Building communities so people can walk from home to work or from work to lunch and shopping can do as much or more to reduce congestion in the Triangle than public transportation.
It is also a model of development that two growing demographic groups in the region – millennials and retirees – are looking for in a place to live.
These are two of the observations made by demographers and planners who spoke at a forum on population growth in the region on Wednesday evening. The event, part of The News & Observer’s Community Voices project, drew over 150 people to the NC Museum of History.
Ken Bowers, the planning director for the City of Raleigh, said the Wake Transit Plan rightly places a focus on improving bus service over the next decade because that’s the best way to connect the shopping centers spread across the county. But Bowers said the development of pedestrian centers, such as North Hills, does more to reduce traffic than better bus service on its own.
“The more we can renovate more employment centers to incorporate other elements – housing and retail – the more trips we will make on the road, because now those elements are within walking distance of where you are. find you, ”Bowers said.
Public places and spaces that are easily accessible by public transit and on foot are popular with young and old, said Audrey Galloway, AARP associate state director for the community. AARP has adapted guidelines of World Health Organization to help cities become more “livable” for older people, and Galloway says these are the kinds of measures that help people of all ages.
“What you will find is that seniors and millennials have a lot in common,” she said.
Galloway and Bowers were on a panel that also included Sharon Peterson, Wake County Long Range Planning Administrator; Steve Rao, Morrisville City Council member, and Rebecca Tippett, Carolina demographics director at the Carolina Population Center at UNC-Chapel Hill.
Among their observations on population growth in the Triangle and North Carolina:
▪ The state’s population grew by 738,000 between 2010 and 2017, and 43% of those people settled in nine cities, including Cary, Durham and Raleigh. “We have a lot of growth, and a lot of it is happening in a very small handful of places,” Tippett said.
▪ Since 2010, Wake County’s population has grown by 171,000 people, and 45% of them are 55 and older, Peterson said. Many older people have moved to the county to retire or be close to their grandchildren, but a significant number have also come to seek employment, she said.
▪ Hispanics have yet to become a major force in electoral politics in North Carolina, but they may soon be. Most of the state’s Hispanic population is under 18, Tippett said. “So we’re not necessarily going to see that effect on the electorate for two years, four years, 10 years, by which time there will be a large group of Hispanics eligible to vote.”
▪ Transplants have driven much of North Carolina‘s growth, but natives are also more likely to stay here than in other states. “Only Texas has a higher share of adults born in the country still living in the state,” Tippett said. “North Carolina is what we see as both a sticky state and a magnetic state. So we appeal to a lot of people for a lot of different reasons.
▪ Raleigh’s population growth has averaged over 3% per year for a century, but has stabilized somewhat since 2010, at 2 to 2.5% per year, Bowers said. Part of the reason is that the city is no longer annexing land at the rate it once did, which in turn has led to more apartment building. “What we’ve seen is a huge apartment boom,” he said.