Despite Exhortations, San Antonio Suburbanizes

"Despite years of effort by city leaders to revitalize San Antonio’s downtown neighborhoods, thousands of residents flocked to sprawling subdivisions on the far North and West sides in the past decade, while the inner city lost residents."

That is how John Tedesco, Elaine Ayala and Brian Chasnoff of the San Antonio Express-News described the continuing dispersion of the San Antonio metropolitan area's core Bexar County in an analysis of census tract population trends between 2000 and 2010 (we had reported more generally on the continuing dispersion of San Antonio a few months ago).

Referring to the "siren song of the outlying suburbs," the authors note that the strongest growth in Bexar County occurred in suburban areas outside the outer beltway (the "Anderson Loop" or state route 1604). The growth, largely on the north and west sides of the county was nearly one-half of total county growth. At the same time, the inner city lost population.

The Express-News analysis indicates that the population increased 233 percent in the northern and western areas outside the Anderson Loop. Inside the inner loop (Interstate 410), the population increased 7 percent. This includes the inner city area, where the population declined three percent. In the rest of the county (between the inner and outer loops and the outer suburbs of the east and south), the population increase was 24 percent.

Outside core Bexar County, the metropolitan area added 34 percent to its population, more than any of the three major sectors of Bexar County.

The reporters noted that "Every San Antonio mayor who served in the past decade preached the virtues of life in the inner city. For many people, it’s an appealing message — in theory. “Most people agree,” former Mayor Phil Hardberger said. “And then they drive out beyond 1604 to their houses.”

Norman Dugas, a residential subdivision developer and past president of the Real Estate Council of San Antonio told the Express-News “The reality is, market forces are much more important than any planning emphasis or desire to shape development.” Put another way, "preaching" is not enough. People will likely follow their preferences unless forbidden to do so, which is regrettably a policy direction in some places.
Subsidies to the core areas (often plentiful) and exhortations by public officials (few, if any of whom have themselves moved permanently to the inner city from the suburbs) are unlikely to change how people prefer to live.