Leaps and bounds

Published 7:57 pm Monday, January 28, 2013

A recent update of the 2010 census by the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service highlights what is likely to be the biggest challenge facing the city of Suffolk during the next 25 years or so — growth.

Suffolk has experienced a growth rate of 2.2 percent during the past couple of years since the United States Census Bureau conducted its constitutionally required decennial census. The Weldon Cooper Center puts together periodic updates of those figures in off years, and its projections show the city’s growth since 2010 was slowed somewhat by a reduction in new housing starts because of the slow economy during that period.

However, Suffolk continues to be one of the fastest-growing cities in Hampton Roads, falling behind Chesapeake, which experienced a growth rate of 2.7 percent during the same timeframe. Suffolk’s 2.2-percent rate of growth was just under the state’s 2.3-percent rate. Other area localities experienced high levels of growth since 2010, including Franklin, which grew by nearly 3 percent, and Isle of Wight County, which grew by more than 2.5 percent.

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The trend would seem to reflect people’s continuing desire to live in areas that are quieter and more rural, as opposed to the bustling, traffic-snarled, larger cities of Hampton Roads. As the economy slowly rebounds, the trend is likely to increase.

About 86,463 people lived in the city as of July 1, 2012, according to the center, which projects population to increase to nearly 100,000 by 2020, surpass 110,000 by 2030 and be up to 132,000 by 2040.

The projections should give city planners plenty to think about as they look for ways to incorporate all those new residents, while maintaining the quality of life that makes Suffolk the unique place it is in Hampton Roads. More people will mean more traffic, more crime and the need for more city services, and plans should be well under way to address all of those challenges long before they become problems.

A little planning goes a long way. Suffolk’s plans must anticipate the changes in store for the city as it grows by leaps and bounds in the coming years.