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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. The signing of the Residence Act on July 16, 1790, approved the creation of a capital district located along the Potomac River on the country’s East Coast. 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 each donated land to form the federal district, which included the preexisting settlements of Georgetown and Alexandria; however, Congress returned the Virginia portion in 1846. Named in honor of George Washington, the City of Washington was founded in 1791 to serve as the new national capital. Congress created a single municipal government for the whole District of Columbia after the American Civil War.
Washington, D.C., had an estimated population of 632,323 in 2012, the 24th most populous place in the United States. Commuters from the surrounding Maryland and Virginia suburbs raise the city’s population to more than one million during the workweek. The Washington Metropolitan Area, of which the District is a part, has a population of 5.7 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 council have governed the District since 1973; however, the Congress maintains supreme authority over the city and may overturn local laws. 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.
Washington, D.C., is located in the mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. East Coast. Due to the District of Columbia retrocession, the city 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. The District is bordered by Montgomery County, Maryland, to the northwest; Prince George’s County, Maryland, to the east; and Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia, to the south and west.
The Potomac River forms the District’s border with Virginia and has two major 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 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 at the Atlantic Seaboard fall line.
The highest natural elevation in the District is 409 feet (125 m) above sea level at Fort Reno Park in upper 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 District has 7,464 acres (30.21 km2) of parkland, about 19% of the city’s total area and the second-highest percentage among high-density U.S. cities. The National Park Service manages most of the 9,122 acres (36.92 km2) of city land owned by the U.S. government. Rock Creek Park is a 1,754-acre (7.10 km2) urban forest in Northwest Washington, which extends 9.3 miles (15.0 km) through a stream valley that bisects the city. Established in 1890, it is the country’s fourth-oldest national park and is home to a variety of plant and animal species including raccoon, deer, owls, and coyotes. Other National Park Service properties include the C&O Canal National Historical Park, the National Mall and Memorial Parks, Theodore Roosevelt Island, Columbia Island, Fort Dupont Park, Meridian Hill Park, Kenilworth Park and Aquatic Gardens, and Anacostia Park. The D.C. Department of Parks and Recreation maintains the city’s 900 acres (3.6 km2) of athletic fields and playgrounds, 40 swimming pools, and 68 recreation centers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture operates the 446-acre (1.80 km2) U.S. National Arboretum in Northeast Washington.
Washington is in the humid subtropical climate zone (Köppen: Cfa) 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 15.5 inches (39 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 79.8 °F (26.6 °C) and average daily relative humidity around 66%, which can cause 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.
The U.S. Census Bureau estimates that the District’s population was 632,323 on July 1, 2012, a 5.1% increase since the 2010 United States Census. The increase continues a growth trend since 2000, following a half-century of population decline. The city was the 24th most populous place in the United States as of 2010. According to data from 2010, commuters from the suburbs increase the District’s daytime population to over one million people. If the District were a state it would rank 49th in population, ahead of Vermont and Wyoming.
The Washington Metropolitan Area, which includes the District and surrounding suburbs, is the seventh-largest metropolitan area in the United States with an estimated 5.7 million residents in 2011. When the Washington area is included with Baltimore and its suburbs, the Baltimore–Washington Metropolitan Area had a population exceeding 8.5 million residents in 2010, the fourth-largest combined statistical area in the country.
According to 2012 U.S. Census Bureau data, the population of Washington, D.C., was 50.1% Black or African American, 42.9% White (35.5% non-Hispanic White), 3.8% Asian, and 0.8% Native American Indian, Alaskan, Hawaiian, or Pacific Islander. Individuals from two or more races made up 2.5% of the population. Hispanics of any race made up 9.9% of the District’s population.
Washington has had a significant African American population since the city’s foundation. African American residents composed about 30% of the District’s total population between 1800 and 1940. The black population reached a peak of 70% by 1970, but has since steadily declined due to many African Americans moving to the surrounding suburbs. Partly as a result of gentrification, there was a 31.4% increase in the non-Hispanic white population and an 11.5% decrease in the black population between 2000 and 2010.
About 17% of D.C. residents were age 18 or younger in 2010; lower than the U.S. average of 24%. However, at 34 years old, the District had the lowest median age compared to the 50 states. As of 2010, there were an estimated 81,734 foreign immigrants living in Washington, D.C. Major sources of immigration include individuals from El Salvador, Vietnam, and Ethiopia, with a concentration of Salvadorans in the Mount Pleasant neighborhood.
Researchers found that there were 4,822 same-sex couples in the District of Columbia in 2010; about 2% of total households. Legislation authorizing same-sex marriage passed in 2009 and the District began issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in March 2010.
A 2007 report found that about one-third of District residents were 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. As of 2011, 85% of D.C. residents age 5 and older spoke English at home as a primary language. Half of residents had at least a four-year college degree in 2006. D.C. residents had a personal income per capita of $55,755; higher than any of the 50 U.S. states. However, 19% of residents were below the poverty level in 2005; higher than any state except Mississippi.
According to data from 2008, 28% of residents are Baptists, 13% are Roman Catholic, and 31% are members of other Christian denominations. Residents who practice other faiths make up 6% of the population and 18% do not adhere to a religion.
Over 90% of D.C. residents have health insurance coverage; the second-highest rate in the nation. This is due in part to city programs that help provide insurance to low-income individuals who do not qualify for other types of coverage. A 2009 report found that at least 3% of District residents have HIV or AIDS, which the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) characterizes as a “generalized and severe” epidemic.
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.