Like Numbers? Check out DC’s Historical Population Trends

Photo by PoPville flickr user clintonbphotography

Thanks to a reader for sending this fascinating report from the Office of Planning/State Data Center, titled ‘District Population Trends 1800 to 2009.’ For full report please click below:

June 2010 Briefing Report

Population in 1950
Total: 802,178
White: 517,865
Black: 280,803
Hispanic: N/A

Population in 2000
Total: 572,059
White: 197,168
Black: 349,390
Hispanic: 44,953

Population in 2009
Total: 599,657
White: 243,617
Black: 323,931
Hispanic: 53,025

When do you think DC will hit 1,000,000?

58 Comment

  • Reach the 1,000,000 mark inside DC, never unless the VA parts of DC are brought back into DC. However, DC will hit the no longer majority black city soon, probably about the time Marion Barry predicted back in 1988. I think he predicted 2012 and a white DC mayor in 2014. Holy cow, he may have been right.

  • I will say DC at 1 million residents in 2025. It will take some massive condo development in the “New Anacostia” or something similar.

    • ah

      It will take massive economic development in that area and/or other underdeveloped portions of the city. But until PG county has a more significant business base that “side” of the city isn’t likely to attract a large influx of workers looking for conveniently located housing.

      So 2032. Mark it down and come back to PoP in 22 years and say “you told us so!”

    • I hope not. DC needs a place where working class folks can live.

      • Good luck with that.

        • I didn’t mean to be flippant, I’m just saying that it’s not likely to happen as national demographics are once again pulling people back into the city. Price/demand will reverse the suburban/urban demographics.

      • It’s called PG County.

      • why? there was a time when the upper class couldn’t live in DC and moved to the suburbs, now there’s a switch to the reverse.

  • I am sure there are atleast 25% more people than the official stats, there are so many people who come here from other places but never officially switch residencies.

    • Among some Southeast Asian communities that I’ve worked with, the non-participation rate in Census was as high as 40% in 2000.

      Census 2010 (so far) appears to have done a significantly better job ensuring that language and cultural barriers to being counted were addressed, but I’d agree that the official stats significantly understate our overall population.

      • And I should say that the reasons for non-participation were reported by community members as limited English proficiency/lack of language access, fears arising out of a history of prosecution/lack of understanding of what Census is all about, etc.

        I’m looking forward to the new numbers to see how we did this time around!

    • But that was always the case…..

  • around the same time the nationals win the pennant

  • So, this city is only comprised of Blacks, Whites, and Hispanics?

  • The problem is housing. You can’t build up very high in D.C., and it’s not as if there is tons of attractive, vacant land just sitting around. Because of the inability to build large residential towers (generally a good thing!), I don’t see D.C. growing beyond 900,000 (representing a FIFTY percent addition to the housing stock) before 2050. It would just take too many large construction projects in too many different areas of the city. And very, very few of those are likely to even get started for awhile, given the economy.

    • DC had 200-300,000 more people 60 years ago with a slightly smaller footprint — so it is possible. But it’s going to require not just adding density but attracting families again.

      • Agree – and that’s why improving our education system is so important.

      • The thing is, I bet the average square foot of living space per person was MUCH lower than. People are far more inclined to live alone and/or in larger living spaces (I think) than they were 40 years ago. There is some vacancy in DC, but any massive population expansion would necessarily require an equally massive construction effort. And again, because buildings can’t go very high, that would mean expanding the city’s residential footprint to a momumental degree.

        • I’m buying an 800 sqft rowhouse in NE. Historical records I’ve found show that a family of 6 (2 adults, 4 kids) lived in the house in 1900. I agree with you on avg. space.

          • There was actually a 1970s sitcom about the Washington, DC housing overcrowding crisis during World War II called “Goodtime Girls.”

  • I don’t know if we’ll ever hit a million, but I’m hearing a lot of experts saying that we could be surprised when the final 2010 Census numbers are published, in regard to DC’s population numbers and demographics. They’re suggesting that the population here is growing faster than estimated.

  • DC’s population crested in the 1950’s at 800K people and decreased steadily for 50 years since.

    I think it is great DC is again gaining population, gentrifying, cleaning itself up, and there are certainly still huge swaths of the city that could use a swipe of the “gentrification” sponge, but DC getting to a million?

    Not in the remaining ~40 years of my life.

    • You’re probably right. If our population continued to grow at the same rate as it did between 2000 and 2009, it wouldn’t reach 1M until around the year 2152. Though if what others are posting are correct, the growth rate could be speeding up.

    • cleansing? sponge? seriously? this blog never ceases to amaze me.

      • Like a bunch of blog-commenting Travis Bickle’s… “Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

      • in what way. Methinks your definition of gentrification is different than mine. I know the first thing that gentrifying residents do to houses on my block is CLEAN and PAINT them. So it’s a sponge, baby.

