[Source: Froma Harrop, Houston Chronicle and reprinted in the Arizona Republic] — There’s a burning concern in the American West — almost an obsession — that Democrats did not touch in their convention here. Nor will Republicans in St. Paul. It is the U.S. population explosion. The West is feeling the brunt of it, as flowing lava of housing developments and big-box crudscapes claim its cherished open spaces — and increasingly scarce water supplies. The U.S. Census Bureau now expects America’s population to top 400 million by 2039, far earlier than previously forecast. The 300-million mark was hit only two years ago, so if this prediction is correct, the headcount will have soared by 100 million people in 33 short years.
America’s fastest-growing region has been and will continue to be the Intermountain West. Its megalopolises — centered on Denver, Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Salt Lake City — are set to add 13 million people by 2040, according to a Brookings Institution study. This would be a doubling of their population. Hyper-growth still brings out happy talk in some circles. The Brookings report looks at the population forecasts for the urban corridor on the eastern face of the Rockies, spreading from Colorado into Wyoming, and enthuses, “Such projections point to a huge opportunity for the Front Range to improve on the current level of prosperity.” There are challenges, it says, but they can be met — and you can almost hear local hearts breaking — by new roads, bigger airports, more office parks.
And where oh where are they going to find water? Every county in Colorado was declared a federal drought disaster area in 2002, when the population stood at 4.5 million. It is expected to approach 8 million by 2035. As former Colorado Gov. Dick Lamm notes, the region is so dry that you can still see the wagon wheel trails laid down in the 1840s. “This is an area that plans to add 13 million people?” Lamm said to me. “Crazy.” [Note: To read the full opinion piece, click here.]
[Source: “A Region on the Brink: the Southern Intermountain West,” Brian Krier, Next American City] — The Southern Intermountain West encompasses Arizona, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, and Utah, a massive region facing a considerable population boom and a rapidly evolving economy, neither of which are expected to slow down in the next few decades. According to the report, the Mountain megas’ population and job base could very well double by 2040, a rate that will drastically outpace the rest of the country. The report concludes that growth in the region will have “tremendous implications for the built environment and regional construction activity,” estimating that the current housing stock will need to be nearly doubled and non-residential space would need to increased by a total of 9.4 billion square feet. Future expenditures for this alone would push well into the trillions of dollars.
Geography will also continue to play a key role in the development of the region. Because the federal government remains the region’s principal landowner, the policies that govern these areas have significant impact on what is leftover. With much of the densely populated areas tucked neatly inside mountain ranges or sprung up from deserts, a number of quality of life issues have sprung up that need addressing: access to public transportation, reducing automobile dependence, and improving urban spaces. All of these concerns, of course, pale in comparison to the most critical issue facing the West: water management. As development continues throughout the West, water access and management may very well determine whether this current boom can be sustained.
In order to face these issues head-on, the report calls for a “new federal-state-mega partnership that will allow the region’s pivotal megapolitan areas to surmount their common challenges and assert their leadership in the nation and the world.” [Note: To read the full article, click here.]