Austin’s Comprehensive Plan: Out-of-touch with reality.

COST Commentary: The City of Austin is currently spending millions of traxpayer dollars on a “Comprehensive Plan” which is totally out of touch with the reality of its citizens’ long term trends and their plans, aspirations, priorities and dreams. The preliminary ‘Austin Comprehensive Plan’ is based on significant population densification and increase in the use of mass transit. This is in direct conflict with long term trends in Austin and throughout the Nation.

Below are three early articles based on the 2010 census results and a reference to a fourth. The last two articles below by Wendel Cox are related and are in reverse date sequence. These three articles and the census data substantiate the disconnect and the disregard Austin City planners and leaders have for the wishes of the vast majority of Austin citizens. The current direction of Austin City planners will increase congestion, taxes and fees while decreasing affordability and desirability. This reduction in mobility and affordability will reduce opportunity for all income levels but particularly limited income citizens, resulting in significant reductions in Austin citizens’ quality of life.

The third article below has comparative 2010 statistics for Austin and severn other cities including comments regarding Austin.

COST’s summary is: This entire ‘City Planning’ process does not result in a planning vision representative of the vast majority of Austin’s citizens. The conclusions are primarily determined by the City planning staff with a predetermined solution. The City staff works with the pretense of public input by the participation of a minuscule number of self-selected participants which are not a representative sample of Austin citizens as a whole. Therefore, results are not valid and the wasteful spending of millions of taxpayer dollars reduces efforts which could be applied to responsible tasks to support priority needs of citizens.

It is obvious this planning process is substantially influenced by a small number of planners, City executives and elected officials with no foundation to support their assumptions and vision. The base information provided to the public is misleading, distorted and incorrect to a very significant degree.
In addition, there has been little understanding and analysis from other cities regarding the various factors and implications on their growth, economic prosperity and quality of life.
The ‘scenario’ process used in this Comprehensive Plan was almost a carbon copy of the Envision Central Texas (ECT) process which was riddled with flaws in assumptions, facts and data for all the reasons above.

The probability of developing a responsible and representative plan in this process is much worse than allowing normal market forces to be 100% in control of the future of Austin. We have experienced failure after failure of inexperienced, idealistic, ideology driven planner’s and City leaders to provide sound visions for Austin’s future.
Austin American-Statesman Article
A subset of this demographic story relating to the Comprehensive Plan and the Austin area is covered in the Statesman article published March 18, 2011: Census shows major shift to suburbs among African Americans.

The Protean Future Of American Cities

by Joel Kotkin 03/07/2011, Published in

The ongoing Census reveals the continuing evolution of America’s cities from small urban cores to dispersed, multi-polar regions that includes the city’s surrounding areas and suburbs. This is not exactly what most urban pundits, and journalists covering cities, would like to see, but the reality is there for anyone who reads the numbers.

To date the Census shows that growth in America’s large core cities has slowed, and in some cases even reversed. This has happened both in great urban centers such as Chicago and in the long-distressed inner cities of St. Louis, Baltimore, Wilmington, Del., and Birmingham, Ala.

This would surely come as a surprise to many reporters infatuated with growth in downtown districts, notably in Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver and elsewhere. For them, good restaurants, bars and clubs trump everything. A recent Newsweek article, for example, recently acknowledged Chicago’s demographic and fiscal decline but then lavishly praised the city, and its inner city for becoming “finally hip.”

Sure, being cool is nice, but the obsession with hipness often means missing a bigger story: the gradual diminution of the urban core as engines for job creation. For example, while Chicago’s Loop has doubled its population to 20,000, it has also experienced a large drop in private-sector employment, which now constitutes a considerably smaller share of regional employment than a decade ago. The same goes for the new urbanist mecca of Portland as well as the heavily hyped Los Angeles downtown area.

None of this suggests, however, that the American urban core is in a state of permanent decline. The urban option will continue to appeal to small but growing segment of the population, and certain highly paid professionals, notably in finance, will continue to cluster there.

But the bigger story — all but ignored by the mainstream media — is the continued evolution of urban regions toward a more dispersed, multi-centered form. Brookings’ Robert Lang has gone even further, using the term “edgeless cities” to describe what he calls an increasingly “elusive metropolis” with highly dispersed employment.

Rather than a cause for alarm, this form of development simply reflects the protean vitality of American urban forms. Two regions, whose results were released last week, reveal these changing patterns. One is the Raleigh region, which has experienced a growth rate of 42%, likely the highest of the nation’s regions with a population over 1 million. This metropolitan area, anchored by universities and technology-oriented industries, is among the lowest-density regions in the country, with under 1,700 persons per square mile, slightly less than Charlotte, Nashville and Atlanta.

