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.
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.
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.