In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth newsmakers, Eric Fladager, assistant director of planning and data analytics for the city of Fort Worth, spoke with reporter Sandra Sadek. Fort Worth saw a huge population increase despite the COVID-19 pandemic, adding 22,000 people in the last year to a region that just topped 8 million.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio file attached to this article.
Sandra Sadek: Hi, Eric. Thank you so much for agreeing to do this interview with us today. Can you go ahead and just introduce yourself and what you do for the city of Fort Worth?
Eric Fladager: I’m the assistant director of planning and data analytics for the city of Fort Worth. And our department is responsible for long-range planning for the city. The city’s comprehensive plan, which is essentially a 20-year plan for growth and development for the city of Fort Worth. We’re also involved in our urban village development program, which is focused on revitalizing locations within Loop 820, essentially.
And we work with our budget colleagues on the city’s budget and the city’s capital improvement plan, as well, and a variety of other projects.
Sadek: I saw that a couple weeks ago, some new population estimates were released by the North Central Texas Council of Governments that showed tremendous growth, not only for the city of Fort worth, but for the region. Can you talk a little bit about what those numbers mean for the city of Fort Worth, especially as we continue to grow and add more people to our city?
Fladager: If you saw the NCTCOG numbers that were produced recently, the city of Fort Worth added over 22,000 new residents in one year, which is a significant amount of growth.
If you think about it in comparison to a small city, that’s essentially adding a small city in one year. And the region, as you said, the entire metroplexes has been growing very rapidly. This particular estimate from the North Central Texas Council of Governments – it is important and valuable.
It’s a one-year estimate. So it’s just looking at changes from one year to the next. In this case the 2022 estimate is what we’re referring to. So it’s a very small snapshot in time. It shows a lot of growth, but really the city of Fort Worth has been growing at this kind of a pace for 20 years. We’ve been one of the largest and fastest-growing cities in the United States since really about 2000. We’ve all been really at the top or very close to the top in terms of fastest-growing large cities throughout that period. So this kind of growth is nothing new to us.
And the physical result of that is what you see on the ground as you drive through Fort Worth. Tremendous amount of growth, tremendous amount of new housing and new businesses going in. We’re trying to, as are others in the metropolitan, do our best to manage that growth and to steer it in a way that’s going to have the best positive impacts on the city of Fort Worth and its residents and its businesses and to help create the kind of city that people love and that people want to be in.
That’s really our goal. There are lots of cities that are seeking economic development, seeking to grow and develop and change into better communities. It’s sort of a competitive economic development environment.
We want to make sure that we’re building a city that will be attractive to the new population, particularly a younger, educated, technology-oriented workforce that will help drive the economy of the future in Fort Worth. So, those folks really are interested in a special kind of place, a place that provides a lot of opportunities to do fun things and to be in interesting places and beautiful places.
People want to be able to walk to places and not have to get in their car every time they go anywhere at all. There’s a real difference between some of our newer, suburban areas over the last 20 years have grown very rapidly and that have single-family subdivisions that extend over large areas and don’t really have a neighborhood center, don’t really have a place that can function as sort of a suburban village center, if you will. Those are the kinds of places that we’re trying to stimulate the development of in our suburban areas while we’re working on revitalization within the central city and really helping the trend that has been going on for a number of years where folks really want to be able to live in the city. They may not want to live all the time there, but they want the opportunity to live in more walkable communities near downtown or near neighborhood centers out in suburban areas. So that’s the kind of effort that we’re trying to promote near Fort worth.
And regionally similar kinds of things are being approached. The North Central Texas Council of Governments themselves have been an active proponent of connected, higher density, mixed-use centers for individual cities and connecting those with transit and other opportunities to walk and to bike and so forth.
Sadek: It seems like you have to find a good balance between meeting the needs of the population that’s already here and established in Fort Worth versus the needs of the newer, maybe younger population that’s coming and is attracted to Fort Worth because their needs are different as well.
Fladager: A lot of it is about balancing needs, and cities have limited amounts of funding available for the wide variety of projects and services and infrastructure that it’s responsible for.
