Georgetown’s Phantom Density

There are many benefits to living in a dense city. The most obvious is that with so many people living in close proximity, their joint buying power and habits can support shops and restaurants within walking distance. It’s why a corner shop like Sara’s can survive in a totally residential neighborhood in a way that it couldn’t in a suburban subdivision (where it would probably be illegal in the first place).

But GM got to thinking about that density when he noticed that Sara’s instituted summer hours recently (on Sunday they don’t open till 1:00 and close at 7:00). It’s a reasonable easing of their normal hours, but GM believes it reflects one of the fundamental characteristics to Georgetown that will continue to seriously limit the amount Georgetowners will be able to support locally oriented businesses: not enough Georgetowners actually live here full time.

This was one factor that the owners of Griffin Market cited in their closing, namely that too many Georgetowners only live here part of the year. This was based on their own anecdotal evidence, but GM looked into the Census records and found some statistical evidence to support the observation.

Georgetown has 4,732 households. Of those, 568 are vacant. That’s a rate of 14.2%. That’s much higher than the rates of other similarly well-off neighborhoods. For example, Cleveland Park’s vacancy was only 3.36%, the Palisades was 8.38%, and AU Park was only 0.47%. While some of that vacancy rate represents truly empty houses or homes on the market, it could also reflect the fact that a lot of Georgetowners spend a lot of time elsewhere. Of course, either way an empty house is an empty house, and it means fewer residents around.

Moreover, the Census asks whether the home is for “seasonal or recreational use”, and Georgetown’s numbers are also much higher than the other neighborhoods. Georgetown reported 131 such residences (2.8%). The next closest of the other neighborhoods is the Palisades with 51 such residences (1.0%). Cleveland Park and AU Park reported zero such residences.

These aren’t definitive statistics, but they are consistent with the anecdotal evidence that Georgetown has housing density but less human density. And it’s probably not a coincidence that when small local shops close up they often will quietly grumble about the lack of business from the residents who profess to love all our small local shops. The love’s there; maybe it’s the people who are lacking.



Filed under Demographics

7 responses to “Georgetown’s Phantom Density

  1. asuka

    Maybe you should rename this blog, “Things I Hate About My Neighborhood,” because that’s what it seems to be about most of the time. So what do you want? A law that forces people to live when and where you want them to?

  2. GM

    Seriously Asuka, you need to switch to decaf. I’m not suggesting we do anything about it. I’m merely responding to the fact that when small shops that target locals fail, a lot of times the businesses and residents complain about the lack of support from residents. I’m merely suggesting an alternative explanation.

    Believe me, the moment I start suggesting that people who don’t really live here shouldn’t be able to claim they do, you’ll be the first one to know.

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  4. Would some of those seasonal people include persons associated with Georgetown University?

  5. andy

    GM – you should get the award for the best use of census data by a neighborhood blogger.
    I think this contributes to the answer why chain stores fair better in Georgetown than in other neighborhoods.

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  7. RNM

    I would wonder if the number of properties for sale, owned as second homes, or seasonal residences is not more than offset by the number of students living in off campus properties. Put seven students in a house and that offsets 2 or 3 vacant properties. Granted the students may not shop at the same stores as 50 something folks do…which may also help account for what stores survive and thrive.

    Of course as I type this, I sit in an almost empty cul de sac in central Florida where the retirees are on vacation…I also grew up in an area where may “snowbirds” would make only seasonal residence and still businesses thrived and survived. I would suggest that the cost of properties, as driven by the free market, and the constantly evolving types of business (also driven by free market which makes it hard for small businesses to compete with massive chains) is far more of an issue than how many people live there. I also wonder how many of the local residents actually get out there and spend money at local businesses…especially in an era when it is easier and generally cheaper to buy it online.

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