Greater Greater Washington

Demographics


Logan Circle overtakes Columbia Heights as densest in region

Density is a good thing for urbanism. More density means more shops and amenities nearby, better transit service, and shorter walks. But what qualifies as dense? Overall city density is often reported, but a more telling statistic is neighborhood density.

Thse two maps show DC neighborhood density at the time of the 2000 census (top) and 2010 census (bottom). I made the 2000 map using census.gov sometime after the 2000 census. Michael Rodriguez created the bottom map just recently. Unfortunately the two maps use different scales, but they're still informative.

In 2000 the densest census tract in the DC region was in northern Columbia Heights, between Spring Road and Newton Street. It had 57,317 people per square mile (ppsm). In 2010 that tract is up to 59,209 ppsm, but that's only good enough for 2nd place in DC, and 3rd regionally.

The densest tract is now southern Logan Circle, between Rhode Island and Massachusetts Avenues. It's boomed and is now a whopping 67,149 ppsm.

The rest of central Northwest, from Mount Pleasant down to Massachusetts Avenue, varies from around 30,000-50,000 ppsm. Capitol Hill is in the 20,000-30,000 ppsm range.

Meanwhile, in Alexandria, the tract at the corner of I-395 and Seminary Road is up to 59,886 ppsm, 2nd densest in the region after Logan Circle. There hasn't been any new development in that tract since 2000, but the suburban-style apartment towers in it may have fewer singles and more families, which could account for the increase. Crystal City is 45,448 ppsm, and Ballston is 43,788 ppsm.

Suburban Maryland's densest tract is in Langley Park, at 49,354 ppsm. Downtown Silver Spring is 34,816 ppsm, and downtown Bethesda is around 11,000 ppsm.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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Very cool.

by H Street LL on Mar 20, 2013 12:29 pm • linkreport

The downtown Bethesda census tracts all include some pieces of surrounding single-family neighborhoods.

by Ben Ross on Mar 20, 2013 12:34 pm • linkreport

This is interesting as I don't think of that specific census tract in Logan Circle as having very many new buildings - it is mostly older apartment buildings. But looking at Google Earth historical imagery there are three big buildings all on the same block - 13th between M & N - that have gone up since 2000.

by MLD on Mar 20, 2013 12:45 pm • linkreport

Is the Columbia Heights density due to the preponderance of immigrants living twenty to a room and such in that 'hood?

by Pigbath on Mar 20, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

Several tracts contain large chunks of uninhabitable land. I don't see any heavily populated tracts that include large chunks of water, but there are some with large chunks of park land.

The tract with Meridian Hill Park loses about 1/5th or 1/6th of its area to the park. Other tracts in Adams Morgan and Mount Pleasant lose large chunks to Rock Creek Park. My quick calculations wouldn't lead any of those to surpass the Logan Circle tract, but they would change quite a bit.

by jh on Mar 20, 2013 12:56 pm • linkreport

Dan wrote:
Density is a good thing for urbanism. More density means more shops and amenities nearby, better transit service, and shorter walks.

The two areas in Alexandria, one of which Dan pointed, kind of refute this idea in part. The two areas off of I-395 and at the intersection of Route 7 and George Mason are just apartments and homes with nothing else there. They're certainly not in walkable areas with shops, restaurants and retail.

I think a more accurate statement would be that greater density can lead to more shop and amenities, etc.

by Fitz on Mar 20, 2013 1:04 pm • linkreport

Logan has proportionally more apartment building units which are going to be denser. A building like the one at 12&M has hundreds of apartments on about one acre. Columbia Heights is still predominantly rowhouses though admittedly they are probably something around 25 DUA on average. Although the population there is bolstered by the large number of group houses.

by Alan B. on Mar 20, 2013 1:19 pm • linkreport

@Fitz: Well...there are shops, restaurants and retail around those apartment towers, and not too far away. I can think of a couple of strip malls within spitting distance. You're right that they're not especially walkable, however...

by Ser Amantio di Nicolao on Mar 20, 2013 1:21 pm • linkreport

Hey, we're not THAT dense.

Oh, you mean the neighborhood...

by Bossi on Mar 20, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

I like that term "Central NW".

by charlie on Mar 20, 2013 1:26 pm • linkreport

Fitz, it's true that walkability is more complicated than just density. It's really density + diversity + design. Here's a post discussing all 3: http://beyonddc.com/log/?p=46

by BeyondDC on Mar 20, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

How many residents are projected for City Center? 2-3k? It's part of a tract with a lot of non-residential city blocks, so even those 2-3k wouldn't propel that tract into the red.

by jh on Mar 20, 2013 1:33 pm • linkreport

Looking at the density of various census tracks often yields many surprises.