There are more needs than we have money to meet, and that’s just a constant circumstance for cities across the country. And so we have to be able to prioritize. It’s important to ensure that we’re protecting existing neighborhoods that want to retain what brought them to those locations in the first place, while at the same time, building new neighborhoods and rebuilding older neighborhoods or adding to them, adding amenities, adding new opportunities for restaurants and shops and so forth in those locations. We want to be able to meet all those demands. But we also want to be very careful about the cost of doing that because the city of Fort Worth has been reducing the tax rate for a number of years now, and we’d like to be able to continue that.
Sadek: You mentioned costs to fund these developments and services is something that you guys encounter as you’re doing your work. Are there any other things that you guys have to deal with that make it a little bit difficult to plan sometimes for the city’s growth?
Fladager: There are always competing needs. There are competing interests. Not only for funding, but for the type of neighborhood folks are looking for.
We aim to ensure that we have a variety of different neighborhoods that appeal to different individuals and families. We don’t want to create just a sea of rooftops that all looks the same and has limited opportunities for walking and that kind of thing.
We want to ensure that we have neighborhoods that are well linked to each other and to destinations, whether that be shops in our restaurants or schools or community centers and neighborhoods, libraries, things like that. So it’s about creating lots of options for people to choose. But doing so in a way that you know, that meets the housing demand and also creates places that people want to spend time in.
Sadek: You talk about linking the different types of communities in Fort Worth. Can you talk a bit about how you guys could, or would be applying that idea to maybe the big regional plans that are in the works and discussions that include Fort worth with other partner agencies?
Fladager: If you’re talking about the connections, sort of the one that jumps to mind for most people is how you get from place to place. It’s really related to transportation. And that’s a focus of the city of Fort Worth. It’s a focus of the region. A lot of planning for the region takes place through the North Central Texas Council of Governments. They do a great job. They’re trying to balance the needs of the fourth-largest metropolitan in the United and those needs vary all across the region. But really the ability to connect those individual cities together in a way that makes them function well and makes them sort of easy to get to and reduces costs of transportation overall it is really a way to energize the region certainly is the same for Fort Worth.
We’re working hard to ensure that our neighborhoods are well connected. That’s a challenge, especially the neighborhoods that are further out at the outskirts of the city, where they’ve developed very quickly. They’ve developed essentially around farm roads, farm to market kinds of roads, two-lane roads and the city just doesn’t have the funds to go in and, rebuild those roads early in the growth process, and it tends to take some time to be able to assemble the funding, to, to put those roads into place. But a lot of the activity, a lot of the growth that’s occurring within Loop 820 in the central city area has the benefit of existing infrastructure. So you’re not paying for new capital improvements, new roads and so forth when those areas develop further or redevelop. And that’s the kind of growth, as I mentioned, we’re trying to stimulate areas within the city that’ll attract folks that want housing choice.
The same is true on the regional level. There, you’ve got a transit that becomes a really crucial connection from a regional perspective to connect places, people, to jobs, people, to entertainment and you know, visiting with friends and so forth. Around those stations, it’s important to build new development that is compatible with surrounding neighborhoods, but really connects those neighborhoods to the station platform so that people can easily access the train stations and use that to commute, to work or use that to visit other places, go shopping or what have you.
Sadek: Anything else that you want to mention about population growth and its impact on the city’s planning moving forward?
Fladager: I’d say that we expect to continue to grow. And that’s got great things, great opportunities. But it also creates significant challenges.
It is quite a feat to be able to build capital infrastructure that supports a growing city. It is a real investment to maintain that once you’ve built it. So people don’t think about that aspect of it often. But there’s a significant cost in maintaining all the infrastructure that the city has in place that that the city ultimately is responsible in perpetuity for maintaining that infrastructure. So the smarter we can develop our city and provide housing options and choices in different types of places, but make sure we provide places that are compact, that are walkable, that provide transportation alternatives, the more that we can be successful at doing that the more that will be in a good position to be able to afford the city that we’re building.
Sandra Sadek is a Report for America corps member, covering growth for the Fort Worth Report. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @ssadek19.
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