Monday, March 3, 2014

SLC may let West Jordan become most populated city in Utah

West Jordan: future Wasatch Front power center?
One of the greatest demographic trends in Salt Lake County over the last 40 years has been the enormous population growth in the suburbs. Of course, this mirrors what has happened in the rest of the country. This matters not only because of economic, city planning, health, and transportation reasons, but also because of the power that comes from people. Broadly, population is a sign of a city’s virility and cities compete to win people the same way that businesses compete for customers. One of the main reasons for this is the tax base people provide. In extreme cases, out migration leads to a shrinking tax base which leads to cuts in important services, which causes more people to leave, which leads to further cuts in services (think Detroit).

While Salt Lake City isn't in such a conundrum, the city is suffering from a notable shift of regional power towards the south and west that has been accelerated the last few years via population shifts, but also the mini tech boom centered around Lehi and the many businesses locating in the Cottonwood Corporate Center in Cottonwood Heights. Population sprawl leads to job sprawl, and increasingly companies are basing themselves outside of Salt Lake City proper. While this is partially due to the fact that that’s now where the people are, it’s also driven by the relatively high costs of office space in SLC proper. (We’ll go into how to solve this in a future post.)

As an example of these shifts, and to kick off the series on SLC’s relative jobs decline, we’ll first quickly present some data on how SLC is losing the battle for population.

The data is from Wikipedia. As a symptom of these underlying demographic shifts, West Jordan or West Valley City could easily be the largest city in the state by ~2050. Considering that West Jordan has grown by over 50% each decade since 1970, they could plausibly surpass SLC's population by 2040. Sure, it’s easy to grow fast from a small base, but WVC and West Jordan still have plenty of land and have shown that they’re willing to build.

If SLC doesn't rethink some of its restrictions on new construction, the people and jobs will continue to flow elsewhere.

Note: for an example of the power of population, compare Springfield (the Illinois state capitol) and Chicago. More data on Salt Lake Valley population trends can be found here.

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