Housing Complex

Where the Millennials Live (and Other Demographic Treasures)

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That sea of light blue dots concentrated in Wards 1 and 2 (and Ward 5's Bloomingdale)? Those are D.C.'s infamous millennials. The map comes to us courtesy of a wonderful new study from the Urban Institute on the demographic changes in the District. Here are a few key points:

1. The city's demographic changes aren't racially equal.

The conventional wisdom is that after the 1968 riots, white Washingtonians fled to the suburbs. That's not really true, as the chart below shows. Whites started leaving D.C. with the rise of the automobile and the suburbs in the late 1940s and 1950s, not to mention school integration. Instead, it was black residents who started leaving in droves after 1968. Only recently has the white population started to rebound, while the black population has continued to decline.

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2. There's lots of room to grow.

According to the study, D.C. is not in the top 125 American cities by density. Its 9,900 people per square mile isn't even close to New York's 26,000. The problem is that the sparsely populated neighborhoods are often resisting growth. If we really want to keep growing without taller buildings, we're going to need more density in places like Upper Northwest.

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3. Displacement is very real.

Look at the two maps below, from 2000 and 2010. See how the Columbia Heights area was dominated by light blue (Hispanic) and peach (black) dots in 2000? No longer.


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4. Those changes mean fewer children.

As the black and Hispanic populations of Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant are replaced by new white residents, there are many fewer children in the neighborhoods. This trend may be starting to reverse as young white couples have kids, but it'll take some time to reverse the decline.

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5. Wards 1 and 2 didn't just get hot in the last few years.

D.C.'s demographic changes vary widely by geography. Even now that the city's population is booming, Ward 8 has continued to shrink. But that disparity's existed for decades. In fact, even in the city's "dark years" of the 1980s and 1990s, the population in wards 1, 2, and 3 was growing as it shrank elsewhere. U Street and Columbia Heights didn't just start taking off in the past decade; as one source recently told me, "U Street got hot under Marion Barry." Note that the chart below refers to the 2012 ward boundaries, so what's listed as Ward 1 wasn't necessarily Ward 1 back in the 1980s.

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There's lots more to play around with in the study: You can zoom into your block and see how it's changed. Give it a whirl.

This post has been updated to include additional information.

Images courtesy of the Urban Institute

  • tim

    It will be interesting to see if the city ever becomes a melting pot. People always say the city is too expensive, but SF and NYC are more expensive than DC and are are far more internationally diverse. Heck even sterotypically white-bread Boston is 25% foreign born and has a lot more Asian grocery stores, Latino markets, Halal markets, etc.

  • http://barredindc.com Uvaeer

    I haven't been to SF since I was in middle school, but I've heard from a lot of recent articles is that SF is even more segregated than DC.

  • Edvocate

    "The problem is that the sparsely populated neighborhoods are often resisting growth. If we really want to keep growing without taller buildings, we're going to need more density in places like Upper Northwest."

    Actually, the problem is people assuming greater density is a good thing -- a perspective I suspect is in the minority. DC's relatively low density is one of the big reasons for the high quality of life here.

  • ErNo

    low density with a small employment center can be pleasant (if you have one of those jobs) Low density in the central part of a metro area, with so many jobs, is a formula for extremely high rents, long commutes, congested roads, and for displacement of the poor.

    Its a great quality of life if you already own a home near the center, that you bought before the employment center took off, or before the quality of life problems that artificially kept prices down were rectified.

  • revitalizer

    The Urban Institute report has some problems. I don't particularly like their comparisons and they don't properly show how they arrived at their conclusions.

    For instance, number 2 says DC isn't close even close to New York City's density. Well, that's the wrong comparison. Why are they comparing DC with the nation's largest city? What is DC's density compared to cities its own size? Well, it's denser than Baltimore, Denver, Portland, and Seattle.

    The report states that DC is not in the top 125 American cities by density. I'd like to see where how this is arrived at. Is this a city proper comparison or a metro area comparison? My guess is it is from the city mayors statistics (which is not the best pick in my view). I show DC is #25 out of cities over 100,000 (there are 290 cities on that list).

  • tim

    The problem with comparing DC to Baltimore, Denver, Portland, Seattle, etc is that the DC MSA is far larger than those cities. Having only a modestly denser core leaves DC with a lot more sprawl. Compare us to Boston/Cambridge or San Francisco.

    It is time for DC to realize this isn't a sleepy southern town anymore. We can either build up the urban core like a traditional urban city or sprawl out in all directions like LA. Personally, I prefer the traditional European/NYC model to the LA model.

  • asuka

    "If we really want to keep growing without taller buildings"

    Who said we want to keep growing? And why is NYC-like density they goal? Who says that's beneficial? And why is there such NYC envy in DC? People who idealize NYC have never lived there, because if they had, they'd know that it's uncomfortably dense.

    Just stop it already. DC is not NYC, and it shouldn't aspire to be. If you want to live in NYC, you're welcome to move.

  • E. Masquinongy

    The population density comparisons are dubious.

    Take Cambridge Mass vs. DC. DC has far more parks, some which are very large, that Cambridge utterly lacks. Why? Because Cambridge was built as working industrial center, with canals and factories mingling within the housing, designed to minimize distances between suppliers and workers and employers. DC, on the other hand, is a government town, with wide expanses, sightlines to monuments, and memorials to war dead, so that visiting citizens will contemplate national character and sacrifice. The Mall makes a hollow and resident-less city core.

    The reasons for each cities' existence are diametrically opposed, making any density comparison silly.

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

    I second those calling shenanigans on the density numbers. If you take out cities with 20,000 or 30,000 people, and focus on actual large cities (let's limit the size to those over 500,000 residents), DC is second in density behind NYC.

    NYC is a statistical outlier in any comparison with other US cities, so instead of calling DC "not dense," it's more accurate to call it one of the densest cities in the country. Sure, it could get denser, but saying it's not in the top 125 makes it sound like there are 3 acres of green space between every house.