Research and discussion for citizens and decision makers

David Crossley

Brilliant government success!

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In this era of disrespect for government competence, there are sometimes examples of outstanding successes engineered by elected and other public officials that are overlooked by citizens and the media. One example of that is revealed in the recently published 2010 Census numbers for our region.

Houston Tomorrow’s analysis shows that public policy aimed at moving growth away from our 134 towns, cities, and villages to the unincorporated areas of the 13 counties has been breathtakingly successful. In the 2000 Census, our towns and cities had 65% of all the population. In the new numbers, that share drops to 58%. That’s because fully 71% of all the growth was in unincorporated areas.

There is always competition between counties and cities for future tax base, voters, and representatives to the Legislature and Congress, so this dynamic is important. While most of our towns and cities did gain population, 38 actually lost population at a time when the region was growing like crazy. Those 38 lost nearly 17,000 people. To be sure, one county (Matagorda) lost population, and three counties (Brazoria, Galveston, and Walker) actually gained more in their towns and cities than unincorporated area with 80%, 97%, and 60% of their growth in their towns and cities, respectively.

News reports have focused on the “fastest growing” counties, so Fort Bend County (up 65%) and Montgomery County (up 55%) got all the play, while poor turtle-like Harris County only grew by 20%. What the stories failed to report was that Harris County added 56% (691,881 people) of all the growth in the region, substantially more than all the 12 other counties combined, and almost twice as much as Fort Bend and Montgomery combined. (For that matter, Harris County added more people than live in the cities of Fort Worth, or Boston, or Washington DC).

Still, the big news in Harris County was that 75% of its growth was in the unincorporated areas, and only 25% in its 34 towns and cities. When we look back at how many of Harris County’s citizens lived in no town or city in 2000 the number was 31%. In 2010, that had risen to 38%.

In “fast growing” Fort Bend County, the success was even greater: in 2000, only 41% lived in unincorporated areas and in 2010 that had grown to 56%. Fast growing Montgomery County, however, didn’t change. In 2000, 81% lived in unincorporated areas and now it is 82%.

This struggle between Harris County’s Commissioners and their towns and cities is very clear when studying the County’s “Population Study - First Quarter Review” last June. This report is almost entirely about the land that is unincorporated and the case for increasing population in that land area. It is important to realize that the population study and the policies to increase unincorporated growth affect about 1/3 of the County’s citizens. Actually, at the beginning of the decade 31% lived there; today 38% do.

[Note: There are several sets of numbers flying around, with some analysts noting mistakes relating to boundaries and some figures treating Census Designated Places as incorporated and some not. All the references in this post are from the latest numbers posted by the Houston-Galveston Area Council and treat CDPs as part of the unincorporated areas, as they have no local municipality other than the county. For more on boundary and potential under-counting disputes, see this Houston Chronicle story: City to challenge census count]


Full Story: Brilliant government success!
Source: The List, Mar 7, 2011

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