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Columbia likely to lose largest city status

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So according to new census data, Columbia (132,067) barely remains the largest city in SC. In fact come this time next year Charleston (130,113) will likely become the states largest city again for the first time in 70 years. With most of the population growth taking place in the county (Richland), and the lack of a real annexation plan similar to cities in the lowcountry, Columbia simply sat by while this prestigious designation was fading away. The question remains, will Mayor Benjamin see the importance of losing this title and develop a comprehensive plan maybe with the  help of the county  to reverse the trend and keep hold of the crown. Only time will tell.

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So according to new census data, Columbia (132,067) barely remains the largest city in SC. In fact come this time next year Charleston (130,113) will likely become the states largest city again for the first time in 70 years. With most of the population growth taking place in the county (Richland), and the lack of a real annexation plan similar to cities in the lowcountry, Columbia simply sat by while this prestigious designation was fading away. The question remains, will Mayor Benjamin see the importance of losing this title and develop a comprehensive plan maybe with the  help of the county  to reverse the trend and keep hold of the crown. Only time will tell.

I emailed my thoughts on this to the mayor and my city council reps. One rep replied that they saw the report and are working on strategic annexation. The mayor replied with the following: 

Thanks Matt, but between a much more grassroots approach to annexations and aggressively getting more market rate housing downtown, we’ll keep ahead.  Charleston is limited by height restrictions and water…we are not.

 

Also, see this excerpt from an article in Governing.

 

Data Limitations

Several states and local jurisdictions publish their own population estimates that differ from the Census data.

The Census Bureau computes population estimates by applying a distributive housing unit method to county-level household populations. Numbers of housing units in cities were estimated using building permits, mobile home shipments and calculations of housing unit loss. The Census Bureau does not collect vital statistics at the subcounty level as those figures are instead distributed down from counties.

One of the limitations of the Census methodology is that it generally doesn’t incorporate housing conversions from commercial to residential units or vice versa because most states don’t report this data to the Census Bureau.

All the best. 

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I've always wondered why Columbia never annexed West Columbia and Cayce. It doesn't seem to make sense as the river literally splits the potential city in half. Of course I don't see either rushing to join Columbia unless they were to face serious financial issues that required their rescue. Are USC students who are non-residents captured in the census?

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Well, he's right about the parameters of growth in Chas. As a real estate friend of mine once said, "they're not growing any more land". I love Chas, and it is really dense, but because of smart growth, the city has retained a certain livability. Now, I am a Columbian, born and bred, and it has always been obvious to me Columbia, of the three major cities in the state, has the resources to be and remain its largest.  

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Charleston is indeed limited by height, but their density level (ie: on the peninsula) is still far above and beyond almost every city in the south. It's in the 5k-7k per sq mi range... so they can cram a lot more people in if they need to. They are also annexing outward just like Columbia. 

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Actually Columbia has not been annexing very much at all. The doughnut hole annexation effort hasn't filled in a lot of doughnut holes. The mayor and the city council person who emailed me back indicated that the city's annexation efforts from here on out will save the day. We'll see. A new "grassroots" (as the mayor called it) push to coax people to be annexed in is the plan, I guess. Unlike Charleston, Columbia has to build the density downtown first, then cram the people in, and there is a LOT of infill to be done - A LOT - with the ability to build much higher than in Charleston. Charleston obviously can't annex and build in the harbor or ocean, but I don't agree that it is limited by water enough to keep it from getting and keeping a larger population than Columbia from here on out. New York is limited by water, but it just gained more than any other U.S. city and is approaching 9 million people, and the newcomers aren't settling in vertical Manhattan as much as in the outer boroughs that are in the city limits.  

Edited by CorgiMatt

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Charleston annexes south and west of the city and northeast of Daniel Island pretty aggressively. They aren't as limited by water as the councilman thinks. 

 

Anyway, I think Columbia's best  approach is to tactfully annex out, but continue the focus on redevelopment downtown and in the adjacent neighborhoods. Things will continue to move forward... It would be great to land a major employer downtown though.

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The water and height restriction arguments are bogus.  Under the current prospects, I don't see anything to prevent Charleston from taking the lead in year or two at the most.  That said, it really means nothing other than bragging rights.    

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The water and height restriction arguments are bogus.  Under the current prospects, I don't see anything to prevent Charleston from taking the lead in year or two at the most.  That said, it really means nothing other than bragging rights.    

And those bragging rights go a long way. Some might not realize that, but they do go a long way. 

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Taking a step back from 'city' population growth - how does Charleston compare to Columbia from a metro growth perspective?

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Taking a step back from 'city' population growth - how does Charleston compare to Columbia from a metro growth perspective?

The annual metro growth rate perspective is basically Charleston's 2% to Columbia's 1%. The numeric gains released in late March were 15,000+ to 8,000+ Charleston. The metros' sizes are 800,000 to 727,000 Columbia.

