Washington, D.C.: A City Held Hostage

A neutral capital "district" may have sounded like a fine idea in the early 1800s. Today, Washington, D.C.—the burgeoning city, not the political fabrication—is crippled by the whims of Congress and a host of anti-urban policies.

2 minute read

February 6, 2015, 10:00 AM PST

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310

Runners in D.C.

Lissandra Melo / Shutterstock

Washington, D.C.'s license plates have long complained of "taxation without representation." That pithy protest belies a complex and increasingly dire situation for the nation's capital city. On everything from gun control and marijuana decriminalization to building heights and transportation plans, The District must almost always defer to Congress. Unfortunately, Congress hates D.C. just about as much as D.C. hates Congress. Lawmakers from rural areas and others who treat D.C. as an office and not a city have often acted against its best interests. 

Activists in D.C. have long called for statehood or, at least, substantial representation and autonomy. But Congress has not budged, because, "Unlike the enfranchisement of women and African-Americans last century, D.C. statehood doesn’t bring new voting constituents to any current elected official. As a result, members of Congress feel little political pressure to take action; in fact, they stand to see their power diluted by the addition of a new delegation."

While the city has grown, and gentrified, tremendously in recent years, this growth is yet another reason why the city needs serious governance and planning. Writing for Next City, Aaron Wiener makes an impassioned case for the unshackling of The District. 

"It has become, at turns, a testing ground and a fiefdom for federal officials from faraway rural areas whose policy philosophies have entirely different implications at home than they do in the capital city. Time and again, the city’s ability to address its uniquely urban challenges, to grow and prosper, to fulfill the wishes of its city-dwelling residents, has been squashed by federal control."

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