DC’s Twentysomething Conundrum

by Shilpi Paul

DC's Twentysomething Conundrum: Figure 1

This weekend, The Washington Post’s Jonathan O’Connell wrote an op-ed that spoke to the troubles that DC may have keeping twentysomethings in the city as they move to their next phase in life.

Starting with an initiative by Mayor Anthony Williams, the city has been intentionally drawing in young people for the past decade, resulting in a city full of bars and bike lanes. The influx of youth has also resulted in a slew of new apartment and condo projects filled with an inventory of one-bedrooms and limited or no parking spaces.

O’Connell attached a few numbers that support the thesis that DC has become a young adult town. At 48 percent, the city has the highest percentage of one-person households in the country. The number of bedrooms per apartment has shrunk by 10 percent since a decade ago, and 68 restaurants and 74 taverns emerged between 2007 and 2011. The plan to make DC friendly to young people was certainly a success. But now, O’Connell thinks, DC needs to create a new plan to keep not-as-young people around.

To be sure, there are people from this group that have grown up and are carving out spaces in the District for their families. O’Connell, for one, lives with his family in Petworth, a neighborhood full of single-family homes (though the bar scene is growing), and we recently profiled Woodridge, a neighborhood up Rhode Island Avenue with large, affordable family-sized houses and an active group of residents, many young parents, who are trying to turn an empty commercial strip into one that’s appropriate for them.

But by O’Connell’s assessment DC is still lacking a number of things that would keep the soon-to-be thirtysomethings around: parks, good schools, family restaurants and libraries, homes with three or four bedrooms that aren’t prohibitively expensive, and proximate parking for vehicles filled with car seats and abundant groceries.

Though the city doesn’t have a plan laid out, some officials have started thinking about how to keep families here. According to the piece, Director of the Office of Planning Harriet Tregoning is currently trying to figure out how to encourage parents to send their kids to schools within the neighborhood, rather than send them to better schools farther away.

For the young adults out there, do you consider DC to be a city suitable for you as you move on to the next stage of your life?

See other articles related to: policy, generation y, families, editors choice

This article originally published at https://dc.urbanturf.com/articles/blog/young_people_flocked_to_dc_but_what_happens_when_they_grow_up/5589


