Dallas Is Still Losing to Its Suburbs, Census Data Says

Some day, when chronic water shortages cause green lawns to shrivel to dust, or when transportation planners find themselves unable to extend their sprawling highway network any further, or when an unbroken veneer of concrete has finally covered every square inch of land between here and Sherman, North Texas' exurban boom will wheeze to a halt.

But for the moment? For the moment the exurbs are still very much in boom, as numbers released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau remind us.

Taken as a region, the Dallas area's growth remains remarkable, second only to the Houston area in terms of the number of new residents added between July 1, 2014 and July 1, 2015:

But most of those new residents are moving not to Dallas but to Collin, Denton and Tarrant counties — i.e., the suburbs, exurbs and Fort Worth. Dallas is still growing, but its growth rate lags behind that of its neighbors:

Denton - 3.42%
Collin - 3.17%
Tarrant - 1.86%
Dallas - 1.34%

The differing growth rates become even more pronounced when one looks over the past five years:

Denton -13.81%
Collin - 12.20%
Tarrant - 7.28%
Dallas - 5.96%

And the Census Bureau hasn't yet released 2015 data for cities, just counties, so it's impossible to tell how much of Dallas County's growth is in Dallas proper versus outlying areas like Wylie, as has been the trend in recent years. So yes, Collin County is still on pace to become the region's population hub by 2040.

On the one hand, the fact that Dallas is growing at all is good news. On the other, the relatively tepid growth is worrisome given how woefully the city has underfunded things like street repairs and its police and fire pension fund. The most painless way to solve those problems is to grow, which increases tax revenue, and to become more dense, which is cheaper to maintain than sprawl. The more painful options are to hike taxes or let the city crumble, which could easily trigger a death spiral.

In addition, the exurban boom is further eroding Dallas' already tenuous influence on state and regional policy, which is bad for the city's long-term interest.

The good news is, Dallas isn't just sitting around idly letting itself wither. Just look at all those awesome new apartments! Plano might have all those fancy new jobs and a charismatic, forward-thinking mayor and a bitchin' downtown, but Dallas has the market cornered on Soviet nostalgia.
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Eric Nicholson
Contact: Eric Nicholson

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