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Some 165 years ago this month, residents of what are now Arlington and Alexandria voted to exit the District of Columbia and rejoin the State of Virginia. The retrocession came after years of gripes—some of which would sound familiar today (residents resented Congressional budget meddling), while other would sound quite odd (the retroceders wanted out of D.C. because they worried that Uncle Sam would ban the capital’s slave trade). When Virginia left the union a few years later, the formerly D.C. areas went with it.
But what if the original, 100-square-mile federal district had never been split up in the first place? Today’s Washington would feature splendid suburban shopping at the Pentagon City mall in Southwest. It’d already have a Walmart—also in Southwest. Based on the city’s current political divisions, it’d likely elect D.C. councilmembers from 12 wards. Those pols could rake in money by levying real estate taxes on the skyscrapers of Lynne Street NW, in the Rosslyn neighborhood. The undivided city would have a population of nearly one million, almost enough for two Congressional districts.
Would representatives from those constituencies get to vote? That, alas, we’ll never know.
Some stats on the original D.C.:
Illustrations by Jandos Rothstein