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During the nineteenth century, Washington, D.C., the capital of the United States, was considered so unbearably warm and humid during the summer months that foreign diplomats received hardship pay for serving there. Now, the district holds a worldwide reputation as a cosmopolitan city rich in museums, monuments, and culture—and crackling with political power. From the hill where the U.S. Capitol sits, to Embassy Row, home to much of the foreign diplomatic corps in Washington, the wide avenues hum with the business of America. With more than 2,000 foreign diplomats posted to Washington, the city exudes an international flavor.

But heavy industry never took hold in the region and outside the downtown government district and the upscale northwest quarter of the city, poverty grips many residents. City officials have worked hard to change that. Downtown, once-seedy sections of Pennsylvania Avenue, embarrassingly close to the White House, were renovated in the early 1980s.

The city's standing as the nation's capital has always attracted conventioneers, and in March 2003 the new granite and limestone Washington Convention Center further revitalized the downtown area with more than 700,000 square feet of prime exhibit space. Residents from the District and surrounding suburbs commute on a clean and efficient subway system that is still expanding. And in spite of all that growth, Washingtonians pride themselves on showing an almost southern-style hospitality. In the words of Frederick Douglass, "Wherever the American citizen may be a stranger, he is at home here."

Never was the nation's reverence for its capital city more reaffirmed than in the wake of the tragic September 11 terrorist attacks that shook New York and Washington D.C. One of several hijacked planes was crashed into the massive, fortress-like Pentagon Building, claiming the lives of more than 120 people. It is widely believed that another hijacked aircraft, which eventually was forced down by heroic passengers in Pennsylvania, was bound to crash into the Capitol Building. In the months following, an Anthrax scare ripped through the city when traces of the deadly agent were discovered in packages sent to various political offices around town. All these events served to remind the city's residents of its link to historic events and its prominence as the greatest seat of political power on the planet, all somewhat sobering even as the city was on the upsurge to begin a new century.

 

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