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How Suburban is Columbus, Actually?

Walker Evans Walker Evans How Suburban is Columbus, Actually?
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Rail transit discussion is back in full force following last Thursday’s announcement about the study of a Downtown-Airport passenger rail line. One of the most common oppositional opinions is that Columbus is too suburban to support proper mass transit. But is it really more suburban than other US cities of similar size?

Data analysis site www.allcolumbusdata.com decided to take a look by comparing the exurban (furthest flung and lowest density suburbs) in the 18 US metro areas that range from 1.5 to 2.5 million in population (Columbus currently has 1.9 million people, according to 2012 US Census estimates).

“Exurban areas are defined (generally) as fringe development where 20% or more of its workers commute to urban areas, have low housing density and relatively high population growth,” explains Jon Seymour of AllColumbusData. “You can’t really get more suburban than that without going into completely rural areas.”

The findings reveal that Columbus ranked in the middle of the pack in 2000, with only 4.9% of the population living in the exurbs, and only a slight increase to 7.7% in 2010. During that decade, the exurbs saw a 78% increase in population, which ranked 7th out of the 18 metro areas (Las Vegas took 1st place with a nearly 400% increase).

AllColumbusData further breaks down the past decade of growth to reveal that the majority of it occurred prior to the national recession. From 2000 to 2007, the exurban population of Columbus grew by 62%, while it only grew by 10% from 2007 to 2010. Meanwhile, the more urban boundaries defined by Franklin County was recognized in 2012 as the fastest growing county in the state, surpassing the more suburban Delaware County.

“The slowdown during the 2007-2010 period could’ve mostly been tied to the recession and the housing crash rather than strictly a change in development patterns, though that slowdown was not universal,” explains Seymour. “Some cities actually experienced increases in the exurban growth rate, and those places ranged from post-industrial to high-growth Sun Belt, so there doesn’t appear to be a pattern.  For Columbus however, the fact that the urban core is seeing so much renewed interest and development may be an early indication that exurbia will remain at least a bit more limited than it used to be.”

While Columbus could certainly stand to benefit in many ways from an increase in dense, walkable neighborhoods located throughout the entire region, it already has a lower percentage of exurban than Austin, Nashville, Charlotte, Orlando, Las Vegas and Cincinnati. All of which have some form of commuter rail, streetcar or light rail systems.

“What these numbers show is that Columbus is actually in the bottom half of exurban population versus its 17 peers, but is in the top half of growth in that population,” said Seymour. “Columbus is definitely not anywhere near the sprawl king it’s often made out to be, even within its own peer group.”

For more information, CLICK HERE to visit www.allcolumbusdata.com.

Photo by La Citta Vita on Flickr.

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