Washington, D.C. Feature
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Washington, D.C. Today
Outwardly serene and classically beautiful, the Capitol, the White House, and the Supreme Court stand at the heart of Washington, D.C. They are powerful, steadfast symbols of the stability and strength of the nation. But the city that revolves around this axis is in a constant state of change, lived on a more human scale.
…is obsessed with politics. The historic 2008 election of President Barack Obama captivated the overwhelmingly Democratic D.C. in ways not seen in years. Yet Democrats were trounced at the polls in 2010, sending partial control of Congress back to the Republicans and tempering some of the early enthusiasm generated by Obama. Also frustrating many residents, legislation granting the District a vote on Capitol Hill was passed by the Senate in 2009, but sputtered in the House—meaning Washington's unofficial motto, "Taxation without Representation," doesn't appear ready to change anytime soon.
Perhaps for that reason, many Washingtonians focus their passions more acutely on the oft-contentious world of local politics. D.C. mayors have always been colorful characters—remember Marion Barry and his drug-use troubles?—and Adrian Fenty, who ran the city between 2007 and 2011, was no exception. Just 36 when he came to office, Fenty churned national headlines by centralizing the city's underperforming school system under controversial education chancellor Michelle Rhee, who promptly fired hundreds of teachers. Fenty was ousted in the 2010 election by Vincent Gray, a former city councilor, but the education reform experiment continues—complete with all its controversy.
…is certifiably sports crazy. And first and foremost, it is a football town. Loyal Redskins fans are extremely passionate, selling out every home game since 1968. They had good reason to cheer the start of the 2010 season, as the Skins won four of their first seven games behind newly acquired superstar quarterback Donovan McNabb. But injuries combined with some attitude problems left coach Mike Shanahan struggling to find a winning formula in his first year in Washington—and killed the team's playoff chances.
Meanwhile, billionaire owner Danny Snyder, a 40-something wunderkind in the world of business, has shelled out big bucks to attract top players and coaches, but that blueprint has yet to return the burgundy and gold to the Super Bowl under his 12-year watch.
The Nationals brought baseball back to Washington in 2005. Three years later, a shiny new stadium emerged on the Anacostia waterfront, and in 2010 the team signed rookie pitching sensation Stephen Strasburg—the most hyped prospect in baseball history. The team suffered a blow when Strasburg was injured for the year in just his eighth game. But there's new hope on the horizon: the Nats picked up another rookie phenom, Bryce Harper, in the first round of the 2010 draft.
D.C. is not traditionally known as a hockey town, but locals have been mesmerized in recent years by their newest sports superstar, Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin. The explosive 25-year-old Moscow native is a two-time league MVP and perennial all-star, drawing sellout crowds to the Verizon Center that had eluded the Caps for years. Supported by another Russian goal-scoring machine, Alexander Semin, Ovechkin and the Caps are among the hottest tickets in town.
Even soccer draws a fiercely loyal following in the District. Local squad D.C. United has tallied four championships since the team's birth in 1996. More recently, though, the team has hit a rut, failing to qualify for the playoffs since 2007.
…is stuck in traffic. Spend an hour in gridlock on the Beltway—or wait 20 minutes for a Metro train to come—and you'll know why residents gripe so much about transportation. Metro initiated the largest fare increases in its history in early 2008, and hiked them again in 2010 to relieve budget pressures. Still, many riders wonder what they got in return. The largest Metro expansion is, naturally, the most hotly contested. A project to extend the Orange Line to Dulles Airport broke ground in 2009—or at least the first phase did. The 23-mi, $5.2-billion project was scheduled for completion by 2015, but arguments over whether sections should be elevated or underground delayed the process. At this writing, there was no start date for the second phase, to Dulles itself. Given the poor public transit options from D.C. to Dulles, locals hope that someday the Metro will reach two airports—not just one.
D.C.: Just the Facts
Population, city: 599,657
Population, metro area: 5,476,241
Median age: 35.0
Ethnic makeup: African-American 54.0%; white 40.6%; Hispanic 8.8%; Asian 3.2%; multiracial 1.6%
Infant mortality rate: 11.9 per 1,000 births
Literacy: 81% (est.)
Crime rate: 57.7 offenses per 1,000 residents
Type of government: Limited representational democracy with no voting members of Congress; elected mayor and nine-member council
Workforce: 329,224 (67.4%)
Per capita income: $41,144
Unemployment: 9.7% (Oct. 2010)
Major industries: Government, law, tourism, high-tech, higher education
Official motto: Justitia omnibus (justice for all)
Official food: The half-smoke, a large, smoked link sausage most famously found at Ben's Chili Bowl on U Street
Land area: 61 square mi
Nicknames: The District, D.C., Inside the Beltway
Latitude: 38 N
Longitude: 77 W
Elevation: From sea level to 420 feet
Environmental issues: High levels of lead in the water supplies of some households; elevated arsenic levels near American University
Natural hazards: Lobbyists, motorcades, lack of congressional representation
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