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Will Metropolitan Lawrence become Micropolitan Lawrence?

Is Lawrence in danger of being micro-sized? Will Lawrence be as cosmopolitan if it is less metropolitan?

The federal Office of Management and Budget is proposing to reclassify 144 U.S. cities as “micropolitan” areas because they don’t meet the current threshold of 100,000 residents to qualify as metropolitan areas by the feds’ standards.

Since 1950, the government has required an urban area’s population to be at least 50,000 to get the “metropolitan area” designation. OMB argues that since the national population has exploded in the decades since, it’s time to update the standard with a 100,000 minimum — and a new “micropolitan” title for cities between 50,000 and 100,000 residents.

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And guess what: Lawrence’s last reported population, according to the Census Bureau, was just under 100,000: 98,193 residents, to be exact, according to the bureau’s estimate as of July 1, 2019. So we’re in danger of becoming a micropolis.

But wait! The results from the formal 2020 U.S. Census aren’t in yet. They could push the city over the magical 100,000-citizen level that would allow LFK to keep its qualification as a metropolitan area, along with 250 other larger U.S. cities. Phew. But we don’t know yet.

Lawrence’s population numbers long have been a source of local pride and debate. Many locals would swear we passed 100,000 residents years ago, as growth has swelled since the 2010 Census, which pegged population at 87,918. And the question of just how the city’s transient student population is counted has always sort of clouded the conversation.

But official numbers are official numbers, and until the 2020 Census figures are in — and if they fall short of 100,000 — Lawrence may be in danger of falling from metropolitan area status to micropolitan area.

There’s hope, though, for a reprieve. According to the Associated Press, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) and Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.) have introduced legislation to derail the OMB’s “micropolitan” scheme. The AP say the senators argue that the downgrade “would cause real harm, preventing urban areas from getting designated federal funding and making them less attractive for economic development.” OMB claims the metropolitan area designation is purely for statistical purposes and not for funding formulas, “though as a practical matter, that is how it’s often used,” the AP said.

Stay tuned. In any case, the new rules wouldn’t go into effect until 2023, and Lawrence may be safely above 100,000 residents by then. But just to be sure, if you know of anybody who’s thinking of moving here, you might want to tell them to hurry up to avoid living in a micropolitan area.

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