Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Census


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 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.


What if "inside the Beltway" were a city?

If "Inside the Beltway" were a city, how would it compare to other major cities? It would be almost the size of Los Angeles but half as dense a little larger in area than Chicago but less dense than Los Angeles.

Image by Michael Rodriguez. Click for interactive version.

The latest Census data show that Montgomery County reached 1 million people, a statistic that has gotten a lot of worthy attention. Still, let's remember that jurisdiction boundaries are pretty arbitrary. As commenter AlanF also pointed out, DC, Arlington, and Alexandria (the "core jurisdictions") have just about reached 1 million as well (999,662 as of the latest Census estimates).

Michael Rodriguez decided to analyze "inside the Beltway" as if it were its own city. Given the way the Beltway separates communities, it's a good natural boundary and means more than the artificial lines between counties or between DC and Maryland.

Inside-the-Beltway would have about 1.7 million people. in 423 square miles. That's a little smaller than Los Angeles and only about half the density of people per square mile.

Update: Commenter npm points out that Rodriguez's table appears to be incorrect, and "Inside the Beltway's" density may be more like 80% of Los Angeles' rather than 50%.

Table by Michael Rodriguez.

Update 2: A reader with access to GIS systems has estimated the land and water area of "Inside the Beltway." Plugging in those numbers, and assuming that the other numbers on the table are correct, the table would look like this.

Update 3: Rodriguez has updated his post and fixed the errors in the DC and "Inside the Beltway" numbers. I've updated the table to reflect them.

GeographyTotal area
(sq. mi.)
Water area
(sq. mi.)
Land area
(sq. mi.)
(Pop./sq. mi.)
Inside DC Beltway266102561,725,6866,749
District of Columbia68761632,32310,298
New York City4691663028,336,69727,541
Los Angeles503344693,792,6218,087
San Francisco23218547805,23517,177
Click on a column header to sort.

The lower density than Los Angeles comes because most of the land inside the Beltway is actually not very dense, except for central DC, Capitol Hill, along Georgia Avenue, the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor, bits of Silver Spring and College Park, and a few other places.

Density by census tract. Image by Michael Rodriguez. Click for interactive version.

Also, if "inside the Beltway" were a city, metonymy in the national press would be even more severe than it is today.


Washington growing more at the center, less at the edges

After years of rapid population growth, greater Washington might be slowing down. However, the real story is where most regional growth is happening: in and around the Beltway, not on the fringe.

Revitalized inner-city and suburban communities lead regional growth. Photo by the author.

Yesterday, the Census Bureau released population estimates for the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Statistical Area, which encompasses the District and 27 surrounding counties and independent cities in Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

While the Washington Post focused on slightly slower population growth than in previous years, there are much more interesting trends occurring.

Regional growth is still among the highest in the nation

The Census Bureau estimates that the region had just over 5.8 million residents in 2012. If you include Greater Baltimore (the Washington-Baltimore-Northern Virginia Combined Statistical Area), the larger region has 8.6 million people, making it the fourth-largest metropolitan area in the country, behind New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.

Greater Washington added 89,000 new residents between July 2011 and July 2012, which the Post notes is fewer people than we added the year before. It calls this the "twilight hour of a remarkable phase in the Washington region" during which Americans flocked to the area in search of jobs, adding to the area's population. Yet we've still had the fifth-largest increase in population of any metropolitan area in the country. We added more people than traditionally fast-growing Sunbelt cities like Atlanta and Phoenix.

Inside-the-Beltway communities among the nation's fastest-growing

Our region is also home to several of the nation's fastest-growing counties and independent cities, notably the District of Columbia, which after decades of population loss is now growing rapidly. It's now the 61st fastest-growing "county" in the United States, having grown by 5.1% and adding over 30,000 residents between 2010 and 2012.

The District now has 632,000 residents, about what it had during the 1980's. For the first time ever, Washington now has more people than Baltimore City, which has also started gaining residents for the first time in decades.

Joining the District on the list are several jurisdictions in Northern Virginia, including Arlington and Loudoun counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fredericksburg, which grew at a rate of 12.44% between 2010 and 2012, making it the region's fastest-growing community.

Places like Loudoun are no stranger to the list of speedily-growing counties, having transitioned from farms to suburbia in less than a generation. However, the addition of inside-the-Beltway communities like Arlington and Alexandria is impressive. DC, Arlington and Alexandria have all sought to encourage smart infill development around Metro as a way to revitalize older neighborhoods, and it's clear they've been really successful.

