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Census: Columbus is the 4th Fastest-Growing Big City in the US

Walker Evans Walker Evans Census: Columbus is the 4th Fastest-Growing Big City in the USPhoto by Walker Evans.
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The U.S. Census released its official population estimates for cities across the country, and Columbus continues to boom. The city proper grew by a total of 15,429 people between 2016 and 2017, climbing to an estimated total of 879,170.

The growth rate in Columbus represents a 1.79 percent year-over-year population increase, which is the fourth fastest percentage of change only behind Seattle (2.47 percent), Fort Worth (2.18 percent) and Charlotte (1.84 percent). The growth in Central Ohio is nothing new, with population increases averaging 1-2 percent for the better part of the past three decades.

“It’s part of a larger trend,” explained local economist Bill LaFayette, founder of Regionomics LLC. “As long as our economy is outperforming the rest of the state and the region and we make our community attractive for newcomers, we will continue to grow. The fact that Columbus and the rest of Franklin County is growing is a good sign for the health of the region.”

Historically, Columbus was able to assimilate population increases in a very low-density manner with aggressive land annexation policies in the mid-to-late 20th century. Between 1954 and 1972, Columbus’ land mass quadrupled in size from 40 square miles to 169 square miles. Even though the population of Columbus grew by over 180,000 people between 1950 and 1980, the population density dropped drastically from 9,500 people per square mile to 3,100 per square mile.

Since the start of the 21st century, land annexation has been practically nonexistent as the population continues to grow, which means Columbus is growing denser by the day. LaFayette points out that those changes can lead to positive outcomes as well as new challenges for the community.

“Traffic is the one area I can point to,” he stated. “Traffic is becoming heavier and it is becoming harder to predict how long a given trip will take. COTA’s efforts to align their system with where people live and work now is positive, and so are Downtown employers paying for bus passes. We have to continue to develop ways to get people around town efficiently.”

Another ongoing economic change in Columbus is the rising cost of housing, both in terms of apartment rents and real estate values. The construction of new housing stock is not keeping on pace with the 15,000 new residents added ever year, which means that demand is outpacing supply, driving prices higher across the board.

“For affordable housing to be developed, we need incentives of some sort because it is not economically feasible to build a low-value/low-cost unit at market,” said LaFayette. “We might want to think about incentivizing rehabilitation, which is usually cheaper than building new.”

For more information, visit www.census.gov and www.regionomicsllc.com.

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