Leon Kolankiewicz's picture


  by  Leon Kolankiewicz

I have had the good fortune to experience the charms of both the Tar Heel State and the Palmetto State. For those Westerners who may never have ventured east of the Mississippi River, I'm referring to North Carolina and South Carolina.

In the former, I have backpacked the Appalachian Trail from Newfound Gap in the Great Smokey Mountains National Park. I have stood atop Mt. Mitchell — the very rooftop of the Smokies — and at 6,684 ft., the highest point in all of eastern North America, Canada included. My son worked as an avionics engineer with the U.S. Navy at Marine Corps Air Station — Cherry Point in Havelock, NC, working on the Bell Boeing V-22 Osprey, and I have often visited him at his place in New Bern on the banks of the tidal lower Neuse River where its mouth opens wide into Pamlico Sound.

As an environmental planner and wildlife biologist, I helped the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prepare a long-term management plan for habitats, wildlife, and public use at the Mattamuskeet National Wildlife Refuge in Hyde County. On a less auspicious note, I underwent that distinctly Southern pastime of feeling the itchy burn from scores of chigger bites devour my feet and ankles after one carefree and careless walk through the pine woods on the refuge.

And who hasn't been to the overcrowded Outer Banks? Despite annoying seasonal crowds and traffic, they will always boast the Wright Brothers' Kitty Hawk, Cape Hatteras, and the soaring, shifting sand dunes of Jockey Ridge.

In South Carolina, I have also reached the tippy top of the state at Mt. Sassafras (3,563 ft.), a good deal shorter and less spectacular than Mt. Mitchell, but a beautiful spot in the wooded Southern Appalachians nonetheless. I worked on an environmental assessment in the Francis Marion National Forest of South Carolina's Lowcountry near the coast, and got to spearhead the preparation of the management plan for Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, with its extensive bottomland hardwood forests and swamps along the banks of the meandering Waccamaw River.

And who hasn’t been to the historic district of charming Charleston or the thronged sandy shores at Myrtle Beach? I once got to see a near-total eclipse of the sun from those same shores.

Swallow-tailed kite at Waccamaw National Wildlife Refuge, South Carolina

The swallow-tailed kite is a raptor (bird of prey) that lives in wetland habitats, such swamps and rivers

Unfortunately, the very desirability and popularity of these two very attractive Southern states is proving to be their undoing. They have become magnets for the kind of unbridled growth that may end up killing the goose that laid the golden egg: destroying the very amenities and attractions that in-migrants sought and prospective in-migrants seek in the first place.

This is underscored in a recent Wall Street Journal article entitled "This Southern Town Was Growing So Fast, It Passed a Ban on Growth" by Valerie Bauerlein. The piece discusses Lake Wylie, SC, a suburb of Charlotte, NC.

As Bauerlein notes, since 2000 alone, Lake Wylie has tripled in population from 4,000 to 12,000. Schools are overcrowded, traffic congested, and the town's overburdened water supply system often fails. Twenty-mile commutes can now take an hour and a half.

Reacting to these growth pains, this month, the York County Council slapped a 16-month moratorium on commercial and residential rezoning requests and consideration of any new apartment complexes or subdivisions. The WSJ calls it "the most comprehensive ban so far in a state where fast-growing cities are temporarily blocking everything from dollar stores to student housing," according to the Municipal Association of South Carolina.

A 2017 study by my colleagues and I at NumbersUSA bears out these stresses and strains from growth. The study is called Paving the Piedmont and it focuses on the Southern Piedmont region stretching across North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia. More precisely, it examines the extent to which rapid population growth in the Piedmont's counties and urbanized areas accounts for the urban sprawl the region is undergoing.

Suburban sprawl in Charlotte, NC

The combined populations of the 25 urbanized areas in our three-state Piedmont study area leapt from 8.5 million in 2000 to 11.3 million in 2010, an increase of 2.8 million or 33 percent in a single decade. Over that same decade, the aggregate area of urbanized land sprawled by 37 percent. We estimated that approximately 84 percent of this sprawl was related to population growth.

Percentages of Sprawl Related to Population Growth and Per Capita Sprawl in Piedmont's 25 Urbanized Areas, 2000-2010

York County, where Lake Wylie is located, grew from 173,021 residents in 2002 to 226,971 in 2010, an increase of 31 percent in just eight years. Between 1982 and 2010, York County more than doubled in population size. Its developed area almost tripled from 47,600 acres in 1982 to 134,500 acres in 2010, and virtually all of this increase in developed land — that is, sprawl — was related to population growth.