My favorite examples to cherry-pick are the tracts directly adjacent to the H St NE "Starburst" intersection.

While the density there is indeed a bit lower than Columbia Heights and Dupont Circle, there are virtually no buildings taller than 2 stories in any of those tracts (and one of the higher vacancy rates in the city). You can achieve quite a lot of density using only 2-story rowhouses.

Admittedly, there's not much commercial or park land in any of those tracts. However, Dupont Circle also manages to achieve surprisingly high levels of density with lots of commercial space, a nice park, and only a handful of buildings that would be described as "tall." You can cram a ton of people into those old 4-5 story apartment buildings.

by andrew on Mar 20, 2013 1:37 pm • linkreport

"While the density there is indeed a bit lower than Columbia Heights and Dupont Circle, there are virtually no buildings taller than 2 stories in any of those tracts "

isnt there a senior citizens high rise there?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 20, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

How does Langley Park have so many people?

by Richard Bourne on Mar 20, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

Beware border effects. They can skew the density of any one tract a great deal. A park here, a school there, and that can skew the outcome compared to another tract with very similar housing types.

That said, the real value isn't in the precise density of an exact tract, but in knowing the general patterns and trends.

by Alex B. on Mar 20, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

@Richard Bourne

They are small tracts, geographically, with pretty much only apartment buildings (looks like 3-story garden apartments).

Also, Langley Park has 3.90 people per household.

by jh on Mar 20, 2013 1:48 pm • linkreport

I still think taking the neighborhoods as a whole (not just one individual census tract), Columbia Heights is denser than Logan Circle.

by Scoot on Mar 20, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

There are probably more jobs in Logan though. I mean if you are just talking about residents, downtown should be practically deserted. Not that they should be conflated necessarily but if you are talking about density, both are important in different ways.

by Alan B. on Mar 20, 2013 2:02 pm • linkreport

@jh -- the census tract with City Center probably won't move into the red, but the southern half of Mt. Vernon Triangle (bounded by K and Massachusetts, N Capital and 7th NW) is likely to get there at some point in the next few years, between:
-- the arrival of 300 apartments about the new Walmart coming online,
-- the new lofts being built on the 400 block of K Street, across from CityVista: 234 apartments in 440 K, part of Mt. Vernon Place, and 233 more in M.Place, from Kettler at 450 K
-- Additionally, at some point, Mt. Vernon Place may be completing their musically-themed trio by bringing the 308-unit Cantata online to complement the Sonata and Madrigal Lofts).

That's 500-800 more units in the next year or two, and about 1,100 in the next 5 years, nearly doubling the current density.

by Jacques on Mar 20, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

@Jacques

And still quite a bit of undeveloped land left over...

by andrew on Mar 20, 2013 4:14 pm • linkreport

You know, you can have more shops and amenities nearby, better transit service, and shorter walks without super-high density.

by Chris S. on Mar 20, 2013 7:31 pm • linkreport

I think that a population density of 60,000-75,000 ppsm to be the ideal density for a mixed use urban area. On the one hand, it is still low enough that in can accommodate primarily human scale low to mid-rise buildings and still have plenty of open area. On the other hand it is high enough to support a subway station and a substantial amount or retail within easy walking distance of any point.

In the U.S. there is an average of 45 square feet of retail space per capita. At that rate, an area with 60,000 ppsm would support enough street level retail to cover about 10% of the total area, or an average of nearly 200,000 sq. ft of retail within a quarter mile of any given point.

Finally, most of the environmental benefits attributed to urban densities are achieved by this level of density

by DaveS on Mar 20, 2013 9:00 pm • linkreport

or an average of nearly 200,000 sq. ft of retail within a quarter mile of any given point.

Make that: or an average of nearly 600,000 sq. ft of retail within a quarter mile of any given point.

by DaveS on Mar 21, 2013 6:40 am • linkreport

@Pigbath

I think your post was a bit of snark, but my guess with Columbia Heights has been the small increase has been a result of:

A: More units. Lots of stuff has come online over the last ten years. Add in all the new basement units etc.

B: A, being counteracted by wealthier families in general, displacing the 10 person houses, with 3-4 person group houses.

I think thats why Columbia Heights saw such a small increase.

by Kyle-W on Mar 21, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

DaveS

1. I am not sure that gets all the benefits - in particular my impression is that SOV mode share, average trip length, continue to decline at higher densities. Im not sure though

2. Even if thats true in general, the question in greater washington, is how many people can be accommodated at that density, given the many places where therse is legacy low density that cannot be touched, due to either historic preservation, or very very strong community opposition. That would include not just large areas of the District, but also considerable areas of Arlington, Alexandria, inside the beltway MoCo, inside the beltway FFX, etc.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 9:46 am • linkreport

Is Langley Park really a great example of the benefits of urbanism?

by Chris S. on Mar 21, 2013 10:45 am • linkreport

Repeat ten times

"walkable urbanism is about more than density"

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

Was any attempt made to adjust for undercounted groups such as immigrants? I have a hard time believing that yuppies south of Logan Circle are living in more cramped quarters than recently arrived immigrant households in neighborhoods such as Brightwood. Could you comment please?

by Tina on Mar 21, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

What is the density of the produce section of the P Street Whole Foods?

by noname on Mar 21, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

Repeat ten times
"walkable urbanism is about more than density"

Only if you follow with a statement about how density is a necessary but not sufficient condition for walkable urbanism.

