March of the millennials
They belong to the ill-defined cohort known variously as millennials, echo boomers or Generation Y. Their ages range from 24 to 34, or perhaps 18 to 36, or even 21 to 30, depending on which firm is polling. They’ve been called the “Me, Me, Me Generation” by Time magazine, “screwed” by Newsweek and Salon, “entitled” by just about everyone.
And many don’t like the term “millennial,” a word one online commenter called “a dumb way for baby boomers to other-ise the generation that they’ve saddled with all the world’s biggest problems.”
This collection looks at the impact millennials are having on Washington, D.C., how they differ from older generations of Washingtonians, what they think about the city, and, perhaps most importantly, what could convince them to stay.
There’s one thing about this demographic that’s indisputable, however: It is having a huge impact on Washington, D.C. Almost all of the District’s population growth between 2000 and 2010 was due to young adults age 20 to 34, whose numbers swelled 23 percent. Though the influx has slowed somewhat, the latest round of census figures showed that half of the District’s population growth between 2010 and 2012 was from millennials.
Many of these young people were drawn here by the jobs our relatively protected economy provides, as well as by D.C.’s good and evil twins: ambition and idealism.
But millennials are hearing new notes in the city’s siren song: more apartments and condos (26,000 added in the past 10 years, according to Delta Associates, and more coming); more restaurants (709 between 2001 and 2011, says the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington, a 50 percent increase); more bike lanes; more opportunities in sectors the District hasn’t traditionally been known for, such as technology and the arts.
Photos: Millennial readers share their photos of Washington with WP Magazine.
Clockwise from top left: immigration rally courtesy Francisco Lopez; U street courtesy Jackeline Stewart; Peregrine Espresso truck courtesy Erin Connealy; RFK Stadium parking lot courtesy Ashley Morton.
Some of these changes mirror what’s going on nationally, as millennials migrate to urban centers. Some can be credited to a decades-long, carefully crafted development campaign by District planners desperate to counter the 50-year trend of population loss and middle-class flight fueled by suburbanization, the riots of the late 1960s and the construction of the Metro system.
Along with the growth has come buzz. To longtime residents, the city feels different, in some places, almost unrecognizable. Once-dead streets are bustling, even after dark. High-rises are replacing aged structures and overgrown lots. Restaurants pop up overnight, like dandelions. Pedestrians have to look both ways for bicycles.
The rep tie has a new friend in the skinny tie, and millennial women wouldn’t be caught dead commuting in ankle socks and sneakers over pantyhose. Some observers claim the District is getting hip, which even its most ardent fans might think is going a little too far.
With this issue of the Magazine and upcoming stories in the daily paper, Post staffers present a look at Washington’s millennials moment, which is full of fizz and optimism yet carries undercurrents of concern about residents who remain underserved or displaced and the loss of character to uninspired development.
In these pages, we’ll visit four neighborhoods being transformed by millennials, consider what makes this generation of Washingtonians different, and hear, in their own voices, what they think about this District of Change.
The hipsters and the oldsters
Two guys on adjacent benches in Logan Circle on a recent weekday afternoon, feeding the pigeons.
One is an older gent, black, rumpled clothes, talking loud. The other is a young dude, white, hipster black-frame glasses. The Victorian rowhouses ringing the circle look on, as they have for the past hundred years and change.
“I’s born in 1940,” says the gent.
The kid says something soft in return. The old guy says, “Mr. Roosevelt declared war on Japan.” The breeze brings a hint of alcohol. The sky is the blue of the ocean in dreams. Midafternoon, first kiss of fall. Now there is talk about the uses for pigeons.
“You could fry them up and eat them,” says the man.
“I’m a vegetarian,” says the kid with a laugh.
The old man goes to Bible stories, and the young white woman one bench farther down doesn’t even look up; she’s marking papers, sunglasses on, a yoga mat and big bottle of Gatorade tucked beside her hip.
This is what it feels like now, Logan Circle and Shaw, the millennials and the geriatrics, the former borne on a tide of iPhones and reservations at Le Diplomate, the latter on an outgoing wash of “I saw Adam Clayton Powell Jr. at Vermont Avenue Baptist Church.”
Condos with swimming pools, Zipcars and tablets; this is how it is.
The 25-to-34-year-old population shot up 54 percent between 2000 and 2010 in the two Northwest Washington neighborhoods, and it’s still rocketing. Thirteen restaurants and bars have opened on 14th Street in the past 21 months, and 14 more are in the works. Ghibellina, B Too, Black Whiskey. Developers are turning the old Central Union Mission into a retail/condo mix. If this place had a soundtrack, it’d be jackhammers, buzz saws and cash registers at the P Street Whole Foods.
