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about Washington

Washington, DC, officially the District of Columbia (also known as DC; Washington; and, historically, the Federal City) is the capital city and administrative district of the United States of America. Residents of the city and its surrounding suburbs refer to it simply as the District or DC, to contrast Washington from its greater metropolitan area.

Washington, DC is the most common way to refer to the District throughout the rest of the United States and the world. Washington or Washington, DC is also used as a metonym for the federal government. Politicians and candidates for office sometimes use these terms pejoratively to convey a sense of solidarity with their constituents by distancing themselves from the negative image of an out-of-touch centralized government. (The Washington Post criticized this common political tactic in a 2001 editorial.)

The District of Columbia is not part of any state, but is instead a nationally unique administrative district under federal jurisdiction, but with limited – and sometimes contentious – local rule. As the seat of national government as well as the home of numerous national landmarks, museums, and sports teams, Washington is a popular international destination for tourists and school trips.

The centers of all three branches of the U.S. federal government are in Washington, as well as the headquarters of most federal agencies. Washington also serves as the headquarters for the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, and the Organization of American States. All of this has made Washington the frequent focal point of massive political demonstrations and protests, particularly on the National Mall.

The population of Washington, as of 2003 U.S. Census Bureau estimates, is 563,384. Despite being smaller in area than the smallest state (Rhode Island), it has a larger population than the least populous state (Wyoming). Together with portions of Virginia and Maryland, and Baltimore and its environs, Washington is part of a large metropolitan area known as the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan Area. In recent years, the metro area has expanded to include communities as far away as West Virginia, Delaware, and Pennsylvania.

The official bird of Washington DC is the wood thrush. The official motto is Justitia Omnibus (Justice for All).

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

Washington geography

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

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

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

City layout

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

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

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


Washington includes many distinct and historic neighborhoods:

(External link to DC neighborhood websites)

Washington history

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

The signing of the Residence Bill on July 16, 1790 established a site along the Potomac River as the District of Columbia (seat of government) of the United States. Land for the district was given to the federal government by the states of Virginia and Maryland and the city was named after George Washington. On February 27, 1801 the district was placed under the jurisdiction of the United States Congress. The towns of Georgetown and Alexandria already existed at the time the district was founded; the remainder of the territory was subdivided into Washington City and Washington County (on the Maryland side of the Potomac) and Alexandria County (on the Virginia side). In 1871, Georgetown, Washington City and Washington County were unified into Washington, DC.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walter Washington became the first elected mayor of the District in 1974. During his third term, Mayor Marion Barry was arrested for drug use in an FBI sting on January 18, 1990. He was acquitted of felony charges, but convicted on one misdemeanor count of cocaine possession for which he served a six-month jail term. On January 2, 1991 Sharon Pratt Kelly (elected as Sharon Pratt Dixon but married later that year) was sworn in as mayor of Washington, DC becoming the first black woman to lead a city of that size and importance in the United States. After her term ended in 1994, Marion Barry was once again elected mayor for his fourth term. The current mayor, Anthony Williams, a Yale educated lawyer, became mayor in 1998. He was reelected in 2002.

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

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

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

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

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

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This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Washington, District of Columbia".

This city is also known as: Washington.

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