D.C. population soars past 600,000 for first time in years

Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, December 22, 2010; 12:27 AM

Reversing a half-century of decline, the District's population grew more than 5 percent over the decade and sailed past 600,000 residents for the first time in a generation.

The city gained almost 30,000 people since the last census, and more than a third are thought to have moved into the District in the past two years alone, amid a brutal recession. It was the biggest spike since the end of World War II, when the city had 802,000 people. Every census since 1950 has taken the District on a downward trajectory.

Growth has swelled the number of residents in every quadrant of the city and shifted the District's racial and ethnic mix. Whites and Hispanics have been moving in, while many African Americans have left and might be a minority before the next census is taken.

City officials were exultant at a population count that confirms the city's resurgence, repeating the exact count of 601,723, down to the last citizen.

Planning Director Harriet Tregoning called it a "huge milestone." Joy Phillips, associate director of the State Data Center, said it was "a dream realized." Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said it was an endorsement of the work his administration has done.

"It certain reflects the success of the city and the greater Washington region in terms of proving its resilience and stability through the economic troubles of the past few years," said Matt Erskine, vice president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. "There's a very tangible buzz that the city possesses right now."

The District is treated like a state by the census and is the only city that learned its population Tuesday, when the Census Bureau announced state population counts and how many seats each will get in the House of Representatives. Virginia's population rose 13 percent, to 8 million; Maryland's went up 9 percent, to 5.8 million.

When more detailed data are released in February and March, several other cities, including San Francisco and Boston, will probably show upticks, too.

But the District owes its rebound to more than just a national back-to-the-cities movement with young adults and empty nesters gravitating to center cities. The city expanded through a decade in which government grew in response to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and the financial crisis that led to the recession.

The phenomenon is not new: Almost from its inception, the District has thrived during bad times.

Boom times

Its biggest growth spurt was around the Civil War - the city leapt in size by 75 percent. The Great Depression decade of the 1930s was another boom time, expanding the city population by 36 percent.

It reached its peak in 1950 after a decade dominated by World War II. The city was able to accommodate more than 800,000 residents because large swaths of what is now a downtown of office buildings were neighborhoods of Victorian rowhouses, said Adam Lewis, interim director of the Historical Society of Washington, D.C.

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