“I’m almost [nervous] going to 14th Street on weekend evenings, because it’s just so crowded,” says Svetlana Legetic, co-founder of Brightest Young Things, a Web site covering the D.C. restaurant, club and lifestyle scene. “It’s all like Le Diplomate: an abandoned laundromat, and now it’s like a movie set. It’s the number one place in the city you’d want to take someone from out of town to show off.”
A one-bedroom condo around here will run you $300,000; can you believe that? When this place was big with hookers and the breaking-and-entering crowd in the ’70s, ’80s, ’90s? A good rowhouse will run you $1 million, easy, but a few of the old-timers still live in places with peeling paint and window units chuffing in the heat.
Sample row of stores on 14th Street: Miss Pixie’s (“Furniture and Whatnot”), Crossfit DC (boutique gym), Batch 13 (upscale liquor store) and Crown Pawnbrokers. People passing by: a woman pushing a stroller, a transvestite with suede boots and a sleeveless green shirt, a guy in slacks and a dress shirt just getting off a scooter.
“A nice mix any time of day,” says Jennifer Myers, 34, a real-estate agent who bought a condo here four years ago and does a brisk business on neighborhood places.
A couple of blocks over, the historic Vermont Avenue Baptist Church still has its storied stained glass and steeple, but now across a narrow parking lot sits Logan Station, a mid-rise, 63-unit condo development. “Stroll to morning cafes, the nearby Studio Theater and to evening wine bars … ” reads its ad.
You want to furnish a place like that, you stop in at Room & Board. The AC makes you blink, and a woman sits on a stool typing on a keyboard, acting as if she doesn’t see you, and here’s a glass-front bookcase, chest-high, for just $2,599.
Wander to the alleys, and even they are clean: Not much graffiti, lots of no-parking signs. Steel garage doors blocking off the yards. Elevated wooden decks with Volvos tucked beneath.
Mention alleys to Tim Christensen, president of the Logan Circle Community Association, who moved here in 1989, and he’ll tell you about the days when heroin addicts used to shoot up behind his place, or maybe the one about looking out in the alley one night and seeing a guy and a prostitute going at it on the trunk of his car.
Go back further, though, you get the glory years of black Washington: Duke Ellington growing up in the 1800 block of 13th Street NW, staying at the Whitelaw Hotel (now an apartment building) after he got to be a star. Mary McLeod Bethune’s house, now a historic site, at 1318 Vermont Ave. NW. The Saturday night salons at Georgia Douglas Johnson’s rowhouse, there at 1461 S St. NW. Think of it! Jean Toomer, Langston Hughes, Alain Locke, the Harlem Renaissance personified!
Edward P. Jones, perhaps the greatest novelist in the city’s history, lived at 1217 N St. NW when he was in high school in the late 1960s.
He was there recently, visiting a friend in a nearby nursing home, and a lady who lived in a spiffy new townhouse across the street sat on the porch and “looked at me like I was not supposed to be in this neighborhood. You’re born and raised there; you don’t want to feel that way.”
Restaurants and yoga mats and pinot noir, Logan Circle and Shaw, 2013. Someone should take a picture. Fifty years from now, kids won’t believe how it was, that it looked this way.
Post College but pre-‘real’
Almost 50 people are packed onto the rooftop of the Meridian at Gallery Place, filling every chaise longue that hugs the perimeter of the pool and extends along the side of the building, far from the water’s edge. If you were playing some “The Price Is Right”-style guessing game approximating ages of the poolside people, the highest you’d want to bid without going over would be maybe 30 years old.
Derek Rogers, a 23-year-old Meridian resident and an associate at a consulting firm, summed it up like so: “The pool is where you really see the colors of the building. It is a frat party. With less restrictions.”
Picture: the last Saturday in August. The midafternoon sun is pulling “now you see me, now you don’t” tricks, ducking in and out of clouds. Post-grad paraphernalia is scattered about: cardboard boxes of Bud Light and Corona Light, red Solo cups, brown paper bags from Trader Joe’s. Tattoos peek out from neon bikinis and bro tanks in all the predictable places – wrapped around upper arms, perched on shoulder blades, high on the hipbones and insides of ankles – and music is blasting. It’s Avicii’s “Levels,” sampling Etta James’s “Something’s Got a Hold on Me”: Ooooh, sometimes, I get a good feeling. I get a feeling that I never, never, never, never had before.
