Texas’ continued rapid growth can bring opportunities and problems

01/01/2014 12:00 AM

12/31/2013 7:08 PM

The latest numbers from the Census Bureau bode well for Texas, giving leaders another set of figures to use in bragging about the state’s rosy economic picture, lower unemployment rate and being that desirable destination for people fleeing higher taxes and other ills in big cities of the north and northeast.

Texas, which added an estimated 387,397 residents in the year ending July 1, remains the nation’s second most-populous state, behind only California.

The total population is estimated at 26.5 million.

Those numbers, coupled with data released last summer about the rapid growth of many Texas cities last year, are reasons to be excited about the future of this state.

Five of the 10 fastest growing cities in the country for the year ending July 1, 2012, are in the Lone Star State, and Fort Worth is on that list.

Of the 20 largest cities in the U.S., six are in Texas.

While all of that is good material for chambers of commerce, convention and visitors bureaus and public figures charged with selling their area, such fast-paced growth should also give leaders pause. With it can come both opportunity and problems.

Texas as a whole, as well as its urban centers and bustling suburbs, must plan to meet the challenges that increased population brings.

Aside from having in place the basic infrastructure to serve the public’s needs, a whole network of services must be designed to ensure that the phenomenal influx of new residents won’t become a hindrance to progress.

In a state that is perhaps more dependent on the automobile than any other, transportation has to be a chief priority, and just building more highways will not be the answer. There must be transit alternatives.

Most of the people coming to the state are young, with school-age children or soon to have children who will need classroom space and a quality education, an area in which Texas lags in both funding and equitable disbursement of funds.

The Fort Worth school district, one of the larger ones that is continuing to grow, showed some vision when it presented a $490 million bond package to voters in November that was designed to bring equity to all campuses and provide additional curricula and tools to prepare students for the demands of the future.

Residents wisely supported that proposal.

Along with education, more people in Texas will require healthcare in a state that already has more uninsured people than any other in the country. It’s an issue that’s been postponed too long and has been a football tossed around by partisan leaders looking to score points with their political bases.

Growing cities can’t be great ones without increased public safety and quality of life amenities like parks, recreation, the arts and libraries. Detroit — a city that lost half its population since 1950; 25 percent of its residents from 2000 to 2010 — is the nightmare example of what can go wrong.

The city of Fort Worth will present a $292 million bond package, with emphasis on streets, to voters this spring. This is a city that added 243,298 residents since the 2000 Census. Strained budgets must be carefully administered to keep up with needs.

Local and state leaders have to do more than brace for more people. They must design plans that will help ensure quality growth, with systems in place to accommodate the influx of new residents.

Otherwise, the people of Texas may end up living in a place that will be a lot less desirable than it was when they got here.

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