  1. Eric said at 8:44 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    To answer your ending question, as a 26-year old I'd love to be able to say that DC is appropriate as I get older, but can't just yet. Unless I can find a way to pay for my children (of which I have none, yet) to attend private schools, there is no way I could afford to stay in the District and send them to the current crop of public schools. And I mean that in the financial and moral sense. I also decry the lack of family restaurants (when was the last time you saw a children's menu in any of the central DC restaurants?), and the lack of playgrounds--just beginning to be addressed--is another stumbling block. If I have to live in an apartment building with no outdoor space of my own, I'll need a park within a few blocks of home that I can rely on for my children's playtime. Even rowhouse backyards do not engender themselves to swing sets.
  1. Gerard said at 8:47 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    For me It all comes down to schools. If they get better in areas east of 14th street I am far more likely to raise a family in the city.
  1. Anon said at 9:00 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    Perhaps I don't understand fully, but I don't agree with the article or the comments. There are lots of great neighborhoods in D.C. to raise children. Capitol Hill comes to mind: there are lots of parks there; the public elementary schools are good, depending on your zone; and there are family friendly restaurants. If the focus is on the downtown core, then sure, it's not family friendly. But I don't think living downtown in any city's business district (which a place like Penn Quarter basically is) in the United States is going to be conducive to raising children.
  1. Dartagnan said at 9:14 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    I agree with Anon at 4:00 PM. Sometimes I hear many of my friends refer to DC as *only* the area around Columbia Heights/ Mt Pleasant, but there are plenty of other neighborhoods in DC that offer something for someone in every stage of life. My neighborhood, Brookland, is a great example. Around me are people from all walks of life including families starting out, and families with High School aged children; young couples, singles, and retired people.
  1. Tom A. said at 9:32 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    I always ask folks- when is the last time you saw a group of middle class or affluent kids playing in a neighborhood in DC? I see a lot of baby strollers, but I see VERY few middle and affluent school-aged children in DC. Everyone seems to herd to MD or VA when Junior is 4 or 5.
  1. Alice said at 9:40 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    I will leave DC in a few years for (1) more affordable homes and (2) schools. As is, I would never have a child over 3 years in the district. I don't believe in private schools and the public schools here are atrocious. Yes, the lack of spaces for children to play in and a critical mass of school-aged kids is also a factor, as are family friendly venues, but I would guarantee that those would be taken care of if we had affordable family housing and better schools.
  1. Patrick said at 9:41 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    I am 26 and married and moved out of DC when my son was born. We moved for all the reasons you mentioned. There are good schools in DC but the cost to live near them is extremely high. There are in-between neighborhoods where real estate is more moderately priced but there is some crime and the schools are okay at best (Brookland, Georgia Ave, RI Ave, H Street, Hill East, etc.). But I wouldn't feel safe letting my wife take my two year old for an evening walk in any of those. Lack of parks is a HUGE issue for us. DC just can't compare to the suburbs (even the close in ones) when it comes to playgrounds and open space. DC has some big parks like the National Mall and Rock Creek Park but not many playgrounds or medium sized parks. There are some really nice areas where there are good schools, parks, and 3+ bedroom homes (Capitol Hill, Upper NW, Palisades, etc.) but the price to live there is often twice what the same house would be in Silver Spring, Columbia, Rockville, etc. If I could make one recommendation to make DC more family friendly, it would be to build parks for families. Turkey Thicket in Brookland is a great example of what I am looking for. There are just very few of them.
  1. jag said at 9:54 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    Am I missing why DC should care about keeping families? Single, educated 20somethings are a massive boon to tax coffers while households with children in school are commonly leaching more than they contribute in taxes.
  1. J said at 9:59 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    Couldn't agree with Anon at 4pm more. I also agree that schools and affordability are the most important factors that would influence people (as Alice says, other family-friendly amenities would come as families stayed). I think the comment regarding the lack of kids older than toddlers may be prematurely making a conclusion. Without the numbers in front of me, my understanding is there are more young professionals with toddlers in the city now than there were a decade ago. Therefore, it is conceivably the beginning of a new trend where these people stay and thus have kids 5-12 in the city, although it is too early to tell. For example, I think we very likely could see such happen in Mount Pleasant. As other UrbanTurf articles and studies have noted, there may be a changing preference for more amentities within walking distance in exchange for a larger space in this generation. Therefore, I believe we may be witnessing a new trend where many of those will stay, although they will be of course limited by price and whether or not schools improve.
  1. Anon said at 10:10 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    @Alice: It's an exaggeration to say that "the public schools here are atrocious." There are equally atrocious schools in Virginia and Maryland. In any case, whether a public school is good will depend on the neighborhood. What neighborhood do you live in now, and how did you arrive at your conclusion?
  1. ExCapitolHillOwner said at 10:53 pm on Tuesday May 29, 2012:
    @Anon... I totally agree with @Alice about DC public schools. Let's face it, DC schools are ranked as some of the worst in the county for a reason. The suburbs have low ranked schools as well, but most yuppies like us who currently live in the city are not going to move out of the city for our kids into another area with poor schools. DC schools can not compete with most schools in Fairfax, Arlington and Montgomery Counties.
  1. Ellen M said at 12:00 am on Wednesday May 30, 2012:
    As someone who raised children in DC from birth to adulthood, I would challenge a number of statements above. I live in Chevy Chase DC, where for sure, most of the single-family houses are really expensive, but there are some older apartments and small houses in need of work that are still affordable. And for pre-k and elementary school, you can't beat Murch, Lafayette, Mann, John Eaton, Oyster, etc. When my kids were ready for middle and high school, Deal and Wilson weren't the jewels they are now, and would not have been good choices for them, but those schools worked fine for many of my neighbors, along with other choices like School Without Walls, where kids can graduate and already have several credits of college-level work under their belts, for free, from GWU. In addition to great schools and teachers, my kids could go to the Livingston St. Playground, walk to the Chevy Chase Recreation Center or the Library, or go to the great playground and field at Murch or Lafayette. And really, when they were small, a ride in the Cozy Coupe down Connecticut Ave. was just as much fun for them as some suburban playground would have been. So you can move out to Ashburn, or Gathersburg, or Vienna, and you may have great schools, (though they may also be bursting at the seams or having classes in temporary trailers). And your kids can spend HOURS in a car, because that's the only way to get one to ballet, while the other one waits for his turn to go to Cub Scouts and then it's back in the car to get groceries -- not much of a life, no matter how many Baby Einstein tapes are playing. But the best part is when they get to be teenagers. They can bike or take Metro to where they want to go, and when they are a bit older, you don't need to worry about them taking those curves too fast on dark suburban roads in Potomac after a few drinks. They are in the city, where they can catch a cab or take transit home. I'm not blind to many of the less desirable aspects of parenting in the city, especially in neighborhoods without good schools, but I think people need to look realistically at the lifestyle in each before giving up on DC.
