‘Echo boomers’ flock to the District, Arlington
Amy Vance left the District for Arlington County two years ago to be closer to her husband’s job without feeling that they were giving up the vibrancy of city life.
“I liked living in D.C., a lot,” said Vance, 31, as she walked her dog, Chewy, near the Courthouse, one of Arlington’s most popular neighborhoods for adults in their late 20s and early 30s. “But Arlington’s quieter and more walkable. I feel like I’m still living in the city.”
More than anyplace else in the Washington region, Arlington and the District have been successful in attracting an outsize number of residents between the ages 25 to 34, census statistics show. These young adults, part of a generation known as “echo boomers,” are one of the fastest-growing age groups in the United States, second only to people 55 to 64, a cohort swollen by baby boomers.
In the past two years, the number of people in the 25-to-34 age cohort increased by 12 percent in the District and 10 percent in Arlington, far above the national average of 3 percent and the regional average of 6 percent.
Across the nation, the echo boomer population has spiked near military installations and in Texas oil boom country. But this age group also is fueling growth around cities such as Morgantown, W.Va.; Richmond; Charleston, S.C.; and New Orleans.
Still young and with more money to spend than new college grads, they have sparked much of the transformation of Arlington and the District during the past decade. Government policies have been devised to lure them, and apartment buildings, restaurants, specialty supermarkets and bike lanes have sprung up to reel in even more.
Demographers are watching to see if they will move to more distant suburbs — particularly those who had children after the recession began and may be waiting before leaping into bigger houses elsewhere. For the moment, however, many echo boomers are hewing to a different pattern from previous generations.
Instead of heading for more car-centric suburbs as soon as they start having children, many are sticking around the urban core close to Metro stations.
“What you’re seeing in Arlington and Washington is that you can live here without a car,” said Harriet Tregoning, director of the District’s Office of Planning. She says that is a boon for people who owe a lot of money on college loans: “If you don’t have a car, you can pay off your college debt quickly. As long as it’s expensive to go to college, we have a competitive advantage.”
Proximity to Metro was important to David Kunz, 32, when he decided to rent an apartment in Arlington’s Courthouse neighborhood after he and his wife and son moved from Dubai to Virginia last year. They didn’t own a car, and he could ride Metro to his job as a database administrator and walk to the supermarket and parks.
“It’s close enough to the city, and it’s a good mix of city and family-oriented suburban life,” he said. “There’s a Metro station. And restaurants nearby if we choose not to cook.”
Arlington officials boast of having the nation’s highest proportion of residents in that age span — 28 percent — running just ahead of Alexandria, New York, the District and San Francisco.
“We’re number one,” said Andrew D’Huyvetter, an urban planner with the county.
That’s largely thanks to people in their 20s, he added. Many drift away in their 30s. Still, Arlington’s concentration in that age group is double that of Montgomery and Fairfax counties.
The densest clusters of these young adults stretch along the Metro line and in Crystal City and Pentagon City, said D’Huyvetter, likening those areas to the District’s core, where many Arlington residents work and socialize.
“They’re typically near Metro, in walkable locations,” he said. “You can hop on Metro in Clarendon and be in downtown D.C. in 20 minutes.”
Arlington has built its popularity with young adults by providing a less gritty alternative to the District — sort of D.C. Light. It has many big-city amenities, such as convenient public transportation and enough restaurants, bars and movie theaters to justifiably claim a night life. But the apartment stock is mostly newer and larger than what’s available for the price in the District.
“I’m from the suburbs,” said Samantha Bullock, 26, who grew up in Fairfax and moved to Arlington in 2009 after graduating from college in Lynchburg. “D.C. isn’t really my thing. It has no parking, and too many people everywhere. But in Arlington, there’s enough young people, great restaurants and great night life. There’s always something to do.”
Census statistics show the Metro corridor that is home to so many young adults in Arlington is noticeably less diverse than the District and the rest of the region. Near the Court House station, two in three residents are white. Near the Clarendon station, eight in 10 are.
Comedian Remy Munasifi’s viral YouTube video, “Arlington: The Rap,” poked fun at Arlington’s young would-be hipsters, skewering the Starbucks-on-every-corner phenomenon, guys in brown flip-flops and the reluctance of Arlingtonians to board Metro’s Green Line.
Some residents say they rarely venture into the District. On a weekend afternoon, the Clarendon and Courthouse neighborhoods bustle with young adults heading in and out of restaurants, walking dogs, jogging or heading home carrying grocery bags from Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods.
Whitney Bossin, 28, and Ryan Burns, 29, ended up in Arlington when they moved to the area from New York this spring and couldn’t find an apartment in their price range in the District.
“It’s kind of cute,” Bossin said of Arlington as she took her pug, Charlie, for a stroll. “It’s the suburbs, but it’s not too removed.”
Lisa Sturtevant, deputy director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said Arlington clearly benefits from the inclination of people to remain in a city or suburb rather than face a long commute.
Sturtevant said she notices young couples pushing baby strollers around Clarendon, a sight she rarely saw a few years ago. She has heard of apartment companies contemplating turning their buildings’ party rooms into playrooms for children and residents building additions onto small homes and duplexes.
But she isn’t sure that will continue. “There’s a sense that people have decided to grow families in urban environments in a way they haven’t before,” she conceded. “But the lure of suburbs is strong culturally. When new construction picks up in the suburbs and housing bounces back, they may move” farther out.
Some residents, however, see Arlington as a place where they can settle in for the long term.
Adam Miller, 26, a clinical psychology student at George Mason, has lived for two years in a Ballston condo with his partner. They each have cars that they drive to jobs outside the Beltway.
Although their careers may lead them to leave the area in the future, Miller and his partner have discussed settling down in Arlington. “If we come back and raise a family, it will be in Arlington. The neighborhoods are safe. There’s lots of community involvement. And the schools are awesome.”
For now, he said, they are enjoying living in-between in Arlington.
“Arlington is a compromise between living in D.C. and way out in the suburbs,” he said. “It’s still got that big-city feel, but it’s small enough to feel connected to the neighborhoods around you.”