The District’s expansion is all the more remarkable when compared to the rest of the country, which is experiencing its slowest growth since the end of World War II.
The District’s population figures cap a decade of success in maneuvering a turnaround in the city’s fortunes, and its image. Barely 15 years ago, the District had a widespread reputation for having streets that wouldn’t get plowed after a winter storm and that were crime-ridden in any season. Now, the District routinely shows up on lists of cool cities where young people gravitate, and it is drawing as many young adults as ultra-hip Austin and Portland.
Three in four newcomers in recent years have been between the ages of 18 and 34. They have zero interest in the suburbs.
“We’re still young. We don’t think of ourselves as suburban people yet,” said Kristina Montanero, 26, who moved to the District from Nashville a year ago after her fiance got hired by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. They settled in a one-bedroom apartment near Chinatown. They expect to remain in the city when their lease ends in February, and they want to explore looking for another apartment in Dupont Circle or Logan Circle.
City officials could barely contain their enthusiasm over the population growth.
Harriet Tregoning, the city’s planning director, pronounced it “epic” and noted that if the pace continues, the city will crack the 700,000 mark before the end of the decade.
“I kept saying, please let it not be a bubble,” she said. “Let it really be about growth in the city.”
There are signs that the city is poised to keep getting bigger. In the first nine months of this year, the city approved building permits for 3,000 new housing units, which Tregoning called an all-time record.
But some demographers warned that federal budget cuts could slow or even stall growth in the region. Maryland grew nine-tenths of 1 percent, the same as the nation, and Virginia was up 1.2 percent.
“If there are significant cuts to federal spending, positions could be cut and fewer people will come here,” said Lisa Ann Sturtevant, a researcher with George Mason University’s Center for Regional Analysis. “That’s as true for the Virginia suburbs and Maryland as it is for the District.”
The leap in population came almost nine years after former Mayor Anthony Williams set a goal of attracting 100,000 new residents to the District over a decade. He took over the city at its low point of 572,000 residents. At 618,000, the city is not quite halfway there and is farther still from its high of 802,000 residents in 1950.
But many long-time residents say they can see the city’s transformation every day.