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How much land is in each quadrant?

How much of each of DC's quadrants is land? Water? Parks? Military bases? The quadrants aren't all equal. Far from it.

On a recent WashCycle post, one commenter noted that most planned bike lanes lie in the Northwest quadrant, while others pointed out that the quadrant contains more of the city's land than any other.

I created this map using shapefiles from DC OCTO. The background image is 2008 ortho imagery. The red outline is the city boundary plus the quadrant boundaries. Blue-shaded polygons represent water, bright green shading represents NPS parkland and other while the orange shading represents military bases.

Total area (including water):

  • Northwest: 29.21 square miles. 42.6% of the total.
  • Northeast: 15.52 square miles. 22.7% of the total.
  • Southwest: 11.02 square miles. 16.1% of the total.
  • Southeast: 12.73 square miles. 18.6% of the total.
So Northwest is by far the largest quadrant, followed by Northeast. Only about 1/3 of the city is considered "south."

Water area (using OCTO's Water Polygon shapefile and includes the creeks and some ponds):

  • Northwest: 1.11 square miles (mostly the Potomac). 15.3% of the city's water total. 3.8% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Northeast: 0.38 square miles (mostly the Anacostia). 5.2% of the city's water total. 2.4% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southwest: 5.26 square miles (Potomac, Channel, Tidal Basin, part of the Anacostia, etc). 72.5% of the city's water total. 47.7% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southeast: 0.51 square miles. 7% of the city's water total. 4% of the quadrant's total area.
As you can see, DC's water is predominantly focused in Southwest, due largely to the Potomac, Washington Channel, and the Tidal Basin. Almost three-fourths of the city's "water area" is in Southwest, and almost half of Southwest's total area is covered by water. By comparison, water covers relatively little of Northeast or Southeast, even with the Anacostia River in both.

Subtracting out water area from the total yields Land area:

  • Northwest: 28.1 square miles. 45.9% of the city's land total. 96.2% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Northeast: 15.14 square miles. 24.7% of the city's land total. 97.6% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southwest: 5.76 square miles. 9.4% of the city's land total. 52.3% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southeast: 12.22 square miles. 20% of the city's land total. 96% of the quadrant's total area.
As can be expected, Northwest has the lion's share of DC's land area, whereas less than 10% of the city's land area is in Southwest.

I didn't stop there, I also ran calculations for both National Park Service land (listed as NPS Map A) and military bases within DC.

NPS-parkland area (using OCTO's Parks Polygon shapefile)

  • Northwest: 5.35 square miles. 51.4% of the city's NPS total. 18.3% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Northeast: 1.52 square miles (mostly Anacostia Park). 14.6% of the city's NPS total. 9.8% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southwest: 1.52 square miles. 14.6% of the city's NPS total. 13.8% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southeast: 2.01 square miles. 19.3% of the city's NPS total. 15.8% of the quadrant's total area.
This includes circles and triangles maintained by NPS. It also includes some land classified as "parkland" but which contains parking lots (like around RFK stadium, though it doesn't include the stadium itself) or roads (Rock Creek Parkway, Canal Road/Clara Barton Parkway, and others).

Here, Northwest takes the lion's share, with half the city's total. NPS parkland also takes up a larger share of Northwest's total area than the other three quadrants. Roughly half of Northwest's NPS parkland is Rock Creek Park.

Military base/facility area (using OCTO's Military Locations Polygon shapefile)

  • Northwest: 0.42 square miles. 17.5% of the city's base total. 1.4% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Northeast: No military bases/facilities.
  • Southwest: 1.87 square miles. 77.9% of the city's base total. 17% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southeast: 0.11 square miles. 4.6% of the city's base total. 0.9% of the quadrant's total area.
Again, Southwest takes the lion's share, thanks to the joint Anacostia Naval-Bolling AFB base. Note how there are no military bases in Northeast.

Factoring out water area, NPS parkland, and military base area yields this remaining Land area for each quadrant:

  • Northwest: 22.33 square miles. 46.1% of the city's land total. 76.4% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Northeast: 13.62 square miles. 28.1% of the city's land total. 87.8% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southwest: 2.37 square miles. 4.9% of the city's land total. 21.5% of the quadrant's total area.
  • Southeast: 10.1 square miles. 20.9% of the city's land total. 79.3% of the quadrant's total area.
While Northwest has the largest amount of non-NPS/non-military land in the city, both Southeast and Northeast have a higher percentage of their total area as non-NPS/non-military land.

