Lincoln’s plans for future population ‘spike’

North Lincoln continues to expand it's residential areas, as this is just off of N. 14th St. near Interstate-80. The city's population has grown by more than 30,000 people since 2000, and is expected to add 120,00 more by 2040.

Story by Jake Sorensen, NewsNetNebraska

Lincoln, Neb., is growing at a rapid pace. It’s current population of 262,000 could ‘boom’ another 120,000 people by 2040 according to U.S. Census Bureau projections. Is Lincoln ready for future growth?

The Lincoln Planning Department hopes so. It continues to revise the LPlan 2040. The plan covers everything from road improvement, land expansion, the continued revitalization of the Haymarket district, and growth in all parts of the city.

Lincoln city planner Brandon Garrett said that due to constantly altered projections for population growth, revisions come often.

“We had a 2030 plan set up a few years ago, and now already a 2040 plan,” Garrett said.  “It’s our job to stay on top of things in order to provide Lincoln a plan that’s most beneficial down the road.”

Big picture

The plan looks at parks, schools, roads, and urban development. Construction of Pinnacle Bank Arena and new hotels in the Haymarket are part of the 2040 plan to help bring more people to Lincoln and provide entertainment for those already here, Lincoln City Council member Carl Eskridge explained.

“There are certain things we believe all cities need when they reach a per capita ratio of people, and with Lincoln’s projections for the future and with help from voters, we decided it was time to act now,” Eskridge said.

According to Garrett, the city’s plan is to continue expansion east to Steven’s Creek by 84th Street. The area near the Lancaster Event Center on 84th and Havelock streets would go from farmland to housing developments and commercial buildings.


Ready for expansion?

“I think there’s always that thought in your head that you’d like to keep things the way they are, but oftentimes that’s not a reality with the way the city is growing,” Garrett said.

With all the expansion to the outskirts of Lincoln, what development will take place inside the city?  Lincoln Urban Development manager Wynn Hjermstad said it will be equally as important to keep the central city up to date.

“We’re seeing areas of Lincoln that once were outside the city and now have turned into more of the inner city,” Hjermstad said. “They’re huge parts of the city that need to be maintained and taken care of with roads and such, and I’m fairly positive that they will be taken care of.”

Inside out

UNL regional planning research assistant Pakiza Shirinova said in her studies of planning tendencies for cities, Lincoln is following a path that is fairly common.

The line to exit school at Lincoln North Star High School causes some students nearly 15 minutes to get out of the parking lot. The city has added nearly 2,000 students in Lincoln Public Schools in the past 2 school years.

“Most cities when they grow will go from the inside to out, where developments pop up left and right on the outskirts,” Shirinova said.  “Lincoln’s doing the same thing, but it’s a little different because there’s really not a legitimate suburb for the city to be growing into.”

Eskridge believes there are positives and negatives to Lincoln’s expansion.  He said the positives are job creation, tourism, and overall improvement of the area with opportunities. Negatives could include more air pollution from cars and new companies coming in to start businesses that could affect local businesses already in place.

“Overall, though, it’s certainly more of a plus for the city and really the region in general,” Eskridge said. “Lincoln is already on the map for being a great place to live and a safe place to live, so with letting more people come in it creates that much more of a haven for even more people.”

School overcrowding

The city has grown my more than 30,000 people since the 2000 census. With that growth also comes a spike in students in the Lincoln Public Schools. Mark Shepard, asst. superintendent of LPS, said it’s something that is being dealt with.

“In the 2008-09 school year, we added 1,000 new students to LPS, and 900 more the year following,” Shepard said.  “We’ve seen an increase in class sizes, but at the same time it allows more teachers to enter into our system in creating jobs for them.”

Lincoln Public Schools assistant superintendent Mark Shepard explains the city's plan for handling expansion and growth in it's schools.

Lincoln has already built new elementary schools on North 14th St., and in south Lincoln in the Wilderness Ridge area, but it hasn’t stopped the influx of kids in schools.  Some Lincoln parents are concerned.

“Our classes are overcrowded, and I’m concerned that with two elementary students, my kids are going to eventually become a number rather than a name,” Lincoln mother Jessica Fern said. “Something needs to be done to ensure that doesn’t happen.”

With two high schools built since 2000 (Lincoln Southwest and Lincoln North Star), Lincoln has adapted to growth in the southwest and north areas of town.  Shepard said it’s not as big of a deal as people think.

“Have we seen the growth in schools? Absolutely we have,” Shepard said. “But we are constantly monitoring areas that are at risk of needing attention or more staffing, and it is not at a level of extreme concern and shouldn’t be for some time.”

Lincoln City Planning is a process that will play out over the next 28 years and beyond.  As a main city planner, Garrett said it’s a journey.

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