District dwellers deliver a baby boom
When Eric and Francine Asche had their first baby 16 months ago, space was at such a premium in their rented loft near Logan Circle that they bought the smallest crib available so it could fit in a closet.
In search of larger quarters, they soon moved — not to the suburbs as earlier generations of new parents have done, but across the street to a two-bedroom apartment with high windows, a concrete ceiling with exposed ducts and sleek cherry kitchen cabinets in the open-concept living area.
Their second son was born last week. But the Asches have no intention of moving anytime soon.
“A lot of our friends live as far out as Falls Church,” said Eric Asche, who is in his early 40s, a decade older than his wife, and works in advertising. “They have a nice life, and I can see its merits. But I can walk out my office door and be home in 10 minutes, so it’s much easier for me to participate in my sons’ life.”
The Asches are part of a baby boom underway in the District. In the past three years, the number of children younger than 5 has grown by almost 20 percent, from 33,000 to 39,000, according to census figures. In the same time span, the number of children ages 5 to 13 rose 7 percent. But there were fewer children 14 and older, suggesting that many parents still choose to leave the city when their children reach high school.
The new parents are largely in their 30s and early 40s, a combination of millennials born in the early 1980s and the youngest members of Generation X born in the late ’70s. The number of babies is expected to soar as more millennials, who tend to marry and start families later than previous generations did, reach their early and mid-30s.
The most striking increase has been among white infants and toddlers. Their ranks rose by 34 percent in the District even as white children younger than 5 declined by 3 percent nationwide. Demographer William Frey of the Brookings Institution said there’s a similar phenomenon in urban cores such as Manhattan, where young white professionals have settled and established lives before marriage and children. “They came for the bright lights of the city, and started dating and mating,” he said.
Jeff Fromm, vice president of Millennial Marketing, based in Kansas City, Mo., said research shows that about three in 10 millennial parents live in urban areas, while about half live in the suburbs. In the long term, he expects them to embrace city living more than previous generations. “They’ve grown up with the choice of having a car and not having one,” he said.
Although research into millennial parenting is just beginning, there are early indications that parents in this age group may be adopting a different approach than their own parents, particularly those hovering “helicopter parents” who built their lives around their kids, said MaryLeigh Bliss, trend editor of Ypulse, a New York-based marketing firm.
“They’re trying to find what works for everyone in the family,” she said, noting the prevalence of parents with young children in casual bistros and biergartens in urban neighborhoods of Philadelphia, Brooklyn and the District. “It doesn’t mean millennials put parenthood second,” Bliss said, citing Ypulse polling that shows half of 18- to 29-year-olds say being a good parent is more important than homeownership or a career. “But their definition of what makes a good parent is Mom and Dad being happy, and exposing their child to all the things that they have enjoyed.”
The District’s baby boom is spiking not only in neighborhoods that have long attracted families, such as the suburban-like Upper Northwest or family-friendly Capitol Hill. Babies and toddlers are often seen on city streets near downtown neighborhoods such as Logan and Dupont circles, 14th and U streets, Mount Pleasant and Columbia Heights, all better known as apartment- and condo-heavy havens for the young, single adults who are responsible for most of the District’s growth over the past decade.
And so in recently gentrified neighborhoods, it’s not uncommon to see mothers and nannies pushing strollers around the block for story hours at the public library in Shaw, and librarians at the Mount Pleasant branch distributing color-coded passes to keep attendance within fire-code limits. Birthday parties are big at Shaw’s Westminster playground, a pocket park where drug dealers operated not too long ago.
Parents who felt like pioneers a decade or so ago when they stayed in the city after having children are struck by the multitude of infants and toddlers they see now.
Evelyn Boyd Simmons, who has lived around Dupont and Logan circles for 25 years, remembers following other parents with strollers after she had her first child seven years ago and asking them what they planned to do about school.
“It was a time when the conventional wisdom was, you’ve got to leave when you have children, you don’t have a choice,” she said of 1998, when she bought a house in Logan Circle. “There are a lot more kids in the city now. People are not hightailing it for the hills as they used to once they had kids.”
Technology has been a significant factor in creating communities among parents trying to stay in the city with children.
Online connections for parents have grown exponentially: Penn Quarter Parents. U Street Tots. Moms in Logan Circle. Petworth Parents.
New mother Taylor Durant, 30, who lives with her husband, Clark, in a two-bedroom Woodley Park apartment, posted a query recently about finding a nanny for their 6-month-old daughter, Pepper. One woman responded with a spreadsheet ranking about 60 nannies she had interviewed. Durant also follows online chats about different schooling options, from charter schools to a home-schooling co-op.
Although they both grew up in the suburbs, the Durants prefer city living. They chafed at the suburban feel of Arlington County, where they lived briefly after moving from Brooklyn three years ago.
“We want to raise our kids in an environment that’s more cosmopolitan,” Clark Durant said, carrying Pepper while the family walked to dinner in Logan Circle.
Like the Durants, many of today’s new parents choose walking over driving and hate the thought of commuting to work.
“This generation is more concerned with today’s urban values,” said Jeffrey Steele, who started the online forum DC Urban Moms and Dads with his wife, Maria Sokurashvili, after their first child was born in 2000. “Though the city’s still very segregated, people are more into getting past those issues rather than moving apart from each other.”
Emily Scherer and her husband bought a two-bedroom house in Shaw in 2007, moving from an apartment near U Street. They had the first of two sons two years later, but they never considered leaving for the suburbs. “We love Metro, we love walking everywhere,” said Scherer, 37, a physician’s assistant. “I don’t know why others want to move out. I think it’s the idea of what the American Dream was. I would love my five acres and big French chateau, but I don’t want to drive to the grocery store, so it’s kind of a deal-breaker for me.”
Some parents caution that having a baby or a toddler in the city is far less challenging than raising a teenager there, and many of today’s new parents are likely to head to the suburbs as their children get older.
“There will always be attrition, and a lot of people are here only temporarily to begin with,” Boyd Simmons said. “The city has a really big stumbling block with making it all work and hang together as quickly as many of us need it to. The biggest potential for the city to grow and retain parents has got to be getting the schools right.”
The Asches have started to at least consider leaving the 14th Street corridor. They allow that some of their friends look incredulous when they see the family’s apartment of a little over 1,000 square feet: “What are you doing?” they ask. But the Asches are in no rush to leave for suburban life.
“I’d be spending my time off working in the yard,” Eric said.
“I’d be spending my time outside enjoying a big back yard,” Francine said. “But for now, Dupont, Logan Circle and the Mall are our back yard.”
Meanwhile, on the same floor of the Asche family’s building, three other women, all in their 30s, are expecting.
Ted Mellnik contributed to this report.