Yes, it's more than density. But then people turn that into a a thought that density isn't all that important, which isn't true.

by Alex B. on Mar 21, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

Yes, it's more than density. But then people turn that into a a thought that density isn't all that important, which isn't true.

It isn't density, its arrangement: the relevant question is, can you get somewhere? Strips can sometimes work well: Long ago I lived in Sunderland, Massachusetts, a small rural town that, despite having only 3600 people in 14.7 square miles, was quite walkable. It was an easy walk to obtain most day-to-day things.

by goldfish on Mar 21, 2013 12:32 pm • linkreport

I would say you could argue that Bethesda has become less walkable since its density started surging over the last 15 years. The surge in traffic has made walking much more tedious and hazardous.

by Chris S. on Mar 21, 2013 12:43 pm • linkreport

We are talking about a major metro area, not a small town. If you put incremental residents into good design, with low density, in the only place thats possible (on greenfields on the periphery) you end up with places that are lovely for a stroll, but where most trips are taken by auto, and trips tend to the longish side.

But my point was to respond to the comment about Langley Park - you can build densely and fail at urbanism without the other D's - design and diversity of use.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

@goldfish
I grew up in a rural New England town where yes, you could walk around town to accomplish multiple errands. There are two problems.

1. It's not urbanism, because it's not urban.
2. It doesn't scale up to the numbers of people in urban areas.

It's walkable in the sense that you might do trip-chaining: if you don't live in town you can drive someplace and then walk to a bunch of different destinations before driving home. That's not really possible in the strip mall or big box model. It works because businesses are smaller and don't require as many customers and are in less danger of being out-competed by larger businesses (because there isn't enough of a market for those to bother).

by MLD on Mar 21, 2013 12:46 pm • linkreport

"I would say you could argue that Bethesda has become less walkable since its density started surging over the last 15 years. The surge in traffic has made walking much more tedious and hazardous"

is most of the traffic in bethesda coming from bethesda?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 12:51 pm • linkreport

@AWitC: The comparison breaks down between your urban patterns and my rural one. We all can come up with examples of suburban traffic sewers, with far greater density but are far less walkable. For example, Gaithersburg, another town I used to live in long ago: it was misery to walk there because you had to cross an 8-lane highway to buy a newspaper. This proves the point: density isn't everything, it isn't even most of everything. It is arrangement and environment that matter far more.

This is an argument over the soul of "walkable," that can put the pro-development urban types against the preservationists. Looking at Sunderland I'd say the preservationists are correct.

by goldfish on Mar 21, 2013 12:57 pm • linkreport

There is no reason well laid out density has to mean 8 lane arterials. In fact it shouldn't. Where it does its a mistake, driven by old paradigm DOTs mostly, not by urbanists.

Density is very important, both in creating enough places to get to closeby, and in places where good design must be built on old shopping centers, in generating the economics to rebuild. And again, in making it possible for large numbers to live in urbanism, given the issue of legacy suburban style development in many close in places.

I would also dispute the preservationism vs density argument - in parts of Arlington, for example, preservationists would protect poor designs (see Colonial Village) that are completely unlike the town you showed.

To the extent that anyone is suggest tearing down a row of single small town style shops to build another langley park or southern towers, I would agree that would be harmful. I think most urbanists would agree, and I also do not think that is happening much anymore - at least in this area.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 1:07 pm • linkreport

@Walker - "is most of the traffic in bethesda coming from bethesda?"

It's probably a mix of residents/nonresidents. There are certainly a lot more people living in central downtown due to various apartments and condos going up. At the same time the number of trendy shops and restaurants have increased, and they draw people in from the surrounding area.

by Chris S. on Mar 21, 2013 1:39 pm • linkreport

AWitC: Both strip malls and multi-lane arterials continue to be built in the suburbs.

preservationists would protect poor designs

Just as urbanists are prone to error due to an unyielding adherence to a set of core beliefs, so too can perservationists make that same mistake. That does not refute my main point, however.

One of the main principles that urbanist stick to, to a fault, is the desire to eliminate automobile trips. Yes that is one goal, but it is not reasonable to try to get rid of them ALL.

