Every now and then the Census Bureau or some organization releases a report or new data showing that DC’s demographics changed. A recent analysis of census data found that the 20001 zip code, which covers LeDroit Park, Pleasant Plains, Bloomingdale, Truxton Circle, Shaw, and Mount Vernon Square, saw its non-Hispanic white population increase by 27.2 percentage points from 5.6% to 32.8%. In fact, 20001 made the list of “most-whitened zip codes” in the nation.
Our review of the 2010 census data found that LeDroit Park is 21% white, which is below the figure for the zip code.
What does this mean? Without more information, the report doesn’t mean much other than the unsurprising fact that neighborhood demographics change. This plain answer will dissatisfy some. In a city in which identity is inevitably intertwined with politics, many will feel compelled to read too much into the data for some larger narrative that confirms preexisting social or political views.
However, the reasons that people move into and out of a neighborhood are complicated and there are both push and pull factors, both voluntary and involuntary.
Why a person might leave a neighborhood:
- Your new spouse wants to live elsewhere.
- You graduated from the local university and intend to return to your hometown.
- You dislike too many of your neighbors.
- You got a new job far away.
- The rent has become unaffordable.
- You lost your job and can’t pay any rent.
- You want to retire closer to where your children live.
- Perceptions of crime.
- You want to send your children to school elsewhere.
- You’re pursuing a degree somewhere else.
Why a person might move into a neighborhood:
- You are born and that’s where your parents live.
- You found the perfect home.
- Friends and family are nearby.
- There are people like you nearby.
- You got a new job nearby.
- The area is familiar.
- You’re moving in with friends or relatives.
- Rent is cheaper here than in some other place.
- The neighborhood is visually appealing.
Each person’s story is different, but there is far more at work than the simplistic displacement narrative that gets so much press.
U.S. Census records are kept confidential for 72 years, meaning that the 1940 Census went public yesterday. Whereas previous census ledgers were difficult to find online for free, the U.S. Archives released the full 1940 Census online. We have started perusing the pages to look for famous figures and interesting patterns in LeDroit Park, which is covered by enumeration districts 1-514 through 1-516.
A few things stand out. First, nearly the entire population of LeDroit Park in 1940 was black, illustrating the sharp racial segregation at the time. Second, nearly every house was packed with residents and many residents took on lodgers. Our house, a modest two-bedroom built in 1907, housed 13 people!
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We will publish some interesting records as we find them, but let’s start off with the listing for Anna J. Cooper (née Haywood), her lodger, and her nephew, who lived at 201 T Street (pictured below). The Cooper household is listed as entries 53 – 55 in the ledger at the top of this post.
Cooper was the principal of the M Street High School, she was an author, a feminist, and a teacher. The census only collects unambiguous personal statistics, so there is actually a longer story behind every column entry.
The first column in the snippet above states the value of her home as $20,000, a high sum compared to other LeDroit Park homes.
The 11th column lists “C8″, meaning that she received eight years of a college education. What the record doesn’t state is that she received a PhD from the Sorbonne in 1924, making her among the first black American women to receive a doctorate.
The 8th column states her age as 80 (she was actually 81) and the 13th column simply states that she was born in North Carolina. What the record doesn’t state is that she was born in North Carolina in 1858 into slavery.
The rest of the record not pictured in the above snippet states that by 1940 she was unable to work, though in reality she was likely still running a small night school.
She died in 1964 at the age of 105. The circle at 3rd and T Streets is named in her honor, she is featured on a postage stamp and on pages 26 and 27 of the U.S. passport.
The Park at LeDroit was built on the site of the Gage-Eckington School. The school, built in the 1970s, was itself built over streets, houses and apartment buildings.
At the time, 3rd Street extended north of Elm Street and dead-ended just before reaching V Street. Oakdale Place extended eastward from its current terminus at the park to dead-end at what is now the eastern boundary of the park.
Two apartment buildings on the site, the Linden and the Harewood were named after local streets. Before the city changed the neighborhood’s street names, 3rd Street was Harewood Avenue and 4th Street was Linden Street.
We found this 1901 description of the apartments. What’s most notable is that the apartments are marketed to black Washingtonians and thus reflects the neighborhood’s turn-of-the-century transition from a white neighborhood to a black neighborhood.
THE LINDEN AND HAREWOOD FLATS
Le Droit Park—Corner of Harewood and Oak Streets.
