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Washington, D.C.

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.

Find Your Dream Home in Washington, D.C.

Geography

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.  

Climate

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.  

  Climate data for Washington, D.C.
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 79
(26)
84
(29)
93
(34)
95
(35)
99
(37)
104
(40)
106
(41)
106
(41)
104
(40)
96
(36)
86
(30)
79
(26)
106
(41)
Average high °F (°C) 43.6
(6.4)
47.2
(8.4)
56.0
(13.3)
66.7
(19.3)
75.5
(24.2)
84.3
(29.1)
88.5
(31.4)
86.7
(30.4)
79.6
(26.4)
68.5
(20.3)
58.0
(14.4)
47.0
(8.3)
66.8
(19.3)
Average low °F (°C) 28.7
(−1.8)
30.9
(−0.6)
37.7
(3.2)
47.1
(8.4)
56.6
(13.7)
66.3
(19.1)
71.2
(21.8)
69.8
(21.0)
62.6
(17.0)
50.7
(10.4)
41.2
(5.1)
32.5
(0.3)
49.6
(9.8)
Record low °F (°C) −14
(−26)
−15
(−26)
4
(−16)
15
(−9)
33
(1)
43
(6)
52
(11)
49
(9)
36
(2)
26
(−3)
11
(−12)
−13
(−25)
−15
(−26)
Precipitation inches (mm) 2.80
(71.1)
2.58
(65.5)
3.48
(88.4)
3.06
(77.7)
3.99
(101.3)
3.77
(95.8)
3.72
(94.5)
2.92
(74.2)
3.72
(94.5)
3.40
(86.4)
3.17
(80.5)
3.05
(77.5)
39.66
(1,007.4)
Snowfall inches (cm) 5.7
(14.5)
5.7
(14.5)
1.3
(3.3)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
0
(0)
.5
(1.3)
2.3
(5.8)
15.5
(39.4)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 9.6 9.0 10.5 10.4 11.1 10.7 10.3 8.2 8.3 7.7 8.6 9.7 114.1
Avg. snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 3.1 2.5 .9 .1 0 0 0 0 0 0 .2 1.5 8.3
Mean monthly sunshine hours 145.7 152.6 204.6 228.0 260.4 282.0 279.0 263.5 225.0 204.6 150.0 133.3 2,528.7
Source #1: NOAA (1981−2010 normals at Reagan National, extremes 1872−present)  
Source #2: HKO (sun only, 1961−1990)[ 

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. 

A wide, one story red brick building with a sloping black roof behind numerous white-topped tents selling assorted wares.

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.  

Culture

Historic sites and museums

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.  

Arts

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.

Find Your Dream Home in Washington, D.C.

Information and images courtesy of wikipedia.org