Houston Area's Center of Gravity Shifts Outside the Loop

The population center of Harris County is now outside central Houston, a shift that occurred over the last two decades as the region's suburbs blossomed.

January 21, 2022, 7:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction

Houston Sprawl

Paul Sableman / Flickr

For the first time in the city's history, Harris County's population center has moved away from the downtown Houston loop, signaling that the decentralization characteristic to the sprawling metropolis has finally shifted the center of gravity of the region itself. As Matt Dulin writes, "The center of Harris County now falls right along West 34th Street near Ella Boulevard on the edge of the Oak Forest neighborhood—a suburb from another era of expansion, making it an appropriate nod to the city’s past and the region’s future."

Houston's population has grown by around 40 percent since the turn of the 21st century, with growth concentrated in suburbs in the northwestern part of Harris County. According to Dulin, the region has seen the most suburban and exurban growth of the top five metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. "To put it another way: The Houston MSA’s population outside Houston city limits grew 7 times faster than the city itself."

With plenty of available land and high demand for planned suburban communities, experts expect that outward development in the Houston region will continue. But Dulin notes that the central city has experienced its own redevelopment, and the rising values of homes in neighborhoods like Oak Forest indicate a strong interest in living near downtown—if the city can provide the amenities that make urban neighborhoods safe and livable. 

This year, developers are expected to break ground on a slew of major projects in both central and suburban Houston, including the new headquarters of Hewlett Packard Enterprise and a 28-story downtown office tower.

Friday, January 14, 2022 in Rice Kinder Institute for Urban Research

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