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Was DC Designed to Confuse Invaders?

Updated: January 17, 2023

Have you ever heard that the layout of DC was designed to confuse invaders? Find out if that is true or not on this week's Should Have Asked A Tour Guide.

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Was DC Designed to Confuse Invaders?


Canden: Should have asked a tour guide. Episode two of Should Have Asked a Tour Guide.

Becca: Should have asked a tour guide.

Canden: Haven't seen you in a week.

Speaker: Hey top things to do DC. I heard that DC was designed to confuse invaders, is that true?

Canden: This is my favorite. People coming up and saying, especially if they're trying to correct me, that the reason DC is so confusing to get around is because the layout of the city was designed to confuse invaders.

Rebecca: [laughs]

Canden: Which I find fault for many reasons. I don't think it's confusing it's a grid.

Becca: It is.

Canden: We were invaded 14 years after the city was founded. [crosstalk]

Rebecca: So that couldn't have worked out.

Canden: It would have been a horrible thing if that's what we were trying to do.

Becca: So that is, of course, as we know, false, but before we jump into all the reasons why, just as Canden mentioned the city was designed and it was laid out by a man named Pierre Charles L'Enfant using a grid system that's overlaid with long sweeping diagonal avenues. So the avenues helped to cut up the city, creates lots of roundabouts, circles, park squares, which is why I think this misconception exists. Because it's not the same sort of grid as you might see in a city like New York.

Canden: That is true. Stop with the honking. There is no law in DC that says you can't honk your horn that is New York City. Nobody listens to that law there. I call him Peter L'Enfant only because that's what he called himself

Rebecca: He wanted to be an American.

Becca: He changed his name. He was a Frenchman; changed his name to acclimate better to America.

Canden: If you've ever taken either of our tours and you're hearing different names, it's okay, same person.

Rebecca: Peter means Pierre. [laughs]

Canden: I like to call people what they call themselves. He wanted squares for them to be kind of like unofficial embassies. It's like the representative from North Carolina. Every time it changed, the new representative would come to that same house on that square and that's where you could go to get sweet tea and grits and listen to whatever Appalachian Bluegrass music that you wanted to. I don't think that happened whatsoever, but I like that idea.

Rebecca: It is a good idea.

Canden: It would have been nice if it had happened.

Becca: I like the idea of ambassadors from different states hosting in DC.

Canden: Because then it's kind of like Passport DC, but first states, international guests would come here and try everything without having to drive to Kansas. No offense to Kansas.

Becca: You're gonna lose us the Kansas audience right there.

Canden: That's true.

Rebecca: Kansas is gone.

Canden: All right, so it's not confusing.

Rebecca: It is, but--

Becca: It can be confusing. [laughs]

Canden: Okay, confusing, not confusing, we will agree to disagree on that.

Rebecca: I think maybe not confusing, but the streets definitely were not designed to manage the level of traffic that we have.

Canden: That's fair, but they weren't designed to--

Becca: Throw off invaders.

Rebecca: That's ridiculous.

Becca: To thwart foreign invasions.

Canden: So if you guys have any future misconceptions, questions about Washington DC or American history in general, comment below, let us know. Tag us on social media at top things to do DC, #Should Have Asked A Tour Guide.


[00:03:25] [END OF AUDIO]

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About The Author

Canden Arciniega

Follow On Instagram | I'm a historian & tour guide in Washington DC with 4 published books about the city. I have written for HuffPost Travel and have been featured in the Washington Post, WTOP, and numerous other DC papers. I've also been interviewed by the BBC, NPR, Travel Channel and Discovery Family Channel. I am the producer of the podcast, Tour Guide Tell All. I am an authority on D.C. history, and have led tours in the city since 2011. I currently resides in DC, but have also lived in London and South Korea, and have traveled to over 28 countries and every US State but Hawaii. I homeschool my 2 children by exploring the plethora of museums in DC. Read More...
Updated: January 17th, 2023
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