Cities See Population Gains — But What About Political Power?

The Census Bureau has just released new data showing a resurgence of the nation’s cities, with New York leading the way and Chicago reversing five years of population decline.

2139835490_256cabd440.jpgThe number of New Yorkers grew by an estimated 53,000 this year. Will they get more power in Congress? (Photo: lukegeorgeson via flickr)

The urban growth is being attributed to a combination of demographic re-arrangement — younger families are embracing cities as well as close-in suburbs with transit access — and the unsustainability, both economic and environmental, of living in sprawl.

It’s
a pattern that nicely underscores the importance of expanding
transportation options beyond the automobile. But will the nation’s
rising cities see a corresponding increase in the political influence
that’s necessary to move national policy in a new direction? That’s a big question.

The
2010 Census will help determine which states gain or lose seats in the
House, the lower congressional chamber where proportional
representation rules the roost.

And even if urban
populations continue to swell over the next two years, it’s still
highly likely that western and southern states — where the housing
bubble was largest and sprawl remains the norm — will gain seats in
Congress.

"[T]here would have to be a massive
reversal of population trends for this not to happen," demographer
Andrew Beveridge of Queens College told the New York Times after the 2007 Census. (The New York state legislature is a different story, as Beveridge reported earlier this week — but then again, control of that body may be more trouble than it’s worth.)

New
York’s congressional representation is projected to fall by two seats
after 2010, hitting a low not seen since the 1810 Census. Illinois and
Ohio are also expected to lose representation while Texas and Florida
gain seats.

It’s a prospect that has Karl Rove dreaming of a GOP comeback, and one that should make advocates for progressive transportation and climate policy sit up and take notice.

Senior
Democrats such as Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), House Ways and Means
Committee Chairman Charles Rangel (D-NY), and House Energy and Commerce
Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) represent urbanites (in San
Francisco, New York, and Los Angeles, respectively), but their party’s
77-seat hold on the House requires constant attempts to compromise with
colleagues from rural and exurban areas.

The more that
lawmakers from a wide variety of areas — particularly highway-fixated
and growing states such as Texas — come to embrace the goals of less
auto dependence and more sustainable development, the better.

  • DaveO

    The analysis is terrible. While it’s true that cities like NYC and Chicago are growing faster than previously (or at least, not shrinking), the statistics cited represent less than 1% growth for both cities. Overall nationwide population growth from 2007 to 2008 was 303 to 306 million, or just about 1%. Though NYC and Chicago might be growing, it is at a slower rate than the nation as a while.

  • Dave Snyder

    Here in the Bay Area, the strongest political powers are where the population is, and that’s suburban. The transportation policy decisions reflect those powers. The MTC’s most innovative idea for new funding: allowing single occupant vehicles to use carpool lanes as express lanes, for a fee, is a sprawl-inducing plan that will make it easier to drive in the suburbs, add congestion to urban freeways, and provide nary a dime for urban transportation improvements.

  • marcos

    @Dave, the cost to put into place viable rapid transit from the suburbs to urban job centers would be many tens of billions of dollars, similar to the cost of statewide HSR.

    In a democracy, how do you expect for us to get from where we are now to a place where folks can reliably get to and from work on transit?

    This notion that we can take shortcuts and write off the costs of getting to work on people’s free time because transit sucks is democratically a non starter.

    Transit should lead development, in that the model for the development of the Bronx via dense subway coverage before first day ridership was measurable worked.

    Transit capacity should also be a cap on development, in that it is irresponsible to build new housing in areas with transit service that cannot support those new residents.

    When barriers to transit use are higher than barriers to private auto ownership and commutes, then most folks will simply take the path of least resistance. I see more barriers being put up to transit use through budget problems and few barriers being put up to commuters to high wage jobs keeping their cars.

    Until that equation is brought to a favorable equilibrium, we’re not going to see changes reflected in the political position expressed at the MTC. There is no free lunch.

    -marc

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