Washington DC, the nation’s capitol, “The District”, the most powerful city in the world in many peoples opinion, is located a short 30-45 minute drive from us, yet we sometimes forget that it’s even there. However if we were to stop and realize the splendor of DC, we start to wonder exactly why is it located where it is, and how did it come to be the center of government it is today. Most importantly, we must examine how the city has changed over the past 200 years. We will examine everything from maps to charts and even some textual analysis to examine every major aspect of “The Districts” growth.
In the year 1790, The Residency Act was enacted, and officially established a permanent seat of the Government of the United States. Thus the city was built by its master architect, Pierre Charles L’Enfant. He was a French-born American architect who brought his European architectural skills and adapted them to fit the American lifestyle. The two most important building when a person thinks of DC are The White House and The Capitol Building. In my Google maps I show when they were under construction and them today to show how the buildings have changed from their original plans and layouts. However what is more important than the city itself is the people in it.
The population of Washington DC at the time of its creation was mainly military personnel and government officials, however as the years have gone by the population has greatly increased. The reason for this initially was the location of the city, it being located on the potomac. Merchants and travelers used Washington DC as a major port to travel to and from New York City, which was and still is the economic center of the United States. Its population continued to increase due to the growth of the actual government. With new administrations and organizations of the government being added since the early 1800’s, the residency within the actually city naturally had to increase with the job market. So upon looking at this in conjunction with the time period, its not a surprise that the population increases as the years go by.
Now it is not only the population that changes but the type of people in the city changes as well. The two pie charts, based on data taken from the Census Bureau website and Wikipedia, show the demographic of the population on Washington DC in the years 1820 and 2010. In the first chart you can see that there are only two groups of people, White and African-American. The white population comprises about 3/4th’s of the city, and of the remaining population that is African-American, less than half of that is freed. Washington DC had a decent sized slave population, mainly due to the fact that the city is located in the Virginia/Maryland area, and slavery was a cornerstone of the Virginian economy. So although the percentage is slim in comparison to the White population, the number of African-Americans is substantial given the size of the city at the time. Now we look forward to the year 2010 where the Census Bureau depicts the demographic of Washington DC. There is a drastic change in the percentage of African-Americans, going from about 25% to 50.7%. The number of African-Americans in DC about double while the percentage of White people was cut about in half, from about 75% to 38.5%. What is also interesting is that ethnic groups that did not exist during the 17th century are now comprising a good portion of the population. Hispanics comprise of 9.1% of the population while other (comprising of mainly Asian and Native-American) makes up 1.7%. This also can reflect the mixing of cultures of the nation as a whole. Being that the capital is a representation of the nation, we can see that over time different racial groups have intertwined with the original citizens of Washington DC. So not only has the population increased, but so has the cultural diversity of the city.
Finally the Google N-Grams, they show essentially what people were talking about using key words. The first shows book titles with the words “DC, Construction, Burn, and Burning” in American books. The term “DC” spiked during its construction between 1803-1809, and then rose again with “Burn” after 1812 until 1820. So seeing that the burning of Washington DC is a topic that many are discussing is not that surprising, but what I did not expect was when those same words had a relatively high percentage in England during the same time. I found it interesting that England was also talking about the nations capitol.
In summary, based on the growth of population, the growth of diversity, and showing the importance of the city not only in America but in England as well, and also reviewing the architectural aspects of the cities, we can see that over the past 200 years or so the city has change to fit the mold of an ever changing nation. A city designed by a Frenchman, built by Europeans and Africans, and burned by the British, has now become the home for Americans. With its ever growing and changing ways, who knows where it will be 200 years from now. So now we can remember to take the time and appreciate the city closest to us, yet which holds so much history, influence, and importance than we realize.