Beyond the rooftop, deeper in Chinatown, a crane looms. We’re at 450 Massachusetts Ave. NW, two blocks north of the Gallery Place-Chinatown Metro station, a few blocks east of the hole in the ground that used to be NPR, just north of the strip of restaurants that constitutes the most Chinese part of Chinatown – not to be confused with the myriad all-American restaurants bearing Chinese lettering on their signs – and smack at the nucleus of one of the most millennial-filled apartment buildings in one of the most millennial-filled neighborhoods in Washington. According to the 2010 Census, 5,645 residents in the Chinatown/Penn Quarter/Mount Vernon Square/North Capitol Street census tract were between ages 25 and 34 – an increase of 235 percent in 10 years.
Chinatown doesn’t have everything, but it has enough of the right things to attract millennials by the bunch: central location and multiple enormous, relatively new apartment buildings that boast the sort of amenities people in their 20s value (a rooftop pool, a gym in the building, laundry on the floor). The two qualities millennials say the neighborhood lacks – decent night life and that rowhouse-y charm of “real” D.C. – are just a cab or Metro ride away.
Plenty of other nearby apartment buildings house their fair share of young people: Massachusetts Court, 425 Mass Apartments, Avalon at Gallery Place. But those addresses lack a certain je ne sais Forever 21. The Passover-ish question becomes: Why is this building different from all other buildings? In all other buildings, we see people of varying ages. Why in this building does everyone look about 25?
“It’s 100 percent the sunrooms,” said Paige Hughes, property manager at the Meridian at Gallery Place. “And the sunrooms are actual living spaces. They’re temperature-controlled, they have outlets, cable outlets, phone line [capabilities], everything.”
The builder thought sunrooms would be more practical than balconies and could be used as dining or sitting areas. Of the 462 apartments in the Meridian, 449 have the glass-enclosed spaces, which, it turns out, renters are using as bedrooms instead.
The 12-by-9-foot rooms can hold a queen-size bed, though “a full is more ideal,” Hughes said, making it possible to use a one-bedroom apartment with sunroom as a smaller-yet-cheaper two-bedroom. One-bedroom/one-sunroom units rent for between $2,300 and $2,650 a month; a traditional two-bedroom would set renters back $3,250 to $4,050, Hughes said.
Roxy Jahangeri, who lives in a sunroom, is lounging on the sunny side of the pool with her roommate Katie Iobst and their friend Adam Kirilichin.
Jahangeri, a 25-year-old systems analyst, moved into the Meridian because “I heard it was full of really awesome people, young professionals. Sort of that college feel, but not college.”
Kirilichin, 23, who lives at 425 Mass, cut in: “The Meridian is the dorm room for post-grads.”
“You really do see just people your age, everywhere,” Jahangeri said.
Are millennials moving into your neighborhood?
The millennials influence changes across the District. They move into homes in neighborhoods that their grandparents’ generation may have left for the suburbs. They’re a prime target of the dozens of new apartments and condos, coffee shops and restaurants and other businesses that are remaking a central swath of the city from Capitol Hill to Columbia Heights.
The fastest-growing millennial populations
Areas with largest gains in population ages 23-34, from 2000 to 2010
SOURCE: U.S. Census, D.C. Office of Planning neighborhood clusters. GRAPHIC: Ted Mellnik, Katie Park and Laris Karklis.
So how old is too old to live in the Meridian? “Twenty-five,” Jahangeri said. “I think we’re at that point. Maybe 26.”
“Would you like four walls to your bedroom?” asked Iobst, who is 25 and in business development. “Maybe.”
“Or a little more privacy? Maybe,” Jahangeri added.
Though she thinks she’ll grow out of the Meridian, Jahangeri, who was raised in Virginia, said she’d love to stay in Chinatown.
“I’ve been [in the region since] I was 8 years old,” she said. “This area, 10 years ago, I could not even step foot in it without being scared about it. And now it’s this booming part of D.C., which is such an amazing thing.”
Rogers said he’d feel “awkward” living here if he were older than 30. When his mother visited on the Fourth of July weekend, “she felt like she was visiting me in college.”
For now, though, the Meridian is providing him “a good transition. ” he said. “Even though I feel like a real person, I’m not yet.”
The last days of dance
At 10 p.m. on a typical weekend, signs of the night to come begin to show up on First Street NE. Young ladies in skimpy club gear line up against the wall outside Ibiza Nightclub, a former warehouse now bearing a fancy cursive metal logo, while luxury cars with shiny rims file past. Bouncers trade stories about the club security scene: confrontations and particularly attractive women figure prominently.
