Our View: The census is a measuring stick, not a finite ruler


The recently released census results show a snapshot of a dynamic city. Anyone buying in to Alexandria as a home, workplace or cultural playground no doubt is interested in how the city has changed since 2000. What does it mean? Something. 


A smorgasbord of new, more comprehensive data still has yet to be compiled and released to the public. Even the current results, which put Alexandrias population at about 140,000 up from about 128,000 in 2000 could be inaccurate, according to staff members from the citys planning department who said theyll vet all the results.
From the racial and ethnic population data available, we know that the Hispanic population is growing at twice the speed of Alexandrias overall occupancy. The black contingent of Alexandria is growing, but at about half the rate of the city, and the white citizenry is growing at about the same rate as the city as a whole.  American Indians, Asians and Hawaiian / Pacific Islanders are also moving or being born in Alexandria at fast rates.
Its apt to put ethnic and racial labels in quotation marks. A black woman born and raised here probably checked the same box as a French-speaking man from Africas Ivory Coast; a Spanish immigrant with fair skin may have checked the white box, even though he speaks the same language as an El Salvadorian, who likely checked Hispanic.
The point is, generalizations are necessary for the purpose of studies like the census, but by no means do they represent the plurality of Alexandrias residents.
The information is relevant, and will help dictate policy at City Hall once it is vetted, but it can only go so far. Thats because as the melting pot continues to meld people together, racial distinctions become less relevant, though individuals heritage and culture remain important.
Nurturing diversity is a primary tenet of Alexandria. Historically black neighborhoods like Parker-Gray are becoming more mixed, as is Arlandria, the citys densest Hispanic enclave. And traditionally white-heavy neighborhoods are becoming more heterogeneous, according to the results.
So what does it all mean? Its appropriate to use a trite phrase: It is what it is.     
Its easy to bemoan the dwindling of ethnic neighborhoods; New York’s Little Italy is charming because of its cultural offerings. On the other hand, its hard to argue against a more mingled city.
While the census is a helpful tool, it is just that a tool. By no means is it a finite ruler of society, albeit an interesting measuring stick.