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The annual metro growth rate perspective is basically Charleston's 2% to Columbia's 1%. The numeric gains released in late March were 15,000+ to 8,000+ Charleston. The metros' sizes are 800,000 to 727,000 Columbia.

Wow that kinda sad that Columbia being the capital city of South Carolina is letting Charleston slip pass us like that. at this rate it looks like Charleston might be the first SC City to have a Metro Population over 1,000,000. instead of  Columbia.

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South Carolina is ahead of projections, but at the current growth rate, the state would add another 800k people by 2030. Columbia and Greenville seem to have the biggest upside in drawing these people, though Charleston is definitely the most appealing for out-of-staters. The Hilton Head and Myrtle Beach areas should grow as retirees continue to move to the state in large numbers.

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Given that in some cases city population estimates have proven to be inaccurate, I would wait until 2020 to say officially that Charleston has overtaken Columbia--which does have a good chance of happening.

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  You know, I was giving this some thought today-the competition to be the largest city in the state. I think it does carry some prestige to be able to say that, however..the more I think about it, the more I'm not really sure it matters so much. I am a lifelong Columbian. I've been here 44 years, and have never really wanted to move away. I've traveled all over the country, and around the world, but home is where the heart is. I've always felt that there is something, non-tangible that makes Columbia special. It may be its position on and near the 3 rivers. It could be how the university fits into its downtown. It could be its central location between the mountains and the coast. I don't know, but suspect it is all of these things and more.

 

  My vision for Columbia is to make it the best city it can be. I find cities three times its size to often lack quality of life. Columbia has so much potential..I've always known this. Its downtown is based on one of the first urban plans in this country, and is on a grid system, which I think makes finding your way around pretty simple. I don't think I'd mind if Chas surpassed Cola, or some other city. What I really care to see, though, is Columbia's downtown filling in, a good overall aesthetic (architectural and otherwise), and increased access to the waterfront. I think the next 10 years are going to be an amazing period of growth (smart growth, I hope), and I hope it will be a place my daughter, and her children will one day really cherish, as I do.  

Edited by colasc
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I agree completely. I had never heard of Columbia before touring USC and it won me over instantly. Greenville has always felt like a very small, spread out town and Charleston is of course beautiful and very well designed, but does not have the same sense of urbanity that Columbia possesses. The one thing that inhibits Columbia is its sheer size; for instance, it would be very taxing to walk from the Vista to Columbia Commons. That said, the footprint makes guiding future development much easier. If Columbia can focus on key lines (i.e. Huger, Main, Assembly, Gervais), the city will feel very well connected and authentic.

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I agree completely. I had never heard of Columbia before touring USC and it won me over instantly. Greenville has always felt like a very small, spread out town and Charleston is of course beautiful and very well designed, but does not have the same sense of urbanity that Columbia possesses. The one thing that inhibits Columbia is its sheer size; for instance, it would be very taxing to walk from the Vista to Columbia Commons. That said, the footprint makes guiding future development much easier. If Columbia can focus on key lines (i.e. Huger, Main, Assembly, Gervais), the city will feel very well connected and authentic.

Well said!

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I agree completely. I had never heard of Columbia before touring USC and it won me over instantly. Greenville has always felt like a very small, spread out town and Charleston is of course beautiful and very well designed, but does not have the same sense of urbanity that Columbia possesses. The one thing that inhibits Columbia is its sheer size; for instance, it would be very taxing to walk from the Vista to Columbia Commons. That said, the footprint makes guiding future development much easier. If Columbia can focus on key lines (i.e. Huger, Main, Assembly, Gervais), the city will feel very well connected and authentic.

Well put my friend. I've visited Charleston many times before and While Charleston has a lot of history into its city thats helping with growth I've always seen columbia as a wide open space for future development. there's so much room and just miles of land to develop on from N.Main all the way to William Brice and beyond to I-77. i think the next 10 years we will see all of that connect together. I imagine a way i can drive from N Main I-20 to I-77 Bluff Rd and just be overwhelmed with Development activities and Hopefully a beautiful transformed Skyline.

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It all boils down to jobs. With the recent huge successes Charleston has enjoyed recently (Boeing, Mercedes, Volvo) it's clear they are about to explode with growth. Greenville with its major automotive corridor will continue to propel its fast growth. Unless Columbia can land a major economic project or two, it'll be hard to keep up with the other two metros.

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What I've realized is that the state is not going to help Columbia because there's not enough political support for the Midlands to draw any of the big manufacturing sites. That's also not really what the city needs to trigger growth downtown. I know we've talked about this briefly before, but Columbia will benefit from consolidation of banks, law firms, insurance firms, etc. within the state and needs to start drawing smaller tech and professional services firms to keep college grads. Unfortunately USC has to do the heavy lifting because Haley seems averse to helping, in spite of being from Lexington. I think the school can have success like it did with Nephron (alumni-owned) and IBM (large contractor)/Fluor (alumni-run) if it can sell alumni and existing corporate partners on establishing small offices in Innovista or downtown. Once there is enough momentum, startups will feel that there is enough of a business environment and locate nearby. Of course this is a difficult process and may take many years to accomplish, but it is critical for the growth of downtown beyond students.

