topic index DC in a

The District of Columbia was originally surveyed for the nation's capital by George Washington as a ten-mile square spanning the Potomac River at Georgetown, MD, and Alexandria VA. The land was ceded by the states of Maryland and Virginia in the late 1790's, and became the site of the capital in 1800. The Virginia share was "retroceded" in 1837 to become the city of Alexandria and the county of Arlington, VA..

The so-called "federal enclave" is but a small share of the D.C. area and is mainly maintained by the US Park Service. Eliminating roads, parks, and the federally owned (or pre-emptied) areas, D.C. is little more than 18,000 acres. not under the jurisdiction of either Maryland or Virginia, but is essentially a "ward of the Congress" as established by Section 8, Article I of the US Constitution.

The District's population is dropping rapidly and may reach only 500,000 by YR2000 (from a high of 900,000 at the height of WWII). Demographically, it is now roughly 32% white, 61% black, and 7% "other". The majority of the people who work in D.C. no longer live there, but commute from the suburbs.

D.C. is at the center of the Greater Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area (GWMSA), which is one of the most prosperous and faster growing metropolitan areas in the United States. The stark contrast between the successes of the suburbs and the failures of the central city, both virtually within sight of the nation's capital, leads to NARPAC, Inc.'s conclusion that American citizens need to focus their attention on D.C.'s problems. It is, after all, uniquely their city.


A local Washington pollster and his sister have recently (March, 2000) completed a reading of Washington's 26 most prominent tourist guidebooks, searching for some of the facts that they felt were key to understanding DC the city, not just the federal institutions. In their words, half of the facts they searched for were not mentioned in even one of the guidebooks, including:

  • that DC is responsible for most (?) state, county, and city functions;
  • that the local economy is larger than the economies of 14 states;
  • that DC pays more federal taxes than 6 states, and more per person than all but one state;
  • that DC's local court judges are appointed by the President;
  • that the federal government is the largest land owner, uses local services, exempts non-profits at will, and pays no taxes or compensation;
  • that DC citizens have struggled for 200 years to gain equal citizenship rights, or their attempt to pass a Constitutional Amendment to get them;

Among those key facts that were mentioned in some of the guidebooks:

  • Less than 20% noted that Congress has exclusive legislative authority over DC--or what that means;
  • Less than 25% pointed out that DC does not control its own $4.6 billion budget--and what that means;
  • Less than 25% mentioned DC's attempt to become the State of New Columbia;

  • Less than 30% indicated that DC do not have voting representatives in Congress--and what that means;
NARPAC, Inc. does not necessarily agree with some of the details about the key facts themselves, but surely cannot dispute the fact that tourists do not learn much about their national capital city from their guidebooks when they come to visit!

This page was updated on Apr 5, 2000




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