Meanwhile, first-ring suburban counties haven't been slouching. Between 2010 and 2012, Montgomery and Fairfax counties grew by 3.39% and 3.41%, respectively, just below the region's average of 3.98%. In 2012, Montgomery's population topped 1 million for the first time, making it and Fairfax the only jurisdictions in the region with a 7-figure population.

Majority of region's growth happening in and around the core

Not only are the core and inner-ring suburban counties continuing to grow, but they're carrying most of the region's growth. Of the 224,000 people who moved to Greater Washington between 2010 and 2012, 62% of them moved to the city and inner suburbs. As a result, the core and inner ring now contain 69% of the region's total population.

Roughly 1 in 7 new residents moved to the District of Columbia, while 22% moved to either DC, Arlington or Alexandria. Though the inner suburban counties, Montgomery, Prince George's and Fairfax, are growing at a slower rate than both the core and "second-ring" counties like Loudoun and Prince William, they received about 40% of the region's population growth. Another 30% occurred in the second-ring counties, while 7% went to rural counties in Maryland, Northern Virginia and West Virginia.

We don't have any data for where growth is specifically occurring in the inner ring, but judging from the building boom in places like Silver Spring in Montgomery and Merrifield in Fairfax, it's likely happening in the same kinds of places and for the same reasons as in the District, Arlington and Alexandria.

Growth is uneven

The largest Greater Washington communities by population.

Communities by share of regional population and population growth.

The region's fastest-growing communities.

While most close-in communities are growing at a fast clip, Prince George's County isn't doing as well. It grew at a rate of just 2% between 2010 and 2012, placing it among the region's slowest-growing counties. This is not only unfortunate for Prince George's, which for decades has lagged neighboring counties in drawing people and businesses, but for the region as a whole.

DC's resurgence and the continued growth of older suburban counties like Montgomery suggest that people want to live close in. Presumably, Prince George's should benefit from that demand, but for a variety of reasons it's being directed to farther-out areas, which results in more traffic, more destruction of natural or agricultural land, and the ongoing disinvestment of older neighborhoods. Directing more investment to Prince George's should be a regional priority, as it will further add to the strength of other communities around the Beltway.

Yes, Greater Washington is growing a little more slowly than it used to, and that's okay. The big news is that unlike many metropolitan areas in the United States, we're growing at the center, not at the fringe. Not only does it make our region stronger and more sustainable, but it shows that other places around the country don't have to accept unending suburban sprawl as a given.


DC now bigger than Vermont, still has no votes in Congress

The Census Bureau just released their population estimates for the states and territories. DC has just passed Vermont in population, and was already larger than Wyoming.

Photo by allison_dc on Flickr.

The estimate now puts DC at 632,323. Vermont has 626,011. The District is also the 2nd fastest-growing state or territory, growing 2.15% from July 2011 to July 2012, second only to North Dakota's 2.17%. (Thanks to EdTheRed for the tip!)

This means that 6 voting members of the House and Senate now represent places with smaller population than the District, with zero.

4 Democratic Senators, including retiring Senator Joe Lieberman, just introduced a bill supporting statehood for DC, which is very welcome, but would be even more welcome before the very end of the Congressional session, when there's no time for a hearing, let alone action.

Update: The Census didn't release numbers for cities and counties, but DC probably now has more people than Baltimore. We shouldn't root for Baltimore stagnation, though. It would be great if people looking for walkable neighborhoods and working in places like Fort Meade also considered Baltimore. Maryland could help push this by investing in MARC service and funding the Baltimore Red Line rather than focusing primarily on sprawl highways.


Where do MoCo residents walk, bike & take transit to work?

For decades, Montgomery County has promoted transit-oriented development as a way to provide alternatives to driving, but some say it hasn't worked, claiming most people "will drive no matter what." However, a detailed look at commuting habits in specific neighborhoods clearly shows that people will leave their cars at home if there are other options.

Nearly 60% downtown Silver Spring residents get to work without a car. Photo by the author.

I looked at data from the Census Bureau's 2006-2010 American Community Survey to see how Montgomery County's 502,000 employed residents get to work. Countywide, 2/3 of commuters drive to work alone. 15% take public transit, 11% carpool, and 5% work at home. Just 2% walk or bike to work.

While those numbers may seem impressive for a suburban area, they may seem underwhelming for anyone who envisions a more urban future for the county.

However, if you break it down by neighborhood, commuting habits vary dramatically. In places with reliable, frequent transit service, or jobs within close proximity, or were designed to encourage walking, biking and transit use over driving, commuters take advantage of the options they're given.

Not only does this data suggest that the county's policies have been successful, but it provides some guidance for how to encourage more walking, biking and transit use in the future. (For a closer look at the data, you can see my spreadsheet and consult this map of the county's census tracts.)

