No more sleepy little town

Published 10:13 pm Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Bigger and bigger and bigger.

That’s the short way of describing Suffolk’s population, measured across the years. During the past four years, according to the University of Virginia Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service Demographics Research Group, the city has grown by 5.9 percent, adding more than 5,000 people.

The growth rate actually has slowed a bit since the United States Census Bureau conducted its last official count in 2010. At that time, Suffolk boasted 84,585 people, up 32.8 percent over the previous census, taken in 2000.

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The recession and housing crash did a number on the city’s population growth, but that hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing, as the comparative pause has given the city a chance to begin catching up on the infrastructure it needs to support its growing population. Recreation centers, sidewalks, parks, road improvements and schools are all among the necessities and amenities built to help sustain the growing city. More of all of those projects — and some projects not on that list — are on Suffolk’s schedule for the near future, as infrastructure improvements are continually needed, even in cities that are not experiencing growth.

One factor whose influence on the growth of Suffolk remains to be seen is the establishment of tolls at the Elizabeth River tunnels. Now that they have to factor in an entirely new daily expense, will folks from Virginia Beach, Chesapeake and Norfolk choose to stay on that side of the water, instead of chasing the dream of a rural lifestyle?

With the housing market continuing to recover, the next couple of years should answer the question. If Suffolk’s growth continues to outpace that of its neighbors, it will be an indication that people are accepting the toll expense as part of the cost of a more laid-back lifestyle.

But even if the tunnel tolls slow Suffolk’s growth, folks here will have to get used to the idea that they’ll be sharing the city with more and more neighbors in the coming years — and those neighbors will be living closer to them than ever before. The secret about Suffolk is out, and the city’s days as a sleepy little community, unknown to the rest of Tidewater, are long gone.