New estimates released Monday by the Weldon Cooper Center at the University of Virginia show the region’s population continues to grow, reflecting a statewide trend of growth in urban areas close to Northern Virginia.
There are now 232,452 people in the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area, which consists of the counties of Albemarle, Fluvanna, Greene and Nelson and the city of Charlottesville. The population of the MSA has increased in overall population by 6.3 percent since the 2010 Census.
“Compare that with Blacksburg, which has not had that kind of growth even though it is a very similar place to Charlottesville,” said Hamilton Lombard, a demographer with the Weldon Cooper Center.
Blacksburg’s metro area has increased by 2.5 percent from 2010 with a 2016 population of 182,659. The Roanoke metropolitan area had an increase of 1.6 percent while Lynchburg experienced 2.9 percent growth.
However, Lombard noted that the Winchester and Harrisonburg metropolitan areas are growing at a rate similar to Charlottesville because of their relative proximity to Northern Virginia. Population in those areas increased 6.7 percent and 7 percent, respectively.
Charlottesville’s population increased from 43,475 recorded in the 2010 Census to an estimate of 49,071 on July 1, 2016. That is a 12.9 percent increase over six years and the third-highest growth rate among Virginia’s cities. Only Alexandria and Falls Church had higher increases.
Albemarle’s population rose from 98,970 to 105,715 over the same period, or a 6.8 percent increase.
Greene County’s population went from 18,403 to 19,785, an uptick of 7.5 percent.
Fluvanna’s population grew 1.7 percent and now has an estimated 26,133 people.
Nelson has 185 fewer people than it did in 2010, with a 2016 population estimate of 14,835.
Louisa County’s population has increased 3.5 percent and now has an estimated population of 34,316. Louisa is not part of the Charlottesville MSA, but is part of the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission.
Buckingham County dropped from 17,146 to 16,913, a decrease of 1.4 percent.
The overall population of the state increased 5.1 percent to a total of about 8.4 million.
The fastest-growing locality in Virginia is Loudoun County which added 73,016 residents from 2010 to 2016. There are now an estimated 385,327 people there, or a 23.4 percent increase.
The locality with the largest population loss is Buchanan County in far Southwest Virginia with a 6.7 percent decrease. There are now an estimated 22,473 people living there, down from 24,098 in 2010.
Lombard said declines in many areas are not necessarily because new people are not moving in.
“Births aren’t rising anymore and deaths are,” he said. “That’s really slowing growth down across the board.”
Lombard said the estimates are used by state government in various formulas to calculate funding levels for localities.
“A lot of counties, particularly in Northern Virginia, come up with their own estimates but they’re not necessarily comparable and you want one number you can use and allocate money based off of that,” Lombard said.
The director of the Weldon Cooper Center’s Demographics Research Group said in a statement that localities use the trends to make policy decisions.
“The trend toward population growth in Virginia’s urban areas while many of its rural communities’ populations decline is not new,” said Qian Cai, director of the Demographics Research Group. “However, the deepening polarization of these demographic trends present growing problems for the commonwealth in terms of schools, housing, transportation, workforce and health care.”
One local Realtor said he was not surprised by the new estimates.
“This data tracks with what we have felt for years,” said Jim Duncan, of Nest Realty.
“The Charlottesville area remains a great place to live that is recognized as such by those who choose to continue to live here and those who choose to relocate here.”
Duncan added that he hopes Charlottesville and Albemarle will work together to build the infrastructure necessary to support the growth.
The president of one group that has called for the city and county to establish an optimal population size said the growth is in part due to infill redevelopment that has been encouraged by city officials.
“It also represents the kind of growth, believed by many to be an economic panacea, that will more likely erode the quality of life in the area if it persists for very long,” said David Shreve, of Advocates for a Sustainable Albemarle Population.
Shreve said the region’s prosperity does not depend on continued population growth.
The Weldon Cooper Center will unveil population projections later this year. Those calculations have not been made since 2012.
“You can’t allocate funding based off of projections, but I think they are really useful if you are trying to get idea for planning,” Lombard said. “If you’re trying to envision what transportation needs you’re going to have in 20 years, you really want to have some sort of projection for that.”