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District gaining more residents from outside the region

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Even as the District bleeds residents to the suburbs, it is gaining newcomers who are moving to the city from outside the region, new census data show.

More people relocate to the District each year from Manhattan than from Fairfax County. The District gains more residents from Chicago and Los Angeles than from Alexandria, with newcomers from Philadelphia and San Diego close behind. Eight of the top 15 places that people have left for the District are outside the region.

Census data released Wednesday show that migration patterns reflect a revitalized District that has been gaining residents for the first time in more than half a century. Most of the new arrivals are young adults who move here to attend college and stay, or arrive fresh from graduation to land their first professional jobs.

“The District is the place with day life and night life and action,” said William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. “People who come in and want to be part of it move into the District. In a lot of other places, they would move into the inner suburbs.”

Rachael King moved to the District from Raleigh, N.C., in 2007, one year out of college.

“I knew I wanted to live in a city,” said King, 28, a social-media strategist who is originally from the Boston area. She didn’t even consider the suburbs — “Not for any amount of money. If I was going to do it, I’d do it right and be near the action.”

She first settled around the U Street corridor and now lives in Bloomingdale, which she calls “the new U Street, where the hipsters are.” Most of the people she meets are from somewhere else.

The new census data show that most of the movement into and out of the District is from Prince George’s, Montgomery and Arlington counties. But every county in the region gained more residents from the District than it lost to the city.

For example, the census estimates that more than 6,000 people move into the District from Prince George’s every year. But at the same time, about 14,000 District residents move to Prince George’s. About 1,300 people move from Fairfax County to the District, but the city loses 2,300 people to that county.

Harriet Tregoning, the city’s planning director, said that throughout the past decade, the District has been gradually trimming its losses to the suburbs while increasing its gains from outside the region.

“More people are choosing to come to the District than was the case in the past,” she said. “Our investments in liveable neighborhoods and transportation are paying off.”

Virtually every corner of the Washington region has been a magnet for newcomers from afar, said Jim Dinegar, head of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. It’s the only metropolitan area in the country that has grown in size every year for more than two decades, he said. Even the recession only slowed the growth, from a gain of as much as 50,000 a year to 30,000 now.

People who select the District tend to be young, urban professionals, said Dinegar, who moved to Washington from New York 30 years ago to attend college and never left.

“Here, you always feel welcome, you’re never made to feel like an outsider,” he said. Comparing the District to Charlotte, he added: “If you’re not from there, you’re not welcome to the community.”

Dinegar said he thinks the District will remain a magnet for years to come.

“There’s some real vibrancy in the region,” he said, “and a big part of that is the District.”

Staff researcher Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

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