Initial data from the 2020 census show Springfield’s population hit 169,176 last year.
That’s about a 6% increase over the 159,498-person population recorded in the 2010 census and considered a positive level of growth, according to Brendan Griesemer, the city’s acting director of planning and development.
“It’s a very healthy upward trend,” Griesemer told City Council at its Nov. 2 luncheon. “We are tracking almost identically these past 10 years over the past 40 years of growth in this community.”
According to Griesemer, anywhere from a half percent to 1% growth per year is considered a healthy growth rate.
Council uses census data to redistrict its four zones when necessary. According to the city’s charter, council must adopt zone boundaries after every decennial census. Griesemer said council has the option of either keeping boundaries the same or adjusting them.
“If the populations are roughly equal, then they can just adopt the existing boundaries and go on,” Griesemer said in an interview with Springfield Business Journal.
He noted case law requires adjustment of council zones when the lowest population zone and the highest population zone have over a 10% difference between them.
Zone 4, in southeast Springfield, has the highest population with 43,725 residents, and Zone 1, in the northwest, has the lowest, with 40,391. That is a difference of 6.83% – not enough to require redistricting.
However, at a lunch session this month, council decided to take the redistricting question slowly, at the recommendation of Mayor Ken McClure. They will consider adjusting zone boundaries in early 2022 and factor in any annexation plans at the time.
According to City Manager Jason Gage, the language in the city charter is vague, and the deadline for setting zone boundaries appears to be any time before the next census, though McClure said it needs to be completed much sooner.
“Realistically, this needs to be done before the filing period for the next election,” he said, adding, “You want to do this right, so let’s think it through and come back.”
By the numbers
Griesemer offered council a breakdown of growth in council zones:
Griesemer couldn’t pinpoint a reason for the large increase in Zone 4, though he noted the addition of apartment complexes, like those in the Galloway Village neighborhood.
“It’s likely just different smaller developments spread throughout the zone as well,” he said, noting growth in all four zones is positive.
The city received census data about 60 days ago, he said, though it was anticipated much earlier. He noted if redistricting is undertaken by council after their deliberation period, it will tie into the city’s comprehensive plan.
“The comprehensive plan is supposed to recommend an annexation strategy, and annexation could change populations in all four districts, frankly,” he said. “We’re just in a holding pattern.”
The city charter requires that zones consist of “compact and contiguous territory,” with “as nearly as possible” an equal number of inhabitants.
Annexation could affect populations, and that is why council is pausing to consider its soon-to-be-released comprehensive plan.
A look at the zone map reveals some areas that may be good candidates for annexation. An example is territory in Zone 3, which has a large contiguous area and then two smaller areas currently in Greene County that stand away from it like cartoon thought bubbles. “How is that compact and contiguous?” asked Councilperson Craig Hosmer.
McClure said consent annexation in that area could ramp up the population quickly.
“You could adjust these and then just through the action of annexation really change those numbers,” he said.
According to McClure, one advantage of adjusting zone boundaries now is that residents will be represented equally.
“The advantage is if you did it now, you’d have it as close as you can get to that ‘one man, one vote,’” he said.
McClure said to get the job done right, city staff would have to get any changes drawn up and public input would need to be obtained.
“It seems like we could get us as close to being right as we can, and then whatever growth happens in the next 10 years, we deal with it,” Hosmer said.
Gage pointed out that it is true successful annexation could change council zone lines quite a bit, but he offered a caveat.
“I don’t know how easy it is to presume success in the annexation process, either,” he said.
Griesemer told council his department could keep a record of population in areas where annexation might take place, and then council could adjust boundaries if necessary.
“If we got to that 10% threshold, we would let you know at that time,” he said.
Other census data
Griesmer explained when filling out the census, respondents are asked to indicate the place they slept on April 1 as their residence. College students who were out of their dorms when classes went online because of COVID-19 may have been counted at home instead of at the university, and often their parents count them in their hometowns even when colleges are in session. Griesemer said census officials worked closely with universities to track those who were registered as living in university housing. It is possible that an undercount resulted from the uncertainty.
According to Griesemer, Springfield fell right into the middle of Missouri’s growth rate over the decade.
Columbia had the largest growth rate at 16.4%, reaching 126,254 in population, and Kansas City had the next highest growth rate of 10.5%, breaking the half million mark with a population of 508,090.
Springfield had the third-highest growth rate of 6.1%, and Independence had the fourth-highest growth rate at 5.3%, for a population of 123,011.
Of the five largest cities, only St. Louis experienced a decline, from 319,294 to 301,578, a decrease of 5.55%.
Springfield has 76,066 occupied housing units, including houses and apartments, with 7,950 vacant units. In 2010, the city had 69,754 occupied housing units, with 7,866 unoccupied units. Griesemer pointed out this is an 8% increase in total housing units over the 10-year period.
Springfield maintains a majority white population, at 79.38%. That percentage has decreased from 86.83% in the 2010 census.
The Black or African American population is at 4.66%, up from 4.01%. A population referred to as “two or more races or some other” stands at 7.05%, up from 2.79%. The Hispanic or Latino population is 5.87%, up from 3.67%, and the Asian or Pacific Islander population is 2.41%, up slightly from 2.03%.
Griesemer said the 7.5% decrease in Springfield’s white population is slightly below the national trend of a 10% decrease. The 2.2% increase in the local Hispanic or Latino population is similar to the national trend, he said.
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