From the gathering action, you wouldn’t know that this bar has been struggling to stay afloat.
Over the years, Ibiza has transformed from a local landing zone for big-time electronica DJs to a showcase for new hip-hop stars such as Atlanta mixtape rappers Migos. Some neighbors uncharitably call its denizens “ratchet.” City activists have accused it of selling alcohol to underage patrons and of being an incubator of violence.
Just a couple of blocks west, across North Capitol Street is Tyler House, a housing complex beset with its own problems, including a mass shooting earlier this year and a stretch of neighboring properties that remain vacant despite the city’s decade-old promise to redevelop them.
But the greatest challenge for the club could from the east, where what used to be an urban wasteland has become a developer’s dream. This is a neighborhood that didn’t even exist a few years ago, newly dubbed NoMa, for north of Massachusetts Avenue.
The very name, with its echoes of New York’s iconic Soho, sounds like a joke to some people, and both its boundaries and its identity remain unclear. Yet between 2000 and 2010, the census tract that includes NoMa saw a 26 percent increase in millennials. Many have been attracted by the apartments being built near the Metro station, which opened in 2004 as the New York Avenue-Florida Avenue-Gallaudet U. station and was renamed NoMa-Gallaudet in 2012. There are new offices, too, including the controversial new NPR headquarters. During the day, workers populate the area — busying about between the buildings and the Metro.
The new commercial strip on First Street feels like Anywhere, America. A Potbelly, Starbucks, CVS, Wells Fargo and Unleashed by Petco all opened in the past three years.
Rick Francona, an Oregon military analyst who lived in Northern Virginia back in the day, recently visited Washington on business.
“When they first told me they were putting me [at a hotel] in Northeast, I kind of [shuddered]. I’m thinking 1970s Northeast. When I got here, I walked down the street, and it looked like Manhattan.”
Fabian Curiel, 27, moved from an apartment near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station to NoMa’s Flats 130 at Constitution
Square in August partly because he liked the grocery store, which opened in 2010 to great fanfare in the underserved area. “I would shop there, and I was like, ‘I don’t even live here, but I shop here,’ ” says Curiel, who works for Groupon.
But he acknowledges that the neighborhood has a lot of work to do before it becomes a destination. “I think it will work out in the end, the long run. NoMa will be a place to come, but it’s not there yet, and it won’t be for a while.”
Millennials are leaving their mark on D.C.
Out front at the Pearl Dive Oyster Palace on 14th Street, Anjali Das (far left) talks with Candice Egan, Sebastian Sutherland, and Tori Haussler during Friday happy hour. (Lucian Perkins/For The Washington Post)
That becomes obvious as the sun goes down on the weekends. Nightlife in NoMa is minimal. For the most part, newer residents stay in their apartments. Guests at the Hilton Garden Inn exit their taxis and go to their rooms. The hotel bar has become a spot for regulars from the neighborhood, and it closes at 9.
An hour later, when the security gate rolls up at Ibiza, a completely different crowd turns up. This is the kind of place where no one is wearing enough clothes, if you ask their parents. A beat-up Corolla playing 2 Chainz nearly collides with a guy on a bicycle from Capital Bikeshare. A group of young military men say wryly that they’re there for “good, clean fun.”
Most of the attendees seem to be in their late teens, early 20s. The employees, dressed in black, charge them $25 to skip the line, $20 if they don’t. The front room, with its picture-taking catwalk and massive chandelier opens to a huge dance hall in the back. Many of the security detail seem friendly enough, but they maintain control.
Ibiza is already feeling the effects of gentrification. Noise complaints from clients of a newly built hotel tamped down on the club’s rooftop operation a couple of years ago. Though the parties continue, the ownership group has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the club is for sale (a currently unused nude dancing license potentially included).
“It hurts,” said Aldo Truong, 29, owner and managing partner. “Ibiza, to all of the operating owners here and silent partners that we have, it’s been like our baby for the past 6 1/2, seven years. We would hate to see it go down.”
Still, even he sees benefits in the new development. “The neighborhood has definitely changed for the better. The NoMa [Business
Improvement District] came in and started putting up a brand-new neighborhood right on our street. There was nothing on First
Street. We were the first ones here.”
Now he hopes they won’t be the next to go.
Can the spirit stay unbroken?
It’s poetic, this sense of community that wafts and winds through this tiny Northeast neighborhood.
