Census - Cape region too sparse to be urban

Thursday, July 18, 2002

It is a mile that seems a lot longer now.

That's how much the cities of Cape Girardeau, Jackson and Scott City missed qualifying as an urbanized area, a population-based designation those city leaders hoped would give them a stronger voice in local transportation decisions and planning.

The U.S. Census Bureau confirmed Wednesday that the cities did not have enough people -- based on density, not boundaries -- to form one "population cluster" meeting the 50,000 requirement.

There were 3.5 miles between Cape Girardeau and Scott City that did not have the 500 people per square mile needed -- one mile more than the census allows.

"So if that one mile didn't exist, you would have had enough to make it," said census geographer Dave Aultman.

Aultman said the qualifying area stops at about Highway 74, meaning Scott City was not counted along with the Cape Girardeau-Jackson area.

The census makes exceptions for land that doesn't have enough people -- for malls, retail stores, some industrial development or airports -- but Aultman said there wasn't enough of that between Cape Girardeau and Scott City to make a difference.

The Cape Girardeau-Jackson count came to 46,968. Scott City, counted separately, had a total of 5,199.

Census figures from 2000 show Cape Girardeau's population at 35,349, Scott City's at 4,591 and Jackson's at 11,947, meaning 328 residents within the city limits of Cape Girardeau and Jackson weren't included because they live in sparsely populated areas not counted toward the population cluster.

No to MPO

Such a designation would have allowed the cities to form a metropolitan planning organization -- or MPO -- made up of local elected leaders, residents and transportation officials who would have more clout in any decisions about new roads, bridges or related transportation issues in Southeast Missouri.

The cities at various points have felt that they were at the whim of the Missouri Department of Transportation. Cape Girardeau County had written a resolution supporting several projects -- including the westward extension of Highway 74 -- that MoDOT never made part of its plans.

"We had hoped it would give us a better voice," said Doug Leslie, the Cape Girardeau public works director as well as the chairman of the MPO steering committee. "Now it looks like that's over."

Leslie said the density problem won't change because the land between Cape Girardeau and Scott City is largely floodplain.

"That won't be developed," he said. "There's also the industrial park on Nash Road and the Diversion Channel. It's going to be difficult to fit their definition in the future. That's what hurt us."

The cities have hoped to earn the MPO designation following the past two census counts but fell short both times.

Cape Girardeau city planner Kent Bratton said the city protested the census count in 1990 when it showed specific examples of undercounting, such as missed residents in some apartment buildings. The census altered its figures then by about 30 people, he said. In 1990, the population was 34,475.

But the city did not protest the 2000 figure because they couldn't find any undercounting.

"The only thing I can see is that the population is aging and we're getting fewer people per housing unit," Bratton said. "That and people aren't having large families anymore. That's all I could think of."

Regardless, Cape Girardeau Chamber of Commerce executive director John Mehner strongly disagreed with the census' decision to not designate the region as an urban area.

"Something positive needs to be said about the area and something negative needs to be said about the process," Mehner said. "Everybody realizes we have more than 50,000 people here. Unfortunately, under the ever-changing rules of the U.S. Census Bureau, we didn't fit under their definition of a 50,000 population area even though we have that many people. It doesn't make any sense."

Jackson Mayor Paul Sander said an MPO would have been a benefit to the area.

"We could set our own priorities and not have them set for us," Sander said.

But Sander was optimistic about the cities' chances in the next census, even if Scott City is taken out of the equation.

"We'll get 50,000 at 2010," he said. "I'd be shocked if we didn't grow by 3,000 people in the next 10 years. I'd be shocked if Jackson didn't do that by itself."


335-6611, extension 137


The following cities were designated as urban areas in Missouri by the U.S. Census Bureau. The numbers are based on density and may not match the cities' actual populations.

Columbia: 98,779

Jefferson City: 53,714

Joplin: 72,089

Kansas City: 799,293

Lee's Summit: 55,285

St. Joseph: 76,209

St. Louis: 1,720,271

Springfield: 215,004

SOURCE: U.S. Census

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