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ACS shows Ward 6 growing fastest, while Ward 1 shrinks

Census estimates released yesterday reveal that the population of DC's Ward 6 grew by 9% during most of the last decade. More surprisingly, Ward 1, widely expected to have grown, actually shrank by 3%.

Yesterday the Census Bureau's American Community Survey released its five-year demographic averages for every neighborhood in the nation. Though the bureau is more famous for its constitutionally-mandated decennial census, it still surveys the nation's population characteristics in the off-years.

These interim-year numbers are not the basis of Congressional or DC ward redistricting, but they provide an early hint as to where the official Census 2010 numbers are headed. The data released yesterday provide the five-year average for 2005-2009.

Sources: Census 2000 and projections based on ACS 2005-2009
five-year average with estimates for split tracts.

To calculate the ward populations, we took the ACS data by Census tract and allocated it to each ward. Some tracts are split between wards; for those, we estimated the proportion of the population in that tract which lies in each ward. This means the numbers may vary by a percentage point or two in either direction.

Most observers assumed that the areas east of the Anacostia River would continue to shrink in population or at least not keep pace with growth elsewhere, due to less development there this decade. However, their growth pretty closely kept pace with the District's overall growth of 2.9% in this time period.

It is quite possible the 2010 Census will reveal different changes, but if the pattern holds, it won't be necessary to significantly expand Ward 7 or Ward 8 west of the Anacostia River, as many expected might happen. In the 2000 census, both wards grew in size; Ward 8 added Historic Anacostia, formerly part of Ward 6, while Ward 7 expanded west of the river to Kingman Park.

While Ward 6, which includes Capitol Hill, H Street, the Navy Yard/Capitol Riverfront, and the Southwest Waterfront, grew the most, it was one of the smaller wards after the last redistricting. The law allows districts to be up to 5% above or below the ideal of one-eighth of the total population. In 2000, Ward 6 was almost the full 5% under, while Ward 4 (the more northern parts of DC) was almost 5% above.

Ward 4 has grown almost exactly apace with the rest of the District, meaning our best guess would put it again just under 5% high, while Ward 6's rapid growth will likely take it near that threshold but possibly not enough to require redrawing its boundaries either.

Sources: Census 2000 and projections based on ACS 2005-2009 five-year average,
ACS 2009 one-year data, and estimates for split tracts.

Still, there will be changes to these numbers for the 2010 Census. The 5-year ACS data gives a population for DC of about 588,000, up from 572,000 in 2000, but the latest one-year estimates for 2009 estimate a population just about at 600,000, and the full Census is expected to show DC topping that. This means that the five-year data still hasn't accounted for all of DC's growth. The unanswered question is, what wards have that not-yet-counted growth?

If the remaining growth hits Ward 1 (U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Mount Pleasant) at least evenly with the other wards, which is certainly possible with recent development in Columbia Heights, that ward could end up less than 5% below average, making it unnecessary to redraw ward boundaries at all and avoid a very contentious Council debate.

On the other hand, if Ward 1 does keep shrinking at the same rate it did between 2000 and the 2005-2009 average, it could need to get larger, perhaps regaining some of the territory lost to Ward 2 in the 2000 redistricting, such as the blocks south of U Street and west of 14th. Or, since Ward 2 is also below average but Ward 4 is the largest, perhaps Ward 1 would move north toward Petworth and up 14th.

The Census will be releasing their final estimates of DC's total population (and that of other states) later this month. Tract and block data will follow in early 2011 and redistricting debates should take place in the spring and summer.

You can view our data and calculations in this Google Spreadsheet.

Eric Fidler has lived in DC and suburban Maryland his entire life. He likes long walks along the Potomac and considers the L'Enfant Plan an elegant work of art. He also blogs at Left for LeDroit, LeDroit Park's (only) blog of record. 
David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 
Rob Pitingolo moved to the DC area in mid-2010 and currently resides on Capitol Hill. He also writes about issues of urbanism, economics, transportation and politics at his blog, Extraordinary Observations


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On some level, I think population shrinking in Ward 1 makes sense... as the area gentrifies and more affluent people move in, wouldn't occupancy per unit go down? In other words, where once there would have been seven people living in a group house or a whole family sharing a 2BR apartment, now there's a more affluent couple with one kid living in the house and two young professionals in the 2BR. So the occupancy per unit goes down as more affluent people move in and can afford more square feet per person. Could that explain it?

by james on Dec 15, 2010 11:34 am • linkreport

What are your thoughts on Ward 5, which appears to also have robust growth?

