Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Census


As DC grows, Anacostia gets left behind

After decades of decline, DC's population is growing again. But parts of the city like Anacostia are still losing people, showing that revitalization has yet to take hold everywhere.

The population of Anacostia between 1990 and 2012. All data from the Census Bureau, graphs by the author.

While many neighborhoods across the city have grown in population and prosperity, Anacostia has lost nearly five hundred people and more than 140 housing units since 1990, according to newly released Census data. Meanwhile, the median household income has declined by $3,000, from $35,545 in 1990 (in 2012 dollars) to $32,262 today. There are fewer homeowners as well. In 1990, 32.8% of Historic Anacostia's 986 housing units were owner-occupied, whereas today just 29.9% of the 854 units are.

There are fewer housing units in Historic Anacostia now than in 1990.

These raw numbers reflect the abundance of abandominiums within the neighborhood, including both single-family homes and apartments. More than a hundred units have been vacant for more than two decades, while others have been razed.

The drastic contraction in the available housing stock over the last two decades has led to the subsequent flight of nearly 15% of the neighborhood. In 1990 Anacostia counted 3,018 people, 437 more than in 2012, when 2,545 lived in the Historic District.

Although social media campaigns and advocates of the creative class have increasingly touted the neighborhood over the past half-decade, economic opportunities remain a dream for many residents. Of 1,799 people over 16, just 54.9% are in the labor force, compared to 58.4% of 2,130 people in 1990.

The percentage of people in Anacostia's labor force.

With the growth of white-collar information services in DC, blue-collar independent tradesmen living in Anacostia say they are at a double disadvantage. They don't have the education the information economy demands, and they are often shut out from joining existing contracting teams on local multi-million dollar public works projects. The neighborhood has its own day-laborer class of junkmen and uncredentialed tradesmen who may not fit into the formal economy.

The percentage of Anacostia adults with high school diplomas.

Even though the neighborhood economy has remained stagnant over the past 20 years, and private capital is hesitant to invest and develop, Anacostia's human capital has slowly increased. Today, 79.1% of Anacostians 25 years old and over have their high school diploma, a dramatic increase over 49.7% in 1990. More than two decades ago less than five percent of Anacostia residents 25 years and older had a college degree; today it is 8.2%.

These numbers do not paint a complete picture, but they show Historic Anacostia to be a neighborhood dominated by low-earning renters, the same as it was in 1990.

In commemorating the March on Washington last summer, President Obama invoked "the corners of Anacostia" as an example of persistent inequities. While the areas and environs of 14th Street NW, 7th Street NW, H Street NE, and 8th Street SE have exponentially grown over the past two decades, Anacostia remains largely stuck in time, slowly fading away before the eyes of anyone watching.


DC grows by 83,000 residents in 10 years

Ten years ago, DC Mayor Anthony Williams famously set a goal of attracting 100,000 new DC residents within a decade. Pundits scoffed, but the latest population estimates show we made it closer than most imagined possible.

DC population change graph. Image from Google.

The official US Census population estimate for DC in 2003 was 563,384. The latest estimate for 2013 is 646,449. That's an increase of 83,065.

In 2003, DC's population was still shrinking. It had been about 569,000 in 2002, and 572,000 in 2000. Young single people had started flocking to some parts of DC, but families leaving for the suburbs still outnumbered people moving in and being born. Halting the decline seemed possible, maybe even likely, but growing by 100,000 people in a decade seemed outrageously optimistic.

And to be fair, we didn't quite make it. 83,000 isn't 100,000. But it's awfully impressive, awfully close. Far more than just about anybody thought possible.

DC's population peaked at 802,178 in 1950, then declined for the next half century. If today's impressive growth rate continues into the future, we'll catch up and surpass the 1950 high sometime in the mid 2020s.

We'll have to keep up impressive growth to meet Mayor Gray's goal of 250,000 new residents by 2032.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Yes, 14th Street is DC's densest area

Sunday's Washington Post featured a big story about gentrification on 14th Street, including the claim that it "recently surpassed Columbia Heights as the densest area in the city." Is that true? The US Census can tell us.

Using American FactFinder, I created this map illustrating the population density of DC's central neighborhoods.

Population density of central DC. Map by the author using

5 of DC's 6 overall densest census tracts border on 14th Street, between downtown and the northern end of Columbia Heights. It's definitely the city's densest string of neighborhoods.

