The Times West Virginian

Opinion

June 4, 2013

Newest census figures show cities in W.Va. still need help

Could we one day look back at 2010 as a turning point for Huntington’s population trend?

We hope so.

After recording a drop in city population in every decade’s census since 1960, the 2012 population estimates released last month show the city of Huntington’s population slightly above the 2010 census number.

The increase is only 22 people, but for a city and a region that has been on a 50-year downward trend, that’s good news.

Particularly in the past few years, Huntington has made important strides to make the city more attractive to both businesses and residents. Tax changes, a more business-friendly local government and ongoing downtown redevelopment efforts have helped on the commercial side, and aggressive programs to improve city neighborhoods are making a difference, too.

Huntington took advantage of its entry into the state’s home rule pilot program, with some innovative approaches to fighting neighborhood blight and lowering business taxes. Home rule has the potential to allow more new strategies for Huntington and other West Virginia cities as well.

That’s important, because the census numbers show that generally most of the cities in our region need the help.

Although Morgantown and Martinsburg in the northeastern part of the state show growth, Charleston and most of the state’s other larger cities continue to lose population. For years, the Legislature has cast a blind eye to this trend, so it was good to see the move this session to extend and expand the home rule program.

Ohio has similar problems, but on an even larger scale.

The census report shows that 14 out of 15 Ohio cities with at least 50,000 people had slight population declines from 2010 to 2012. The lone exception was Columbus, and Youngstown lost more than 2 percent of its population those two years — the highest loss rate of any city in the nation. Locally Ironton was down slightly, although Portsmouth showed a little increase.

Meanwhile, nine out of 10 of the nation’s 700 largest cities had some population increase.

Our region has learned the hard way that declining urban areas do not just affect the people who live in those cities. They impact the vitality of the whole state and the region, particularly in an age when vibrant and innovative metro areas are the real engines of growth.

Both West Virginia and Ohio need to pay attention to these trends. Stronger cities are essential to building a better economy for the region.

— The (Huntington) Herald-Dispatch

This editorial does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Times West Virginian editorial board.

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