I find it interesting because residential development hasn't really taken off as it has in other Wards and while there are projects on the table that will allow for more density (Cafritz project at Ft. Totten), it's not at the magnitude of other areas.

by Randall M. on Dec 15, 2010 11:36 am • linkreport

I would assume that the Ward 1 shrinkage might have something to do with some of the findings of that recent Dukakis report on transit oriented development and housing affordability — namely, that as neighborhoods gentrify around transit stops, that the density can actually go down and car ownership can go up slightly as families and lower income residents (who typically have more kids and higher numbers in one household) are replaced with younger, more affluent residents less likely to have kids and more likely to live in more space with fewer people. That's just a rough guess but it would dovetail with some of the findings from that report that seemed to buck the conventional wisdom about densifying and growth around transit.


by Steve D on Dec 15, 2010 11:37 am • linkreport

@James, well described. Same idea I had. Though there have been some new projects built from the ground up (like at the CH metro) that didn't displace anything, those are fewer and rarer compared to the number of rowhouses turned into condos, large rowhouses turned from a larger family over to a couple or smaller family, apartment buildings turned to condos (bigger spaces, fewer people perhaps), and the like.

Very interesting numbers to see.

by Steve D on Dec 15, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport

Steve D,
Your analysis is spot on when you don't consider supply and demand. A place like New York City that's flush with transit won't see a marked difference in the transit=gentrification. My guess is if they relax the zoning around transit stops, the build-out will far exceed the offset you point out in the long term. Add the dysfunctional quality of DC schools and those areas would again fill in with kids. Add to this the Bethesda phenomenon of a dense cluster of rich people (w/ non driving kids) and you have the argument for the purple line which will make it easier for poorer east Montgomery County residents to get to the jobs in Bethesda. Public transit should be a priority in all metropolitain areas to offset this phenomenon and because it's our future.

by Thayer-D on Dec 15, 2010 11:49 am • linkreport

Sorry, for the 3rd post, just found the link to that report in case anyone is inclined.

by Steve D on Dec 15, 2010 11:50 am • linkreport

Another thought. Is 3% statistically-significant?

What is the estimated statistical error, and what are "normal" fluctuations in the real-estate market?

by andrew on Dec 15, 2010 11:51 am • linkreport

A couple of things -

1. ACS data uses a substantially different process for collecting data than the 2010 Census. It's entirely possible that plenty of people who fell through the cracks in the ACS data might be picked up in the 2010 Census. There have been big jumps in population before based on these methods - the 1999 population estimate for the District was at 519k, while the 2000 census showed the District at 572k. DC didn't grow that much in one year, those people had just been missed by the estimates.

The ACS uses a different approach, but it still isn't as comprehensive as a complete census.

2. The 2009 population estimates showed substantial growth just in the last year - which is only one year out of five for this data set. In other words, the growth hasn't been evenly spread around over the 5 years, which means that more growth in ward 6 could put it over the limit.

3. For redistricting, even one change would require a domino reaction that affects all other Wards. Again, since the total population number for this survey data is at least 12,000 residents short of the 2009 estimate, and we know that the growth has been back-loaded into the more recent years of data collection, I don't know that I'd put too much stock in these 5-year estimates just yet.

4. Beware the margins of error. I don't know what the MOEs are on the tract-level data, but I know they're pretty high.

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 12:20 pm • linkreport

I'd be curious as to the ethnic breakdowns in Ward 1. Would the stagnant construction industry mean fewer jobs for Latinos who may go elsewhere? Maybe that, plus the gentrification/lower household occupancy, would explain the drop in Ward 1.

