Thursday, December 27, 2007

Population Growth

There has been a lot of speculation about the rate of Florida's population change. Some have guessed, mainly through anecdotal evidence, that population statewide - and locally here in Palm Beach County - might have actually declined over the past two or so years. I personally know many people that cashed out of their property at the height of the real estate boom. This also coincided with the period right after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane barrage. Many left for other areas of the country where housing prices were lower (North Carolina was a popular choice) and where there was less of a chance of some catastrophic natural phenomena happening.

When I start talking about the need to direct population growth to already urbanized metropolitan areas, some people immediately say "What growth? Our population is declining, not increasing." Well, ladies and gentlemen, that is not the case. According to figures released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Florida's population is still increasing, albeit at a slower rate than recent history.

It is dangerous to think that we are somehow "out of the woods" when it comes to population increases and the concept of growth management for environmental and social reasons. Unfortunately, the current housing "glut" helps mask the fact that population is still increasing. Let's be thankful for the addition of new people as that will eventually resolve the current over-supply of residential units, as prices adjust and units are absorbed.
The map above is interesting for a number of reasons. First, it shows the percent change in metropolitan and micropolitan (smaller statistical areas) from April 2000 to July 2006 in the Unites States. The darker purple shaded areas show places that experienced the higher rates of growth for that period. Second, it reflects Palm Beach County being part of the Broward and Dade county area for statistical purposes. Lake Worth is part of that Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) of over 5,000,000 people. Lastly, it shows that smaller geographic areas can have higher or lower rates of growth than the state as a whole. This is important when we look at what has happened to the overall State of Florida growth rate as reported below.
The chart above (remember you can click on these images for greater detail) shows the cumulative estimates of population change from 2000 to 2007. Overall, the United States has experienced 7.2 percent growth over that period and the South (of which Florida is a part) has grown by 10.2 percent. The State of Florida has added an additional 2.2 million people over that time - which relates to an increase of 14.2 percent. That ranks as seventh fastest growing state in the nation. Florida is the fourth largest state in population, as compared to the other 49 states. The chart below shows the same information for states coming later in the alphabet.
The chart above shows similar information and rankings, but does it for just the 12 month period from July 2006 to July 2007. Here we see evidence that Florida's rate of growth has slowed and is actually growing less quickly than the entire southern region. In fact, according to this data, it is now the nineteenth fastest growing state in the nation. But, it is still growing! If we refer back to the map above, we see that our region is still one of the faster growing regions of that state - with the exception of the Orlando, Treasure Coast and other areas. Remember too that our region has a larger population to begin with so an increase of say 1 percent amounts to many more actual people that a 1 percent increase in lesser populated areas.

So the point here is that population is still increasing in our state and region. We have a choice. Do we want to channel that growth into already developed areas where the infrastructure exists and the ecological damage has already been done? Or do we want to direct that growth to areas that are either productive farmland or environmentally sensitive areas that lack the transportation and utility infrastructure necessary to support that growth? Development in those sensitive, non-developed areas would be primarily lower density "sprawl" patterns that are dependent on fossil fuel burning single passenger vehicles - hastening the global problems of climate change and the rest.

The next time you think about the redevelopment pattern we have in Lake Worth - think about this. Also think about how careful we have been in relation to our nearby coastal municipal neighbors - West Palm Beach, Lantana, Boynton Beach and Delray Beach. If you would like to take a safari with me to those cities and compare their redevelopment to what we have experienced here in Lake Worth, I'd be happy to do so.