(Editor’s note: The Lincoln County communities of Toledo, Waldport, Newport and Lincoln City are now classified as “urban” under census classification. This story (C) 2012 by our Oregonian News Network partner, Oregonlive.com)
by Betsy Hammond
The Census Bureau released its once-a-decade list of the nation’s urban areas this week and, naturally, it includes the Oregon communities of Carlton, Aumsville, Oakridge and Canby.
None of the those places has a three-story building, let alone the sort of night life, crime, congestion or vibe generally associated with urban centers. Drive the streets of Carltonand Aumsville and you won’t encounter a single stoplight.
The federal designation of “urban,” used to help determine funding for highways and clinics as well as to understand the nation’s living patterns, is important — but also something of a relic, says Chris Henrie, geographer in the Census Bureau’s geography division.
The bureau’s basic definition — a city of at least 2,500 people — was set in 1906 and has changed little since. “It’s kind of a throwback,” Henrie admits.
Beginning with the 2000 Census, however, areas — whether incorporated as cities or not — have had to prove their urban cred by crowding enough people into a small area.
An “urban” community now must have at least one neighborhood with a density of more than 1,000 residents per square mile as well as a total population of at least 2,500, Henrie says. Every neighborhood in the designated urban area must have at least 500 residents per square mile — except for parts of town covered by airports, malls or other urban-type places where people don’t live.
In all, 68 Oregon communities made the cut this year.
Not surprisingly, Portland, Eugene, Salem and Bend all are considered urban. They are home to 84,000 to 1.8 million people, and each is home to an average of more than 2,000 people per square mile. The Portland urban area, stretching to Vancouver, Hillsboro, Gresham and Oregon City, has about 3,500 people per square mile spread over 524 square miles, the bureau reported.
Nearly matching that density, however, is the small town of Canby — a historically agricultural community of about 17,000 people 20 miles south of Portland that was designated rural in the 2000 Census. Not anymore, the bureau says.
Instead, it reports, Canby and its outlying areas are home to 3,423 people per square mile — about half as many as the nation’s densest urban area, the 1,700-square-mile, 12 million-person residential sprawl that the Census Bureau calls Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim.
Canby has attracted several manufacturing employers, including several that export their products internationally, and it is seeing a mini-boom in new home construction after a lull during the recession, reports the city’s economic development director, Renate Mengelberg.
Still, it remains a place where high school sports events are the center of town life, where folks greet each other on the sidewalks of downtown and where anybody can sign up to drive their tractor in the annual General Canby parade, says Canby Library Director Penny Hummel.
“Do I think of it as half as dense as Los Angeles? No I don’t. It’s a classic small town,” Hummel says.
Other unlikely “urban” areas in Oregon include the Welches-Zigzag-Rhododendron corridor on the slopes of Mount Hood, a portion of the self-identified “rural” Deschutes County city of La Pine,remote Lakeview near the Nevada state line and Shady Cove, on the Rogue River near Crater Lake.
In the eyes of the Census Bureau, Oregon has more “urban” areas per mile on its Pacific coastline than Washington or California, including Gold Beach, Bandon, Waldport, Reedsport and Seaside.
In stoplight-free Aumsville, population 3,680, the vibe is know-your-neighbor, small-town safe. Every year, “Santa” rides the city fire truck to every home in town to offer a goody bag to the city’s young and young at heart.
Still, says city administrator Maryanne Hills, “urban” areas like Aumsville are distinctly different from the rural areas that surround them. Aumsville has police coverage, two developed city parks and, unlike their septic-system country cousins, “a water and sewer system they can depend on… You have the urban benefits of the city.”