I also wonder if Ward 5's increase could be due to newly revitalized neighborhoods like Brookland and Eckington?

And you know Marion Barry is salivating over the potential for slicing away the SW Waterfront and adding it to his ward. The potential for money from developers is simply too high for him to pass up.

Which is sad b/c I was hoping that Ward 6 could expand to take over Historic Anacostia. As much as I criticize Tommy Tax 'N Spend Wells, he would do far more for the economic development of that area than Barry will ever do.

The release of the race breakdowns will be quite interesting to see: It could very well be likely that DC will have no race majority.

by Fritz on Dec 15, 2010 12:21 pm • linkreport

As far as I understand the numbers released, they're not a reflection of where we are today, but rather an average of the past five years. So it's not quite right to say they show growth over the past decade. Since they're based on samples, they can't be particularly accurate down to the tract level for each year, but can give a reasonably accurate average over five years.

Just look at the ACS records themselves. Some have a margin of error larger than the data poor itself, which makes no sense at all to me, by maybe I'm misreading it.

That said, I'm not sure what explains Ward 1's decline other than the idea that new residents don't live with as many family members or other co tenants.

by TM on Dec 15, 2010 12:25 pm • linkreport

+ 1 for AlexB. Isn't the ACS all "imagined" from statistics?

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 12:27 pm • linkreport


The city-wide race breakdown is like this:

Black: 55.2%
White: 35.9%
Asian: 3.0%
Some other race: 4.0%
Two or more races: 1.6%

Hispanic or Latino of any race: 8.5%

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 12:29 pm • linkreport


No, the ACS isn't all "imagined," but it is a sample survey. The MOEs for race at the citywide level are quite low, but the MOEs at the tract level are pretty high.

The data will also get better as time goes on. The ACS sampling process is informed by decennial census data, so with new data in 2010, the ACS will get a nice adjustment.

The one-year ACS data is also a nice snapshot, but the problem is that such a sample doesn't give you data for small geographies. The five-year sample does give you that small area data, but at the cost of the longer timeframe.

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 12:35 pm • linkreport

@Alex B @Fritz Again, that's an average over the past five years. The population estimate numbers for 2009 are different. For instance, yesterday's estimate if the total population is 588k, while last year's estimate was 599k. That makes sense, since the average over five years should be lower than the estimate for 2009.

by TM on Dec 15, 2010 12:36 pm • linkreport


Quite right, that's the five-year sample.

The latest one-year sample, city-wide, shows the following for race:

Black: 53.2%
White: 38.7%
Asian: 2.9%
Some other race: 2.9%
More than one race: 1.8%

Hispanic or Latino of any race: 8.8%

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 12:41 pm • linkreport

The Ward 1 numbers which include Columbia Heights and most of U Street really surprise me.

I understand the logic behind the displacement of many who might live in a townhouse, but at the same time feel it could also go the other way. How many hundreds of row homes in CH and U Street were divided up into 3 or 4 seperate units. To make the numbers make sense then every one of those houses had to have enormously large families (5 or more) living in them

This doesn't include the enormous new ground up condo buildings in CH and U Street that were either built on nearly empty lots, or displaced some underused commerical. Places like Kenyon SQ (150 Condos), Flats and Warehouses at Union Row (250 flats and warehouse condos) The Magdalne (20)

And on and on...and those are just the buy-right properties. We haven't touched rental properties.

I woudl assumed the population of Ward 1 would have skyrocketed, not declined

by freely on Dec 15, 2010 12:41 pm • linkreport

You know, I really ought to finish reading the article before making redundant comments. Sorry.

by TM on Dec 15, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

@AlexB; right, the republican nightmare about the census.

And I've have to imagine that in an area that has seen SUCH drastic change, the sampling might be more off.

