Back in the spring, at an Orange Board of County Commissioners meeting where I and other citizens spoke in favor of building an urban library in Southern Orange County, one of the most common themes from county staff in the discussion was that a significant number of rural residents would be served by this library, and that they would come to the library by car and need a place to park, implying that this criterion should play a primary, and perhaps even decisive role in the siting decision of the library.
For the remainder of this post, let’s put aside the question of whether or not parking is easier for rural residents in an urban or suburban location, and just look at where the population of Southern Orange County is located.
Orange County 2010 Census Population Data
Orange County, in addition to containing all or part of four municipalities (Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and Mebane) is split into seven townships. These townships are more or less remnants of a briefly operating system of local governance in the post-civil war period that lasted less than 15 years. Nevertheless, the county still gathers data based on these geographical boundaries which can help us examine the present-day distribution of population. In the 2010 Census, the total population of Orange County was estimated to be 133,801. Below is a map of Orange County townships and their 2010 Census population:
As you can see, over 75% of county residents live either in the Chapel Hill or Hillsborough townships, with almost 68% of the county population in Chapel Hill township alone. The Chapel Hill township contains both the town of Chapel Hill and the town of Carrboro, as well as just under 14,000 residents living slightly outside the Chapel Hill / Carrboro town limits.
Implications for Library Siting
One of the criteria that County staff discussed in their prepared memo on March 19, 2013 was:
“Able to provide comprehensive library services to all the residents of southern Orange County.”
Given this criteria, I believe it is reasonable to say that “Southern Orange County” could be reasonably defined as the two southernmost townships, Bingham and Chapel Hill. These two townships had a combined population of 94,498 in the 2010 Census. Of those 94,498 people, 93% of them lived in Chapel Hill township, and 7% of them lived in Bingham township. This means that if you’re trying to maximize your ability to serve “all the residents of Southern Orange County,” you should probably focus heavily on how you’re going to serve the people in Chapel Hill township most effectively.
In the past few months, a new visualization tool has appeared that gives us an even closer look at population distributions, the Census Dotmap website, which maps every single person in the USA using one dot per person in their Census Block, the smallest level we can look at the data without actually placing people in their homes, which the Census will not do for privacy reasons. Here’s a look at the entire county using that tool:
The simple take-away is that the darker the section of the map, the more people live there. I drew in the county boundary using a graphics tool so if you go to the Census Dotmap website, don’t expect to see the townships there. Still, even without the townships drawn in, you’ll find that you can pick out the county border pretty well along the Alamance and Durham county lines. It’s harder with the Chatham and Person/Caswell borders, but the effects of the Orange County Joint Planning Agreement and rural buffer are still evident.
You’ll see that Southern Orange County’s population core is in the sections of Chapel Hill and Carrboro roughly bounded by Estes Drive on the north, MLK/Hillsborough/Country Club on the east, Fordham Blvd/Clubreth/Smith Level Rd (including Southern Village) on the south, and Old Fayetteville Rd on the west. Scroll down for a closer look at that population core, traced in dark red. For orientation, the primary commercial section of Franklin Street is highlighted in Carolina Blue. The sunburst graphics are as close an approximation as I can make at this scale of the following locations that have been mentioned as potential Southern Orange County library sites:
- 1128 Hillsborough Rd (Orange)
- 401 Fidelity St (Blue)
- 301 W Main St – Town Hall (Purple)
- 201 S Greensboro St – Roberson St Lot (Red)
- 300 E Main St (Green)
The county staff’s preferred site, 1128 Hillsborough Rd (shown in Orange) from March 2013 is outside the “core of the core” section of Chapel Hill Township, while the other four sites are within that critical center of population.
Recap: Southern Orange County Population
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing more benefits of building the library in the population heart of Southern Orange County. But for now, I’ll close by reviewing the following facts about Orange County population.
- Unless there is a sudden, drastic change of plans to put the Southern Orange County library somewhere north of Eubanks Rd, the existing Orange County library on West Margaret Ln in Hillsborough will be the closest library to pretty much everyone in the five northernmost townships: Cheeks, Hillsborough, Eno, Little River, and Caldwell.
- Of the combined population of the two southern townships, the population split is 93% Chapel Hill township, 7% Bingham township.
- Of the combined population of the two southern townships, 78%, or almost 4 out of every 5 residents, live in the Chapel Hill or Carrboro town limits.
- If the county staff’s linear projections are correct, Bingham Township will add 2,686 residents by the year 2050; while Chapel Hill township will add 51,996 residents by 2050.
- If the county staff’s exponential projections are correct, Bingham Township will add 3,854 residents by the year 2050; while Chapel Hill township will add 90,825 residents by 2050.
With the exception of the graphics, I got all of this population and projection information from the County website’s demographics page. This data acknowledges that nearly 80% of the people most likely to use the library are in-town residents of Chapel Hill and Carrboro, and the county’s own projections looking forward indicate significantly higher projected growth in Chapel Hill and Carrboro town limits than in unincorporated Chapel Hill Township or Bingham Township.
Future analysis of any potential library sites should acknowledge this baseline data about where population is located.