Taking transit to work

Here's a map of the county broken down by census tract, showing the areas where transit use is above the countywide average of 15 percent:

Census tracts with the highest percentage of transit commutes. Click the image for a larger version, or click here to see this image without the ranking labels.

Not surprisingly, people use transit more in areas where there's lots of transit, like around each of the 13 Metro stations in or (like Takoma and Friendship Heights) within walking distance of the county.

Over 40% of commuters take transit to work in Friendship, downtown Bethesda, downtown Silver Spring and South Silver Spring, where for decades the county has sought to concentrate jobs, housing and other amenities. Census Tract 7012.14, a concentration of apartments and condominiums just east of the Grosvenor-Strathmore Metro station in North Bethesda, wasn't far behind.

Commuters will choose the bus as well if the service is good. Transit use was high along corridors with frequent bus routes that run all day, seven days a week, like Veirs Mill Road, University Boulevard, Georgia Avenue, New Hampshire Avenue and Columbia Pike. Metrobus lines serving these roads, like the C, K, Q, Y and Z, are among the most-used routes in Maryland.

In tract 7023.01, which covers part of the Long Branch neighborhood of Silver Spring, there's no Metro station, but there are over a dozen Ride On and Metrobus routes. As a result, nearly 36% of commuters there use transit.

While the areas with above-average transit ridership were almost entirely in the Downcounty and East County, there were also a few Upcounty neighborhoods, like around the Germantown and Lakeforest transit centers, both of which are major Ride On hubs. This is impressive considering that these areas were built after World War II, when it was assumed that everyone would drive everywhere.

Walking and biking to work

Here's a map showing census tracts where the percentage of walkers and bicyclists is above the countywide average of 2.49 percent:

Census tracts with the highest percentage of foot and bike commutes. Click the image for a larger version, or click here to see this image without the ranking labels.

This map bears some similarities to a "bicycling heat map" Montgomery County planners created last year to determine what areas of the county would have the highest demand for bicycling infrastructure. As it predicted, walking and biking rates are higher in the county's downtowns, like Silver Spring, Bethesda and Rockville, where homes and jobs are within walking distance of one another.

However, there also appeared to be a connection between above-average walking and biking and proximity to a major educational, research or medical institution. There's a high instance of walkers and bikers around the National Institutes of Health and Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda.

About a quarter of commuters walk or bike to work in tracts 7050, which includes both facilities, and 7048.06 next door in downtown Bethesda. Meanwhile, almost 19% of commuters walk or bike to work in tract 7017.02 in Takoma Park, which includes Washington Adventist Hospital and Washington Adventist University.

And one out of ten commuters walk or bike in the recently-built Fallsgrove neighborhood of Rockville. Located miles from a Metro station and lacking good bus service, Fallsgrove has lower-than-average transit use.

However, it has interconnected streets and a mix of homes, shops and offices, making it easy to get around on foot or bike. It's also across the street from the Shady Grove Life Sciences Center, home to major employers like Johns Hopkins University and Shady Grove Adventist Hospital.

There were also above-average instances of walking and biking in rural communities, like Burtonsville, Potomac and Damascus. I'm not sure why this happens, but it bears further investigation.


The data suggests ways we can increase walking, biking and transit use in places like White Flint.

While this wasn't an exhaustive look at commuting habits, one pattern is clear: people will choose not to drive when real alternatives are available. If you provide fast, frequent transit service that's as convenient if not more so than driving, commuters will use it. And if people live close enough to their jobs, they'll consider walking or biking to work.

The best way to encourage these behaviors is by building up around our transit network. More people living in places like Bethesda, Silver Spring or White Flint means more people who can reach their jobs by foot, bike or transit.

But that's not all. We need to create a pleasant walking experience in these areas, which can encourage people to walk farther. We need to provide adequate bicycling infrastructure to attract a wider range of bicyclists.

And we should acknowledge that even people who live in transit-rich areas like downtown Silver Spring and take transit to work might still drive three blocks to the grocery store. There will be cars in Montgomery County for a long time to come, even if they have to share space with pedestrians, bicyclists and transit.


How transient is Washington?

With a talented new quarterback and a baseball team in the major league playoffs for the first time since 1933, Washington sports are getting a lot of attention recently. In commenting on the state of Washington sports culture, a lot of writers assert that DC is apathetic towards its team because the population is so transient. But how transient is DC?

Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

The Census Census Bureau's American Community Survey shows that in some ways the conventional wisdom is correct, but there's not necessarily a correlation between a transient population and a lack of local fervor.