(I'd love to bash hipsters scaring everyone off -- or mommy hipsters with their doublewide strollers destroying the neighborhood - but it might be too soon too jump on that)

by charlie on Dec 15, 2010 12:42 pm • linkreport

I don't think this analysis is that useful. ACS is very useful for the OTHER data it collects - housing, transportation, etc. but not that great for population distribution. I think when the census data finally comes out it will tell a very different story than what is represented here. I'd love if at that time you guys would go back and see how things turned out differently.

by MLD on Dec 15, 2010 1:41 pm • linkreport

In Ward 1, I could imagine that there is both a lag effect of the ACS data being a year old and averaged over 5 years, and some displacement of Hispanics, and others living in dense dwelling units. I know of at least one building in Mt. Pleasant that no longer exists due to fire, and several rental units sold to individual owners. I'd imagine that would be offset by the entirely new construction in Columbia Heights in the 2010 numbers though. It's great to have this ACS resource, by the way.

by DCster on Dec 15, 2010 1:50 pm • linkreport

How did you account for the fact that the year 2000 numbers are for the old ward boundaries before the 2000 redistricting? You're comparing apples to oranges since the census tracts may have moved wards, right? Or did you account for this and I just missed it somewhere?

by inlogan on Dec 15, 2010 2:00 pm • linkreport

Has anyone else seen this tool:

by oboe on Dec 15, 2010 2:19 pm • linkreport


Pretty sure the 2000 data by ward was re-created using the census tracts, not just the old ward totals. The boundaries have been accounted for.

by Alex B. on Dec 15, 2010 2:28 pm • linkreport

Alex B. is correct. Ward geographies are created using the census tracts (see the linked spreadsheet).

We have to make the assumption that, for split tracts, population change is happening evenly across the tract. This isn't necessarily true, but given the limitations of data, it's one that is necessary.

by Rob Pitingolo on Dec 15, 2010 2:34 pm • linkreport

Thanks Alex. I was just making sure that when the 2000 totals were aggeregated, for example census tracks like 47 and 59 would be included in the ward 2 count and now they would be included in the ward 6 count for the 2005-9 totals.

by inlogan on Dec 15, 2010 2:58 pm • linkreport

Does anyone know how each of the wards came to be like why is Ward 1 in the middle and then 2, 3, 4 and 5 surrounding it or why Ward 7 & 8 were completely across the river instead of Ward 8 running up along the Potomac or Ward 7 going across the river taking some of the space that W5 has or why W6 doesnt cut in the middle of W7 & 8.

Why is the mall or any other large portions of land owned by a federal agency included in the wards. Why not just draw the wards around Rock Creek, the Mall or the Arboretum

by kk on Dec 15, 2010 6:57 pm • linkreport

+1 to alexB's comments. The data just released are based on population estimates. Those estimates have been challenged by DC in the past (see , and the Census Bureau adjusted them. I'm betting that the 2010 Census numbers will show just how wrong/out of date the recently released 'estimates' are.

by zilla on Dec 15, 2010 10:35 pm • linkreport


I don't know ... but was wondering the same thing myself the other day ... and then thought to myself 'but isn't that how the arrondissements in Paris are laid out (like a snail as the French say). Even Wards 7 and 8 fit that pattern ... it's just that there are no other wards are in the 'outer ring' before them (i.e., they're where 19 and 20 would be in Paris.),a,1224,q,562040.asp&h=228&w=185&sz=9&tbnid=ezOrLiH29NgEMM:&tbnh=108&tbnw=88&prev=/images%3Fq%3Ddc%2Bwards%2Bmap&zoom=1&q=dc+wards+map&hl=en&usg=__RilTMLlWMJ3tio6t-scpinEMOuY=&sa=X&ei=hpYJTem9HoKBlAfOtunjAQ&ved=0CBsQ9QEwBA

by Lance on Dec 15, 2010 11:37 pm • linkreport

As for all the speculation that 'if they don't change over 5%, the boundaries won't need to be re-drawn ... 2 things to mull over:

1st: As Alex B. already mentioned, it's a case of dominos ... or, as I've heard it described, it's like squeezing a balloon ... You push in one side, and the other side gets stretched out.