  • Population in 2000
    Total: 572,059
    White: 197,168
    Black: 349,390
    Hispanic: 44,953

    Population in 2009
    Total: 599,657
    White: 243,617
    Black: 323,931
    Hispanic: 53,025

    Damn the white gentrifiers for bleaching the Chocolate City! They have no respect for history!

    Population in 1950
    Total: 802,178
    White: 517,865
    Black: 280,803
    Hispanic: N/A


  • I for one don’t really want any more population density in DC.

    Traffic is already crappy and the metro system is already overburdened. 1 million people is just too much for this less-than-a-diamond (geographically and metaphorically speaking) on the Potomac.

    Like NoLongerNew2CH said, it’s not like there’s tons of land and open space waiting to be developed. People would have to be stacked on top of one another, which means fewer rowhouse neighbors who know and talk to each other, and many more metal-and-glass condo buildings full of anonymous cubby-holers. That’s not progress – in my book anyways.

    • Eh, I lived in an apartment complex in CA where tons of people congregated at the pool in the evenings and chatted. You can live in a palatial estate and not know your neighbors or you can live in a townhouse and not know your neighbors. It depends on whether you spend your free time outside your house, or out and about in the area.

      • sure, there are always exceptions to a rule of thumb comment. my experience differs from yours, clearly, although I’d have to say that people in DC are far less likely (in my experience) to make the effort to say hi to neighbors regardless of the living situation (rowhouse v condo complex).

        so, whatever.

        • That’s your experience. You realize every person and every neighbor is unique. I live in a metal-and-glass condo building and am very close with my neighbors. The neighbors on the floor above me might not be so close. At the end of the day people are people – some are gonna want to get to know the people next door and others aren’t. I don’t think it has all that much to do with rowhouse vs condo.

        • Maybe they just don’t like you.

    • More people in DC does not have to mean more traffic. Traffic is mostly caused by people who live outside DC and work in DC.

      More people living in DC means fewer people driving into the city. While this doesn’t account for general population growth, a single person moving from the suburbs to DC would tend to be a positive for traffic, not a negative.

      • not all traffic is commuters. just driving around town, even on the weekends, can be a pain.

        Ever get on Rock Creek headed towards the Mall on a beautiful weekend day? It’s a parking lot.

        Or K Street in the middle of the day (not rush hour)?

        Or Columbia Road from say, 16th to the Adams Morgan area? That’s not really a commuter’s throughway, either.

        The point is, more people = more congestion, whether that means more cars, more bikes, more segways, or more people crammed on the Green Line.

        I just hope infrastructure improvements keep pace with population growth. I have my doubts.

        • More people also means more taxpayers, and more money to pay for stuff like streetcars.

          I don’t disagree with your traffic observations. But none of that stuff is anything new, it’s been like that as long as I’ve lived in DC and that’s a long time. You learn which routes to avoid at which times of day. Never take Beach Drive to Rock Creek Parkway on a weekend afternoon (zoo traffic).

          Avoid Columbia Road entirely, I mean seriously, were you born yesterday? That has gotten worse, though, but not because of traffic – because DDOT redid the right-turn onto Calvert street, eliminating a non-pedestrian cycle. Idiotic. I mean, the plaza is nice and all, but would it have killed them to have a right-turn arrow there so cars have a ghost of a chance to turn right? Like one car maybe can get through and you have to scare the hell out of a pedestrian to do it. Or turn illegally.

  • When the height restrictions are eliminated and rental prices come down.

  • I don’t know when our population will reach 1M, but I don’t think it will be a cause for consternation when it does. DC’s 2009 population density was 9776/sq mi. So getting to 1M would push that to 16300/sq mi. That’s still less dense than San Francisco is today (and I think San Francisco is pleasant). Assuming that commutes will be worse assumes there will be same pattern of an influx of suburban workers, which might well not be the case if more people were living in DC proper. Even if not, having a larger tax base would help fund some of the infrastructure improvements needed to deal with more residents. So bring it on!

  • One of the reasons that population was higher is that in the past there were more people actually living in the house. For example my 1920’s house was built as a 3 bedroom which meant that comfortably for most of it’s life a 5 person family could live there. Well what people expect for space has changed. My house has 2 bedrooms and comfort wise it is 2 people max though I live alone. Add up all the houses all over the District like that and you see there is a huge difference. Most people likely won’t live that many people to a house like has been traditional so since density matters you have to look for it elsewhere.

    The height restrictions aren’t going away so significantly higher density projects aren’t going to happen so beyond what you get based on current restrictions isn’t really going to happen. There are going to be large swaths of land (historic neighborhoods, parts of downtown, the Mall) that will never have any higher density residential dwellings so those things so no increased density there.

