Share Share via TwitterShare via FacebookShare via LinkedInShare via E-mail Published: June 24, 2001 A University of Colorado at Boulder study foresees increasing sprawl in 11 Western states during the next 50 years as greater numbers of people choose to reside in low-density suburban and rural settings. By 2050, the total number of developed acres in the contiguous states is expected to grow by more than 26 million acres as the population surges by 48 million, according to geography professor and project leader William Riebsame Travis. “The pattern of growth is as important as the population involved,” Travis said. “We’re spreading out more and more. The next 50 years will be more sprawling than the last 50 because we find that low-density development grows faster than does population.” The projections are based on U.S. census data, which forecasts population through the year 2025. The research team extrapolated those figures through 2050. “Development is a permanent feature — once you get it it’s there forever,” Travis said. “Looking out just 20 or 25 construction seasons just really doesn’t capture how much this region will develop, so we tried to look 50 years ahead.” Results of the Western Futures project of the CU-Boulder Center of the American West, funded by the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, are posted on the Web at http://www.centerwest.org/futures. The site features animated growth maps for each state for the years 1960, 1990, 2020 and 2050, color-coded by level of residential density. The projections are calculated from U.S. census figures for population and housing data based on a model developed by David Theobald, a researcher in the Natural Resource Ecology Laboratory at Colorado State University. The Web site was created by CU-Boulder research associate Tom Dickinson. “What we offer is a plot of the development ‘footprint’ in the western states,” Travis said. “Our goal in this effort is to help Westerners think about the future.” Sprawl increases because the percentage of people choosing to live in low-density areas is increasing faster than the overall population, the study found. The pattern was evident in the West from 1960 to 1990 and is accelerating today. Theobald calculated the amount of land available for development, the number of housing units needed to meet the projected population, and locations where units are likely to be placed first — usually adjacent to existing growth in areas not impeded by steep slopes, public lands or other development limitations. “Population estimates for 2050 were created by simply assuming that the same finite increase in population during 2000-2025 would occur again from 2025 to 2050 — this implies a slowing rate of growth that we think makes it a conservative projection,” Theobald said. “We’ll be wrong in some areas, but the projections are driven by population growth and the West is growing fast and expected to keep growing fast,” Travis said. He noted that more Americans are moving to the West because it is an attractive area to live and the region has created more jobs than other parts of the country. The study projects that the 11 states, which contained 22 percent of the total U.S. population in 2000, will be home to 28 percent of all Americans in 2050. The Center of the American West’s efforts to track changes in the West began with the 1997 publication of the “Atlas of the New West,” edited by Travis, which used maps, photographs and essays to convey how the region was changing. The center also is working on the Hewlett-funded “Handbook of the New West,” a project aimed at providing information that every Westerner needs to know to be a good regional citizen. In addition to population and development projections, the Western Futures Web site features digital maps of public lands, water resources and transportation corridors. For more information about the CU-Boulder Center of the American West call (303) 492-4879 or visit the Web site at http://www.centerwest.org.