The census tells us quite a bit about where people are populating and when. What we see in the chart below is a significant (not tested for significance) change in course for population movements. The data examines the population of central cities of each metro area, compared to the surrounding metro area populations. Suburban growth patterns continued to dominate the percent of growth through 2007 (noted by the tall blue bars above the metro area), then abruptly fell for both in 2007-2009. What follows is primarily growth in the central cities (green bars in 2009-2011) with some moderate growth in the surrounding towns.
I continue to believe that when faced with economic uncertainty, due to high fuel prices, sputtering economy, etc., people will choose a more efficient lifestyle. Cities are an opportunity for that, helping to reduce commuter costs and put people closer to the things they want and need. Even in the face of higher housing costs in central cities, the combined cost of transportation and housing is still a better deal. In a flat economy with high fuel prices, that is a choice many are inclined to make.
The Portland Press Herald ran a piece today on the slowdown of our outward expansion to exurban blah. While I believe that this is true, the 2010 census suggests that the suburbs are still growing. Below are two maps, one is the percent of population growth in the York/Cumberland County region in Southern Maine. The second is the share of growth that occurred in the region.
It is important to state this early on: I think the press herald is correct in reporting this. Information from the housing market suggests that houses in the far flung exurban markets are sitting for a lot longer, and the prices are dropping precipitously. However census data is a tricky thing, especially since it captures what has happened in 10 years, and not a play-by-play account. That is what the ACS data is for.
The percent change map below indicates that the highest population growth rate is in the exurban fringe. For the most part, the core cities in Southern Maine are on the coast. This is a historical legacy.
The second map is the share of growth in Southern Maine, basically giving us a who contributes to the regions growth the most. Add up the percentages and you should get something like: 100%. We see that Brunswick, York and Ogunquit actually had a negative contribution to the share of growth. Now think about the top map and how it has red towns in the western part of the region. The share of growth map still places the most contribution to regional growth squarely in Portland and towns in its immediate vicinity, with the exception of Waterboro. These towns & cities are where the growth is, but in terms of percentage as indicated in the above map, they aren’t growing as fast.
I largely suspect that ACS’s next release will show the complete slowdown in the exurbs that experienced the rapid growth in the 90’s and early 00’s. As we begin to consider the impact fuel prices, congestion, and long commutes, have on our wallet and ultimately our quality of life, living in the far flung suburbs will be a thing of the past. Drive till you qualify, will be replaced with a nice inner suburban home and a bus pass.
There is a great little resource on the interweb called the Housing and Transportation Affordability Index. The index looks at housing costs and compares it to housing + transportation costs. Here is picture of the housing affordability in the Portland region.
Notice how much of the area is pretty affordable, indicated by the yellow color. This indicates that housing costs are less than 30% of household income. Now, what if we add in the costs of commuting, and just the tangible costs like fuel, insurance, car payments, registration.
The story changes considerably. The Portland Peninsula, Westbrook and South Portland fall below the 45% threshold of affordability, yet the entire rest of the region is greater than 45% representing a significant burden on household budgets.
When I think about the significance of this, I am pretty sure that it has much to do with density and good mobility options within the Greater Portland Region.
What is the take-away here:
- If fuel prices continue to increase, expect more people to move in from out of the sticks.
- Creating good mobility opportunities in dense places along meaningful corridors will be key to the success of many small towns outside the central region. Places like Gorham, Little Falls/South Windham, and North Windham will be able to succeed if they have these options available to their citizens.
- Towns that are not transit served may be in for a tough ride as markets reflect the new energy paradigm. State and regional planners need to ensure that investments reflect that fact, so as to not squander the public purse.
- Recognize that some places might not make it. It is tough to pick winners and loosers, but investments can’t be applied equally across the landscape or it would result in very little gain.
- Look for ways to encourage TOD investment in small towns that can support reasonable mobility options.
I rail (no pun intended of course) on about fuel prices, sustainability, and changing how we do business with regards to transporting ourselves. As I have noticed in Maine, we are lucky because the State has done a good job of preserving rail corridors. These will be instrumental to our transition to a more sustainable existence and density along those corridors is a big part of that. When crunching 2010 census figures, I found that within 20 miles of arbitrarily chosen (I looked at towns with rail and towns with people in them) station areas, over 900,000 or Maine’s 1.3 million people reside.This is a tremendous opportunity for conventional passenger service and allowing for people to have some great mobility options other than cars.
The map below is a view of the Southern Maine Portion of a proposed route map showing station locations, 20 mile buffers around the stations, and population density of census blocks within those 20 mile buffers.
This map (below) is more of the same with 5 mile buffers around the proposed rail stations. More than 560,000 people live within census blocks 5 miles from these stations. At some point I will crunch the within 1 mile of stations numbers and get back to this, but regardless, this represents a great opportunity for both commuter travel and conventional longer distance service.
As we seek out ways to keep our population mobile and provide opportunity for employment, I think rail will play a big role in that mobility equation. For now I just wanted to talk about density, show a picture (map) of where Maine is at in terms of some initial feasibility. At a future point in time, I would certainly like to talk about current rail infrastructure, transit oriented development, rail vehicle technologies, and a few other important ideas related to this.
Here are some other maps that I created with station towns identified. Again, these aren’t official anything, just a boy, some data, and some ideas. Northern Maine above, Southern Maine below, just like it is on the map.
Enjoy. Comments welcome.