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Denver County Remains Population Growth Leader in Colorado

For the fourth time in the past five years, Denver County has led the state in population growth according to the US Census Bureau. The Census Bureau’s recently released 2012 population estimates show that Denver County (the City and County of Denver) had a population of 634,265 on July 1, 2012, an increase of 14,980 over their July 2011 estimate of 619,285. Denver’s 2010 Census population count was 600,158.

Every year following a decennial census, the US Census Bureau releases its county population estimates for July 1 of the preceding year, known as their annual postcensal estimates. This process continues annually until the next decennial census occurs, after which the Census Bureau then prepares what they call their intercensal estimates for the just-completed decade. This involves recalculating all of the annual postcensal estimates for that decade so that those estimates fit between the two decennial census counts in a relatively smooth and logically distributed manner. Here are two tables I’ve prepared showing the “Vintage 2012” postcensal estimates for the Top 10 Colorado counties in both numeric and percentage population gain between the 2011 and 2012 (click to embiggen):

Denver led the state in both numeric and percent gain for 2011-2012. The fact that Denver led the state in numeric population gain this past year isn’t particularly surprising statistically, considering the size of Denver’s population relative to other Colorado counties, but it is rather impressive that Denver led the state in percent population gain from 2011-2012, given the high population baseline from which Denver starts. But Denver’s population growth is particularly notable historically, considering the extent of suburbanization over the past half century and that Denver lost population in the 1970s and 1980s.

Denver’s gain in population is due primarily to several factors: the ongoing development of large infill sites like Stapleton and Lowry, the buildout of the city’s few remaining greenfield communities like Green Valley Ranch and Gateway, and the substantial densification and infill developments occurring with the city’s urban core. As noted in my recent post on Downtown Denver’s multifamily housing boom, over 6,000 residential units within the Downtown Denver area have been completed or are under construction since 2012, and over 10,000 residential units were completed in the Downtown area during the 2000s.

Finally, let’s take a look at the ten central/northern Front Range counties (Adams, Arapahoe, Boulder, Broomfield, Denver, Douglas, El Paso, Jefferson, Larimer, and Weld), which account for the vast majority of the numeric population growth annually statewide over the past twelve years. In the chart below, I’ve tracked these ten counties based on their Top 10 statewide ranking by annual numeric population gain. Population figures used for 1990, 2000, and 2010 are the actual decennial census counts. All other years represents the US Census Bureau’s intercensal estimates, except for 2011 and 2012, which are from the just-released 2012 postcensal estimates. The missing values reflect annual ranking positions where Eagle, Fremont, Garfield, Mesa, and/or Pueblo counties entered the Top 10. If a county’s colored marker disappeared, that means it wasn’t in the Top 10 statewide for that year (click to embiggen):

A few trends are evident:

Douglas County ascended as the county with the highest population growth in the state from the mid-1990s through the mid-2000s. However, since the 2008 recession, the county’s growth has noticeably slowed.

Adams, Arapahoe, and El Paso counties have generally maintained a steady presence at or near the top of the chart, with some periodic ups-and-downs, over the past 12 years.

Weld County, which didn’t become a significant growth leader until the early 2000s, has also experienced a growth slowdown like Douglas County since the 2008 recession.

Boulder and Larimer counties show steady growth, but consistently in the bottom half of the Top 10.

Jefferson County saw a dramatic slowing of growth in the 1990s and early 2000s, but is making a bit of a comeback of late.

The Denver metro area generally slowed in growth during the “dot com” mini-recession of the early 2000s, during which some of the non-Front Range Counties occupied slots within the Top 10.

Denver County saw erratic but generally strong growth during the 1990s as the city’s renaissance started taking hold, but then disappeared from the Top 10 for several years during the “dot com” bust days, only to reappear and occupy the top slot statewide for four of the past five years.

In conclusion, Colorado’s Front Range continues to show steady growth in the post-recession era, with the most urban counties showing the strongest population growth.

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6 Comments

  1. BoulderPatentGuy says:

    A rough estimate here, but I could foresee Denver holding the top spot for the next 5ish years, but then potentially having a dramatic fall once Stapleton, Lowry, and the Union Station Developments are built out. Maybe Denver will eventually top out at about 700K-750K residents, which is what, a nearly 50% increase from the 2000 census? Amazing if/when it happens. In the meantime, JeffCo will continue to rise w/ the development(s) occurring in Lakewood, Golden and Arvada – if you can’t live downtown, might was live near the mtns, right? And I’m sure a developer will find more DougCo land to develop soon if they can find the water, so they’ll be back up near the top soon.

    Cool info.

  2. Larry says:

    Denver also seems to be ticking its way up the ladder of largest American cites. Wikipedia says it was 26th in 2012, and estimated to be 23rd in 2011. It would be interesting to see where it stands in 2012. Depending on the performance of Boston and Seattle, it could be at 21st.

