildings close to downtown are often constructed across the Potomac River in Rosslyn, Virginia.
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. 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 avenues radiating from the traffic circles are primarily named after states; all 50 states are represented. 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. Washington hosts 172 foreign embassies, 57 of which are located on a section of Massachusetts Avenue informally known as Embassy Row.
The architecture of Washington, D.C. 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, including: 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 Old Executive Office Building and Library of Congress.
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 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).
The 2007 U.S. Census Bureau data estimates the District's population at 588,292 residents, continuing a trend of population growth in the city since the 2000 Census. The trend reverses what had been a 50-year decline in the District's population. During the workweek, however, the number of commuters from the suburbs into the city swells the District's population by an estimated 71.8%, to a daytime population of over one million people. The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the surrounding counties in Maryland and Virginia, is the eighth-largest in the United States with more than five million residents. When combined with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area has a population exceeding eight million residents, the fourth-largest in the country.
In 2006, the population distribution was 55.4% African American, 34.5% Caucasian, 8.2% Hispanic (of any race), 5.1% other (including Native Americans, Alaskans, Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders), 3.4% Asian, and 1.5% mixed (two or more races). Even though they compose the city's largest ethnic group, Washington has a steadily declining black population, due to many African Americans leaving the city for suburbs. At the same time, the city's white population has steadily increased, in part due to effects of gentrification in many of Washington's traditionally black neighborhoods. This is evident in a 6.2% decrease in the African American population, and a corresponding 13.8% increase in the Caucasian population since 2000. In 2006, there were an estimated 74,000 foreign immigrants living in Washington, D.C. Major sources of immigration include El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, with some concentration of Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
The 2000 census revealed that an estimated 33,000 adults in the District of Columbia identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, about 8.1% of the city's adult population. Despite the city's sizable LGBT population and liberal political climate, same-sex marriage is not legal in the District, due in part to opposition in Congress. However, Washington's domestic partnership law does provide same-sex couples legal recognition similar to civil unions offered in other jurisdictions.
A 2007 report found that about one-third of Washington 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. A 2005 study shows that 85.16% of Washington, D.C. residents age five and older speak only English at home and 8.78% speak Spanish. French is the third-most-spoken language at 1.35%. In contrast to the high rate of functional illiteracy, 45% of D.C. residents have at least a four-year college degree, the fourth-highest rate in the nation. According to data from 2000, more than half of District residents identify themselves as Christian; 28% of residents are Catholic, 9.1% are American Baptist, 6.8% are Southern Baptist, 1.3% are Eastern or Oriental Orthodox, and 13% are members of other Christian denominations. Residents who practice Islam make up 10.6% of the population, followers of Judaism compose 4.5%, and 26.8% of residents do not practice a religion.
Like most large cities, crime is highest in areas associated with illegal drugs and gangs. The more affluent neighborhoods of Northwest Washington experience low levels of crime, but the incidence of crime increases as one goes further east. Once plagued with violent crime, many D.C. neighborhoods such as Columbia Heights and Logan Circle are becoming safe and vibrant areas due to the effects of gentrification. As a result, crime in the District is being displaced even further east and across the border into Prince George's County, Maryland.
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 violates the Second Amendment right to gun ownership. 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.
Washington, D.C. has a growing, diversified economy with an increasing percentage of professional and business service jobs. The gross state product of the District in 2007 was $93.8 billion, which would rank it No. 35 compared to the 50 U.S. states. As of March 2008, the federal government accounted for about 27% 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. However, as of January 2007, federal employees in the Washington area comprised only 14% of the total U.S. government workforce. Many organizations such as law firms, independent contractors (both defense and civilian), nonprofit organizations, lobbying firms, national associations of labor, and professional groups have their headquarters in or near D.C. to be close to the federal government. As of May 2008, the Washington Metropolitan Area had an unemployment rate of 3.5%; the lowest rate among the 40 largest metro areas in the nation. It is also lower than the national average unemployment rate during the same period of 5.2%.