By comparison, Southwest has very little land available, and a large chunk of this is occupied by Federal office buildings near the Capitol and south of the National Mall.

Cross-posted at Just Down the Parkway.

Adam Froehlig, aka "Froggie," is a US Navy sailor working as a GIS analyst. Transportation is his primary hobby and he is often seen at transportation meetings in Alexandria and southeastern Fairfax County in addition to being a member of the Alexandria Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee and the transportation representative for the Huntington Community Association. He lives in Huntington and blogs at Just Down the Parkway

Comments

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Cool. Numbers.

by Jasper on Mar 18, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

Good stuff.

It's interesting that the Arboretum isn't included in the Parks layer. I suppose that's because it's under the jurisdiction of the USDA, not NPS, but nevertheless an interesting backstory in DC's fragmented governance structure.

by Alex B. on Mar 18, 2011 1:57 pm • linkreport

This could be expanded to include land owned by universities and the federal government, then DC government, transportation facilities, etc. It'd be interesting to see how much "private" land there is left then, and I'm sure SW's percentage of "usable" land area will continue to shrink.

by MDE on Mar 18, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

@MDE

Check out page 2-6 from the Comp Plan:

http://planning.dc.gov/DC/Planning/Across+the+City/Comprehensive+Plan/2006+Comprehensive+Plan/Volume+1+Acknowledgements,+Introduction+and+Citywide+Elements/Framework

Citywide in 2006, the breakdown of land use was as follows:

28% Residential
26% Streets and public rights of way
20% Parks and open space
7% Federal (non-park)
6% Institutional
5% Commercial
3% Public Facilitis
2% Industrial
2% Vacant
1% Railways

There's a more detailed breakdown at this link:

http://planning.dc.gov/DC/Planning/Across+the+City/Comprehensive+Plan/2006+Comprehensive+Plan/Volume+1+Acknowledgements,+Introduction+and+Citywide+Elements/Land+Use

Page 3-4. It offers a breakdown by type of residential, and by planning area.

by Alex B. on Mar 18, 2011 2:14 pm • linkreport

Just out of curiosity, what is that chunk of military land in Tenleytown across the street from AU?

by Matt on Mar 18, 2011 2:15 pm • linkreport

No IO and embassy land, which has to be considerable and valuable.

I love ticking off DC but pointing out that more land in Arlington is owned by the feds, but it doesn't include universities/nonprofits/embassies.

On the other hand, the commercial value of the Pentagon and DCA must be considerable.

by charlie on Mar 18, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

How does the population break down across the quadrants?

by jfruh on Mar 18, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

@Matt:
It's a DHS facility.

by David F-H on Mar 18, 2011 2:29 pm • linkreport

@ Matt -

That's the current (albeit temporary) headquarters of the US Department of Homeland Security. I know at one point it was a Naval Reserve center as well, but I'm not 100% sure if it still serves in that capacity.

by Josh C. on Mar 18, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

was the current DNI offices always been military?

by charlie on Mar 18, 2011 2:47 pm • linkreport

It was the NAC (Nebraska Avenue Complex). As others said, it'd the DHS headquarters for now.

Back in it's Navy days it was a communications facility. David Brinkley has a good discussion of how the Navy acquired it during World War II in his book Washington Goes to War.

by TimK on Mar 18, 2011 2:48 pm • linkreport

Thanks, all!

I was wondering how the military got a hold of such a (relatively) large patch of land in the middle of a rather toney neighborhood.

by Matt on Mar 18, 2011 2:52 pm • linkreport

Isn't that rectangular patch on NY Ave actually an NPS Maintenance facility and garage, rather than a park itself?

by andrew on Mar 18, 2011 3:00 pm • linkreport

The NAC was at one point a junior college for women, Mount Vernon Seminary for Girls. After they lost the NAC, they used the compensation to buy a campus at Foxhall Road. They eventually merged with GWU.

The GSA is looking at how to use the campus when DHS moves out.

by Neil Flanagan on Mar 18, 2011 3:42 pm • linkreport

@Matt-Don't forget they buried munitions all over the area too, a while back. Probably a good way to hold on to the land . . .

by ah on Mar 18, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

@ah:

Oh yeah, I remember when I was at CUA and the Army spent about 2 weeks digging some mustard gas canisters up from under the Chemistry building...

by Matt on Mar 18, 2011 3:55 pm • linkreport

So, here's a question: How many Islands does DC have? And can someone name them all? I know Roosevelt Island and East Potomac Park (or does the Island have a different name?), but I don't even know the name of the Arlington Cemetery Island... And then, there are a bunch in the Anacostia.