Unlike the geographically constrained older urban areas, Raleigh’s historical core municipality experienced strong growth, from 288,000 to 404,000, a gain of 40%. This gain was aided by annexations that added nearly 30% to the area of the municipality (from 113 to 143 square miles). The annexations of recent decades have left the city of Raleigh with an overwhelmingly suburban urban form. In 1950, at the beginning of the post-World War II suburban boom, the city of Raleigh had a population of 66,000, living in a land area of only 11 square miles.

Even here, however, the suburbs (the area outside the city of Raleigh) gained nearly two-thirds of the metropolitan area growth (65%) and now have 64% of the region’s population. Over the last ten years, the suburbs have grown 43%. It is here that much of the economic growth of the Research Triangle has taken place, as companies concentrate in predominately suburban communities such as Cary.

Yet in most demographically healthy urban regions, the growth continues to be primarily in the suburban centers. One particularly relevant example is the Kansas City area, a dynamic region anchoring what we have identified as “the zone of sanity.” Like most American regions, the Kansas City area is growing, but in ways that often do not resemble the fantasies of urban density boosters.

KC’s growth pattern is important and could be a harbinger of what’s to come in this decade. Along with Indianapolis, this resurgent Heartland region is expanding faster than the national average. It is also attracting many talented people, ranking in our top ten list of the country’s “brain magnets,” a performance better than such long-standing talent attractors as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Boston. Between 2007 and 2009, the Kansas City region’s growth in college-educated residents was more than twice the rate of our putative intellectual meccas of New York, Chicago or Los Angeles.

But despite the wishes of some in Kansas City’s traditional establishment, this cannot be interpreted as meaning that the “hip and cool” are being lured en masse to the city’s inner core. Over the past decade, as in most American regions, Kansas City has expanded far more outward than inward. Despite a modest increase in the city’s population of some 18,000 — much of it in the city’s furthest urban boundaries — the city’s population remains below its 1950 high. On the other hand, some 91% of its 200,000 population increase occurred in the suburban periphery.

Critically, it is important to note that this expansion reflects not so much the growth of “bedroom” communities, but a dramatic shift of employment to the periphery. By far the most important center for this new suburban growth in jobs and people lies across the river in Johnson County, Kan.. Over the past decade, Johnson County has accounted for roughly half of the region’s total growth.

Johnson County – which boasts among the highest levels of educated people in the country — also has become the primary locale for many technology and business service firms, with more people commuting into the area than out. This reflects an increasingly suburbanized economic base. Over the past decade the urban core of Jackson County has lost 42,000 jobs, while the surrounding suburbs have grown by 20,000, with the biggest growth in largely exurban Platte County.

So what does this tell us about the future of the American urban region? Certainly the expansion of relatively low-density peripheral areas negates the notion of a ”triumphant” urban core. Dispersion is continuing virtually everywhere, and with it, a movement of the economic center of gravity away from the city centers in most regions.

But in another way these patterns augur a bright future for an expansive American metropolis that, while not hostile to the urban center, recognizes that most businesses and families continue to prefer lower-density, decentralized settings. The sooner urbanists and planners can accommodate themselves to this fact, the sooner we can work on making these new dynamic patterns of residence and employment more sustainable and livable for the people and companies who will continue to gravitate there.

This piece originally appeared at

Joel Kotkin is executive editor of and is a distinguished presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University, and an adjunct fellow of the Legatum Institute in London. He is author of The City: A Global History. His newest book is The Next Hundred Million: America in 2050, released in February, 2010.


by Wendell Cox 03/13/2011

Our virtually instant analysis of 2000 census trends in metropolitan areas has the generated wide interest. The principal purpose is to chronicle the change in metropolitan area population and the extent to which that change occurred in the urban core as opposed to suburban areas.

From a policy perspective, this is especially timely because of the recurring report that suburbanites have been moving to the urban core over the last decade. We have dealt with this issue extensively, noting the lack of data for any such interpretation. As of this writing, with data for more than half of the major metropolitan areas (over 1,000,000 population) in, there remains virtually no evidence that people are “moving back to the city” (actually, most suburban growth came from outside metropolitan areas, not from the “cities”).

The Policy Context: Urban Cores and Suburbs
This discussion is not new, and generally pits anti-automobile interests – including much of the urban planning community – who favor the urban development patterns of prewar America (generally the urban planning community) against those who would prefer allowing people to make their own choices about where they live or work.

