July 01, 2005
Where the growth is

No surprise here - Houston's suburbs have rapid growth rates.

Between the 2000 head count and July 1, 2004, Houston's population increased by 3 percent, according to the new estimates. During the same period, populations in Missouri City and League City grew by more than 25 percent, and Pearland grew more than 39 percent.

Before we go any further, it's important to realize that smaller cities will almost by definition grow at a faster rate than bigger ones. This is because the actual increase is proportionally much larger relative to their smaller populations. As a silly example, the population of my household grew by 50% last year, thanks to Olivia's birth. That doesn't make for any relevant trends, however.

To put it in absolute terms, the sidebar graphic shows that Pearland has an estimated 52,402 people in it as of 2004, and that it grew at a 39.2% clip since the 2000 census. Doing the math (which is to say, dividing 52402 by 1.392), we get a 2000 population of 37,645 for Pearland, meaning it has grown by 14,757 people. Take Houston's 2004 estimated population of 2,012,626 and 3% growth rate since 2000 and you get 58,620 new people, or more than the entire current total in Pearland. It's all relative.

In fact, Houston's total population growth since 2000 is more than those of Pearland, Missouri City (13,657), League City (12,552), and Sugar Land (10,387), the four fastest growers, combined. They added a total of 51,353 people, over 7000 less than H-Town did. I guess that's just not as interesting a story. Always do the math, that's my motto.

And for what it's worth, Houston's growth may have been more than that, anyway.

"Houston didn't have negative growth, like New York, Philadelphia, Detroit and Chicago, which all are continuing to lose populations. Those are patterns that have been going on for some time," said State Demographer Steve Murdock, director of the Institute for Demographic and Socioeconomic Research in San Antonio.

"But certainly this is less growth than what we've seen in Houston. There's been a fairly substantial slowdown."

Numerically, Houston gained only 2,957 people between 2003 and 2004. At the beginning of the decade, the city gained 20,337 people between the 2000 head count and the 2001 estimate.

The city grew by almost 9 percent during the 1990s, adding an average of more 31,500 new residents annually.

Rice University sociologist Stephen Klineberg, who has surveyed the Houston populace for about 20 years, said Thursday that the estimates may be misleading. New immigrants, minorities and urbanites are notoriously hard to count, said Klineberg, let alone estimate.

"I would be surprised if city growth has really slowed down. Anglos have tended to move out of the city, but Houston remains one of the great magnets for the immigrant population," said Klineberg.

"Our surveys continue to show significant interest in living closer to downtown. There is ongoing gentrification in inner-city neighborhoods. New lofts and apartments are being built everyday.

"The city has remained vibrant."

I certainly drive by all kinds of new construction around where I live, and we're nowhere close to running out of near-downtown space for more.

Demographer Patricia Guseman of the College Station-based Population and Survey Analysts said suburban city growth is generated by three main factors:

The first is that cities such as Sugar Land and Missouri City are not mature, said Guseman, which means they still have land available for large subdivisions or master planned communities.

Accessibility is the second factor, she said. Suburban cities must be close enough to major economic centers such as downtown Houston or the Texas Medical Center.

"Anything that is under 25 to 30 minutes we know is going to be in big demand," Guseman said.

"A third characteristic is perception of the quality of life. And that can be measured in a lot of complex ways," she said.

There's still plenty of room for development inside Houston, even inside Loop 610. You can't get any closer to downtown or the Medical Center than that. Quality of life is a very subjective thing, but I think most people who live here would agree that this is as good a time to be living here as any in recent memory. I certainly think that, anyway. Combine that all and it's no surprise to me that Houston is holding its own just fine.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 01, 2005 to Elsewhere in Houston | TrackBack

I saw some of the other stuff the Census Bureau put out yesterday and it was all about flight from major cities to smaller ones. They mentioned some city in Arizona that has picked up an average of 1000 people a month for the last four years. Scary.

I have to wonder how well the places that are growing so quickly are able to keep up with providing essential services.

Posted by: Sue on July 1, 2005 12:01 PM