Power vacuum

The Washington Post painted a great picture of the evolution of Your Nation’s Capital in a piece that ran yesterday.

The Post‘s Joel Kotkin points out that DC is unique among national capitals in that it was not a significant city before it was chosen to house the federal government – and even afterward, its growth was slow because American federalism concentrated power elsewhere. But as power became more centralized in the 20th century – especially in the last 30-40 years – Washington has grown in size and cultural significance.

At the same time, Kotkin reminds us, other American cities have suffered crises of identity; Detroit’s auto makers, New York’s financial barons, and others have been “forced to kiss Washington’s ring.” Businesses are moving their corporate headquarters here to be closer to the machinations of government.

Like most federal initiatives, Washington is synthetic. Cities like New York, Philadelphia, and Boston sprang up on their own because of their access to ports and commerce; Washington was placed strategically; it has planned by a relatively small committee of officials; and its growth has been fueled by money taken from other parts of the country.

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