Several of its streets dead-end against the dead – two graveyards up against all the life-churning and change swirling around the rowhouses on the east side of North Capitol Street and just south of Michigan Avenue.
Even the name is made for a poem.
In the 1950s and ’60s, the strivers, living by grit and grace, bought homes and carved out a haven in a largely de facto segregated city beneath the Mason-Dixon line but out of Jim Crow’s deadliest grasp.
In Washington, at least, there were jobs and possibility. Dignity.
In city pockets such as this, they muscled dreams into reality, raised their children, built their lives. And their boys played baseball – and found themselves a fitting name: Stronghold. It is a name worthy of the bone-deep community spirit breathing through the bricks here.
Except now Stronghold is in the middle of a perfect storm of gentrification. Many of those early home buyers are disappearing – moving on or dying off – and their children are selling.
Young home buyers seeking an entry point into this city’s pricey real estate are landing in Stronghold. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of millennials jumped 53 percent in the census tract that includes the neighborhood. Even students from nearby universities are here; one street alone includes Howard, Catholic and Trinity students.
For both buyers and sellers, Stronghold offers opportunity. For the many longtime residents who remain, there is history and hope, and for some a gnawing question: What might be slipping from their grasp? A rowhouse can stand for centuries, but the fabric of a place can fray, unravel right before your eyes.
This is the dual reality of Stronghold for two young couples.
C. Devi Bengfort-Keller, 27, and Andy Keller, 30, bought their house a year ago. They had been in the District for 2 and 1/2 years and had already been thinking about buying when their landlady told them she was returning to the Bloomingdale home they had been renting.
“We had a price range in mind, and we were looking all over the city,” says Devi, who works in global policy. “Looked in Bloomingdale,
Petworth, Trinidad and, of course, Stronghold.”
Adds Andy, marketing director at a Maryland craft distillery: “Stronghold was definitely a better financial choice for us.”
“It’s still a good deal compared to what’s happening in the city as a whole,” says Devi. “But prices are rising extremely fast in this neighborhood.” Homes sold for an average of $500,000 in the past year; several recent offerings are listed at $699,000.
Latoria and David Brent weren’t much older than the Kellers when they moved from Fort Washington into David’s family home in 2008. Stronghold is where David’s dad grew up and where his grandmother lived until she passed. Now, Addison, their 3-year-old daughter, sleeps in what was once her great-grandmother’s bedroom.
“I think as college-educated, professional people, we could live anywhere,” Latoria, 34, an entrepreneur, says. “It’s a family issue. … It’s about family history, being here. And it’s also about family wealth.”
She and David, a 36-year-old federal worker, shake their heads at so many people letting go of family property.
“These houses have been in families for generations,” David says. “When Big Mama dies, people sell the house off.”
Ward 5 council member Kenyan McDuffie, 38, knows all sides of this equation.
He knows how it feels to be priced out; he and his wife initially couldn’t afford a home in Stronghold. He knows the pull of history, too: Stronghold is where his grandparents bought in 1951, and where his parents bought from them, in 1975. It is the place where, as kids, he, his father and uncles all scratched their names into a brick wall, and where those names are still visible. And now it is where he and his wife, who bought his childhood home from his parents in 2007, are raising their two daughters.
“I love being here,” he says. When he was growing up, “everyone knew everyone, and all the parents knew each other.” McDuffie can still point at a home and name out the homes and names of the families who live or lived there. But he can also point at out the house that was sold for almost $300,000 last year, renovated, then resold for $700,000.
He understands those “who are concerned about the pace of gentrification,” he says. He is, too, but change, he thinks, is inevitable. He supports the development at McMillan Reservoir across North Capitol Street, for example, though some fear it will erase too much history and create too much traffic.
Evidence of that change is at All Nations Baptist Church on North Capitol, where black and white members of the civic association are discussing issues such as support for the community’s seniors.
Latoria Brent is there. Across the table sit Devi Bengfort-Keller and Andy Keller, who hadn’t even heard of Stronghold before they bought here – Realtors often list it as nearby Brookland – and who say the close-knit community is its best feature.
“We have older African American families that have lived there [a long time] and … we have younger couples who are moving in, and they tend to be not African American,” Devi says. “Everyone gets along really well.”
The city suits them, too. “It has a lot of good culture, museums … hiking and outdoor activities. It really fits who we are,” Devi says.
The Brents also relish the city’s culture and diversity. Latoria is running for civic association president, and she and David are expecting their second child.
Both couples are building lives here. And in All Nations on a Monday night, it feels like maybe there’s a chance to grasp onto something with a strong hold.