Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Shifting Population Landscape: Implications

While the Chicago region's population as a whole is expected to grow at a decent rate over the next 20 years, this general growth masks population shifts within the region that have important implications for the region's transportation system.

This article indicates that the congressional districts represented by Representatives Jan Schakowsky and Rahm Emanuel are among the ten districts in the nation with the fastest shirking populations in the 2000-05 period. Schakowsky's district lost 51,906 (7.9%) of its population during that period, the third greatest decrease in the nation. Emanuel's district lost 33,260 (5.1%) of its population during that period, the eighth largest decrease in the nation.

The national map (here) based on Almanac of American Politics (site) data showing population changes indicates that the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 7th congressional districts also lost population during the 2000-05 period. All of these districts cover the City of Chicago and nearby suburbs.

These congressional districts have the highest population and employment density in the region. For the most part they embody the kind of transit-oriented development so prized these days as an antidote to everything from obesity to global warming. The current level of transit investment and infrastructure in these districts is higher than in the congressional districts farther out from Chicago.

The shift in population away from these high-density, transit-friendly areas to the urban fringe does not bode well for public transit (or the environment) in this region. The loss of population in the urban core cuts away at the sales tax funding base for the Chicago Transit Authority. Transit is harder and more expensive to provide in sprawling exurbs. It also is harder to make the business case for heavy new capital investment in transit when the ridership base of the CTA, which still carries about 80% of the region's transit customers, is shrinking.

Could the current difficulties in finding increased capital and operating funding for the Chicago Transit Authority, Metra and Pace be driven in part by an almost unconscious recognition that the demographic trends in this region are pointing us in the direction of becoming a sprawling, auto-centric region like Detroit (but with a more vibrant downtown) instead of a city like London or Paris with a strong public transit system?

Speaking of which, are there any provisions in SB 572, the long-stalled bill to provide more operating funding for the service boards and "reform" the Regional Transportation Authority, that will help counteract the centrifugal forces that are pulling this region into a development pattern largely inhospitable to transit?

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

1. By now, why are you asking is SB572 is the panacea for everything (if anything)?

2. It is interesting that the two most liberal districts have the most population outflow.

3. Crain's Chicago Business had an article entitled CTA Sinkhole on the $100 million overrun on the Block 37 station, for which there is no immediate plan to institute service. Beside my mentioning yesterday how you are willing to criticize Metra, but not CTA projects, one might note that if CTA has to make good on any part of that deficit, that involves money that could have gone into rehabilitating the Red Line, in both of their districts.

4. Channel 32 had a story about vacant lots and boardups, including numerous ones owed by the city that it is very slow to redevelop. If you are making an analogy to Detroit, that it a much bigger problem than ruminating over whether people want to live in transit friendly communities. Maybe the reason that the south and west side districts are not now showing population losses is that many of those neighborhoods have already lost their population, to the south and west surburbs.

5. Another analogy to Detroit--Chicago and Detroit are the only large cities where the city runs the transit system, and the suburbs have a separate one. Similar politics?

Anonymous said...

Another flaw in your reasoning: SB572 is sponsored by state representatives in suburban areas to where city residents in those north side districts would presumably move: Hamos, Mathias, Ryg, Bassi, Nekritz, Lang and Coulson. As indicated by the farcial summit yesterday, the holdup involves those who want to play racial politics with the casino, and representatives from much further out and downstate that want to discuss the capital bill, not transit.

Rick Powell said...

SB 572 may help stabilize the transit systems' current structural budget problem, but it would also give collar counties incentives to improve their roadway network. The passage of the bill, as a factor in the area's demographics, would likely be nil.

Anonymous said...

the two questions are then -- first, should planners assume these demographic trends will continue and second, should our planning accomodate these demographic changes.

There might be some good reasons why this outward population trend might start to abate or reverse over the next generation -- or perhaps not. In any case, even if the trend continues, an argument can be made that sprawl is not beneficial and that planners should help mitigate its effects rather than accomodate them. Should public investment accomodate the public's desires or should it be used to help promote the "right" decisions?

If planners could develop more dense communities on the fringe where the growth is expected then that might be the best solution -- but that seems almost impossible. So perhaps continued investment in areas that are losing population but are more transit-oriented might help halt this outward trend, even if it ends up serving less people than we thought.

In any case, it certainly does seem that this current legislation will have little impact on the region's demographic trends.

Rick Powell said...

To follow up Anon 11:01's thoughts-

The converse is also true, with districts like the 11th and 14th gaining more population, possibly resulting in re-drawn districts at the next apportionment that will give more political clout to the outlying areas. Politically, will it be possible to invest an increasing amount of money in areas with population decline, or will the newly empowered areas demand that the investment be directed to their backyard instead?

Anonymous said...

Also, if some underlying problems--abandoned properties, gang activity, commercial activity not being encouraged (even Hyde Park could become a food desert with the Co-op having problems)--are not addressed, will people want to live in the city areas? Talking about where investment will have a payoff, rehabbing the South Side Green Line did little to bring development near it, due to the other sociological problems. One can't expect much population growth if one of the concerns regarding where stations would be retained was whether potential passengers would have to walk through rival gang territory.

Anonymous said...

Population change is not necessarily "outflow." As neighborhoods age, average household size decreases. Other demographic changes (increased education, etc.) also reduce household size so the same number of households adds up to lower population. Do you think the number of households decreased in those areas, with a lot of abandoned or torn-down houses and empty apartments? Households are likely remaing stable in these locations.

PCC said...

8:29, you're wrong on several counts.
#2: have you forgotten about Davis, Rush, JJJr., etc.?
#3. Let's look at this blog circa April 19. "On the capital side, the CTA focused on exciting new projects like the Circle Line and the Airport Express when its resources needed to be directed as more immediate needs."
#4. I don't know about you, but I've lived on the south and west sides the entire time I've lived in Chicago and can attest to really remarkable reductions in the number of vacant lots.
#5. Are you kidding? A recent 12-mile trip I took across San Francisco required four different transit agencies; a similar trip in DC required three (but made easy thanks to SmarTrip). Actually, having all suburban buses under Pace's umbrella seems to put us "above average" in terms of agency balkanization.

Remember, 572 continues the overfunding of suburban transit at the expense of underfunding more cost-effective city transit. Regardless of marginal population changes (and Census Bureau midyear estimates notoriously undercount in urban areas; compare the 1999 estimates to 2000 counts) in 2006 Cook County still accounted for 41.2% of Illinois' population (vs. 43.3% in 2000). As a matter of prudent fiscal policy and also for political reasons, we should continue to invest infrastructure monies (what little we have) in the places where people already live. We already know, from decades of research and experience, that sprawl has higher infrastructure costs, for example.

It's funny that Mod should mention Paris; its core area population has declined substantially as well -- but almost entirely due to gentrification, which results in fewer and smaller households. Population in my neighborhood is undoubtedly decreasing, since "monster houses" are now the norm.

Anonymous said...

What a great resource!