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Location of Anchorage, Alaska

Anchorage, Alaska is a consolidated city-borough (officially called the Municipality of Anchorage) in the U.S. state of Alaska. It is also a census area. With 260,283 residents according to the 2000 census, Anchorage is the largest city in the state of Alaska, composing somewhat less than half of the state's population. Anchorage is administrated by an elected mayor and assembly, and a city manager.

Anchorage is located in South Central Alaska, at 61 degrees north latitude (about the same as Stockholm and St. Petersburg), -149 degrees longitude (about the same as Hawaii), northeast of the Alaska Peninsula, Kodiak Island, and Cook Inlet, due north of the Kenai Peninsula, northwest of Prince William Sound and Alaska Panhandle, and nearly due south of Mount McKinley/Denali. The city is situated on a triangular peninsula bordered on the east by the rugged, scenic, and eminently hike-worthy Chugach Mountains, on the northwest by the Knik Arm, and on the southwest by the Turnagain Arm, both of which are arms of the Cook Inlet. Adjacent to the north is Matanuska-Susitna Borough, Alaska. To the south is Kenai Peninsula Borough, Alaska, and to the east is Valdez-Cordova Census Area, Alaska.

Anchorage is a major port, receiving over 95% of all freight entering Alaska passes, as well as a major hub of the famous Alaska Railroad. Major industries include government and military, oil, and tourism. There are two strategically important U.S. military bases bordering Anchorage on the north: Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson. Nearly all Alaska Interior-bound tourists pass through Anchorage at some stage of their journeys in Alaska. Not surprisingly, summer is tourist season, and downtown Anchorage, as well as the highways leading north and south of town, are typically teeming with tourists then. The city lacks beaches, instead having wide, treacherous mudflats.

Average daytime summer temperatures are approximately 55 to 80 degrees Fahrenheit (13 to 23 degrees Celsius); average daytime winter temperatures are about 5 to 20 degrees (-15 to -7 degrees Celsius) (warmer than many places in "The Lower 48"). The weather on any given day and indeed for entire seasons can be very unpredictable. Some winters feature several feet of snow and bitterly cold temperatures, while others, just a foot or two of snow and constant, annoying thaws, which puts dangerous ice on the streets. (This has forced Anchoragites to be become rather good drivers.) Summers are typically very mild and pleasant, though it can rain quite a bit then. There isn't any beach-bathing in Anchorage, except at a few local lakes on the warmest summer days, and then those lakeside beaches can be extremely popular. Aside from the winter cold, which most Alaskans don't mind, there are two primary nuisances associated with the seasons: in the summer, mosquitos (which are much worse out in the Bush than in the city itself); in the winter, long nights and very short days. Since Anchorage is at such a high latitude, for months in mid-winter, residents go to work in the dark and return home in the dark. Those who don't study or work next to a window can go all week long without seeing the sun. Consequently, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is an acknowledged problem in Anchorage and in Alaska generally.

Anchoragites exemplify many of the qualities to be found among Alaskans generally: independence, friendliness, practical-mindedness, and a love of the outdoors. There is, even among businesspeople in Anchorage, a tendency to "dress down" (there is no dress code in any Anchorage restaurant). This, and a sort of frontier spirit that still lives on in Alaska generally, gives Anchorage a relatively casual, relaxed atmosphere compared to some other American cities. (These cultural characteristics are only more exaggerated the farther one moves out of the city into the rest of Alaska.) The city has traditionally served as a destination for immigrants, and there are active Asian, Eastern European, and Hispanic populations, along with communities of African Americans and various groups of aboriginal Alaskans. Anchorage is served by Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.

Anchorage was carefully laid out by city planners in 1914, originally as a railroad construction port for the Alaska Railroad, and in 1915, the first sales of town lots were held. In 1920, the United States government relinquished its direct control over the city, and elections were held. Anchorage was incorporated on August 15, 1938. Growth began in the 1940s, with the construction of Elmendorf Air Force Base and Fort Richardson, which made Anchorage into a major defence centre. After Alaska became a state, Anchorage faced a severe housing shortage, which was solved partially by suburban expansion.

On March 27, 1964, Anchorage was hit by the Good Friday Earthquake, which registered 9.2 moment magnitude and caused tremendous destruction. The continued threat of earthquakes has prompted a limit on the height of buildings in the city; the tallest buildings are 21 stories high. The city has an attractive skyline nonetheless, particularly with the Chugach Mountains, Cook Inlet, or the oft-visible Mount McKinley (also known as Denali) as a backdrop. From Government Hill, one can have the best view of Mount McKinley. Though space is limited in the "Anchorage bowl," as locals call the peninsula on which the city is located, many parks, greenbelts, and other undeveloped areas can be found within the city itself, making it particularly attractive to nature lovers (to say nothing of the attractions available just a short distance outside the city). Over the past thirty years, however, many of these undeveloped areas have filled in with houses, strip malls, and other development. Nonetheless, there is an enormous amount of land under the Anchorage municipal control: some 1,955 square miles (about the size of Delaware). The vast majority of this land is located within the Chugach mountains to the east of the city, which also comprise Chugach State Park.

The largest branch of the University of Alaska is located in east-central Anchorage. Despite the remoteness of the location, the arts thrive in the city. The city boasts a symphony orchestra, an opera company and concert association, and numerous independent performance groups. There are even weekly sessions of Irish traditional music and other sorts of music.

There are other features of Anchorage that make it unique: the huge tidal range, second in the world; multiple, beautiful cross-country ski trails; the Fur Rendezvous festival, held each February; a relatively high percentage of airplane pilots (with several airports and landing strips in the city or nearby); a very low population density for a city its size; frequent small earthquakes; spring windstorms ("Chinook winds"); erupting volcanoes nearby (to the southwest, in the Alaska Range, there are active volcanoes such as Mount St Augustine, Iliamna volcano, and others, that have coated the city with ash); its extreme youth (it was founded in 1915 and didn't grow much until the 1940s); and much else besides. Despite all this, Anchorage is definitely an American city, replete with an enterprising business sensibility, large shopping malls, a lot of automobiles (one can't easily move about by foot and public transportation in the middle of winter), areas of town resembling suburbs (and two sizable actual suburbs, Eagle River and Chugiak), a downtown skyline, etc.

Anchorage received the All America City Award in the year 2002. The three programs that the city presented were the 2001 Special Olympics Winter Games, the Anchorage Youth Court, and Bridge Builders.


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