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It all boils down to jobs. With the recent huge successes Charleston has enjoyed recently (Boeing, Mercedes, Volvo) it's clear they are about to explode with growth. Greenville with its major automotive corridor will continue to propel its fast growth. Unless Columbia can land a major economic project or two, it'll be hard to keep up with the other two metros.

 

A big manufacturing economic development project would certainly help, but in itself it's not a silver bullet. I look at metros like Montgomery and Chattanooga that have big automotive plants and average (or less) growth rates which demonstrate that. Columbia has a decent collection of midsized manufacturing and distribution companies in addition to the white-collar job base. But I agree with carolinagarnet; Haley doesn't seem at all motivated to help steer a big project to the Columbia area, unlike Campbell (BMW) and Sanford (Boeing). However there's only so much Columbia can do by itself without the help of the state. 

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After the Mercedes announcement in the Charleston area, I emailed the governor and congratulated her on all of her jobs announcements. "But," I asked, "what is Columbia - chopped liver?" A woman from her office called me within an hour and said they, too, found it frustrating to see so many jobs announcements but nothing significant for the Columbia area. She said they want to see the whole state prosper and do well, but that they live in the Columbia area and especially want to see it do as well as anywhere else in the state with new jobs and growth. She said they are working hard to attract companies, including jobs for the Columbia area, and to stay positive and let them know anytime I have anything I want to suggest. In the meantime I accepted a job in Charleston and will be relocating there in July. I want to see Columbia do well, though, and actually it is doing well, but a big jobs announcement it can boast about and feel validation over would be great for the city and area.  

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I agree completely. I had never heard of Columbia before touring USC and it won me over instantly. Greenville has always felt like a very small, spread out town and Charleston is of course beautiful and very well designed, but does not have the same sense of urbanity that Columbia possesses. The one thing that inhibits Columbia is its sheer size; for instance, it would be very taxing to walk from the Vista to Columbia Commons. That said, the footprint makes guiding future development much easier. If Columbia can focus on key lines (i.e. Huger, Main, Assembly, Gervais), the city will feel very well connected and authentic.

 

I disagree with this statement. Charleston is the most urban place in South Carolina, without debate. Skyscrapers and highways don't define an urban place. Density is part of it for sure, but keep in mind that you don't need height to achieve density. Downtown Columbia (ie: the original grid plan) is roughly the same size as the peninsula in Charleston and there is a lot more crammed in. 

 

If Charleston does take over as the largest city, let's not forget that was always the largest prior to WW2. In Colonial times it was the 4th largest city in America. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter that much. Lots of states have cities and metros other than their capital as their largest.

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From an objective perspective, if Charleston overtakes Columbia as the state's largest city next year or by the 2020 census, it will be because of some of the following or a combination of the following: 

 

1) many of the 6,000 students moving into Columbia's downtown-area apartments already live in the city limits

2) Columbia annexes fewer people than Charleston

3) many of the young professional and empty-nesters moving into downtown Columbia apartments (and any condos built by then) already live inside the city limits

3) more people move outside of Columbia's city limits than move outside of Charleston's

4) fewer births take place in Columbia's city limits than in Charleston's

5) more deaths take place in Columbia's city limits than in Charleston's

6) fewer people move to the Columbia area in general than move to the Charleston area, since some of the people moving the "areas" will just       happen to end up living inside the city limits of each city

7) Columbia loses more millennials to other places than Charleston does, including millennials moving from Columbia to Charleston

8) the houses that become empty because of USC students moving into downtown apartments, remain empty

 

....... and other factors, I'm sure. 

Edited by CorgiMatt

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I disagree with this statement. Charleston is the most urban place in South Carolina, without debate. Skyscrapers and highways don't define an urban place. Density is part of it for sure, but keep in mind that you don't need height to achieve density. Downtown Columbia (ie: the original grid plan) is roughly the same size as the peninsula in Charleston and there is a lot more crammed in. 

 

If Charleston does take over as the largest city, let's not forget that was always the largest prior to WW2. In Colonial times it was the 4th largest city in America. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn't matter that much. Lots of states have cities and metros other than their capital as their largest.

 

To be fair, he said that Charleston didn't have the same sense of urbanity as Columbia, not that Columbia was more urban. I can somewhat see where he might be coming from, particularly if he's thinking of the gridded layout and wide streets of downtown Columbia, features which seem to better facilitate infill and the increased pedestrian and automobile traffic that accompanies it. For a more comparable example, I think that's one reason why some people say that downtown Savannah is more urban than downtown Charleston.

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