City Desk

D.C. Shocked by Demographic Change! (Again.)

Yesterday's Census report detailing the past decade's demographic changes gets major play across the city's media today. The Washington Post disptatches reporters to three District neighborhoods in search of anecdotes to confirm what the new data tells us: The city's white population has grown by a third, while its African American population has plummeted.

With fresh memories of last year's racially polarized election, reporters also go looking for comment from longtime residents, many of whom the Post says find the change "alarming." Leading the alarm: Marion Barry. “We’re going to stop this trend—gentrification,” he says. “We can’t displace old-time Washingtonians.”

But Barry, who served as mayor for 16 years, ought to know better than most that the changes reported yesterday have been a long time coming—and that, in fact, they began at the political peak of his mayorality. And since that time, the District has responded in the same way to each Census. Big-city demographics may be perpetually in flux, but Washington's decennial amazement and agita over its own changes is a rock-solid constant. A sampling:

Preliminary findings of the 1980 census indicate that innercity neighborhoods where young, affluent, mostly white, so-called urban pioneers have displaced the poor and assumed an active political role are likely to play an increasingly important part in city politics.

The incomplete but substantially conclusive data provide the first statistical indication here of what urban experts believe is a national trend accelerated in Washington by the extraordinary rate at which neighborhoods in the nation's capital have been transformed.

-Washington Post, Feb. 2, 1981

An exodus of blacks drained thousands of people from five of the District's six predominantly black wards east of Rock Creek Park in the last decade, but a gain in white population increased the size of the other three wards, according to 1990 Census figures released yesterday....

The numbers raised new concerns about the District's becoming a city only for the poor and the rich, as middle-class blacks leave. Increasingly, observers said, the District's politics will be influenced by the white and well-off, who vote at higher rates than other groups.

"As the white population grows in terms of political influence, you're going to have the possibility of more racial tension," said Howard University political scientist Ron Walters.

-Washington Post, Feb. 23, 1991

The increasing population downtown and in upper Northwest can be explained in part by a rush of development, including new apartment buildings in the business district, as well as town houses and single-family homes popping up on long-vacant lots.

Driving the city's loss was a decline in the black population for the third decade in a row.

Many of those leaving are middle-class families headed for the suburbs, but some say the recent exodus also stems from rising housing prices.

D.C. Council member Adrian M. Fenty (D) said that in the past, many of the city's middle-class African Americans moved out of the city by choice, seeking a better life in the suburbs.

"Now, 10 years later, I think it's quite different," Fenty said, saying many longtime residents are being priced out. "The prosperity of the city is great; we just have to make sure we're doing everything we can to create affordable housing."

-Washington Post, March 31, 2001

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  • Baldheaded Foo

    Diversity is a good thing no matter which way it goes. Personally, I think the city could use ven more ethnic variety (i.e., needs more distinct ethnic enclaves like a korea town, little italy, or little india). It didn't make sense for it to remain a mega ghetto.

  • Rick Mangus

    "Chocolate City", how racist can you get!

  • Color struck

    There is something known as white chocolate too, all is not forever lost my dear white friends.

  • Ward3

    I feel like saying "why can we all get along?"
    Is so sad to hear and be in the middle of this "tournament," who will win? Black or White? What about the rest of us? Latinos (we are growing and fast,) Asians, African and other minorities are the other part and people keep forgetting we are here. This city is going to be a Mosaic of colors but that is not what the fight is about, it is really a battle of those who have, and those who have-not. Living in DC has become so expensive, is ridiculous. Landlords are making a bundle and don't even care to fix tenants problems. DCRA either doesn't have the manpower to check all the housing violations or someone is paying for them not to care. Developers and landlords, like Archstone, can do anything and we are left helpless. Old time residents like us are being replaced by whoever has the money to live here. It is a shame, "Resurrection City" is absolutely forgotten....Money, money, money.

  • CTDC

    I love “Berry”, how can the city change when the black population still elects a crackheaded/tax evading, womanizer to represent them….this majority population has had their chance at running a city, are we saying there isn’t an intelligent, respected, community leader in Ward 8 better than “Berry” …If it wasn’t for the change in “demographics” city wide the group responsible for paying high taxes on their property, and bringing added businesses and money into this city, this place would still be a shithole. Look at Mayor Gray and our Council Chair……once again the city takes a few steps forward and then….”poof” like a puff of smoke or shall I say crack …back to its own way’s, these two idiots aren’t in office more than 90 days and it’s a circus all over again. Wake-up people, it’s just a matter of time before this new majority takes over…our city leaders and citizens needs to start being accountable, not laughable HEY, Eleanor where’s our Statehood…even when she had a majority senate, house and “Black President” …..she still couldn’t get it done… The city is changing for the better…look around there’s no denying it, and it’s about time. Call it what you want, Gentrification, Racism , or Chocolate melting…..but I call it progress

  • Gentrificationstories

    If any of you readers have stories to share about how gentrification has impacted your life for better or worse, please visit and submit your experiences.

  • seDCdude

    Ayy ward 3 you are spot on, but consider this, IT WAS , you guessed it, BLACK FOLK who made it possible for you to be here, all those ethnic groups you listed to be here; educated, thriving, living and healthy, IRONICALLY made it possible for this cokksukka RICKY "mangey ass man luv'n" MANGUS beefeater to have a voice, platform and opinion and WHITES the ability to be civil and peaceful, yes the CHOCOLATE in the city baby!

    These clowns talm bout WHITE chocolate....please! That shit tastes a lil tart and unrich and doesn't even look the part!

    @ ward 3, when you have the history that you have between 2 groups or any # of groups of people for that matter, you get what you have here, as well as the fact that 1 group "attempted' to hold dominance over the DOMINANT in the form of blame, cheating, marginalization, thievery and lynchings, you will always have agitation in this form, IS WHAT IT IS!

    When 1 group fails to respect and support the other, then you have this "competition" which as sick and twisted as it may seem, becomes PURPOSEFUL and RELEVANT to ones survival and existance!

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