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Growth in Virginia's Counties, Led by Suburban Influx, Now Averages Eight Times That of Cities

January 21, 1999 -- Virginia's counties are growing some eight times faster than its cities and now are home to two-thirds of the state's residents, according to new state population estimates from the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Most of Virginia's old central cities are continuing to lose population, while their fast growing suburban neighboring jurisdictions are struggling with problems of rapid development.

Metropolitan counties -- suburbs near larger cities -- are growing the fastest of all, gaining an estimated 477,000 new residents in the 1990s, according to the Cooper Center's 1998 official state estimates. By comparison the state's larger cities have gained a total of only about 44,000 during the decade, according to demographers Julia H. Martin and Donna J. Tolson. Net migration -- new residents moving into counties from

Virginia's cities and from other states and foreign countries -- accounts for a large part, some 60 percent, of this rapid county growth, the population analysts said. Virginia's estimated 1998 population is 6.8 million, compared with 6.2 million in the 1990 census. The growth rate of about 1 percent a year is not as rapid as in the 1980s. But the counties' growth rate is averaging 1.6 percent a year in this decade, compared with a 0.2 percent rate for cities.

Growth is now spreading beyond metro counties into once-rural counties adjacent to them, Martin and Tolson said. Counties such as Louisa and Nelson in the fast-growing Charlottesville area, and the northern Shenandoah Valley counties are typical of these. The average annual growth rate for this group of counties is a close second to the metro county rate.

At the end of the century in Virginia, "the preference for a suburban lifestyle continues the trend that began with the building of the first suburbs shortly after World War II," Martin said. "The trend now extends not only into classically suburban counties but increasingly into nonmetropolitan areas as well." At the same time, she said, "cities remain landlocked, unable MORE 2 to expand their land areas, and in many cases unable to provide amenities that might attract the population to return."

Seventeen of the 20 localities that have gained the most population since 1990 are counties, and all but three of these are metro counties. The only cities in the top 20 are Manassas and Manassas Park in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, and Chesapeake, a county-sized city in the Norfolk area.

Nineteen of the 29 declining localities are cities. They include some of the largest in the state: Roanoke, Lynchburg, Richmond, Portsmouth and Norfolk. Two other central cities of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) -- Bristol and Charlottesville -- also lost population. All the declining central cities are located near rapidly growing counties, with suburbanization playing a significant role in their decline, Martin said.

A General Assembly Commission on the Condition and Future of Virginia's Cities, chaired by House Speaker Thomas W. Moss Jr. (D-Norfolk), is grappling with these trends.

Contact: Julia Martin, (804) 982-5582 or (804) 977-6025. Donna Tolson, (804) 982-5580.

FOR ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: please contact the Office of University Relations at (804) 924-7116. Television reporters should contact the TV News Office at (804) 924-7550.
SOURCE: U.Va. News Services


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