The Colored American
January 5, 1901
Mr. Banes the the real estate dealer has erected two of the most modern flats in Washington situated in Le Droit Park. The situation of these flats is an ideal one, on Third street, two doors from the Fourt street car line. The finish of the flats is elegant, and they have a preposessing appearance. They are three stories high, and each floor has three flats of four rooms each and bath. The whole flat is heated by steam, thus saving the necessary expense of buying fuel. Each flat has a parlor, dinning [sic] room, bed room, kitchen, and bath room and private hall rooms, and halls are heated by steam. The kitchens have a modern gas range, hot and cold water, cupboards, pantry attachment. These flats are no doubt, the best in the city. Persons having a large family can easily rent two adjoining flats saving the enormous rent of an entire house. They are thoroughly and artistically finished. The walls are papered and frescoed, and glasses of a large size, supported by a modern mantel piece are in each parlor. Le Droit Park has become a pleasant part of Washington in which to reside and these beautiful flats are a happy addition to the residences there. Mr. Banes has spared no pains in making these flats comfortable and inviting and already applications are being made for retals thereof. Colored people with first class reference who desire a beautiful part of the city in which to live, and at the same time occupy comfortable and improved apartments without renting a whole house, and paying high rent, can find a happy medium in these flats. The terms are easy. The buildings are open daily for inspection. For further information call at the office of Mr. Charles E. Banes, corner of 14th and G sts. n. w.
In preparation for redistricting Ward 1′s ANCs, the DC Office of Planning has released block-by-block demographic data for the District. We have combined the data for the blocks that comprise LeDroit Park to create a LeDroit Park census.
Analyzing U.S. Census data for LeDroit Park proves difficult because the of the way census tracts are drawn. Our census tract, 34, combines LeDroit Park and Howard University. Dorms on the northern end of the campus, far away from LeDroit Park, account for 717 of the tract’s 4,347 residents, thus skewing tract data. Furthermore, the tract also inclues several blocks bounded by Rhode Island Avenue NW, Florida Avenue NW, and 2nd Street NW.
Fortunately, the Census Bureau provides data for each block, allowing us to combine the statistics for those blocks in LeDroit Park, while excluding the Howard University campus. In the map below, we have outlined the tract in blue and shaded the blocks for LeDroit Park in red.
View LeDroit Park Census in a larger map
Though LeDroit Park started out as an exclusively white suburban neighborhood, by 1910 the neighborhood was almost entirely black. Today, 100 years later, the neighborhood is 70% black and is continuing to diversify.
However, when looking at the numbers on a block-by-block basis, you see that the neighborhood demography, must like that of the District itself, is unevenly distributed.
The block bounded by 5th Street, T Street, 6th Street, and U Street is 53% white, the highest in the neighborhood. Likewise, the block containing the Kelly Miller public housing is 91% black, the highest percentage in the neighborhood. The block containing the arch and the Florida Avenue Baptist Church comes closest to black-white equilibrium at 44% and 49% for each group respectively.
When looking at total population numbers for each block, you see that the two most populous blocks contain Howard University dorms. The block bounded by 2nd Street, T Street, 3rd Street, and Elm Street has 382 residents and contains Slowe Hall, which houses 299 students.
The second most populous block contains the new park. However, it also contains Carver Hall, which itself houses 173 students. Certainly these blocks are big, but the fact that their population numbers are off the chart has more to do with student dorms than with any inherent difference in housing density.
Finally, when we look at housing vacancy, we see that the block bounded by 5th Street, T Street, 6th Street and U Street has 38% of its housing units vacant. We’re not sure what’s causing this number, but we suspect that the apartment building at 5th and U Streets NW boosted the vacancy rate. The building has since been finished and is fully rented.
The block with the second-highest rate of vacancy contains the now-renovated Ledroit Place condo building at 1907 3rd Street NW.
It would be interesting too look at other data, including household income, car ownership, and age distribution for the neighborhood. However, the Office of Planning’s spreadsheet only covered population numbers, racial distribution, and housing unit numbers, so those are the metrics we graphed.
Among the nicest features of LeDroit Park are its walkability and its proximity to downtown. We can bike downtown to work in 15 minutes, or if it’s raining, take the bus or the metro and be there in 25 minutes. The restaurants, shops, and bars along U Street are only a short walk away.