According to the Census ACS's 2011 one-year estimate, 9.1% of DC's population lived in another state the year before. How does that compare with other sports towns?

Boston (Suffolk County)5.9%
Baltimore City3.0%
New York City2.8%
... Manhattan6.2%

Of these cities, DC is far and away the highest. However, this is not necessarily an apples-to-apples analysis. If someone moved from Arlington to DC, they would count in this tally, whereas if someone were to move from Buffalo to Broadway, it wouldn't.

That caveat aside, it's surprising to see what cities are higher on that list. Boston has the second highest, yet many would call the Hub the most parochial town on the list (or at least a close second to Chicago). Notice also how much higher Manhattan's numbers are compare with NYC as a whole. Not surprisingly, the most urban part of New York has the most new residents.

Now, consider the same cities but also include residents who moved from a different county within the same state. The numbers (with the obvious exception of DC's) jump up:

New York City4.9%
... Manhattan9.1%

This demonstrates that these other cities are often the destination of regional migrants. Sports-wise, these new arrivals probably already rooted for their new home team. But if the criticism of DC is that too many residents have only just arrived to the city itself, it's got plenty of company.

When you look just at 25-34 year oldsthe prime ages of migrationthe respective positions are similar, but the numbers are much higher:

New York City9.2%
... Manhattan14.6%

By middle age, however, DC residents are positively planted. Here are the numbers for 35-44 year olds:

New York City5.3%
... Manhattan5.1%

So, in general, it is correct to say that DC has a higher transplanted population than other cities. But as the example of Boston demonstrates, there's not necessarily a correlation between transplants and a lack of a parochial esprit de corps. If in fact DC lacks such cohesion, don't blame it on the new residents.


"Coolest city" rankings don't tell the whole story

Forbes recently named Bethesda America's 17th coolest city, causing some to wonder if Montgomery County is becoming Portland on the Potomac. While their ranking and definition of a "city" are suspect, there's still plenty to be excited about.

Bethesda: America's 17th coolest city? Photo by eddie.welker on Flickr.

The magazine based their rankings on several factors, including the number of restaurants, availability of recreational amenities, cultural diversity, and unemployment rates. Houston topped the list, followed by DC, while Baltimore was #14. Cities normally touted for their coolness, like Minneapolis and Austin, were lower on the list, while hipster capital Portland was nowhere to be found.

Not surprisingly, people in the area are confused. "Did someone redefine cool or cities or Bethesda?" wrote county planner Claudia Kousoulas on the Straight Line blog. A commenter on Bethesda Patch grumbled that Bethesda is "still pretty much white bread." And the Huffington Post has a poll asking whether the title should have gone to Fairfax.

However, this prize doesn't belong to Bethesda alone. When Forbes says "Bethesda," they're referring to the "Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick Metropolitan Division," a term used by the Census Bureau to break down the larger Washington metropolitan area. It contains Montgomery and Frederick counties. The rest of the region, including D.C., Northern Virginia, and Prince George's, Charles and Calvert counties in Maryland, belongs to the "Washington-Arlington-Alexandria Metropolitan Division."

Looking North Towards Lower HighlandsPowell's Books, Portland
Left: Denver is a less cool place than Montgomery County, according to Forbes.
Right: Portland didn't make the list at all. Photos by the author.

Forbes has lavished Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick with many plaudits in recent years, including 2nd Smartest City, 9th Geekiest City, 5th Most Secure Place to Live, 21st Best-Performing City, and even 2nd Most Livable City. Montgomery alone has gotten its fair share of awards too, being named Utne Reader's "Most Enlightened Suburb" and making the Atlantic Cities' list of Creative Class Counties.

Still, very few people would conceive of Montgomery or Frederick counties, which together cover an area over 60 miles long, as a single "place," let alone a city. After all, some people in Kensington won't even go to Wheaton, a mile away. As a result, the Columbia Journalism Review has called Forbes' use of Metropolitan Divisions manipulative and wildly misleading.

But is that the magazine's fault, or the Census Bureau, who drew these lines in the first place? As Jarrett Walker points out, the boundaries of both metropolitan areas and cities are often arbitrary and have no relation to actual communities or social or economic connections.

The Census may lump Montgomery and Frederick counties together, but as a resident of Silver Spring, I spend more money in and have more social ties to DC than I do to Frederick. However, not only is it in another Metropolitan Division, it's in another state, sort of.

"Portland on the Potomac" deserves a fitting theme song. Video (mostly) by the author.