Over the past 60 or more years, the data indicates that consumers have nearly exclusively chosen less dense and more suburban areas. This is not to suggest, however that many of us, including this author, automatically favor suburbs over urban cores. Indeed, I have enjoyed years of alternating between living in suburban America and the urban core of the (inner) ville de Paris (arrondissements I, II, V, VII and XI). But if you have a taste for urban living, that does not mean high-density cities are inherently superior to suburban living. People, after all, have different preferences.

Urban areas include both urban cores and suburbs. The delineation of urban cores and suburbs is subjective. There was for example a time – say around 1820 – when development to the north of New York’s Houston Street would have been considered suburban. More than two thirds of the present ville de Paris was suburban before the city limits were expanded in the 1860s. Now, no one would consider, for example, Washington Square or Herald Square to be suburban and the suburbs of Paris now extended to more than 80 times the land area of the 1860s ville de Paris.

One overlooked way to approach the current debate would be to look not at municipal boundaries but forms of development. Around 1950 we began the breakneck expansion of automobile oriented suburbanization which had proceeded more modestly for two or more decades before.

The Urban Core:
This analysis defines the urban core consistent with the criteria of the US Bureau of the Census in 1950. Metropolitan areas are organized around urban areas (urbanized areas). We use the “central cities” of the core urban areas in 1950 as the urban core in the analysis. Those portions outside the 1950 urban core are thus considered suburban. Where an urban area did not exist in 1950 (such as in Las Vegas and Tucson), the urban core is the central city of the urban area when it was first established.

No existing specification of the urban core is ideal, though the present one is appropriate for the policy purpose stated above. Clearly, the urban core would be far better defined at the census tract or even census block level based upon the characteristics of an urban core. This would include factors such as high residential population density, high transit usage, walkability and a high percentage of multiple unit residential buildings.

Such an ideal definition of the urban core cannot be measured with municipal boundaries. Yet, municipal boundaries have routinely been used by researchers to delineate the urban core, not least because the data is readily available. However there three notable difficulties with the use of municipal boundaries to define the urban core.

First, some areas with urban core characteristics are outside the core municipalities. As The Infrastructurist notes, municipalities like Jersey City or Hoboken have the characteristics of urban cores. However, since they are not a part of the core municipality (city of New York), they are classified as suburbs in our analysis. It is well to remember that both Hoboken and Jersey City represented suburban development, during their period of greatest growth, before 1930.

Second, other areas with postwar suburban characteristics are inside the core municipalities. For example, Richmond County (Staten Island), a part of the city of New York is principally suburban. Much of it was developed well after 1950 and consists largely of single family homes. The median construction date of owner occupied housing in Staten Island is 1970, which compares to 1965 in adjacent Middlesex County, New Jersey. It is newer than in Morris County New Jersey (1965), much of which is outside the urban area (all median house construction years from the 2000 census). Major portions of core municipalities such as Los Angeles, Houston, Dallas, Portland, Seattle, Denver and others are also postwar suburban.

Third, in a number of core municipalities, there is little, if any urban core, at least from a residential perspective. For example, one would be hard-pressed to identify an urban core in municipalities such as Phoenix or San Jose (despite the fact that the San Jose urban area is more dense than New York urban area). In metropolitan areas such as these, it might be preferable to define virtually all growth as suburban, though our analysis still defines these municipalities as the urban core.

Based upon the early results from the census it seems that if the more ideal census tract-based urban core definition were used, the urban cores would be shown to be capturing an even smaller share of growth, while suburban areas would be capturing more. But this analysis will have to wait until all the numbers are in.

Historical Core Municipality
The term “historical core municipality” is used to denote the urban cores using municipal boundaries. The term “city” is avoided because of its multiple definitions. Cities can be municipalities (such as in the city of New York), urban areas (such as the New York urban area), metropolitan areas (such as the New York metropolitan area) or multi-county regions or prefectures of countries like China (such as Wuhan or Shenyang).

This lack of clarity can be routinely seen in media reports that indiscriminately (and without comprehension) make comparisons between cities, using differing definitions. This can even extend even to more technical literature (see pages 12-14 of Urban Transportation Policy Requires Factual Foundations).

Principal Cities
Starting in 2003, the Census Bureau substituted the term “principal city” for the previous “central city” term. The use of principal city designations and the largest municipality as the principal name of a metropolitan area are appropriate for the purposes intended by the Census Bureau.

In its State of Metropolitan America, the Brookings Institution uses up to the three largest principal cities (which it calls “primary cities”) and consider other parts of metropolitan areas as suburbs.