  3. Matt Pizzuti says:

    Could some of the population growth in Denver also be due to the economy?

    I recall hearing somewhere (and could be way off) that 45 percent of people in Denver are renters… if there were, rounding for the sake of making this simple, say 100,000 rental units in Denver, and before the recession the vacancy rate was 8 percent and now it’s 3 percent, that would represent 5,000 new occupancies solely attributed to a lower vacancy rate even without new development. I might be wrong on the numbers or wrong about how they’d show up in Denver’s population figures, but it seems like whatever it is could be significant.

    On top of that I know fewer people who rent apartments with more rooms than they need to keep one open as an office. Instead they’re finding roommates and filling every unit.

    Meanwhile in the suburbs a lot of homes that were foreclosed are vacant, putting a dent in the population figures from those counties.

  4. ohwilleke says:

    Really impressive. Denver is landlocked. It has brownfields, infill and land near an airport to develop, while all of the suburban counties have substantial developable green fields with cheap land that isn’t being developed. Denver isn’t as tighly packed as central Boulder in its residential neighborhoods, but it could become that way if innovations like alley houses are permitted in the face of strong developer demand.

    The regulatory environment in Denver for builders is also not all that friendly, but our impact fees are minimal while they are huge (especially water which can be north of $35,000 per single family equivalent in DougCo). In Denver, on infill projects the development fees and infrastructure costs are a lot lower. If you convert an old warehouse or offices in the Ballpark neighborhood or downtown, you don’t have to put in roads, you don’t have to pay massive tap fees, you don’t have to deal with a whole lot of stuff other than construction and you’re probably straight zoned so you don’t even have to smooze people to rezone the property.

    Denver schools have become non-toxic in the eyes of middle class families and are surging to levels not seen since before the desegregation order era. While suburban schools districts like Aurora, Cherry Creek and Douglas County have lost a lot of their shine.

    People have decided that commuting for a half an hour to an hour a day isn’t worth it. “Bad neighborhoods” have gentrified, and Denver has invested in its infrastructure while the suburbs have pinched pennies. Denver has resisted the urge to shut out multifamily housing in a number of locations while many of the burbs have been more reluctant to do so, especially in first ring suburban cities – Englewood, pre-Cinderlla City, is probably the most egregious example of killing its opportunities due to the unfounded fears of residents in lower middle class single family neighborhoods.

    In answer to Matt Pizzuti, it mostly isn’t rental vacancies being filled and single family homes in the burbs being emptied. The burbs aren’t losing population and Denver has had close to 50% of metro area building permits despite having only about 30% of the metro area population in many of the last few years. The economy has, however, hurt high end single family developments much more than it has moderately priced single family and multifamily developments. This has put a real dent in the exurb trend of building 3000-4000 sq ft four bedroom ranchettes and gated community developments at the high end of the market.

    I think BoulderPatentGuy is guessing way too low with Denver proper topping out at 700-750K. There is room for multithousands of people infill developments in places like the Gates Rubber Plant and the Alameda-Broadway complex. There are major redevelopments in the work at the former University Hospital site on Colorado and the former Saint Anthony’s Hospital site on West Colfax. There are transit oriented development projects in the works at almost every light rail station in Denver. Infill possibilities on the West Side have barely been touched outside Berkeley and Highlands. The Ballpark gentrification trend could easily spill out into Globeville, Elyria and Swansea which have seen almost no developer interest so far. There are still greenfields near DIA and Stapleton is nowhere near build out to the North of I-70 of even North of MLK. We could reach 700-750K by 2020 and still keep growing at least as fast the metro area as a whole maybe 1.5% a year for another couple of decades. Denver proper will be well over 1 million before it tops out.

    • BoulderPatentGuy says:

      Nice post. As there’s discussion of tunneling the raised section of I-70, this should certainly help the gentrification process in that area.

      Someone should take a map and measure the potential remaining infill areas in Denver, then assign a likely density value to each of those areas to obtain a final Denver population number. Can you imagine a population in Denver proper of 1M by 2030? A 100% increase in 30 years. I guess at that point the sky would be the limit. Literally.

      • ohwilleke says:

        One of the big areas of potential development that I’ve omitted are large dead big box store strip malls like the one on both sides of Monaco at Evans, or at the former Lowes site on Alameda near Federal. These sites have substantial acreage (often 5-10 acres) that is easy to consolidate and is often far enough from single family residential that objections to high density uses could be muted. If these were developed as three to four story condominiums/apartment buildings a bit like those in LoHi or on the West of I-25 side of Speer, but not quite as tall as the tallest ones, each of these sites could add 600-1000 people to Denver’s population and there are a lot of them.