Data is a necessary yet easily manipulated element of decision making. One need look no further than the discussion around the demographics of Old Town to see this in action.
In our Jan. 30 editorial, “Double down on our strengths,” we cited a recent study produced for Visit Alexandria that revealed a truth: Visitors come to Alexandria for our history. This study also noted that the average age of the visitors surveyed was 53.
Because Old Town residents are older than those in other parts of the city, such as Del Ray, we urged city leaders to recommit to ensuring that all change in the Old and Historic District is made through the prism of protecting its history – for visitors and residents alike.
Last week we ran a response to that editorial by Alexandria Planning Commission Chair Nathan Macek, “Old Town is for everyone.” In his letter, Macek points out that the average age of residents in zip code 22314, which includes Old Town, is not that old – 39.4. That’s a mere two years older than the average age of residents in zip code 22301, which encompasses Del Ray.
On its face this data is persuasive. However, it’s a comparison of apples to oranges.
Zip code 22301 contains most of Del Ray and much of Rosemont, which has a similar demographic. Del Ray is representative of the entire zip code 22301.
That’s not true for Old Town and 22314. The Old and Historic District makes up only about one-fifth of zip code 22314. The district runs from the Potomac River to Alfred Street, east to west, and from the Beltway to Queen Street running south to north.
Further, demographic data on postal carrier routes that the Times obtained from Maponics, based on 2010 census data, reveals that there were 13 carrier routes of which all or part fell within the Old and Historic District’s boundaries, and the average age of those carrier routes ranged from 42.4 years old to 53 years old. They collectively averaged 49.93 years old.
In other words, not a single carrier route within historic Old Town in 2010 had an average age as low as the average age for zip code 22314 as a whole. Clearly, the comprehensive demographics of zip code 22314 don’t capture the actual demographic of Alexandria’s Old and Historic District, even though Macek referred to 22314 and Old Town as if their demographics were synonymous.
And so, we reiterate our main point from our Jan. 30 editorial: Old Town is a place in which many older residents live and to which many older visitors travel for its history.
It is misguided to enact policies that prioritize drawing a younger demographic to the Old and Historic District. First, the data indicates such policies aren’t working. Second, diminishing Old Town’s historic focus jeopardizes Alexandria’s tourism golden goose. When you try to be all things, you risk being nothing.