Whether or not Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick deserves to be called one of America's coolest cities, the facts supporting that title still hold. With 1.2 million residents, it's comparable to the metropolitan area Salt Lake City. It has one-fifth of Maryland's jobs and 600,000 jobs and just 5 percent unemployment, compared to 8 percent nationwide.

Montgomery County has a majority-minority population with 164 countries represented in its public schools. It's got everything from the headquarters of a major media corporation to punk houses and a town lovingly called the "People's Republic." The county is even planning to build one of the country's largest rapid transit systems.

Looking North Towards Lower Highlands
This skate shop is one of many cool things in Frederick.

And Frederick County, whose reputation as a backwater once earned it the name "Fredneck," has a bustling downtown of its own with trendy restaurants and a growing number of wineries.

We may not be the coolest, and we may not be a city in the proper definition, but there's still plenty to be proud of. And unlike Portland, the sun actually comes out in Montgomery County.


Latest data shows plenty of car-free living in DC

The Coalition for Smarter Growth crunched the latest Census numbers on car-free living in DC:

Just because many people live without a car doesn't mean we insist that everyone must live without a car. I have a car, and use it sometimes. But I like having many other options so that I rarely actually have to use it (and, if I had no car, could use Zipcar in those cases where I do need one).

Having significant percentages of people living car-free also reduces traffic for everyone who isn't car-free. Therefore, we should all look for policies that help these numbers grow.

In wealthy parts of the city where many people are living car-free as a choice, like Wards 2 and 6, we should strive to welcome more residents, to give even more people the opportunity to enjoy the wealth of transportation options that exist. In poorer areas like Wards 7 and 8, where the car-free rate comes more from inability to afford a car, we need better transportation options to help car-free residents get to work and to stores.


We are the... 50%? stories misinterpret median incomes

The 5-month old news that the Washington region has 10 of the 15 "wealthiest" US counties got another round of press, DCist notes, after a article subtitled, "Where the 1% lives." But juxta­posing "the 1%" and any statistic of median income flunks basic statistics.

This is not what we're talking about. Image by wallyg on Flickr.

The median household income is the income for the household which is exactly in the middle: half of the other households make more, half make less. The MainStreet article could far better have borne the title, "Where the 50% lives."

Median income tells you almost nothing about where the 1% lives. If a town has 10 households making $1 million a year and 100 making $20,000 a year, the median is $20,000. It doesn't matter if one of the rich 10 starts making $5 million instead.

Medians also don't consider desperately poor households, unless a place is so poor that half of its households are in poverty. When the news broke that the DC area has the highest median income of any metropolitan area, most of the news coverage about how DC is insulated from the economic downturn ignored that fact that there's serious unemployment and poverty in much of the region.

The unemployment rate might be lower than the national average, for sure, and far lower than in some parts of the country, but that's little comfort to the people without jobs.

Much of the disparity goes hand in hand with a higher cost of living. The national median household income in 2010 was $50,046, and the median in the DC region $84,623. But real estate prices are significantly higher here and have been climbing as well. For the 4th quarter of 2011, the median single-family home sales price was $325,400 and the median condo sales price $230,000, according to the National Association of Realtors. Nationally, the average house price was $166,200 and the average condo price $165,100.

Thanks in part to the higher housing costs and limits on the quantity of housing in walkable areas with good transit access, many professionals share housing in the DC region. When Rob lived in a group house in Arlington, the household income was about $160,000. That sounds like a lot on paper, and it's definitely above the area median, but 3 entry-level professionals and a grad student shared that income, and none considered themselves individually wealthy. On the other hand, a husband/wife household with no kids and a $160,000 combined income might feel a lot wealthier.

If these statistics aren't about the super-rich 1%, who is the median? To figure this out, Rob analyzed 2007-2009 American Community Survey microdata for people in households making within 5% of the median income (or in the range of $80,538-$89,014). There are 197,831 people living in such households, which represents a bit less than 4% of the total metro area population.

The average age in this median household income cohort is 43 years. 48% are non-Hispanic white, 26% non-Hispanic black, 13% Hispanic, and 10% non-Hispanic Asian. 21% work for the government, 66% work outside the government, and 13% are not working, out of the labor force or fall into another category. 69% live in owner-occupied homes, while 31% reside in rented homes.

It's great that the economy in the Washington region is doing well, at least for many people, and that median incomes are high, even if that means housing is expensive too. But reporters, when you write about these income statistics, please leave the references to fancy dinners and pictures of houses with gilded gates out of it.

Support Us
DC Maryland Virginia Arlington Alexandria Montgomery Prince George's Fairfax Charles Prince William Loudoun Howard Anne Arundel Frederick Tysons Corner Baltimore Falls Church Fairfax City