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Posts about Families


An alien notion: 800,000 DC residents

Over 800,000 people lived within the boundaries of the District of Columbia back in 1950. How did all of these people fit, with fewer and smaller buildings than today?

Photo by Jesse Means on Flickr.

The 1951 sci-fi classic "The Day the Earth Stood Still" inadvertently shows us how. Klaatu, a level-headed extra-terrestrial emissary, escapes captivity at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. He wanders down Georgia Avenue, away from not-yet-nuclear-weapon-free Takoma Park, and attempts to disappear into everyday DC.

To do so, Klaatu checks into a boarding house at 14th and Harvard in Columbia Heights. Each room houses one or two people, and as such there's scant privacy to be had: everyone overhears everything.

This is convenient for Klaatu, who knows little of Earthlings' simple ways, but probably annoying for the Earthlings. Conditions like these were common in DC homes at the time.

The 1950 census found 14.1% of the District's 224,142 occupied housing units to be "overcrowded" (with over 1 person per room). By 2011, that figure had fallen by 2/3, to 4.7%, similar to the 5.3% of homes in 1950 that were extremely overcrowded (more than 1.5 occupants per room).

This crowding meant that on average, every apartment and house in DC had one more person living inside: households were 50.2% larger! In 1950, 3.2 people occupied each dwelling unit. In 2007-2011, the number of persons per household had fallen to 2.13, so the city's population still fell to 617,996. That decline would have been much steeper had the city not built 74,760 new housing units: the city's population would have plunged to 477,422, and the nation's capital would be less populous than Fresno.

Household size shrank nationwide as families changed. In 1960, married couples with children outnumbered single-person households almost three to one. In 2010, singles easily outnumbered nuclear families nationwide, and by 5.57 to one in DC.

As DC gets reacquainted with the notion of population growth and begins to plan for a much larger population within the same boundaries, we'll have to have a realistic conversation about household sizes and housing production. A change of just 0.09 persons per household means the difference between planning for 103,860 or 140,515 additional housing units,1 or a total of 35% to 47% more units.

That amounts to 2,000-3,000 additional units per square mile of land, after subtracting the 10.5 square miles of parks and seven square miles of water from DC's 68 square miles.

Klaatu, unfamiliar with our contentious Earth politics and "impatient with stupidity," might propose to build a platform of 5-unit-per-acre suburbia above the existing city, or require every second or third home to be subdivided, or return to 1950s household sizes and require every home to take in one boarder (not necessarily extra-terrestrials). But since Klaatu is no longer with us, we will instead have to figure out more complicated ways of infilling a built-up city.

We've obviously figured it out before; after all, DC has added an Alexandria's worth of housing units to its existing housing stock since 1950, plus plenty of offices, museums, hospitals, parking garages, and the like.

1615 M Street. Image from Google Maps.
A lot of that change has happened around places like 1615 M Street NW, the address where a 1954 radio version of "The Day the Earth Stood Still" placed Klaatu's boarding house. Today, 1615 M is a 9-story Class A office building that brackets the historic Magruder and Sumner schools.

The area above K but below Massachusetts was a high-density mixed residential area in the 1950s, what Park & Burgess would've known as "the zone in transition," but today the height-constrained central business district has spread north to Massachusetts Avenue. Yet in fact many foreign visitors still board on that block, at the Jefferson Hotel and the University of California's Washington Center.

Unlike in the movie, there is no way that Klaatu can make DC's growth "Stand Still," and so the built fabric of many other DC neighborhoods will have to change in the near future. Thankfully, neither is there a grumpy Gort (pictured above) parked on the Ellipse, who will destroy the earth with laser-beam eyes if we don't all just get along.

We first ran this post in 2013, but since the history and ideas haven't changed, we decided to re-run it.

1 Based on this 2006 Urban Institute/Fannie Mae Foundation report by Margery Austin Turner forecasting 100,000 new residents, a target that the Sustainable DC Plan recently raised to 250,000.


Events roundup: Precocious pedaling, Potomac Yard, trees, and transit

This week is jam-packed with engaging events to keep you entertained throughout the dog days of summer. Participate in a grown-up science project. Attend the groundbreaking for the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway and take the kiddies on a bike ride through Alexandria. With so much to do, why stay inside?

Photo by Colville-Andersen on Flickr.

Kidically Arlandria: Join the family biking party this Sunday, July 20 from 11:00 am to noon (followed by an optional group lunch after the ride) as Kidical Mass takes you and your kids on a bicycle tour through Alexandria!

The tour will pass through the exploding soon-to-be-exploding Potomac Yard retail corridor, around the leafy neighborhoods of Del Ray and through Arlington, before returning to the playground behind the Harris Teeter at the Eclipse in Potomac Yard. Ride will start from this location as well. Roll-out at 11:15am, but come early to play!

Groundbreaking new transitway: Come attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the region's first dedicated bus transitway on Friday, July 18, 9:00 am at 33rd Street and Crystal Drive in Arlington. This innovative system will provide faster, more reliable bus service along the Route 1 corridor through Crystal City and Potomac Yard. Learn more about the benefits of BRT in Arlington and Alexandria at this historic event!

Grown-up science projects: Ever wanted to participate in a study? Need some encouragement? Casey Trees will be offering restaurant gift cards to participants in a study which attempts to monitor the accuracy of data collection. Their goal is to standardize urban forest monitoring across the US and abroad, in an effort to improve urban life.

More information about volunteer requirements and a general study overview are here. The studies will take place Thursday, July 17th from 6-9 pm and Saturday, July 19th from 9 am to noon at 3030 12th Street NW.

