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Over Half of Virginians Are Now Suburbanites, With More and More Nearby Rural Counties Growing Too

January 26, 2000 -- Ah, Virginia. Farm country, open fields, back roads, old barns.

That may be one image, but it is increasingly not the statistical picture. At the turn of a new century, an estimated 5.4 million of Virginia's 6.9 million residents, or 78 percent, live in Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSAs), and a high proportion of these metro-Virginians live in suburbs, according to 1999 census estimates from the University of Virginia's Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

"The result is that Virginia is not only a metropolitan state, but increasingly a suburban one," said Julia H. Martin, the center's director of demographic research. "Over half its total population consists of suburbanites, who outnumber those who live in rural counties and nonmetropolitan cities by over two to one." Martin calculates that about 52 percent of the state's residents now live in suburban areas.

Like much of the country, Virginia may be undergoing a "rural rebound" in population growth, Martin says. Many of the state's rural counties that were losing population during the last several decades are now gaining. But the growth is mostly at the rural edges of metropolitan areas, simply expanding their outward push, she says.

A startling fact illustrating Virginia's intense suburbanization trend is that among the state's 59 nonmetropolitan counties, 37 share a border with at least one metropolitan locality, Martin points out. These border counties "are an important group for understanding Virginia's growth patterns," she says, "since historically they have been prime candidates for metropolitanization. As growth spreads outward from the central cities of our metropolitan areas, and increasingly it spreads from heavily urbanized Œsuburbs' like Fairfax County, these once-rural counties become suburbs and are eventually officially included in Metropolitan Statistical Areas."

Virginia's rural counties have gained almost 92,000 residents since 1990, and over 70 percent of the rural growth has taken place in metro-bordering counties, Martin says. The neighboring suburbs are growing even faster.

In addition to the outward spread of population from cities and suburbs, another factor likely playing a role in Virginia's growth is interstate highways. There is "certainly much evidence" that interstates are a growth factor, Martin says, citing growth along the corridor of I-81 in the Shenandoah Valley, I-66 through Northern Virginia and even I-77 in rural Southwest Virginia.

Distance from an interstate may be what matters most in slowing population growth, she says. The three slowly growing areas of Southwest Virginia, Southside and the Northern Neck all contain significant numbers of localities that are more than one county away from interstate, she points out.

Research analyst Donna J. Tolson was co-researcher in the Cooper Center for Public Service census analysis.

For interviews or additional information Julia Martin may be reached at (804) 982-5582.

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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