Neither approach, however, is appropriate in analyzing postwar suburbanization. Any municipality in a metropolitan area with more than 250,000 population is considered a principal city, regardless of its urban form. Any municipality with more than 50,000 population but which also has more jobs than resident workers is also a principal city, regardless of its actual on the ground reality.

This leads to a situation in which, for example, Los Angeles has 26 principal cities. Any postwar urban form definition would classify nearly all as suburban (and much of the historical core municipality of Los Angeles, notably the San Fernando Valley, itself is suburban). For example, the suburban city of Cerritos is a principal city, yet was largely filled by dairy farms well into the 1950s and was called Dairy Valley.

Other principal cities hardly existed in 1950. Virginia Beach has become the largest municipality in its metropolitan area, having displaced Norfolk. Yet, in 1950 Virginia Beach had a population of only 5,400, well below the 50,000 threshold that was required of central cities (smaller than Ponchatoula, Louisiana, doubtless an unfamiliar municipality to most readers). Arlington, Texas, the third municipality in the Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington metropolitan area, had a population of 7,700 in 1950, again well below the central city threshold. Arlington is not an urban core, it is a suburban jurisdiction.

Virginia Beach is a good example of a suburban area that has become the largest municipality in a metropolitan area. Its greater size, however, does not make Virginia Beach the urban core. Otherwise, Contra Costa County in California could, by consolidating with its constituent municipalities (God forbid), replace San Francisco as the metropolitan area’s urban core.

Perhaps the ultimate example of the problem of principal cities being confused with urban cores is Hemet, California, a principal city of the Riverside-San Bernardino metropolitan area that is, in fact an exurb and not in the primary urban area.

Toward the Future
An eventual more precise analysis of urban cores and suburban trends will be welcome. Yet, as our analysis of trends in New Jersey indicated, even the growth in more urban core oriented municipalities was minuscule compared to the state’s suburban growth. Further, much of the urban core growth in the nation came from areas that, although formally located within “city limits” actually were on the suburban fringe. This was true, for example, in Kansas City, Oklahoma City and even Portland. This suggests that the small share of growth reported in urban cores would be even less if it were based on census tract data; and suburbanization, as a way of life, may indeed be even more prevalent than this year’s numbers suggest.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life”

by Wendell Cox 02/22/2011

Metropolitan area results are beginning to trickle in from the 2010 census. They reveal that, at least for the major metropolitan areas so far, there is little evidence to support the often repeated claim by think tanks and the media that people are moving from suburbs to the historical core municipalities. This was effectively brought to light in a detailed analysis of Chicago metropolitan area results by New Geography’s Aaron Renn. This article analyzes data available for the eight metropolitan areas with more than 1 million population for which data had been released by February 20.

Summary: Summarized, the results are as follows. A detailed analysis of the individual metropolitan areas follows (Table 1).

• In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the preponderance of growth between 2000 and 2010 was in the suburbs, as has been the case for decades. This has occurred even though two events – the energy price spike in mid-decade and the mortgage meltdown – were widely held to have changed this trajectory. On average, 4 percent of the growth was in the historical core municipalities, and 96 percent of the growth was in the suburbs (Figure 1).

• In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the suburbs grew at a rate substantially greater than that of the core municipality. The core municipalities had an average growth from 2000 to 2010 of 3.2 percent. Suburban growth was 21.7 percent, nearly 7 times as great. Overall, the number of people added to the suburbs was 14 times that added to the core municipalities.

Analysis of Individual Metropolitan Areas: The major metropolitan areas for which data is available are described below in order of their population size (Figure 2 and Table 1).

Chicago: The core municipality of Chicago lost 200,000 residents between 2000 and 2010. Suburban growth was 546,000, adding up to total metropolitan area growth of 346,000 people. The suburbs accounted for 158 percent of the metropolitan area growth. The core municipality decline was stunning in the face of the much ballyhooed urban renaissance in that great city. Yet this renaissance was limited enough as to not lead to an expanding population.

The decline in the core municipality population represents a major departure from the 2009 Bureau of the Census estimates, which would have implied a 2010 population at least 170,000 higher (assumes the growth rate of 2008 two 2009).

Instead all of the growth was in the outer suburbs, beyond the inner suburbs of Cook County.

Dallas-Fort Worth: The historical core municipality of Dallas had a modest population increase of 9000, or less than 1 percent between 2000 and 2010. In contrast, the suburbs experienced an increase of 1.2 million, or 30 percent. Thus, approximately 1 percent of the metropolitan area growth was in the core municipality, while 99 percent was in the suburbs, most of it in the outer suburbs. The inner suburbs added 14 percent to their 2000 population, while the outer suburbs added 36 percent.

