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Today Philly, tomorrow Houston?

So now that Phoenix has passed (or is on the brink of passing) Philadekphia to become America’s fifth-most populous city, how long until they catch up to Houston for #4?

During the 1990s, Phoenix grew by 34 percent, or 340,000 residents, and its metropolitan area, which includes the city, grew by a phenomenal 45 percent — adding more than 1 million people to the 2.3 million it had in 1990.

In the same decade, Houston grew by 15 percent in the city and 25 percent in its metro area, adding 260,000 and 950,000 residents respectively.

Turbo-charged Phoenix has a current estimated metro population of 3.2 million to Houston’s 5.2 million. If the growth rates since 1990 continue — and they almost certainly won’t — Phoenix will surpass Houston in both city and metro area population between the 2020 and 2030 censuses, with both metro areas having a population of about 9 million when the graph lines cross.

But that’s just playing with numbers. A city must add a larger number of people every year to maintain the same rate of growth, and there aren’t enough people anywhere for that to continue indefinitely.

Tim Hogan, director of the Center for Business Research at Arizona State University, said state officials there predict metro Phoenix will actually grow by 2025 to about 5.2 million — where the Houston area is now. Texas State Demographer Steve Murdock projects metro Houston will reach 5.5 million in 2010 and 6.4 million in 2020.

Huh. Guess that means we don’t have to budget an edit to those “We’re Number Four!” signs any time soon.

Is there another threat to worry about?

Realistically, Atlanta may offer Houston a more immediate challenge in the growth game than Phoenix. Metropolitan Atlanta grew by 1.2 million people, or nearly 40 percent, in the 1990s, partly because several more counties were added to its metro area. However, such redefining reflects genuine suburban growth.

Murdock said Houston and Atlanta are “basically the same cities for all intents and purposes. Both have been growing very rapidly, both are in strong growth areas, and I’d hate to make the call as to which is likely to be greater in 20 years.”

Obviously, we’ll have to start annexing faster if we want to stay ahead of Atlanta. Hey, Galveston, you guys don’t really need to be a separate city, do you?

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5 Comments

  1. Sue says:

    I’ve been joking that Houston will eventually sprawl so far to the west that it swallows up Katy. At least maybe then Metro will have bus service to Katy Mills.

    As for cities growing quickly, I won’t be surprised to see Las Vegas push past Houston in the future. As long as they have enough water (same with Phoenix), it could happen. I don’t quite see the thrill in living in either place, but I’ve heard from a few people that they love living in Phoenix, even with the extreme heat.

  2. Inside city limits, I could see Vegas catching up. I don’t think it’ll ever crack the top metro areas lists, though, because there’s essentially no suburbs around it. As long as there’s Fort Bend and Montgomery Counties, Houston’s metro area will be a fast grower.

  3. Sue says:

    True enough.

    Y’know, the funny thing here is that Tim and I had been talking for at least a year about moving out of San Jose to a town or smaller city. And yet we ended up in a city twice as big. Go figure.

  4. chris fewell says:

    i dont think any of those cities will catch up to houston. i read some where that houston is expected to have over 9 million people by 2020 in the metro area. and houston is going to continue to grow and i do not believe those cities will be able to compete becauese they defently lack a suburban population.

  5. B says:

    Don’t count Phoenix out since the city itself only accounts for 40% of the entire metro area.