Demographics help guide planning

Recent studies show continuing increase in age, ethnic diversity

City planners in both Sugar Land and Missouri City are taking changing demographics into account as they plan for future land use.

Fort Bend County has been nationally recognized as the most ethnically diverse county in the U.S., according to 2010 census data, and projections show the area becoming increasingly diverse. Sugar Land and Missouri City have seen decreases in the percentage of Anglo residents and increases in other races. Since 2000, the percentage of Anglo residents in Missouri City fell from 38.6 percent to 24.9 percent and in Sugar Land from 60.8 percent to 44.4 percent.

Data focusing on age also suggests population growth will be most significant among people age 55 and above. Since 2000, that age bracket grew from 14.3 percent to 25.3 percent in Sugar Land and from 13.3 percent to 22.6 percent in Missouri City.

Sugar Land kicked off a six-part series of land-use forums Jan. 15 to engage the public in how the city should develop the undeveloped land in the city. Meanwhile, a similar story is unfolding in Missouri City, where city planners are gearing up to make amendments to the 2009 comprehensive plan based on ongoing demographic studies. The city does not have a timetable for amending the plan, but the city's planning and zoning commission is looking into how future goals should be adjusted in light of the changing population. A committee will be formed this year to begin the process.

"We are looking at how development in the city occurs," Missouri City senior planner Jennifer Thomas said. "All of that is a very public process that involves business owners, community members and appointed volunteers made up of property owners in the city that represent different perspectives."

Housing market

One of the ways in which changing demographics play into city planning involves the development of different housing types. At a national level, the largest trends shaping these studies are people living longer, more people with disabilities and more single people living alone.

Both young people and empty nesters—parents whose children have moved out—have shown a preference for smaller homes in more dense communities around shopping centers, said Mitchell Silver, director of planning with the city of Raleigh, North Carolina and speaker at Sugar Land's land-use forum. There is also an emerging trend among young people for renting instead of buying. In Sugar Land, 91 percent of homes are single-family, which could prove problematic if the city does not start developing more multi-family units that can be rented.

"The smart thing to do now is to avoid developing more single-family neighborhoods and focus on concentrating density around shopping centers and corridors," Silver said. "You protect the single-family developments that exist, but put density where it makes sense."

Missouri City planners like Thomas emphasized the importance of providing "life cycle" housing—housing options for people at every stage of life, from young people looking to rent in dense areas to older people looking for patio homes or senior communities. Census data indicates about 92.3 percent of Missouri City's 22,531 dwellings are single-family detached units.

Housing options for seniors have proven to be in especially high demand, she said.

"We had a retirement community open in fall 2013, and within a few months it was pretty much leased out," she said. "That speaks to the demand."

Retail development

Aside from maintaining a real estate market with diverse housing choices, Sugar Land Mayor James Thompson identified the importance of "creating places"—areas such as Sugar Land Town Square—that provide people with access to a variety of stores and venues that also include neighborhoods and open space.

For a city to be successful, it has to always be attracting new residents and businesses, and understanding demographic trends is crucial for both of those objectives, said Christof Spieler, vice president and director of planning with Morris Architects. Spieler was also a speaker at the first land-use forum at Sugar Land City Hall Jan. 15.

Stephen Klineberg, a professor at Rice University's Department of Sociology, described Fort Bend as the place where four racial communities—Anglo, African American, Hispanic and Asian—meet in greater equality than anywhere else in the country. This has an effect on the types of retail developments that spring up in the area. Restaurants like Bombay Pizza have opened in the Telfair community, which has large Asian and Indian populations.

As a city becomes more dense and diverse, it reaches a critical mass point where it will start attracting a broader assortment of higher quality restaurants and stores, said Matthew Keener, senior vice president with international commercial real estate company CBRE.

"Missouri City and Sugar Land have very ethnically aspirational demographics," he said. "People are carving out places for themselves in the community. You might see different grocery stores—like Mas or Wellspring, for Hispanic and Asian markets—catering to a different group at every stoplight."

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By Shawn Arrajj

Shawn Arrajj serves as the editor of the Cy-Fair edition of Community Impact Newspaper where he covers the Cy-Fair and Jersey Village communities. He mainly writes about development, transportation and issues in Harris County.


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