Washington has growing industry unrelated to government, especially in the areas of education, finance and scientific research. The George Washington University, Georgetown University, Washington Hospital Center, Howard University, and Fannie Mae are the top five non-government-related employers in the city. There are five Fortune 1000 companies based in Washington, of which two are also Fortune 500 companies. The city has become a leader in global real estate investment, behind London, New York City, and Paris. In 2006, Expansion Magazine ranked D.C. among the top ten areas in the nation favorable to business expansion. Washington has the third-largest downtown in the United States in terms of commercial office space, directly behind New York City and Chicago.
Gentrification efforts are taking hold in Washington, D.C., notably in the neighborhoods of Logan Circle, Shaw, Columbia Heights, the U Street Corridor, and the 14th Street Corridor. Development was fostered in some neighborhoods by the late-1990s construction of the Green Line on Metrorail, Washington's subway system, which linked them to the downtown area. In March 2008, a new shopping mall in Columbia Heights became the first new major retail center in the District in 40 years. As in many cities, gentrification is revitalizing Washington's economy, but its benefits are unevenly distributed throughout the city and it is not directly helping poor people. For example, the District's unemployment rate fluctuates greatly within the city; in May 2008, unemployment ranged from 1.7% in affluent Ward 3 in upper Northwest D.C. to 17.2% in poorer Ward 8 in Southeast. Compared to the 50 U.S. states in 2005, the District had a higher personal income per capita but also a higher poverty rate, highlighting economic disparities in its population.
The National Mall is a large, open park area in the center of the city. Located in the center of the Mall is the Washington Monument. 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, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Albert Einstein Memorial. 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 directly south of the mall, the Tidal Basin features rows of Japanese cherry blossom trees that were presented as gifts from the nation of Japan. The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, and the District of Columbia War Memorial are located around the Tidal Basin.
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 2007 was the National Museum of Natural History located on the National Mall. Other Smithsonian Institution museums and galleries located on the mall are: the National Air and Space Museum; 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 (formerly known as the National Museum of American Art) and the National Portrait Gallery are located 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 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.
The National Gallery of Art is located on the National Mall near the Capitol, but is not a part of the Smithsonian Institution. It is instead wholly owned by the U.S. government; thus admission to the gallery is free. The gallery's west wing features the nation's collection of American and European art through the 19th century. The east wing, designed by architect I.M. Pei, features works of modern art. The Smithsonian American Art Museum and the National Portrait Gallery are often confused with the National Gallery of Art when they are in fact entirely separate institutions. The National Building Museum, located near Judiciary Square, was chartered by Congress and hosts temporary and traveling exhibits.
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 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.
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. The President and First Lady typically attend the Honors ceremony, as the First Lady is the honorary chair of the Kennedy Center Board of Trustees. Washington also has a local independent theater tradition. Institutions such as Arena Stage, the Shakespeare Theatre Company, and Studio Theatre feature classic works and new American plays.
The U Street corridor in Northwest Washington, 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. D.C. 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.
Washington is also 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, Dischord Records, Simple Machines, and ESL Music among others. Modern alternative and indie music venues like The Black Cat and the near U Street bring popular acts to smaller more-intimate venues.
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 as well as for exposing the Watergate scandal. "The Post", as it is popularly called, continues to print only three main editions; one each for the District, Maryland, and Virginia. Even without expanded national editions, the newspaper has the sixth-highest circulation of all news dailies in the country as of March 2008. USA Today, the nation's largest daily newspaper by circulation, is headquartered in nearby McLean, Virginia.
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. Another local daily, The Washington Times, and the alternative weekly Washington City Paper have substantial readership in the Washington area as well. 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. The Hill and Roll Call newspapers focus exclusively on issues related to Congress and the federal government.
