Housing Complex

A City Divided—But More Than Most?

I spent some time this morning playing around with a nifty tool that breaks down American neighborhood incomes by census tract. It's a great way to see how divided a city is along income lines. So is D.C. more income-segregated than other major American cities? Let's take a look. Green = rich, red = poor, yellow/white = somewhere in the middle.

The District of Columbia:

New York:

Los Angeles:


San Francisco:



So how does D.C. stack up? On the face of it, not so well. There's a whole lot of green in the northwest corner of D.C.'s map and a whole lot of red in the southeast. Indeed, no city (and I'm excluding suburbs here) has its wealth as concentrated in one area as D.C. does in a section of its Northwest quadrant.

On the plus side, D.C.'s poverty isn't as concentrated as, say, Philly's, where there's just a sea of red in North and West Philadelphia. D.C., by contrast, has splashes of green east of the Anacostia, and splashes or red west of the river. (Though don't be fooled: The poorest census tract in the city may be in Foggy Bottom, but it presumably consists mostly of George Washington University students without any income of their own but plenty of cash in their parents' bank accounts.)

One thing that's striking about D.C.'s map is its sharp dividing line. Yes, people are richer west of Rock Creek Park than east of it, and poorer east of the Anacostia River than west of it. But neither of these barriers separates income levels as starkly as 16th Street NW. Granted, most of the area west of 16th Street is also west of Rock Creek Park. But even to the east, the pattern is noteworthy: Mount Pleasant and Adams Morgan are much wealthier than Columbia Heights, Crestwood is much wealthier than Petworth, Dupont is much wealthier than the midcity areas between 14th and 16th streets, etc.

Still, all of these figures are from a census survey conducted between 2006 and 2010. I'd bet that if we could see a map for 2013, there'd be more green bleeding over to the east of 16th Street, particularly in the Columbia Heights/U Street/Logan Circle area and around H Street NE. I suppose an update is due sometime after 2020.

  • Alf

    Washington looks a lot like Houston.

  • name

    Making income comparisons against arbitrary "lines on a map" is a completely meaningless endeavor.

    Comparing different cities with different costs basis and economic characteristics is also meaningless. Furthermore, comparing cities when the scale changes between cities complicates the data completely.

    Rookie post.

  • name

    Also, you clearly have not lived in DC long. Comparing greater NYC to the legal boundaries of DC is stupid. Look at manhatten and you get a much starker N/S rich/poor boundary than anything DC has to offer.

  • http://www.washingtoncitypaper.com/blogs/housingcomplex/ Aaron Wiener

    OK, here's Manhattan: http://twitpic.com/bshnrc Show me an area with as much concentrated green as Upper Northwest. And no, "along the edges of the island" is not an area.

  • NE John

    chill name

  • Tom M

    I actually have to agree with Name. It is not such a nifty tool at least as applied here. By the way, Manhattan is basically an are aof concentrated green if you adjust for where students live and skew the display of the data.

  • http://distcurm.blogspot.com/ IMGoph

    This is lazy analysis. I realize this is a real-estate blog, and not a peer-review geographic paper, but you'd laughed out of the room with such sloppy analysis if you submitted this for publication.

    I'm not trying to be a jerk, but what you have here is a simple modifiable area unit problem. See also this before making broad assumptions based on lines arbitrarily drawn on a map.

  • Badger

    the tool is to be used to start meaningful conversations about the concentration of poverty/wealth so that people can see the connections between where you live, how you live and the opportunites you may or may not have

  • matt

    I think one of the bigger problems here is that the maps don't account for population density in any way.

  • john

    subtle anti-chicago trolling

  • The Advoc8te

    The green splash in Ward 8 is actually the Anacostia/Bolling Airforce base so yes the income disparity is even more stark. Another reason why businesses (and with them their jobs) need to be directed east of the river and not just the group homes, homeless shelters, and AA clinics that seem to pouring in unchecked. It makes no sense to keep concentrating the disadvantaged together and expect any kind of economic stability to occur. Literally the poor get poorer and the rich get richer. :(

  • Northwesterner

    Advoc8te (technically Advoc8 works as well), the problem about Wards 7 and 8 is that businesses don't want to move there VOLUNTARILY. I think "need to be directed east of the river" is part of the whole issue. The neighborhoods must change their attitudes on crime BEFORE they can get businesses to move there, you'll spend your entire life waiting for it to go the reverse, that's a sucker's game. DC just has not addressed the crime issue well enough for many/most employers. I went to Costco, god bless them, and two clerks made sexist jokes in front of me. Here's a new employer and the DC residents don't know how to act around nice people. Someone's going to get fired and spend 10 years complaining about it... Keep fighting the good fight, but start with what the hell is wrong with how Ward 8 residents act in nice places and go from there.

  • anons

    Gee..are you telling me that west the park in DC is wealthy, and that east of 16th street isn't?