The population figure for the core municipality of Dallas – consistently among the strong core areas – was surprisingly low, at 9 percent below (117,000) the expected level. The suburban population was 1 percent (71,000) below expectations.

Houston: The historical core municipality of Houston had comparatively strong population growth, adding 146,000 and 8 percent to its 2000 population. However this figure was 8 percent, or 174,000 below the expected figure. By contrast, the suburban growth was 39 percent, more than five times that of the central jurisdiction. The suburban population growth was 1,085,000, more than six times that of the core jurisdiction. The suburban population was 4 percent or 144,000 higher than expected.

The core jurisdiction of Houston accounted for 12 percent of the metropolitan area growth while the suburbs s accounted for 88 percent. This was evenly distributed between the inner suburbs of Harris County and the outer suburbs. The inner suburbs added 38 percent to their population while the outer suburbs added 41 percent.

Washington: Reversing a decade’s long trend, the historical core jurisdiction of Washington (DC) had a small population gain between 2000 and 2010. But the Washington, DC gain of 30,000 pales by comparison to the suburban gain, which was more than 20 times greater, at 700,000. The core jurisdiction accounted for 4 percent of the population gain, while the suburbs accounted for 96 percent.

More than 60 percent of the growth in the metropolitan area was outside the inner suburban jurisdictions that border Washington, DC (Arlington County and Alexandria in Virginia, together with Montgomery County and Prince George’s County in Maryland), while the inner suburbs accounted for 36 percent of the growth. The population increase in the inner suburbs was 9 percent, compared to 37 percent in the outer suburbs.

Jefferson County in West Virginia was not included in the analysis because data is not yet available.

Baltimore: The historical core municipality of Baltimore, the site of another ballyhooed urban comeback, lost 30,000 people, or 5 percent of its 2000 population. Baltimore’s 2010 population was 4 percent or 16,000 below the expected level. The suburbs experienced a 10 percent or 188,000 person increase. The region’s population increase was roughly equal in numbers between the inner suburbs and the outer suburbs, although the exurban percentage increase was nearly twice as large.

San Antonio: The historical core municipality of San Antonio experienced the largest population increase among the eight metropolitan areas, at 183,000, a roughly 16 percent population jump. The city of San Antonio accounted 43 percent of the growth while suburbs in Bexar County and further out accounted for a larger 57 percent. However, the suburban population increase was 248,000 or 44 percent. This is something of a turnaround in trends that favored the city of San Antonio in the past because of its vast sprawl and predominant share of the metropolitan population.

The city of San Antonio population was 5 percent or 65,000 people short of the expected 2010 level. The suburban population was 15 percent more or 104,000 more than the expected level.

Indianapolis: The historical core area of Indianapolis and Marion County (including enclaves within Indianapolis) grew 5 percent and accounted for 19 percent of the metropolitan area growth. In contrast, the surrounding suburbs grew 28 percent, representing r 81 percent of the metropolitan area growth. Overall, the core municipality added 44,000 people, while the suburbs added more than four times as many, at 188,000.

Austin: The historical core municipality of Austin experienced the greatest growth of any core jurisdiction in the eight metropolitan areas, at 20 percent. Even so, growth in the suburban areas was nearly 3 times as high at 56 percent. The city of Austin (core municipality) accounted for 29 percent of the metropolitan area population growth, while the suburbs accounted for 71 percent. Overall, the central municipality grew 134,000, while the suburbs grew 2.5 times as much, at 333,000.

(COST Comment: Austin is the smallest Metropolitan area is this comparison. Its larger percentage growth in the Core Municipality is somewhat consistant with other larger Metropolitan areas such as Dallas with its larger Core Municipality growth percentage in its earler years and smaller size.)

Generally it is fair to say that, so far, suburban areas are growing far faster than urban cores. In addition, most of the fastest growing core municipalities are those areas that are themselves largely suburban, particularly in relatively young cities like San Antonio, Houston and Austin.

Among the eight metropolitan areas analyzed, the older core jurisdictions (with median house construction dates preceding 1960) tended to either lose population or grow modestly. This is illustrated by the city of Chicago, with a median house construction date of 1945, Baltimore with a median house construction date of 1946 and Washington with a median house construction date of 1949 (Table 2). Generally, the central jurisdictions with greater suburbanization (with median house construction dates of 1960 or later) grew more quickly. For example, highly suburban central jurisdictions like Austin with a median house construction date of 1983 and San Antonio, with a median house construction date of 1970, grew fastest. So much for the long forecast, and apparently still elusive, “return to the city”.

Wendell Cox is a Visiting Professor, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris and the author of “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life ”

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