But is it denser north or south of Florida Avenue? That depends how you count. While the stretch of 14th Street between Florida Avenue and P Street remains a little sparser than in Columbia Heights, the stretch from P Street south to Thomas Circle is the densest single tract in DC.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


Compare the neighborhood density of US urban areas

Last week's post about census tract density in the DC area showed which neighborhoods inside the Beltway are densest. Now let's look at the densest spots in the core areas of other large cities.

Urban areas are defined by the US Census as geographically-connected areas with a population density of at least 1,000 people per square mile (ppsm). The standard provides a uniform definition of "city," more useful for national comparisons than political boundaries. These maps show the central county in each of America's 20 largest urban areas, in order beginning with the largest.

1. New York: America's biggest city breaks the scale. While others on this list might have a few neighborhoods in the top density category, New York is covered end to end. It's one of only 4 cities with tracts above 100,000 ppsm. Its peak is 200,000 ppsm.


2. Los Angeles: Despite its reputation for sprawl, LA compares favorably to the densest cities after New York. Its peak density of 94,000 ppsm is well above DC's.


3. Chicago: Home to probably the single densest census tract in America, a 508,000 ppsm anomaly that's so small it's not visible at normal scale. Besides that tract, Chicago tops around at about the same level as LA.


4. Miami: Thanks to more narrowly-drawn census tracts along its high-rise coast, Miami's peak density shot up from 38,000 ppsm in 2000 to 77,000 ppsm in 2010, but the actual change wasn't as significant on the ground.


5. Philadelphia: At 64,000 ppsm, Philadelphia's peak is about the same as DC's, but Philly's rowhouse neighborhoods extend farther out.


6. Dallas: Dallas' density dropped significantly. It has fewer dense tracts in 2010 than in 2000, and its peak is down to 44,000 ppsm from 57,000 ppsm.


7. Houston: Unlike Dallas, Houston appears to be densifying. Oddly, its densest area is not the core.


8. Washington (with Arlington & Alexandria): Washington is has more dense neighborhoods and a higher peak than in 2000. The numbers shown on these maps are slightly different than those on Michael Rodriguez's map, which used a different map projection to calculate area. These census numbers are official.


9. Atlanta: Not only is Atlanta shockingly sparse, its densest tract fell from 41,000 ppsm in 2000 to just 21,000 ppsm in 2010. The explanation? A downtown public housing complex was demolished, erasing the population of the densest 2000 tract.


10. Boston
One of only 4 cities with a tract above 100,000, Boston has a single tract that reaches 110,000 ppsm.

2000: 2010

11. Detroit: Detroit's peak density of 18,000 ppsm is about the same as in 2000, but the number of mid-density tracts in the 10,000-20,000 ppsm range declined significantly as the city continued to empty.


12. Phoenix: Central Phoenix didn't change much, and tops out at 23,000 ppsm.


13. San Francisco: San Francisco has more tracts above 100,000 ppsm than any city except New York. It tops out at 161,000 ppsm.


14. Seattle: With a peak of 51,000 ppsm and a small but significant core, Seattle occupies a middle ground between the older denser cities and newer sparser ones.


15. San Diego: While downtown San Diego densified compared to 2000, and its 50,000 ppsm peak is higher, some of its other denser neighborhoods are sparser in 2010.


16. Minneapolis: Minneapolis' changes were minor compared to most other cities. Its peak was 25,000 ppsm in 2000, and it still is in 2010.


17. Tampa: By far the sparsest city on this list, Tampa's peak of 13,000 ppsm means it has no tracts in the 3rd or 4th categories, and precious few crack even into the 2nd.


18. Denver: Like a smaller Minneapolis, Denver looks much the same. Its peak of 23,000 ppsm is respectable for a mid-sized non-coastal city.


19. Baltimore: Baltimore's lone tract in the densest category is an impressive 86,000 ppsm, but that tract is down from a whopping 176,000 ppsm in 2000. What happened?


20. Saint Louis: Saint Louis' losses have been less drastic than Detroit's, but they still hurt. Its peak is down to a Tampa-like 13,000 ppsm, from 15,000 ppsm in 2000.


I made all these maps using American FactFinder on, which has data for every county in the United States. I couldn't have done it without Geoff Hatchard, who walked me through the laborious process. If you'd like to make your own maps, I documented step-by-step instructions. Godspeed.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.


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.

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