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Saturday April 1st 2023

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Adding It Up


from flickr:

The United States Constitution requires the federal government to conduct a census of population every ten years. The census was originally intended to determine representation in the U. S. House of Representatives but the data derived has been expanded to state and local government redistricting, distribution of public funds, demographic analysis, research for retailers and developers and bragging rights among cities and states.

The 2010 census determined that the population of the United States, as of April 1, exceeded 300 million. The state of Colorado had grown by 16.9% since 2000 to just over five million people. In Colorado 16 of the state’s 65 counties registered population declines, mainly those on the eastern plains, in the San Luis valley and among some small mountain locations.

Growth rates were highest along the Front Range and in several mountain counties. Denver bucked the trend of the mid to late 1900s by growing, with an increase of 8.2%. The growth was reflected in a number of other large American central cities, showing a move back to urban areas by young people and the increasing role of Latino immigrants.

Boulder County participated in the Front Range growth, increasing its population by 1.1% to 295,000. However, that rate (and population total) was affected by the creation from Boulder County (and two others) of Broomfield County subsequent to the 2000 census. Had that not occurred Boulder County’s population would have increased by about 13%. All of the municipalities in Boulder County registered growth except for Louisville, which had a surprising decline of 3%.

The City of Boulder grew but at the expected slow rate. The population in 2010 was recorded as 97,385, for an increase of 2.9%, or 2,712 people from 2000. The census has various (and sometimes conflicting) methods of counting college students. The annual American Community Survey estimates the City of Boulder to have over 100,000 people, including all CU and Naropa students who reside in the city, regardless of their official home towns. In any case, Boulder’s growth rate is slow and steady and not a cause of great concern unless you want no growth, an impossibility.

However, the census does point out some issues that should affect public policies, especially for housing, transportation and planning. In particular:

  • As one might expect of a college town Boulder is a very young city. It also attracts a lot of college graduates who wish to take advantage of employment opportunities, the pleasant lifestyle and environment and inclusive attitudes. But Boulder also has a substantial aging population, many of whom are residents aging in place and others moving to the city for many of the same reasons as younger migrants. Sometimes the interests of these demographics clash.
  • Boulder has a healthy economy which is likely to expand as more businesses oriented to alternative energy, organic food, bicycling and high tech expand, relocate or start up in Boulder. This is likely to put more pressure on an already tight rental housing market and on commuting patterns as some of these residents come to jobs in Boulder but live in nearby communities. And, the situation once again raises the “jobs/pop” issues of how to balance employment and housing with commuting pressures.
  • Housing construction in Boulder during the 2000 to 2010 period was not the boom imagined by many. The City of Boulder issued building permits for 3,366 new residential units during the period (net of demolitions), the majority of which were in multi-family or single-family attached (townhouses and duplexes) units. Considering demographic trends this is likely to continue, which means a demand for more density in housing development.

One factor being observed nationally is a “self sort” by which people move to communities that reflect their values. Thus, even though Boulder has a considerable turnover in population (as one might expect in a college town) newcomers retain many of Boulder’s traditional environmental, political, social and recreational values. For example, Boulder’s much more likely to attract gay and lesbian newcomers than Sterling, Limon or Colorado Springs.

A concern I have is that there appears to be a divide between younger newcomers and older residents on the issue of the use (or misuse) of open space lands. To some extent this is a “I’ve got mine” versus “It’s mine to use” conflict between those who want to preserve and protect the open space lands and those who want to maximize what they see as appropriate recreational use. And yet, all of them value the environment and the open space. It’s not a question of whether we should have open space but how to both use and preserve it.

In any case, Boulder is much better positioned to address some of the problems that will arise over climate change, peak oil and the divisive and increasingly dysfunctional political situation on the federal level. Excessive population growth is not one of those problems, at least in our community.

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