More recent data are now available than those upon which we based our 2017 Piedmont sprawl study, which used developed land data up through 2010 from the USDA National Resources Inventory. The upshot is that population growth still drove virtually all urban sprawl in York County, South Carolina.

A November 28, 2020 article in the Post and Courier in Charleston, South Carolina observes that, once just a coastal phenomenon, population growth hotspots have spread like the invasive kudzu across the state. Indeed, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, in just the nine years between 2010 and 2019, South Carolina's population grew by 11.3%. This is almost double the rate (6.3%) for the United States as a whole.

Again, our 2017 Piedmont sprawl study bears all this out and predicts that South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia, against the wishes of their residents, will become far more crowded and congested in the coming decades. In this, we drew upon a study that had recently appeared in the online, peer-reviewed scientific journal PLOS One about the "emerging Piedmont megalopolis" — an urbanizing region stretching for hundreds of miles.

As we wrote:

"A megalopolis...[consists of] two or more metropolises or conurbations that are connected by transportation corridors. Open space or rural lands — farmland and wildlife habitat — that have the misfortune of being squeezed between the developed poles of a megalopolis have either been eliminated already by lower-density sprawl development or are in the process of being so.

We included a map from the PLOS One study that depicted what the region may look like in 2060 — just 40 years from now! — if business-as-usual continues:

Predicted sprawl in 2060 in Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina piedmont region under business-as-usual conditions

This is not at all a future desired by the existing residents of the Piedmont. Pulse Opinion Research conducted a scientific public opinion survey specifically for our study of 2,500 adults living in the Piedmont region. When asked: "Would the continuous development from Atlanta to Raleigh make the region a better and more exciting place to live, a worse and more congested place to live, or would it not make much difference?" only 20% responded "better and more exciting" while 55% answered "worse and more congested."

More than 95% of the Longleaf Pine Ecosystem in the Southeast has been lost to Agriculture, Inappropriate Forest Management and Fire Suppression Practices, and Development

When asked: "Do you prefer that the Piedmont's towns and small cities remain separated from each other and keep their own identity or does it not matter too much if they are absorbed by larger cities?" 76% responded that they would prefer that towns and small cities remain separate and with their own identity, while only 17% indicated that it doesn't much matter distinct towns are absorbed by larger cities.

And eighty percent of respondents were very or somewhat concerned about the ability to protect farmland from development in the Piedmont region.

For the past half century or more, America's population has been expanding by 20 to 30 million or more each decade, and ultimately, this is the engine that drives the unchecked demographic growth that high-amenity states like South Carolina are now being pummeled by.

And the engine that drives this national population growth is mass immigration, now running more than a million per year for the past 30 years, with no end in sight, unless Americans decide to put their collective foot down and say "enough"! If the U.S. population jumps from the 330 million at present to the more than 400 million we are expected to see over the next 40 to 50 years, new or future immigration (not even counting past or current immigration) will have accounted for about 90% of that growth.

Peaceful Piedmont Pastime: solitary fishing from a pier on Lake Craig in Croft State Park near Spartanburg, SC. Residents of the Piedmont prize easy access to nature and outdoor recreation. 88% think it is “very or somewhat important” to save the natural areas and open spaces that are currently exist between the cities of the Piedmont region

When asked about population growth and immigration, Southern Piedmont residents on the whole oppose the future that these trends are pushing them towards.

"Would you prefer that the Piedmont's population continue to grow at the recent rapid rate, that it grow much more slowly, that it stay about the same size as it is now, or that it become smaller?" asked one of the questions in the survey conducted by Pulse Opinion Research. More than 80% of the 2,500 adult participants answered that they would prefer the population to grow much more slowly or not at all.

And when asked about immigration levels, 60% of those surveyed favored reducing new immigration to slow down Piedmont population growth — more than double the 26% who favored keeping new immigration and population growth at current rate.

Now if only our business and political leaders were as wise as ordinary American citizens!

LEON KOLANKIEWICZ is the Scientific Director for NumbersUSA

Updated: Wed, Dec 30th 2020 @ 9:15am EST

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