@MLD:
It's not urbanism, because it's not urban.
It doesn't scale up to the numbers of people in urban areas.

I could not disagree more. Ancient cities and old towns such as Sunderland, had far fewer people than today, yet they were "urban". It is walkable that makes them that way. And there have been hundreds small settlements that grew well, into beautiful cities. Boston, for example.

by goldfish on Mar 21, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

I mean do you not have folks just passing through?

In NoVa in many of the places where density has increased, there is lots of traffic, but most of it is people just passing through. That could have been avoided with traffic calming, but VDOT won't do that.

Do you support traffic calming in Bethesda?

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

"AWitC: Both strip malls and multi-lane arterials continue to be built in the suburbs. "

yes, so? Strip malls are not built in well designed high density areas, and multilane arterials are built to accommodate mostly low density areas.

"Just as urbanists are prone to error due to an unyielding adherence to a set of core beliefs, so too can perservationists make that same mistake. That does not refute my main point, however."

If your point is that there is an intrinsic tension between urbanism and good design, because urbanist do not prioritize preservation as much as some preservationists, it surely does.

"One of the main principles that urbanist stick to, to a fault, is the desire to eliminate automobile trips."

That is false.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 1:49 pm • linkreport

indeed its both false and repeated regulary despite endless refutation.

http://www.bing.com/search?q=zombie+lies&src=IE-Address

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 1:50 pm • linkreport

"And there have been hundreds small settlements that grew well, into beautiful cities. Boston, for example."

IOW, they became dense.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

If your point is that there is an intrinsic tension between urbanism and good design, because urbanist do not prioritize preservation as much as some preservationists, it surely does.

No, my point is that density is not the most important consideration, because there are places that are not very dense but are very walkable and thus very desirable places to live. Nota bene that I am not discussing any notions of "urbanism" because I do not know what that means.

by goldfish on Mar 21, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

One of the main principles that urbanist stick to, to a fault, is the desire to eliminate automobile trips.
Not true at all. The principle is to reduce automobile trips because 1) that's how these cities were designed in the first place, 2) it makes the city more walkable which means more trips by other modes. Perhaps we can disabuse you of this misconception - I would not like to get rid of all auto trips, I would like to make trips by other modes easier because that's how cities work best - over short distances. Not to mention it makes necessary auto trips easier when unnecessary auto trip-takers aren't in the way.

Ancient cities and old towns such as Sunderland, had far fewer people than today, yet they were "urban".
Certainly many places had fewer people than they have today, but I don't think anyone would consider a place with 3600 people spread out of 15 square miles "urban." It's a town center of what used to be (maybe plenty still is) agricultural land.

And there have been hundreds small settlements that grew well, into beautiful cities. Boston, for example.
First of all, they grew - that is, they became more dense.
Maybe you are not aware of this but Boston is (and almost surely always has been) much more dense than Sunderland, MA. Over 12,500 people per square mile. And Boston doesn't look anything like Sunderland, MA and hasn't for at minimum 200 years. This is Boston nearly 250 years ago - 15,000 people lived there.

by MLD on Mar 21, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

"No, my point is that density is not the most important consideration, because there are places that are not very dense but are very walkable and thus very desirable places to live. "

1. the question is what drives walkability in an urban context - again the retail markets are very different, as are job patterns, in a metro area than in a small town

2. The modal options are quite different today than in the preindustrial times. People walked then because there were few viable choices. Build today at such low densitied, and you will get much more driving, which in turn can drive parking and layout, as well as location of retail and employment, which in turn will effect walkability

by AWalkerInTheCity on Mar 21, 2013 2:21 pm • linkreport

@MLD: You did not go back far enough; Boston also started out as a one-horse settlement in the 1630s, a good 130 years before your illustration, and a similar number of years before Sunderland was settled. Boston grew because of favored geography, while Sunderland has not these advantages.

I don't think anyone would consider a place with 3600 people spread out of 15 square miles "urban."

I don't want to argue semantics about "urban" or "urbanism"; these sorts of discussions are waste of time. I only point out that WALK-ability -- in the commonly understood sense of the word, meaning you can get somewhere while walking and enjoy it while doing so -- does not necessary mean high population density. Sunderland proves this point. And beautiful Boston (or similarly, Cambridge, MA) proves that cities can start out as small settlements, like Sunderland, and yet retain that highly desired walk-able character as they grow into a large city. Conversely, most suburban areas built today can have far higher population density than Sunderland, and not be walkable.

I leave it to you all to figure out what that means for the "urban context." However the growth of Cambridge, or Boston, into gracious cities those places are today proves that walkable rural settlements can indeed be "scale[d] up to the numbers of people in urban areas."

by goldfish on Mar 23, 2013 6:48 pm • linkreport

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