Can you get on all?

by Jasper on Mar 18, 2011 7:31 pm • linkreport

Taking another good look at the map, I am realizing that technically, everything west/south of the C&O canal is an Island as well. DC is an island destination!

by Jasper on Mar 18, 2011 7:37 pm • linkreport

Hmmm, good question Jasper. Isn't the Arlington Cemetery island "Columbia Island"? That's the name of the marina there.

In the Anacostia we have Kingman Island near RFK. There's one island between it and the shore, and a cluster north of it, but I don't think they have names.

by TimK on Mar 18, 2011 9:29 pm • linkreport

@Josh C 'I know at one point it was a Naval Reserve center as well, but I'm not 100% sure if it still serves in that capacity.'

It probably served multiple Dept of the Navy functions. I remember it as being the head of NAVCOMTEL, Navy Telecommunications.

by Lance on Mar 18, 2011 10:35 pm • linkreport

And let's not forget the famouse 'Three Sisters' Islands ... the rocky outcroppings in the middle of the Potomac just north of Georgetown. When the city was slated to be covered with freeways, part of the proposed Interstate System to be built included the Three Sisters Bridge which from the looks of the plans, would have been somewhat like NYC's Queensboro Bridge ... anchored into at leas one of those islands.

by Lance on Mar 18, 2011 10:40 pm • linkreport

oops ...* NAVTELCOM

by Lance on Mar 18, 2011 10:42 pm • linkreport

I was kind of surprised to learn that the North-south line is not a straight line. So some places are SE of the Capitol, but in SW.

Islands:

Kingman and Heritage in the Anacostia
Roosevelt, Columbia and the one East Potomac Park is on, which doesn't seem to have a name.

I don't think a canal can form an island. And as someone else noted, there are quite a few unnamed islands in the Anacostia.

by David C on Mar 18, 2011 11:09 pm • linkreport

Can we forward this post to the rest of the local media? My pet peeve is when headlines or live shots describe location as "Northwest Washinton." It's a big quadrant with lots of well known, more specific place names!

by Erik Moe on Mar 19, 2011 10:46 am • linkreport

Great to see the District's data put to this use. Keep it up.

Some notes: When displaying green space DC's cartography usually adds the Arboretum, the Zoo, and some smaller green spaces. This was noted by one commenter. These area are not in the "parks" layer. There is always some subjectivity in how the data is organized. To get the most detailed map of "green space" use the inverse of the impervious surface layer. That layer encompasses everything including private land.

by Barney Krucoff, DC GIS Manager on Mar 19, 2011 11:25 am • linkreport

Ok, I Googled around a bit. Here are DC's Islands in order of size:

East Potomac Park
Columbia Island
Kingman Island (or Burnham Barrier)
Theodore Roosevelt Island
Heritage Island
Little Island (next to Roosevelt Island)
south island, Kenilworth Marsh
north island, Kenilworth Marsh
south island, Kingman Lake
north island, Kingman Lake
middle island, Kingman Lake
north-most i., Kenilworth Marsh
south i., Kenilworth Marsh
central i., Kenilworth Marsh
northern i., Kenilworth Marsh
south-most i., Kenilworth Marsh
island in Constitution Gardens pond (didn't think about this one)
northwestern of Three Sisters
southwestern of Three Sisters
eastern of Three Sisters
Potomac cove island, northwest DC

http://www.worldislandinfo.com/US/DC/DClargest.html

Wiki says Kingman and Heritage are man-made.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burnham_Barrier_%28District_of_Columbia%29

@ Barney Krucoff: Do you have a complete list?

@ David C: I don't think a canal can form an island.

Why not? Isn't the whole distinction between land and island that an island is surrounded by water?

by Jasper on Mar 19, 2011 1:32 pm • linkreport

@ David C: I don't think a canal can form an island.

Why not? Isn't the whole distinction between land and island that an island is surrounded by water?

Also, the NPS counts the Billy Goat Islands in Great Falls MD as islands, despite them being islands due to the canal.

by Jasper on Mar 19, 2011 1:35 pm • linkreport

@charlie "I love ticking off DC but pointing out that more land in Arlington is owned by the feds"

Nah, that doesn't tick us off, as arlington should still be part of DC anyway. Now that ticks us off.

by greent on Mar 21, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

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