How does the DC region rank on inclusion and shared prosperity?

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The NoMa neighborhood as seen from the top of Uline Arena in Northeast Washington, DC on August 14, 2017. Photo by Jared Soares/The Washington Post via Getty Images.

The Greater DC area is thriving, but not all residents are sharing in the region’s economic prosperity. Deep contrasts exist between populations, neighborhoods, and jurisdictions. And many residents feel left on the sidelines by segregation and inequity.

At Urban–Greater DC, our mission is to build knowledge to address these inequalities and improve access to opportunity, creating a more inclusive region. To better understand what makes cities inclusive, Urban Institute scholars recently collected data on 274 of the largest US cities and ranked those cities on economic, racial, and overall inclusion across four decades. From the DC region, Washington, DC; Alexandria, Virginia; Baltimore, Maryland; and Richmond, Virginia were among the cities we studied.

Economic inclusion as measured here reflects the ability of residents with lower incomes to contribute to and benefit from economic prosperity. Racial inclusion reflects the ability of residents of color to do the same. Overall inclusion combines the two measures. We also measured economic health to capture the strength of a city’s local economy. 

Of the four cities in the DC region, Alexandria fared best on economic inclusion, ranking 97th out of 274 cities in 2013 (the most recent year studied). Baltimore fared best on racial inclusion, ranking 132nd out of 274 cities in 2013. Generally speaking, though, the results suggest the work the region has to do around inclusivity. On overall inclusion, all four cities ranked in the bottom half of the sample in 2013.

Washington, DC

The table below shows the District’s inclusion and economic health rankings from 1980 to 2013. Looking at how inclusion and economic health changed over the most recent decade of data gives us insight about where cities are headed.

From 2000 to 2013, DC’s economic health improved dramatically, jumping up in the rankings from 243 to 77. Our study found that economically healthy cities tend to be more inclusive than economically distressed ones. During this economic recovery, DC had a modest increase in overall inclusion from 198 to 184. Highlighting the distinction between inclusion and diversity, DC improved 35 rankings on racial inclusion despite losing ground on racial diversity during this same period.

Alexandria, Virginia

Alexandria became less inclusive between 2000 and 2013, falling from 102 to 141 in the overall inclusion rankings despite outperforming DC on economic health. The city has the most room to grow on racial inclusion: it ranked 172nd out of 274 cities in 2013.

Baltimore, Maryland

From 2000 to 2013, Baltimore’s economic health increased slightly from 265 to 255. The city also became less inclusive, falling from 149 to 168 in the overall inclusion rankings.

Richmond, Virginia

Richmond’s inclusion rankings declined from 2000 to 2013, placing Richmond near the bottom of our sample of 274 cities. Its economic health ranking increased modestly from 226 to 207.

Thinking regionally about inclusion

Within the region, many jurisdictions are pushing for greater inclusion. The Montgomery County Council recently adopted a resolution ensuring that equity be considered in every budget and policy decision. The council cited Urban–Greater DC’s report “Racial Inequities in Montgomery County: 2011–15” in the resolution, arguing that “a more equitable Montgomery County would enhance opportunities for all residents, thereby improving the economy.” Fairfax County, Virginia, and Takoma Park, Maryland, are taking similar actions. 

In the District of Columbia, Mayor Bowser created the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Greater Economic Opportunity to help overlooked and underserved communities who have not shared in the benefits of the city’s prosperity. The District’s economic development strategy, to which the Urban Institute contributed, aims to drive innovation and economic growth in an inclusive way.

But cities must think and act more regionally to achieve greater inclusion and shared prosperity. The DC region doesn’t always operate this way, and each state and jurisdiction has its own interests and agendas. But job and housing markets cross jurisdictional lines, and residents often work and use services outside the city in which they live. Regional partnerships can undoubtedly help secure broadly shared prosperity.