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In Much of Upper NW, It's Highchair Seating Only

By Peter Whoriskey
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 2, 2005; Page C01

The population of the nation's capital has dropped in every census since 1950, a shrinking lamented as a sign of city blight and the lure of the suburbs. But in one corner of Northwest Washington, there have arrived small but numerous indicators of a demographic comeback.

Kids are everywhere.

Janine Kraft, holding the hand of Helen, 3, and pushing Smith, 18 months, walks to a farmers market at the Sheridan School. Behind them, Kraft's husband, Brian, walks with her mother, Lynne Smith. (Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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The number of babies born annually to parents in Upper Northwest neighborhoods has jumped 30 percent or more since the mid-1990s, vital statistics data show, even as the number of births has been on a steady decline almost everywhere else in the city.

The rise transforms some neighborhoods into what look like urban nurseries: At 2 Amys, a restaurant near Washington National Cathedral, kids nibble on risotto croquettes and meatballs; at the wonk-friendly Politics & Prose bookstore on upper Connecticut Avenue, kids overflow story hour, their strollers jamming the sidewalks; and at public and private pre-schools, kids' names fill out very long wait lists.

"When we opened three years ago, we never really counted on a big family crowd," said Tim Giamette, manager of 2 Amys, which features such items as cuttlefish stewed with chickpeas and fennel with Gorgonzola. "But the kids just started rolling in. We have about 24 booster seats and 18 highchairs, and we still run out. It's amazing."

For some longtime residents of Northwest, today's baby boom harks back to a different time.

"When I first came here in the late '60s, there were all these big families -- six or seven children," said Peggy Flynn, children's librarian at the Chevy Chase D.C. branch. "Then we saw a huge drop."

Now families seem to be back, she said. One difference: Incomes are far higher, and domestic arrangements have changed. Now when kids come to story hour, she noted, "most of them are with their nannies."

Bill Feeney, an architect who lives and works in Upper Northwest, experienced the baby boom both as a father of two in his neighborhood and in the changing demand from clients.

People in the neighborhood wanted additions to accommodate larger households: a family room, an extra bedroom.

"When I started in 1997, people just wanted to have their attic or basement redone, because if they were having kids, they weren't expecting to stay," Feeney said. "Now they're staying."

Even a modest home in Upper Northwest can sell for more than $600,000 and often much more, residents said. "When the values are that high, it's easier to get your money back out of the addition," Feeney said.

Irene Creed, a real estate agent who works in Upper Northwest, said that of the last 20 deals she's done, 18 have involved young couples who are about to have a child or who had a child recently. "It's a wonderful sign for the city," said Creed, a lifelong resident of the area.

From 1994 to 2002, the large swath of all District neighborhoods west of Rock Creek Park showed an increase in births of 33 percent, from 910 to 1,214, according to city data. Similarly, a handful of prosperous Capitol Hill neighborhoods showed a jump in annual births of 79 percent, from 44 to 79, over that time.

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