    1972 wants its news back.

  • http://www.congressheightsontherise.com The Advoc8te


    "neighborhoods must change their attitudes on crime BEFORE they can get businesses to move there"

    Can you please elaborate on that further? Are you implying that the neighborhoods of Ward 7 and Ward 8 are not concerned about crime or that our residents are more criminal in nature in most?

    Follow-up question: When was the last time you were in Ward 7 or Ward 8 and exactly where and for how long?

    P.S. Long story behind my screenname -- which is also the handle that I use to write my blog, http://www.congressheightsontherise.com which is based on Congress Heights the neighborhood in Ward 8 where I LIVE (and where I don't capitulate to crime or have a soft attitude about it).

  • Alan

    Someone should fix Boston, unless the harbor is known for its spectacular poverty?

  • Native Son

    @The Advoc8te as a native who has lived in every part of this city I must say that one of the key reasons for the lack of resources in Wards 7 & 8 are the people of wards 7 & 8. The same folks who elect Marion S. Barry who is nothing more than a bully and bad for any business in the city who he can't shake down for money is who you send out as your champion. How do you expect to draw business when your mouth can't talk or represent you all well.

    At the same time you have the most uneducated population in the city and communities which spend more time accepting the short comings of its neighbors instead of investing in responsibility.

    Explain to me why a business would want to relocated to an area in which the community will not support it but hurt it by acting in a manner which is bad for business? As long as we continue to wait for the government to force folks to give people jobs and bring businesses to areas instead of having communities making the positive changes to bring them in we will continue to have a desert of resources east of the river which is a shame.

    You know folks always say that there is a big difference in being broke and poor and east of the river truly shows this. Broke is a statement about your current financial resources while poor is who you live and the actions you take. Unfortunately the majority of the communities east of the river coupled with a few parts of wards 5 & 6 continue to live poorly and no job will change that.

    We can look at east of the river and while incomes are much lower that many other areas in the city the folks in these parts of the city have the best name brand cloths and the best of things in their homes. It doesn't add up.

  • RT

    These other cities (other than Philly) just don't have much poverty at all. Theirs is in the suburbs. Metro DC's is in DC and PG.

  • SEis4ME

    @Native Son...can you say "bullshyt" any louder?

    Here are some facts. Of the 70+ thousand residents of W8...about 25k of registered voters supported Barry..whose percentage win is the worst since he took office. These are just those who voted..not just live in W8. As w/every other party of the country, voter participation is hardly a serious indicator of what people "really" care about.

    The people in W8 gave overwhelming support to Fenty and Williams. These are the "people" you refer to who obviously have "sense" enough to concern themselves w/what happens in other parts of our city...just not in our Ward. These "people" who you only consider "informed voters" I assume when we vote according to whom YOU think we should.

    Since you are a native and lived all over the city, please explain which businesses Barry has stopped from coming to W8. I've danced at this urban legend's table before but please show me something substantive which demonstrates what you allege here.

    Additionally, please show me a clip or two or three or any instance where we have "accepted" the shortcomings of our neighbors? Please show me the example of an undereducated, poor/working class community (sans resources) that has been able to do exactly what you describe w/o the help of private/gov't partnerships. Since you're a native..much of this fact-finding stuff should be easy for you because your perspective is more historical than now.

    Lastly, although I did entertain you here, anyone in doubt about the seriousness of your post could easily see that you aren't when you suggest that people EOTR have the best name clothes. I live there and can tell you that I don't see the St. John's, Hermes, Sak's, Rizik's, and other shopping bags you seem to consider the norm for SE. But of course, you're not speaking about those stores and likely are referring to Nike's and flat-panel tv's...something we don't believe the "poor" should have..whether they work or not.

    Sorry, you're a fraud.

  • Alex

    @Aaron Weiner

    "Still, all of these figures are from a census survey conducted between 2006 and 2010. I'd bet that if we could see a map for 2013, there'd be more green bleeding over to the east of 16th Street, particularly in the Columbia Heights/U Street/Logan Circle area and around H Street NE. I suppose an update is due sometime after 2020."

    I'm guessing this is based on the American Community Survey which is updated on a yearly basis. It compiles 1,3, and 5 year samples. The US Census doesn't actually gather income. There should be new information available shortly.


  • Thomas

    The ACS estimates for 2007-2011 were released December of 2012. I use ACS data regularly at work and frequently map the District of Columbia. It should be noted that ACS data is collected over a 5 year period and does not reflect a single year's worth of data. Unfortunately, because of the change in data collection methods, this is this only way to measure Census Tract level data. Some of the data can have large margins of error, but the ACS is still an incredible tool for displaying income inequality in the District.

    For those interested in learning more about the ACS, I recommend taking a look at the Census' website: https://www.census.gov/acs/www/guidance_for_data_users/estimates/