Washington, D.C. was the first capital in the world to be strategically chosen, designed and built. It was established by President George Washington. Washington was given this power to select a permanent capital under the terms of the Constitution (1787) and the Residence Act of 1790, which authorized him to pick an exact location for the country’s new, permanent capital city as well as to choose commissioners to plan and build it within ten years . The process of designing Washington is considered an example of what historic preservationists have defined as urban planning today.
President Washington along with several commissioners carefully surveyed the land to identify particular locations to use and was aware of selecting and designating areas for residential, governmental, public and commercial areas. Pierre Charles L’Enfant, the main designer and one of Washington’s commissioners, developed a network of public spaces of great variety to be used for civic, social and national places that were all linked together by broad, diagonal avenues . The commissioners also created regulations on where to place buildings, structures, objects, monuments and roads to develop a functioning city that provided a location for the new government structure as well as could grow and mature in the future.
The first obstacle in the planning process was deciding where to place the capital city geographically. Washington had been inaugurated in New York City and Congress had been meeting in Philadelphia but there was a push to find a new location . This process took place soon after the American civil war and the newly formed Continental Congress had both Southern and Northern members who were advising on the location of the capital city. Members had strong opinions especially the Southern members who were uncomfortable with the idea of having the center of government located in a northern state so Thomas Jefferson established a complicated plan of forgiving war debts to secure votes in the decision of the recommendation of the placement of the new Federal capital on the land between Maryland and Virginia . President Washington had the final say and chose “a site straddling the Potomac River, upriver from his own estate, Mt. Vernon . Once the location was settled the difficult work of surveying the area, developing a design and finding ways to fund it became the top priority of several key figures.
In the planning of the city, the team was made up of several important political and societal figures that helped to contribute to the design and later construction. Washington’s planning team consisted of himself, his secretary of state, Thomas Jefferson, the commissioners and land proprietors of the new city that consisted of a mixture of politicians and local businessmen, surveyors, and the planner/engineer Pierre Charles L’Enfant . This team corresponded through letters and occasionally met to discuss ideas and concerns in person. Much of the work of...