Recently, the US Conference of Mayors commissioned a study which included the projected growth of nearly all US metro areas by 2042, including Stockton. The report predicted that our area will surpass one million residents– 1,077,200 to be exact– in thirty years, which puts the region’s growth rate at a whopping 52.5%. Going through the data, two thoughts came to mind.
First, no place that is “miserable” would actually grow by 50% in thirty years. But more importantly, where will all these people live?
The first thought is somewhat uplifting: Stockton is projected to grow faster than most other similar sized Central Valley counterparts such as Modesto (46.1%), Fresno (37.3%), and Bakersfield (50.1%), though just behind Sacramento’s rate (55.4%). Clearly, Stockton is not a city in decline, as population would be trending in the other direction, or at least would be significantly lower than other similar cities. There are several metro areas around the country that will actually see a population decline, such as Detroit, Cleveland, Rochester and Buffalo.
However, while a growing population signals a healthy city, it also begs the question: How will Stockton accommodate these new residents?
To be sure, Stockton itself will not reach over one million residents as the metro area– essentially, San Joaquin County– as a whole will absorb this population influx. However, the growth rate of 52% is probably about accurate for the city as well, meaning Stockton will add about 153,146 people, which is nothing to sneeze at.
If our current average per household numbers (3.11 according to the 2010 census) stay true, then we will need over 49,000 new units to hold all of our new Stocktonians.
Is the city ready for this? If we take just what has been approved for building, it appears we will fall short of the necessary units needed. There are numerous planned developments that have either already been approved or have submitted applications (Sanctuary, Bear Creek East/South, Mariposa Lakes, Crystal Cove, Tidewater Crossing, Delta Cove), according to project proposals available on the city’s website. Combined, these projects– all on what is now greenfield space– will bring around 30,000 new housing units, the vast majority of which will be single family. As you can see, these new, massive projects, totaling a breathtaking 8,039 acres, will only get us part of the way to housing the city’s population in 2042. Even if you include yet to be approved projects, such as the massive Spanos Presevere, Stockton still falls short.
What can be done?
Two thoughts come to mind: the first, these planned communities need to make better use of space by incorporating greater mixes of housing densities than what we have see in the past. If Stockton is to accommodate nearly 155,000 new residents, the massive, single family housing unit subdivisions we have been so accustomed to in the past are not going to cut it. Instead, a greater focus should be placed on incorporating housing types of all kinds. This includes more space for medium and high density building in order to use space more efficiently, because we can only stretch our boundaries so much before we run into Lodi or Lathrop. To be fair, some of the proposals for the six developments discussed above do seem to incorporate varied housing densities, though not all. Also, the overwhelming majority of units are still slated for low density single family units.
The second lesson is, there needs to be a greater emphasis on infill development and neighborhood revitalization. Sprawl alone will not be able to fill demand in the next 30 years. Luckily, there is plenty of space that already exists within the city that can help absorb population growth. Census data shows that neighborhoods within the city have seen steady declines in population even just over the last 10 years (see my earlier post with a graphic detailing Stockton’s population loss). Even areas north of downtown have suffered population losses as neighborhoods such as Quail Lakes (-4.6% since 2000) and Lincoln Village West (-5.7% since 2000) have seen their populations slowly dwindle. This exodus from the central city to the fringes means that there is opportunity to use housing and infrastructure that already exists to help house Stockton’s growing population. As noted before on the site, the San Joaquin Council of Governments has identified 141 areas in Stockton with the potential for infill development.
With the population of Stockton set to grow to around 450,000 in the next thirty years, we need to rethink the way we build our communities. Luckily, big projects by Spanos and Grupe are starting to incorporate more sustainable practices into their developments, but that won’t be enough. Unfortunately, Stockton can’t sprawl its way to 450,000. A comprehensive approach balancing new development on the periphery with infill development and revitalization must be taken in order to ensure that Stockton, and the Central Valley for that matter, does not become another Phoenix or Houston in terms of unmitigated growth.