Friday, September 28, 2012

1976-2006 NC Growth in Perspective

When I noted recently that development in Durham County, NC, where I live, outpaced population growth by 8 to 1 between 1976 and 2006, I probably should have put that into perspective. 

While adjacent Wake County (Raleigh etc.) has nearly three times the land area, development there over a similar period outpaced population by only 4 to 1, but before anyone goes “all Raleigh” on me, let me add that impervious surface there expanded by 670% or 7.6 acres per day compared to Durham’s rate of 513% or 2.5 acres per day.

Friends in Raleigh told me that before the current recession Wake County was burning an acre of development an hour.  While that is a “horse race” you don’t want to win, in proportion to land area, the two counties were apparently growing at roughly the same rate.

To the west of Durham, Orange County (Chapel Hill etc.) has twice the land area but its development outpaced population by 16 to 1, double the rate in Durham.  Imperious surface grew by 1,190% or about .85 acres per day.

By comparison, in Mecklenburg County (Charlotte) development outpaced population by only 3 to 1 over that period and impervious surface grew by 355% but that translated into an astounding 13.36 acres per day.

In the mountains, Buncombe (Asheville) development outpaced population during the period by 8 to 1, the same as Durham, and impervious surface expanded by 350% or 2.75 acres per day and because it is mountainous, this expansion is even more visible.

But by comparison, Watauga (Boone,) at the northeast end of the Blue Ridge, saw development outpace population by 18 to 1 and an increase in impervious surface by 813% but at an average of just 1.1 acres per day.

The RENCI folks who are based at UNC Charlotte are doing an amazing job of mapping all counties and regions across the state as part of their Regional Growth Mapping and Forecasting urban studies project. RENCI stands for Renaissance Computing Institute, a statewide network of researchers head quartered in Chapel Hill.

The work they are doing is an incredible aid to elected officials and administrators at both the state and local level.  It provides a context in which to make more informed decisions and hopefully preserve the North Carolina’s incredible sense-of-place.


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