The Washington Metropolitan Area is the ninth-largest television media market in the U.S. with 2,308,290 homes (2.05% of the U.S. population). Several media companies and cable television channels have their headquarters in Washington, D.C. including: C-SPAN; Black Entertainment Television (BET); the National Geographic Channel; Smithsonian Networks; XM Satellite Radio; National Public Radio (NPR); 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 also home to Radio One, the nation's largest African American television and radio conglomerate, founded by media mogul Cathy Hughes.
Washington, D.C. is home to five major professional men's teams. The Washington Wizards (National Basketball Association) and the Washington Capitals (National Hockey League) both play at the Verizon Center (right) 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) play at RFK Stadium. The Washington Redskins (National Football League) play at nearby FedExField in Landover, Maryland.
The Washington area is also home to a number of women's professional sports teams. The Washington Mystics (WNBA) play at the Verizon Center and the Washington Glory (National Pro Fastpitch Softball) play at Westfield H.S. Sports Complex in Fairfax County, Virginia. The Washington Freedom are set to be revived in 2009 within the Women's Professional Soccer league, the successor to the WUSA. Other professional and semi-professional teams based in Washington include: the Washington Bayhawks (Major League Lacrosse), who play at George Mason Stadium; the Washington D.C. Slayers (American National Rugby League); the Potomac Mavericks (PIHA); the Baltimore Washington Eagles (USAFL); the D.C. Divas (NWFA); the D.C. Explosion (Minor League Football); and the Washington RFC (Rugby Super League).
Washington is one of only 13 cities in the United States with teams from all four major men's sports: football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey. When soccer is included, Washington is one of only eight cities to have all five professional men's sports. D.C. teams have won a combined 11 professional league championships: D.C. United has won four (the most in MLS history); the Washington Redskins have won three; the Washington Bayhawks have won two; and the Washington Wizards and the Washington Glory have each won a single championship. The William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park hosts the Legg Mason Tennis Classic. The Marine Corps Marathon and the National Marathon are both held annually in Washington. The D.C. area is home to one regional sports television network, Comcast SportsNet (CSN), based in Bethesda, Maryland.
Article One, Section Eight of the United States Constitution grants the U.S. Congress ultimate authority over the District of Columbia. The 1973 Home Rule Act devolved certain Congressional powers over the District to a local government administered by an elected mayor, currently Adrian Fenty, 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. Each of the city's eight wards elects a single member of the council and five members, including the chairman, are 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 adopt a budget, which Congress has the right to change. Local income, sales, and property taxes provide most of the revenue to fund city government agencies and services. Like the 50 states, D.C. receives funds for federal grants and assistance programs like Medicare. Congress also appropriates money directly to the D.C. government to help offset some of the city's costs; these funds totaled $38 million in 2007, approximately 0.5% of the District's budget. However, in addition to those funds, the Federal government operates the District's court system, which had a budget of $272 million in 2008, and federal law enforcement agencies like the U.S. Park Police help provide security in the city.
The city's local government during the mayoralty of Marion Barry was criticized for mismanagement and waste. The administration of Mayor Anthony Williams oversaw a period greater prosperity, urban renewal, and budget surpluses starting in the late 1990s. In late 2007, investigators found that city employees embezzled over $44 million in city funds by writing fraudulent tax refund checks. The scandal embarrassed the Fenty administration, which had made regaining the public trust a top priority.
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, nine months prior to the Emancipation Proclamation. The Act ended slavery in the District of Columbia and freed about 3,100 enslaved persons.
Citizens of the District of Columbia have no voting representation in Congress. They are represented in the House of Representatives by a non-voting delegate, 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 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 laws and 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 as well as featuring 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. District residents were barred from voting for the President of the United States until 1961; the Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution grants the District three votes in the Electoral College.
District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) operates the city's public school system, which consists of 167 schools and learning centers. In the 2007–08 school year, 49,076 students were enrolled in the public school system. Enrollment in DCPS has been steadily decreasing, and by next year the city expects total enrollment to fall to 47,700. DCPS has one of the highest-cost yet lowest-performing school systems in the country, both in terms of infrastructure and student achievement. Under a massive restructuring of the city's school system in 2007, the D.C. Council granted the mayor's office near-total authority over D.C. public schools. Mayor Fenty's new superintendent of DCPS, Chancellor Michelle Rhee, has made sweeping changes to the system by turning some schools over to private management firms, firing principals, and replacing teachers.
