Before the 1950s, most of the Bay Area, except for San Francisco and Oakland, was untouched by urban growth. Since then, however, growth has been explosive. A person who left bucolic Santa Clara County in 1950 might not recognize it today -- the county's population is more than five times larger. All told, since 1950, the Bay Area's population has grown by more than 4 million people.
Where the Growth Is
The population boom of the 1950s triggered growth throughout the Bay Area, but counties that were initially the smallest have seen the most dramatic increases. In addition to Santa Clara, the counties that grew most in sheer numbers over the last 50 years are Alameda (+ 703,426), Contra Costa (+ 649,832), and San Mateo (+ 471,502). Santa Clara County's 479 percent increase was the region's highest, followed by Sonoma, with 344 percent.
In the past 10 years, two counties, Contra Costa and Sonoma, had the highest percentage increase, at 18.1 percent. Next came Solano with 15.9 percent. San Francisco had the lowest growth level, 7.3 percent, followed by Marin County with 7.5 percent. Overall, the Bay Area's population increased 12.6 percent in the last decade.
The Effects of Growth
In the Bay Area, as in many other growing regions, a paradox is at work. The region's beauty, natural resources, and quality of life have attracted many people and businesses. But this increasing population now threatens the very features that attracted people in the first place.
What are the effects of population growth? It might be easier to list what isn't affected, given population's consequences for virtually every aspect of the Bay Area's environment and quality of life. But a short list includes sprawling development and the destruction of open space, increasing traffic and air pollution, greater energy consumption, growing demand for water, and more garbage.
Today, nearly 7 million people live in the Bay Area and use its resources. That number is projected to increase to almost 7.8 million in 2010 and 8.3 million in 2020. Since some growth is a given, the Bay Area must find ways to manage it effectively, through enlightened policies and individual actions.