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Viewpoint: The urban future isn’t all about population booms

[Source: Froma Harrop, Providence Journal] — Sunbelt-and-sprawl advocate Joel Kotkin wrote two years ago that the future of American urbanism wasn’t in the “elite cities,” such as New York, Boston, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, but in “younger, more affordable and less self-regarding places.”  He named (his order) Houston, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Phoenix, Dallas and Riverside, Calif.

Boom-city boosters like Kotkin play a numbers game, where the place with the biggest population explosion wins.  This is also a kind of Blue America-versus-Red America urbanology, which includes an element of liberal-bashing: Any place that refuses to be steamrolled by developers is called “elite.”

In the aftermath of the real-estate bust, areas overly dependent on building houses, selling houses and financing houses are in the worst shape.  Economies need non-bubble jobs.  Unemployment rates in the recent hyper-growth centers, Riverside and Las Vegas, are now well above those in the aforementioned “elite cities.”  And Boston’s 9 percent unemployment is only a point above that of the more economically diverse Sunbelt powerhouses: Houston, Dallas, and Phoenix.

There’s little point in pitting cities, regions and states against one another.  This is a big country.  One can like San Francisco for some things and Las Vegas for others.  By the way, what gave anyone the idea that Houston, Dallas and Phoenix are not “self-regarding”?  They are, as well they should be.  [Note: Read the full article at The urban future isn’t all about population booms.]

No political party discussing American West population explosion

[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.]