Ex-urban growth — a pause or an end? Still unknown

As we were exploring issues in Baldwin Township earlier this year, one of the questions that bubbled to the surface was whether it would continue to grow rapidly, or more precisely, whether the growth it saw in the 1990s and the early years of this century would resume post-recession and post-foreclosure crisis.

We kicked the issue around in February.

Since then, foreclosures have continued unabated and there’s little evidence of growth. The state demographer’s office will put out its 2009 population estimates in a few weeks and it will be interesting to see what trends are evident at the city and township level.

In the meantime, state demographer Tom Gillaspy sends along this intriguing chart based on U.S. Census Bureau estimates of county populations in Minnesota.

converging growth rates.PNG

Central cities have been growing faster; exurban places like Baldwin Township and suburban places have been growing more slowly. Ex-urbia’s growth rate has been falling since 2002, and growth rates everywhere seem to be converging on slightly less than 1 percent a year. That’s a significant historic change, Gillaspy says.

But . . .

“Is this a long-run change or a short-run one driven by the housing and job markets? Don’t know yet,” Gillaspy says.

It’s always interesting to read Chuck Marohn on this topic. Put him in the growth-is-gone camp — here’s his latest piece looking specifically at Baxter, near Brainerd, and his contention that planning that assumes continued growth is unwise.

What does a place like Baldwin do in this environment with its roads and other services? What do cities around Minnesota faced with tighter and tighter budgets do if growth is less of an option? How does planning change in a new growth world?

  • I would add that growth is not bad or necessarily gone for good, but placing large bets at the local level on the hopes that growth materializes is not wise. It wasn’t wise when times were good. Right now, it seems extra foolish.

    Communities should not “invest” in growth as much as they should invest in resilience. A basic resilience strategy is to seek to get more out of existing infrastructure investments instead of adding more (and committing to maintaining it long-term).