Tacos and transit: Next Wednesday, June 23 at Paladar Latin Kitchen in Rockville, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, Friends of White Flint, and Communities for Transit will be holding a rapid transit happy hour Besides noshing on latin food and $5 margaritas and mojitos at happy hour, learn the latest news about Rapid Transit in Montgomery County and how you can get involved. Connect with fellow allies, volunteers, and supporters.

Ride the Silver Line! Saturday, June July 26 is opening day for the Silver Line. The first train will leave Wiehle Avenue at noon, and you can get there by bike, car, foot, or Fairfax Connector bus. A group from Greater Greater Washington will ride to East Falls Church, then head back and stop at each of the new Tysons Corner stations along the way. Hope to see you there!


Ask GGW: What are good pro-urbanist kids' books?

On Twitter, Topher Mathews recently joked, "Daughter being indoctrinated with pro-Height Act propaganda in daycare."

This book appears to be about how two animals get into a competition and build their houses higher and higher, until they fall over from the wind. It might subtly encourage a view that tall buildings are bad, but probably it's just a fun parable about cooperation.

Geoff Hatchard then mused about whether there are more urbanist-oriented kid books.

Sophie loves Subway, by Anastasia Suen and Karen Katz, which shows a mother and daughter riding on the New York subway. (Though rail geeks might notice that the specific combinations of lines in the images of stations don't actually exist.)

Image from Subway.

What good urbanist children's books, about buildings and/or transportation in cities, do you know?


Calling all kids! Join us for a GGW/Streetsblog playdate

Cities are great places to raise children, DC in particular. So Greater Greater Washington and Streetsblog are teaming up to host a playdate and family picnic to bring our readers together for some kid-friendly fun.

Instead of another after-work happy hour at a 21+ bar, we want to get to know each other's families and enjoy the great urban outdoors. Streetsbaby Luna and Greater Greater Wunderkind Sophie will be in attendance and can't wait to spill things on you and your children.

The picnic will be at the National Gallery of Art's Sculpture Garden (between Constitution Avenue and Madison Drive and 7th and 9th Streets NW) on Saturday, May 31, starting at 11:00 am. We'll try to congregate in the southeast corner, near 7th and Madison, but may shift if it's crowded there. Call 202-460-4376 if you have trouble locating us.

The Sculpture Garden is accessible by every single Metro line, several buses, and the Pennsylvania Avenue cycletrack. While we suggest transit, bicycling, or walking, you can also drive there, and either spend a lot of time hunting for on-street parking spaces or pay for a private garage.

This will be a not-quite-potluck: If you can, please bring a (non-alcoholic) beverage, chips, cookies or some other snacky side to share, but it's every family for itself on the main course. The Pavilion Café is right there and ready to serve you soups, salads, and sandwiches if you can't be bothered to spend your morning slathering mustard on whole wheat bread.

No one will be turned away for lack of kids. Your definition of family works for us, whatever it may be. And of course, you're welcome to come on your own.

Please RSVP here with the number of people (of any age) you'll be bringing so we have an idea how many folks to expect. We can't wait to see you and meet your family!


Events roundup: Better buses on a budget

Talk about how to make bus service better, have a drink with Greater Greater Washington readers, and much more at this week's events.

Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Better buses in DC: There's long been talk about ways to make bus service better in DC, but some, like rush hour bus lanes on 16th Street, still haven't become a reality. On Wednesday, April 30 from 6-8 pm, a panel will discuss proposals for better bus service and what it takes to make them happen.

Speakers include Mary Cheh, DC councilmember and transportation committee chair; Joseph Barr, former Director of Transit Development in NYC; WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre; and Sam Zimbabwe, Associate Director of Policy, Planning, and Sustainability at DDOT. The forum is at the Chastleton, 1701 16th Street, NW. RSVP here.

After the jump: A happy hour in Bethesda, a walking tour of Falls Church, a chance to learn about biking with kids, and more.

Circulator pop-up meetings: There are still three chances to give DDOT feedback about the DC Circulator. As part of the system's Transit Development Plan update, there is a series of pop-up meetings to discuss the current system as well as future routes. Here are the remaining ones:

  • 14th and U St NW: Tuesday April 29 3:30-6:30 pm, Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center (2000 14th St NW)
  • Anacostia: Thursday May 1 3:30-6:30 pm, Anacostia Metro station
  • Georgetown: Saturday May 3 12-3 pm, M St NW & Wisconsin Ave NW
GGW happy hour: Also this Wednesday, join Greater Greater Washington, CNUDC, YIPPS, and guests from the Montgomery County Planning Department for a planning-and-drinking gathering where you can learn about the Bethesda Downtown Plan. The happy hour is 6-8 pm on April 30 at Tommy Joe's, 4717 Montgomery Lane, in Bethesda.

Tour of East Falls Church: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours continue this Saturday, May 3 with a look at East Falls Church. Come hear about the history of the neighborhood and learn what's being planned to make the area more walkable and bikeable. Space is limited so RSVP today!

Bike with the family: Do you have kids? Are you interested in learning how to safely bike with them around the city? The third annual "ABCs of Family Biking" event is Saturday, May 3, 11-2 at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan.

Family biking experts will show parents what equipment they might need, and local bike shops will have some for sale. Parents can try out equipment on a special obstacle course and can also trade or sell each other gently used equipment. WABA instructors will teach free classes for parents and kids to bike alone or together. And you can get in practice for Bike to School Day, Wednesday, May 7!

Open houses for Montgomery zoning update: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses resume on Tuesday, April 29. Planning staff will be available to discuss the updates. The full open house schedule is below:

  • April 29: Park and Planning Headquarters, Silver Spring (5-8 pm)
  • May 1: Marilyn J. Praisner Library, Burtonsville (6-8 pm)
  • May 5: UpCounty Regional Services Center, Germantown (6-8 pm)
  • May 6: B-CC Regional Services Center, Bethesda (6-8 pm)
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