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."

Monday, February 2, 2015 in Next City

View of Mount Hood at golden hour with Happy Valley, Oregon homes in foreground.

Clackamas County Votes to Allow ADUs, Residential RVs

County officials hope the zoning changes will help boost the housing supply in the region.

June 18, 2024 - Mountain Times

Single-family homes in a suburban neighborhood in Florida.

New Florida Law Curbs HOA Power

The legislation seeks to cut down on ‘absurd’ citations for low-level violations.

June 16, 2024 - The Guardian

Archer Aviation Midnight eVTOL aircraft on display at Dubai Airshow November 13th 2023, dark colors, bright background, indoors. Electric aircraft, electric helicopter.

FAA Approves Air Taxis

Two Bay Area companies are planning to develop autonomous commuter flight services between San Francisco and local cities.

June 24, 2024 - Smart Cities Dive

People on bikes riding across 4th Street Bridge in Los Angeles during 2010 CicLAvia event.

The ‘Virtuous Circle’ of Bikeability

Research reveals that, once a city reaches a certain threshold of bike infrastructure, opposition decreases and residents want more.

1 hour ago - Streetsblog USA

Overhead view of black asphalt parking lot with white lined parking spots with EV charging logos.

Study Highlights Equity Gaps in California's EV Incentives

A UCLA research team identifies gaps in incentive uptake and electric vehicle registration rates in disadvantaged communities.

2 hours ago - UCLA Luskin Center for Innovation

Three dark brown wild horses stand in a meadow near Farson, Wyoming.

Utah and Wyoming Sue BLM Over Conservation Rule

The states allege the agency overstepped federal regulations in its attempt to boost conservation efforts on public lands.

3 hours ago - WyoFile

Senior Planner

Town of Los Altos Hills

City Planner I

Department of Housing and Community Development

City Planner II

Department of Housing and Community Development

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.