Due to the problems with the D.C. public school system, enrollment in public charter schools has increased 13% each year since 2001. The District of Columbia Public Charter School Board monitors the 56 public charter schools in the city. As of fall 2007, D.C. charter schools had a total enrollment of 21,859. The District is also home to some of the nation's most renowned private high schools. Many important public figures and their children have attended schools such as Sidwell Friends, including Chelsea Clinton, who attended Sidwell during her father's presidency.
Washington is home to many notable universities, including The George Washington University (GW), Georgetown University (GU), American University (AU), The Catholic University of America (CUA), Howard University, Gallaudet 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) provides public postsecondary education.
The District's 16 medical centers and hospitals make it a national center for patient care and medical research. The National Institutes of Health is located in nearby Bethesda, Maryland. Washington Hospital Center (WHC), the largest hospital campus in the District, is both the largest private and the largest non-profit hospital in the Washington area. Immediately adjacent to the WHC is the Children's National Medical Center. Children's is among the highest ranked pediatric hospitals in the country according to U.S. News and World Report. Many of the city's prominent universities, including George Washington, Georgetown, and Howard have medical schools and associated teaching hospitals. Walter Reed Army Medical Center is located in Northwest Washington and provides care for active-duty and retired personnel and their dependents.
Washington, D.C. is often cited as having some of the nation's worst traffic and congestion. In 2007, Washington commuters spent 60 hours a year in traffic, which tied for having the worst traffic in the country after Los Angeles. However, 37.7% of Washington commuters take public transportation to work, also the second-highest rate in the country.
The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) operates the city's rapid transit system, Metrorail (most often referred to as "the Metro"), as well as Metrobus. The subway and bus systems serve both the District of Columbia and the immediate Maryland and Virginia suburbs. Metrorail opened on March 27, 1976 and presently consists of 86 stations and of track. With an average 950,000 trips each weekday in 2008, Metrorail is the nation's second-busiest rapid transit system in the country, after the New York City Subway.
WMATA expects an average one million Metrorail riders daily by 2030. The need to increase capacity has renewed plans to add 220 subway cars to the system and reroute trains to alleviate congestion at the busiest stations. Population growth in the region has revived efforts to construct two additional suburban Metro lines, as well as a new light rail system to interconnect the city's neighborhoods; the first tram line is expected to open in late 2009. The surrounding jurisdictions in the Washington area have local bus systems, such as Montgomery County's Ride On, which complement service provided by WMATA. Metrorail, Metrobus and all local public bus systems accept SmarTrip, a reloadable transit pass.
Union Station is the second-busiest train station in the United States, after Penn Station in New York, and serves as the southern terminus of Amtrak's Northeast Corridor and Acela Express service. Maryland's MARC and Virginia's VRE commuter trains and the Metrorail Red Line also provide service into Union Station. Intercity bus service is provided by Greyhound, Peter Pan, BoltBus, Megabus, and many other Chinatown bus lines.
Three major airports, one in Maryland and two in Virginia, serve Washington, D.C. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, located just across the Potomac River from downtown D.C. in Arlington County, Virginia, is the only Washington-area airport that has its own Metrorail station. Given its proximity to the city, Reagan National has extra security precautions required by the D.C. Air Defense Identification Zone, as well as additional noise restrictions. Reagan National does not have U.S. Customs and Border Protection and therefore can only provide international service to airports that permit United States border preclearance, which includes destinations in Canada and the Caribbean.
Major international flights arrive and depart from Washington Dulles International Airport, located west of the city in Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. Dulles serves as the major east coast airline hub for United Airlines. Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport, located northeast of the city in Anne Arundel County, Maryland is a hub for Southwest and Airtran airlines.