Howard County Blog

A Blog on what is going on in Howard County

Monday, January 29, 2007

Population Growth

A little over a year ago in one of my first posts to this blog I posted the following on this history of population growth in the county:

Some food for thought. Here are the US Census population totals for Howard County for the last century:

2005 Estimate: 269,457
2000: 247,842
1990: 187,328
1980: 118,572
1970: 61,911
1960: 36,152
1950: 23,119
1940: 17,175
1930: 16,169
1920: 15,826
1910: 16,106
1900: 16,715

The population size was relatively constant around 16,000 people until the 1940s. Starting in the 1950s the population started to climb. From 1950 to 2000 the population increased more than tenfold. In 1980 the population of the county as a whole was only slightly larger than Columbia is today (Columbia’s population is currently about 100,000).

I think now is a good time to reflect again on these numbers. When we look at planning a 30 year plan for downtown Columbia we are not talking about a county that has a population anything like its current size. In the 30 years from 1970 to 2000 the county's population more than quadrupled. In the next 30 years we will see the county's population increase significantly. Based on these numbers I think there is a good chance we will see the doubling of the county population in the next 30 years.

My starting point in all of the discussions of development in our county is how can we address these numbers while staying true to our values of 1) mixed income housing, 2) preservation of green space, and 3) planning before we build so that we have an infrastructure that meets the community's needs. Now obviously this creates a math equation where the variables of population pressures, mixed income housing, preservation of green space, and infrastructure needs such as school space, transit capacity, hospital capacity, sewer and water system capacity, etc. all have an interconnected relationship with each other. So far, based on what I have seen with the redevelopment of downtown Columbia, the single biggest constraining variable is our transit capacity or rather more importantly that we do not have land space left to handle anywhere near the transit capacity needed to deal with our needs if we have this size growth with above ground solutions. Thus if the population growth will be here in 30 years and we know that land space is the biggest constrain let us start trying to find a solution to it now.

Oh and for the sake of reference if you take the CA History website's rough numbers that Columbia is 10% of the land area in county (I think these numbers are incredibly rough and I am basing them on the stated amount of land it says Rouse bought for Columbia, so if anyone has better numbers please let me know), then Columbia is roughly 25 square miles of the county's 252 square miles and the rough Columbia population numbers are 100,000, then Columbia has a population density of 4000 people per square mile. Washington's population density is according to the Census data 9378 people per square mile. If the county's population is to double in 30 years and much of this growth is focused in the eastern parts of the county including Columbia which would likely take a good chunk of this population growth, then Columbia will have a population density closed to Washington's. Washington, by the way, has no buildings above 14 stories and the vast majority of buildings are in the 2 to 6 story range and large stretches of the city are single family homes.

This is a back of the envelope sketch of the numbers, so that people can start to think about the challenges we face as a community over the next 30 years and to provide some context to the population growth discussion. I made a lot of estimates, but I think this gives a sense of both historic context and a reference of comparison to one of our neighboring cities.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Speaking of estimates, how about that Billion dollar figure? Any basis for that? Whatsoever?

8:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Looking at those numbers a different way, growth for each post-Columbia decade:

1970-80 56,661 or 92%
1980-90 68,756 or 58%
1990-2000 60,514 or 32%
2000-2010 42,320 or 17% (estimated)

It seems growth has decelerated, both real and percentagewise.

If you then assume population growth for the 2010-2035 period will continue to decline at those rates, 2035 population could be a lot less than double current population.

Even if BRAC does artificially slow the decline in growth, perhaps even keeping growth rates at current levels, 2035 population would be about 110,000 people or 40% more than now, around 377,000.

While that amount of additional population would be a far from ideal situation, it is far short of your double current population estimate.

Also consider both Baltimore and D.C. have lost considerable populations since 1990, indicating growth in this region may not be as hot for the surrounding areas as they congest in the coming years. Too, each of those cities, as a result of their population declines has more than enough capacity just from the post-'90 drops to absorb all of the 110,000 population increase Howard County would see if growth here remains at the current rate.

Not that they should incur all of any population increase. But if we're to deal effectively with transit, climate change, fiscally viable cities with appropriately-funded public service infrastructures, etc., having populations that work in those cities again live in greater numbers in those cities would certainly be a step in the right direction.

Growth is a regional and global issue. Planning for mixed use, TOD, etc., should all be viewed in the greater context, hopefully then avoiding microplanning resulting in unnecessary comprises to the detriment of the many other facets of the environs and community we enjoy.

1:19 AM  

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