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Census Data Show That Dallas Really Is Becoming More Urban

Urban infill is attracting a lot of new people.
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Back in May, the U.S. Census published new population data that highlighted a march back to the cities. Dallas and Fort Worth were beneficiaries of this trend, adding more residents than all but two other cities in the country. But the northern suburbs—namely Frisco and McKinney—were still growing at a quicker rate relative to their population.

This week, the Census released more nuanced data as part of its annual American Community Survey. You can explore all sorts of fun data right here. So you see the population jumps (which were actually higher than the Census previously reported), but we can also see things like education level, median household income, median home value, total housing units, vacancy rates, and so on and so forth.

Before we go further, these are one-year estimates, which carry the highest margin of error of all Census data. But it does paint a general picture. Dallas added 24,000 people between 2016 and 2017. That’s more than triple what we added between 2000 and 2010, and brings us to more than 150,000 new residents since 2010, when the last Census was taken. Median income jumped by almost $4,000, landing at $50,627. The median home value rose by more than $30,000, which now sits at $190,600. This spike occurred despite the fact that there are more housing units in 2017 as well as more vacancies than in 2016. So much for supply and demand.

“If you look at those things by themselves, when there is more supply than demand, costs should be going down. But that’s not what’s going on,” says urban planner Patrick Kennedy, who also is a DART board member and sometime D contributor. “Incomes are going up, education is going up, some inflation is happening in the housing market nationwide, and the international capital flows going to cities for housing investment … all of that happening is inflating urban housing prices all over the place.”

Plano actually lost about 1,000 people, while McKinney and Frisco both added another 9,000 and 14,000, respectively. Kennedy thinks that’s a clear result of land availability. Collin County is stretching farther north, and Plano doesn’t have the land to grow that its northern neighbors do. Instead, Plano has begun exploring infill projects like Legacy and building up its downtown

Dallas has about 43,000 fewer people in poverty than it had in 2015, enough to drop our total percentage four points, to 18.5 percent. That’s still well above the statewide rate of 14.7 percent, however. Median rent jumped to $1,024 in Dallas, up from $961.

“Those areas are pretty built out,” Kennedy says, referring to what have become the middle suburbs like Plano. “There are two moves happening. One is to urban places, back to the city. When people relocate from other places, usually they’re not expecting Plano to have some urbanism elements, which it does in downtown and Legacy, but I don’t think people generally expect that. When I first moved here, I wanted to get as close to downtown as possible. That’s what people think when they move to a place, or they move to Frisco or McKinney where their jobs are.”

About that infill: Kennedy pulled numbers from the Census’ Public Use Microdata Areas (PUMA for short), which is super Census jargon for geographically bounded regions that it chooses to analyze. It’s the smallest, and therefore most targeted, of all the geographies that the Census digs into. One of those includes downtown, Uptown, and a stretch of East Dallas that ends at Abrams. He found that 28 percent of the city’s population growth occurred on 4.5 percent of its land. Rent here is at $1,358, up from $1,222 in 2016.

These residents are also driving less, taking more public transit, and biking and walking more often. Public transit use jumped by 1,247 people within the PUMA, good enough for a 1.3 percent boost to 5.8 percent. Biking jumped from .47 percent to 1.29 percent, up 698 people. About 1,688 people are walking more, a jump from 3.76 percent to 5.61 percent. Kennedy says the numbers should encourage the city to reinvest in enhancing walkability and public transit.

“That’s the result we want out of urban infill, not having to use a car for every trip, and that’s really the only way to reduce vehicular use,” he says. “I think this is an impetus for us to be reinvesting and making more places where active transportation is useful and safe because demand is there.”

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