  1. D said at 4:42 am on Wednesday May 30, 2012:
    I predict we’ll see less young adults giving up on the city as they hit their 30s no matter what the DC gov does (or doesn’t do) to accommodate them going forward. The city is in the midst a virtuous cycle that is likely, for some time to come, to result in more residents, more wealth, more tax revenue, better schools as measured by student achievement (though obviously this lags), and more amenities in general. This is probably driven primarily by practical considerations - ie: shorter commute, being able to easily bike or walk everywhere, etc. But for many people I know, it’s also partly a reaction to growing up bored in the suburbs. In any case, it’s a generational thing that will play out over decades, just as the flight to surburbia did starting in the mid-20th century. Those pointing to recent history to predict that the same old story will hold in terms of 30 somethings moving out are ignoring powerful generational shifts in attitudes. With regards to schools, the number one predictor of student performance is family educational achievement. As the city continues to attract people and some suburbs (but not all) head in the opposite direction, those leaving now may find their timing to be off.
  1. anon said at 3:03 pm on Wednesday May 30, 2012:
    the school options can be revelatory to the uninitiated (ie childless 20 somethings). As a former childless 20 something who is now a childsome 40 year old, I'll share 2 pearls with some of the youngin's 1) Housing costs are equally prohibitive to DC in close-in suburbs feeding the "good" schools in neighborhoods which you'd likely deem "good". Shop houses in North Arlington or Bethesda if you doubt me. Silver Spring and Rockville aren't bad, but these areas are not widely accepted as top tier for schools, and white yuppies would likely pass on living in Annandale despite its stellar high achieving schools. 2) Don't buy into the general "DC schools suck" stereotype. Some DC schools DO suck, but there are plenty of good options, especially in elementary. DC also provides near universal access to public preschool, more so than the surrounding counties. Not to mention the wide range of charter options, some increasingly sought out even by parents living in boundary for good schools (ie Yu Ying, Washington Latin, Capitol City, Basis). And of course, DC also has some of the absolute top private schools in the region. Until you actually have kids and need to make these decisions, don't listen to your middle aged coworkers with grown kids tell you how bad the DC school system is and that you need to move to the suburbs (unless you actually LIKE the suburbs, in which case what are you doing here in the first place?). They fled to the suburbs a full generation ahead of you.
  1. Anon said at 4:55 pm on Wednesday May 30, 2012:
    I agree with anon's comments. Comment no. 2 is exactly right. Everyone assumes that D.C. schools are terrible, but has no present day experience with these schools.
  1. jag said at 6:16 pm on Wednesday May 30, 2012:
    "So you can move out to Ashburn, or Gathersburg, or Vienna, and you may have great schools, (though they may also be bursting at the seams or having classes in temporary trailers). And your kids can spend HOURS in a car" You do know not all suburbs are created equal, right? Plenty of neighborhoods in DC are more car dependent than a number of 1st ring suburbs.
  1. brando said at 3:32 am on Thursday May 31, 2012:
    I agree with Jag! If there's a steady influx of singles and empty nesters who want to be close to culture, transportation, restaurants and other amenities then DC will do just fine. Furthermore people are marrying later and more people just plain opt to stay single or not have kids now. Its a major demographic shift from which DC will likely benefit. Also agree with comments that dc schools are improving and plenty of people raise kids in the city and send those kids to public schools. The worst schools are in the poorest neighborhoods but that's true pretty much everywhere including the suburbs so I kind of disagree with the Post's reporting on this.
  1. Lucy said at 5:02 pm on Thursday May 31, 2012:
    DC public elementary schools are improving and although I don't have kids of that age yet, my friends are very comfortable with the public elementaries in Capitol Hill. It is middle schools and high schools, as I understand it, that have yet to improve (for the most part - there may be some exceptions). So that still means young families leaving the city at some point. I don't think the improved schools have as much to do with the city administration as the parents who are getting more involved and not moving out as frequently -- but it is the chicken and the egg problem, isn't it??
  1. Rafael said at 7:19 pm on Friday June 1, 2012:
    I worked in a law firm a few years back that dealt with special needs kids within the DCPS system and I can attest that while the elementary schools are solid, the high schools are in very rough shape. They were 5-6 years, they could be improving, not sure, I've been out of that field for awhile. There's a disconnect or a derailment somewhere between 8th and 9th grade. I was born and raised in DC, I never went to a public school but I co-sign, the private school system here is phenomenal. If I do have kids and one of them turns out to be a boy, he's most likely going to Gonzaga which is 2-3 blocks from Union Station.
  1. Donald said at 3:09 pm on Sunday June 3, 2012:
    Sure, there's the Mall with acres and acres of open space, monuments, and free museums where kids could spend months and still not see everything..but besides that, there's really nothing for kids in DC.
  1. Max said at 7:45 pm on Tuesday June 12, 2012:
    I completely agree with @Ellen M. What's the point of sending your kids to school and having a huge backyard for a cheaper price if you're never going to see your kids because you're always stuck in traffic? What's the point of having kids if they're going to be raised by someone else entirely because neither parent gets home before 7pm every day and isn't even happy to see them because they're so tired? And did any of you ever think that maybe some schools aren't good because caring people such as yourselves don't stay in the city past kindergarten so that schools are actually pushed to be better? Why are schools good in rich suburban counties? Because the parents have the money and caring that make the schools what they are. I can't wait to have kids and be home by 5:15 at the latest and not be in a bad mood because I was stuck in a car for two hours so that I will actually be happy to take them to the new playgrounds at Franklin Park or Seaton Park and be part of the PTA because I'll have time. And really? Children's menus? That's why you don't want to raise kids in the city? That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard. Maybe if your kid wasn't spoiled rotten and only ate chicken fingers and french fries. I was already eating pate and cornichons as a three year old and I am damn glad it happened that way too because I know too many people today who don't even know what a mango is. And then people wonder why everyone outside of city centers are so obese. As for parking, I think we already have too much of it. Half of what you see when walking down the street are parking garages, driveways, and alleys that lead to rear parking spaces. And for what? So people can park right outside of their door? It's pathetic. Learn how to walk. We were given legs to walk, not push on pedals all day. You also wouldn't have to spend so much time at the gym if you just moved a little more... and same with yours kids.

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