    Basically I don’t know that we will without massively knocking down houses and turning more streets into Connecticut Ave (which has one of the highest densities in the DC).

    • The PoP has an interesting juxtaposition here, between this post and the two photo’s of 1940/50’s DC. We comment on how we can’t get much more crowded with high density, too many cars etc. But the pictures of when twice as many people lived here were virtually empty. In addition to ET’s comments, we would need some serious transportation/attitude overhaul to get the cars off the roads if we want to keep it livable. Similar to San Fransisco (good call, DCster.)

      • but it’s like the obesity issue. People back then were poor and had no money. now we are noticeably richer and consumer goods are significantly cheaper (I remember spending $40 real money on jeans in 1980 and $25 real money for jeans in 2010) so we’ll never return to those kinds of walking conditions. the best we can hope for are electric cars.

    • working conditions were more dense too.
      and people walked more.

  • The population for the US is expected to increase significantly by 2050 (seems some estimates are as much as 48%). The people are going to have to go somewhere – where there’s water. I have heard a rumor, but can’t find the article that the Metro region is supposed to increase by 50% by then.

    Population Reference Bureau, 2001 World Population Data Sheet, Washington, DC: PRB, 2001. via

  • The idea that this city can not take many more inhabitants is comical and slightly myopic in thought. You are mostly correct if you are only thinking of the “DC” that most of the ppl who read this blog live in and know of. However, there is a ton of land in upper NW & NE toward Maryland. All of the property of the Old Solders Home, the McMillan Plant, Brookland, empty plots of land in NE off of RI Ave and S. Dakota Ave. All of which have been in talks for development.

    Of course, as mentioned earlier, there is the world east of the Anacostia River.

  • The city of Paris in France has about 2.2 million people living on a land area of 41 square miles.

    The city of Washington in the District of Columbia has about 600,000 people living on a land area of 61 square miles.

    DC has more room for a lot more people. And, I have found that a lot of people think of DC as the world around the fashionable neighborhoods of NW and the like. There is a lot of vacant and underutilized land out there that could be put to good use.

    Some densities around metro stations in DC:

    Columbia Heights at 37,000 people within a half-mile radius (DC’s highest)
    Dupont Circle at 19,000 people within a half-mile radius
    Anacostia at 5,800 people within a half-mile radius
    Fort Totten at 7,500 people within a half-mile radius
    Shaw at 22,000 people within a half-mile radius
    Minnesota Avenue at 5,600 people within a half-mile radius
    Deanwood at 7,700 people within a half-mile radius
    Petworth at 13,000 people within a half-mile radius

    I, too, think we will be surprised when the final 2010 numbers come out. I think we are growing faster and the demographics are changing faster than what’s been estimated at the Census Bureau. This is based on my own numbers that I’ve been running.

    We need to significantly increase densities around our metro stations. Metrorail is heavy-rail, not light rail. The more people living within DC, the more people that won’t need to make the commute into DC, either by car or further burdening lines like the Orange line.

    And once we get more people living here, we can more more transportation infrastructure investments to include bona fide light rail (grade separated) and maybe a medium-capacity (less cost) rapid rail network to supplement the heavy-rail system. Getting from point A to point B in DC should be easy and it should be fast. Bus isn’t cutting it.

    We need to capitalize on the money spent to build and then maintain these stations. DC’s own zoning code inhibits/limits densification around metro stations much more so than the federally-mandatory height limit. This needs to change.

    All in all, there is a lot more room for growth in DC. It would be nice if DC could make 1,000,000 resident city an official target and align it’s planning policies to reach such a goal. Mayor Williams set a goal of 670,000 residents or something like that in his second term, and he did a lot to put us close to where we are today. The current administration should consider doing the same.

    • i’m really interested in the population density stats you posted… do you have the source for these?

  • Hello x,

    Yes, I do have the source for the population density stats I posted. They are from Washington, DC Economic Partnership’s “2010 Neighborhood Profiles”

    I forgot to include in my original post.

    Link is here:

    • Thanks for the stats otavio – very interesting. I would love to find out where/how the 800,000 people were living in 1950. My dad had some stories about wartime housing here – the Roosevelt Apt. on 16th st. I believe was almost a dormitory.

      And this is another big reason why DC should overhaul the basement apt. legalization! Maximum usage of housing space does far more to “save the planet” than riding a bike.

  • DC will reach 1M a few years after gas prices hit and sustain $10+ a gallon. (in today’s $$)

  • There seems to be a false assumption that people living in DC work in DC. This is not true. I know plenty of people who live in DC because they prefer the quality of life here (restaurants/bars/art galleries, etc within easy walking distance), but drive to jobs in suburban Maryland and Virginia, so having more people living in DC is not necessarily going to cut down on traffic.

  • This information has been available grammatically for a while:

    Check out:

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