A lot has changed in DC in the last ten years ago. Planners knew it would, back then. But they had to make some predictions about the future as part of DC’s then-new Comprehensive Plan. How did they do?

Crystal ball and city photo from Shutterstock.

Overall, the plan got a lot right. It predicted the 2010 population and the number of jobs in 2015 quite well. But DC started growing faster, and was in even higher demand as a place to live, than looked likely in 2005.

These and other predictions are part of the Framework chapter of the Comprehensive Plan, which we’re reading in an online book club.

The group identified some predictions and then pulled current numbers to compare 2005 forecasts to reality.

Population: Even forecasting significant growth for DC was a big change in 2005, when the Comprehensive Plan was written. DC had lost population every Census from 1950 to 2000, but the trend had already started to turn around — and fast.

The plan’s forecasts estimate 600,000 people by 2010. That was an amazing guess: the Census counted 601,721.

After that, the plan anticipated more growth, but reality far outstripped it. The Comp Plan predicted DC would reach 630,000 by 2015. Instead, the Census’s estimate was 672,228. The plan forecast the population to hit 698,000 by 2025. We’re surely going to get there much sooner; the mayor now talks about 800,000, not 700,000.

What happened? DC had started growing much faster than the forecasts, but the recession took a bite out and brought the growth numbers back down for 2010. Since then, people have continued coming to DC faster than the planners of 2005 imagined.

Population change from 1980-2000 (left) and 2000-2010 (right, by Corey Holman).The darkest shade of red represents the steepest decline, while the darkest green is the steepest increase.

Jobs: The 2005 Comprehensive Plan estimated 819,600 jobs in DC by 2015. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists May 2016 employment as 784,700. James Denney said:

It’s a pretty close miss for the 2005 plan. Considering just how hard the economic downturn hit the nation in the late ‘00s, and accounting for the 2013 sequestration, the fact that DC is only 35,000 jobs away from the 2005 projection is actually rather admirable. Even ignoring the recession, the sequestration of 2013 accounts for nearly all of the projection gap.

Persons 25 and over without a college degree, 2000 (left) and 2010-2014 5-year ACS (right, map by Corey Holman).

Corey Holman looked at some other predictions in the Comp Plan and how they turned out.

Families are back. Prediction: “In fact, the average household in Washington contained 2.16 persons in 2000, down from 2.72 in 1970. Middle-class families left the city in large numbers during this period and the number of school-aged children dropped dramatically. Looking forward, the city expects household size to continue falling through 2010, and then stabilize.”

Reality: Average household size in the 2010 census did continue to fall to 2.11, but the 2005-2009 (2.21 persons) and 2010-2014 5-Year ACS (2.22 persons) showed much larger household size.

Baby boomer boom? Prediction: “According to the US Census, the percentage of seniors is expected to increase as ‘baby-boomers’ retire.”

Reality: The number of seniors is lower now that it was at the time the Comp Plan was written. In 2000 the 65+ percentage was 14.3%. In the 2010 Census it was 13.0% and in the 2010-14 ACS is was 11.3%. The 18-64 age group percentage increase dramatically while 0-18 showed decreases as well.

Immigrants come, but not as many Latinos. Prediction: “The percentage of foreign-born residents, particularly those of Hispanic origin, is expected to rise.”

Reality: Foreign-born population did increase slightly from 12.9% in 2000 to 14.0% in the 2010-14 ACS. However, the percentage of people of Hispanic origin is actually lower now that it was in 2000.

Poverty rate in 2000 (left) and 2010-2014 5-year ACS (right, map by Corey Holman)

So what?

The Comprehensive Plan governs DC government decisions, particularly land use and zoning. Many provisions suggest adding more housing while other provisions talk about “protecting” neighborhoods.

The way the plan underestimated population growth means other provisions may also be inapt for DC’s current needs if they are predicated on lower housing demand than there really turned out to be.

We’ll delve into more specific policy statements in the Comp Plan as the book club gets to those chapters. Want to be a part of the book club? Sign up with the form below!

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.