A Tale of Three Cities: Population Growth in Washington DC, Baltimore, and Philadelphia

As the three largest cities in the Mid-Atlantic after New York (which is its own unique behemoth), Philadelphia, District of Columbia, and Baltimore have been major centers of population growth over the past decade, as young professionals migrate to more walkable, urban areas closer to work and entertainment. According to the National Community Reinvestment Coalition, the three cities are all among the seven “most gentrified” cities in the United States. However, the population growth between the three cities, and within the cities themselves, has been very uneven.

District of Columbia

Washington, DC
Image credit: Ted Eytan (flickr)

The District of Columbia is the clear winner among Mid-Atlantic cities not named New York in terms of new residents over the past decade. According to ESRI estimates, the city’s population grew 14.4% between 2010 and 2018, adding 86,919 new residents. This translates to an average annual growth rate of 1.7%.

While the vast majority of census tracts in the city saw positive population growth over the period, growth was clearly more concentrated in some neighborhoods more than others, particularly those within a mile or so of Capitol Hill. A few tracts in NoMa, Eckington, and Capitol Riverfront experienced astounding annual growth rates in excess of 10%. Neighborhoods in the District with census tracts with average annual growth rates of over 4% between 2010 and 2018 are located in:

  • Union Market (4.0%)
  • H Street (4.1%-4.6%)
  • Brookland/Edgewood (4.3%-7.5%)
  • Vernon Square (5.0%-7.9%)
  • Southwest (6.7%)
  • Shaw (6.8%)
  • Eckington (11.0%)
  • Capitol Riverfront/Navy Yard (12.4%)
  • NoMa (13.7%)


2010-2018 annual census tract population growth, District of Columbia
Image credit: Delta Associates, created using ArcGIS Business Analyst

Only four census tracts in the District of Columbia had negative annual average population growth between 2010 and 2018, two of which have extremely few residential properties—one encompasses the Georgetown University campus and another consists of RFK Stadium, Congressional Cemetery, and a group of city-owned facilities. The other two tracts with negative annual growth rates are in lower-income neighborhoods located abutting the Maryland border in the city’s Southeast quadrant.



Philadelphia, PA
Image credit: Bruce Emmerling (Wikimedia Commons)

The “City of Brotherly Love” may have lost some of its relative economic stature in recent decades thanks to competition from rapidly growing cities in the Sunbelt and elsewhere, but it has still managed to boast a decent rate of growth over the last decade. Between 2010 and 2018, Philadelphia added 65,755 new residents, growing 4.3% at a rate of 0.53% per year.

The majority of census tracts in the city saw their population increase over the eight-year period, with the highest rates of growth concentrated in census tracts around Center City. The census tract that grew the fastest (8.1% annual rate) between 2010 and 2018 is located in University City and is partially comprised of the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University campuses. Below are all of the neighborhoods in Philadelphia with census tract populations growing in excess of 4.0% annually:

  • Old City/Delaware Waterfront (4.1%)
  • Midtown Village/Market East (4.2%)
  • Logan Square (4.3%)
  • University City (8.1%)

2010-2018 annual census tract population growth, Philadelphia
Image credit: Delta Associates, Created using ArcGIS Business Analyst

Unlike the District of Columbia, there were quite a few census tracts that experienced negative annual population growth between 2010 and 2018. Most of these tracts are located towards the edges of the city in North and Northwest Philadelphia.



New hotels along Baltimore Avenue/US Route 1 in College Park, MD
Image credit: Bruce Emmerling (Pixabay)

The fortunes of “Charm City” have not been as positive as those of its Mid-Atlantic peers. It is hard to believe that up until 1850, Baltimore was the second most populous city in the country, after New York. 100 years later (right before the new interstate system sparked massive migration to the suburbs), the city’s population was just shy of one million. In recent years, the city has managed to stem the half-century population decline, but the city’s rate of growth remains stagnant compared to both Philadelphia and (especially) the District of Columbia, and more comparable to economically distressed Rust Belt cities like St. Louis, Pittsburgh, and Cleveland.

Between 2010 and 2018, Baltimore City lost 7,877 or 1.2% of its residents, at a rate of -0.15% per year. Unfortunately, the majority of census tracts in Baltimore experienced negative annual population growth on average between 2010 and 2018. The tracts that did experience positive annual growth over the period are spread around the Inner Harbor, the Johns Hopkins Hospital campus, and the I-83 Corridor in North Central Baltimore. Notably, Baltimore had one more census tract with greater than 4.0% average annual growth than Philadelphia:

  • Dunbar/Broadway (4.2%)
  • Downtown (4.8%)
  • Greektown (5.1%)
  • South Baltimore (5.3%)
  • Middle East/Eager Park (5.7%)

2010-2018 annual census tract population growth, Baltimore
Image credit: Delta Associates, Created using ArcGIS Business Analyst

The census tracts with negative growth comprise nearly the entire western third of the city and a very large portion of the eastern third.

More Growth Ahead

While there are huge variances in population growth, the future prospects for the three cities look relatively promising, although the overall Baltimore population decline is projected to continue. The crowded multifamily development pipeline in all three cities (below) reflects the anticipated demand. The geographical distribution of population growth is projected to remain relatively stable in the near future, although planned megadevelopments such as HQ2 just outside of DC, Schuylkill Yards to the west of Center City in Philadelphia, and Port Covington in southern Baltimore city could shake things up.

Baltimore City -11,401 3,870 2,248
Philadelphia 34,211 5,737 1,655
District of Columbia 51,485 17,685 7,037