The notion that it is easy to live in LeDroit Park without a car consistently confounds many suburbanites, but our variety of transportation options is no accident.
Our neighborhood is just outside the original L’Enfant city. In L’Enfant’s time, the main form of transportation was the human foot, so a city designed from scratch, like Washington, had to be relatively flat, like Washington, and compact, like Washington. Horse-drawn streetcars made commuting across the city easier, and electric streetcars eased the daily climb to neighborhoods like Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant.
After World War II, housing construction exploded, particularly suburban housing construction. The suburban housing model was— and, for the most part, still is— based on several main principles, most significantly, the uniformity of housing sizes (usually large) and the separation of residential and commercial uses. Both larger lots and the separation of uses create longer distances between any two points, requiring a greater effort to go between home, work, and the grocery store.
These longer distances between daily destinations made walking impractical and the lower population densities made public transit financially unsustainable. The only solution was the private automobile, which, coincidentally, benefited from massive government subsidies in the form of highway building and a subsidized oil infrastructure and industry.
LeDroit Park was founded in 1873 and the first wave of single-family and duplex houses designed by James McGill soon followed. The second housing wave brought rowhouses to LeDroit Park, but most of the neighborhood was finished in the early twentieth century long before the dominance of the automobile.
Notice this 1908 photo of the 400 block of U Street in LeDroit Park. You’ll see four people, but only one car.
It’s no coincidence that our neighborhood’s founding, long before the automobile age, relates to its walkability and abundance of transit options. In fact, when we look at the regional Census data, we find a strong relationship between the age of the housing stock and the rate of households without a car.
The only other factor that might influence the rate of carlessness is income, but the closeness of the carless rate and the pre-war housing stock rate is too glaring to ignore. There are plenty of middle-class people in Washington who choose to forgo a private car and the age of the neighborhood may be a strong indication of just how easy it is to live without a car.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics released the unemployment rate for December and the news for the District is not good. Unemployment ticked up to 12.1%, far above Maryland’s 7.5% and Virginia’s 6.9%.
Though the District added 6,100 jobs from December 2008 to December 2009, the unemployment rate jumped from 8.9% to 12.1% in the same period.
The Post speculates:
But because the labor force in the District has a large proportion of undereducated people, experts said, the majority of those high-paying jobs usually go to more qualified residents of suburban Maryland and Northern Virginia. Less-educated residents typically work in construction, which lost 200 jobs last month; in leisure and hospitality, which lost 400 jobs last month; and in retail and transportation, which lost 500 jobs last month.
Cynthia Ward, vice president of market and account services at the recruiting and career management firm Lee Hecht Harrison, said candidates who grew up in the District often are unable to compete with their suburban counterparts because of the troubled city school system.
“I graduated from the D.C. public schools, where I had been an A and B student. When I went to college, I discovered I was way behind [other students], especially in writing, and I had to work hard” to catch up, said Ward, who is on a task force seeking ways to better prepare District residents for higher-skills jobs.
Perhaps now our city will finally begin to see what everyone else has known all along: that the poor performance of our public school system is not just a civil rights disgrace, but an economic impediment, too.
Eddye Williams, the District’s oldest resident, turned 110-years-old today at her home in Ward 5.
What’s her secret?
Love everybody. Don’t hate. Don’t gossip. Take care of your own business. And take care of your body.
Next year is the decennial census, and though this ten-year period is mandated by the Constitution, the U.S. Census Bureau continues to collect detailed demographic data, including population estimates, for the other nine years.
That amounted to a 1.6% increase. Only four states gained more proportionally: Wyoming (2.1%), Utah (2.1%), Texas (2.0%), and Colorado (1.8%).
Increased population densities bring many advantages economically.
An increasing population expands the demand for housing, thereby securing the equity stakes of current homeowners. Detroit residents have lost small fortunes as the values of their homes have declined over the years.
With more people comes a greater demand for restaurants, bars, and stores. The more people who live withing walking distance of a commercial district, the more vibrant that commercial district becomes as there are more potential customers for the same amount of retail space.
With greater densities comes a greater demand for transit, making frequent transit service more economically viable.
Whether or not one likes living in a mid- or high-density community is really a matter of personal taste— there are certainly some downsides, too— but keep in mind that the densest Census tract in the nation is on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, a tony and desirable neighborhood.
Nevertheless, we see the District’s positive population change as a positive development overall.