The Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service has just released its Virginia population projections for 2020, and there aren’t many surprises. Growth, according to this report, will continue much as it has in past decades, with the fastest growth taking place (a) in the larger metropolitan regions, especially the urban crescent, and (b) in exurban jurisdictions.
Northern Virginia will continue to grow the most rapidly — though at a much slower rate — followed by the Richmond region. Southside and Southwest Virginia will barely grow at all.
But the projections come with a big caveat. Writes Michele Claibourn:
Projections about the future are always fraught with uncertainty; many relevant factors could change in ways no one foresees. These population projections rely on the assumption that future population is a function of the past demographic trends. They aren’t forecasts or predictions based on alternative scenarios, but represent a likely outcome should current trends continue uninterrupted.
I wouldn’t want to be in the demographers’ shoes. Virginia planners need population forecasts in order to plan. Someone has to make those forecasts, and the lot has fallen to Weldon Cooper. The demographers have to make a forecast based on the information they have available.
Unfortunately, as I have argued persistently on this blog, we cannot count on current trends continuing uninterrupted.
The Demographics & Workforce group is probably correct to assume that population growth will be stronger in the major metropolitan regions than in rural counties and mill towns. Growth projection for the eight large regions are probably reasonable. But I think the demographers are mistaken to project continued growth in counties on the metropolitan edge, as shown on the map.
The United States has reached an inflection point in which market forces are pushing a significant share of commercial and residential development back toward the metropolitan core. We will see far more re-development and densification this decade than in past decades. Taking Weldon Cooper’s projections as gospel could lead to the misallocation of billions of dollars in infrastructure spending at the state and local levels.
Planners, beware. Heed Weldon Cooper’s caveat regarding uncertainty.