2nd: And probably more importantly, even if the population didn't change a bit in any of the wards lines would definitely get re-drawn. This is the Councilmembers' once in 10 years opportunity to re-draw the lines to their individual advantage ... including pushing out tracts where they don't have a strong base in favor of tracts where they believe they would, redrawing lines to 'exile' a potential electoral opponent (this happended last time betwee Wards 3 and 4, or so the rumour goes), and even getting rid of troublesome constituents or bringing in fervent supporters ... or area rich for election contributions. A lot of things change over 10 years, but even if they didn't, this is the once in 10 year opportunity for the ward councilmembers to redefine their electoral base. It was quite a show last time. I'm looking forward to seeing this one.

by Lance on Dec 15, 2010 11:46 pm • linkreport

James (comment #1) is correct. When a neighborhood with low vacancy gentrifies, the resulting population loss can be quite steep indeed. Paris' population is down by a fourth since its peak in 1921. The largely Latino neighborhood I lived in last time the census figures dropped had added literally thousands of loft apartments from 1990-2000, but smaller households completely canceled out those gains:
Households: +6,557
Occupied housing units: +6,221
Population: -268
Household size: -18.7% (-0.57 persons per HH)
Median HH income: +153% (for ZIP)

The 6,000 new apartments, and the new shops drawn to the new money, were quite visible to casual observers -- but the quiet absence of one person from every other house, dozens of people from every block, was invisible to all but the census takers.

@Freely, 5 people isn't "enormous" for an extended family.

by Payton on Dec 16, 2010 11:28 am • linkreport


That pattern is certainly possible. It may even be plausible - but given the margins of error, I don't think we can say for certain that's going on until we see the 2010 Census numbers - that should give us a better picture of what's happening.

It's also worth noting that decreasing household size is the single biggest reason for DC's declining population since 1950. Vacancy rates did tick up slightly over that time frame, but the vast majority of the decrease was due to declining household size.

Another unknown is the effect of the economic collapse. There's plenty of anecdotal evidence of families moving in together to ride out the hard times, or deal with a foreclosure, or something like that. Given that this particular dataset spans both sides of the Panic of 2008, it's hard to say which way the data is going on this one.

by Alex B. on Dec 16, 2010 11:45 am • linkreport

It's also worth noting that decreasing household size is the single biggest reason for DC's declining population since 1950. Vacancy rates did tick up slightly over that time frame, but the vast majority of the decrease was due to declining household size.

Most of the neighbors on my street these days are childless couples, or couples with one kid. Families with two children are an exception. We like telling these newer residents stories about the family of *ten* who used to live in their 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom 1000 square foot row house.

Those were the days.

by oboe on Dec 16, 2010 12:04 pm • linkreport

Ward 1 shrinking seems crazy to me, even with lower family size. There were so many empty lots and abandoned buildings that were replaced with big condos and apartment buildings -- though maybe they aren't full yet. Plus many abandoned houses or single family homes were replaced with mutli-unit houses.

by Andrew on Dec 16, 2010 12:53 pm • linkreport

And as Mike Debonis just tweeted, Ward 1 voter registration is up 25% since 2003.

by Andrew on Dec 16, 2010 1:17 pm • linkreport

Alex, I wasn't conjecturing at all about possibilities or plausibilities for 2010. I just provided a data point (1990/2000 Census, for West Town in Chicago, in case the link didn't make that clear) about a neighborhood that saw +23% household growth and population decline. It sounds "crazy" at first glance, and sure seemed crazy to me at first, but it happened.

If you keep the housing stock constant but give each resident more living space, the number of residents will decline.

by Payton on Dec 16, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I'm following this "gentrifying a vacant neighborhood reduces density" argument. If an area is largely vacant, for instance an empty lot, then building a large condo development there is going to increase density in that lot, no? Certainly if you gentrify an already-dense neighborhood, that could lead to some density reduction as fewer people are inhabiting one unit. But here we're talking about a lot of empty lots and abandoned units being repopulated and subdivided into usable living space. I can't see how that would lead to decreased density.

Unless of course the reduction in density from gentrifying the already-dense portions of Ward 1 outweighed the increase in density from gentrifying the vacant portions. Possibly the most dense portions of Ward 1 have reached their carrying capacity given the availability of usable real estate and the only place to go is down.

by Scoot on Dec 16, 2010 4:55 pm • linkreport

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