Half of Virginians Are Now Suburbanites, With More and More Nearby
Rural Counties Growing Too
26, 2000 -- Ah, Virginia. Farm country, open fields,
back roads, old barns.
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.
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.
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.
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 suburbs' like Fairfax County, these
once-rural counties become suburbs and are eventually officially
included in Metropolitan Statistical Areas."
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
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.
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.
analyst Donna J. Tolson was co-researcher in the Cooper Center for
Public Service census analysis.
interviews or additional information Julia Martin may be reached
at (804) 982-5582.