We all knew Harris County was big, but the latest numbers may prove it’s bigger than you thought AP Photo/Elaine Thompson
Downtown Houston is covered in a shroud of haze in the afternoon, as seen from the north Friday, Aug. 4, 1995. Mayor Bob Lanier has approved the city's participation in a program to issue ozone smog alerts when air pollution reaches unhealthy levels. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Harris County is big, especially the unincorporated part, but this is no news to locals, but potentially a future consideration in the Bayou City’s planning:

According to real estate news site Swamplot, more people live outside the Beltway than in it, no small feat in a populous city, like Houston – the nation’s fourth largest, Census data shows.

In fact, the number of people who live in the unincorporated areas of Harris County will likely grow larger than the city of Houston’s population by the year 2020, according to a county population report.

Taken as a single city, Harris County Unincorporated would be the second largest city in Texas, and the fifth largest in the entire United States, according to the report. Harris County as a whole surpassed the state of Louisiana in population as of the report’s release in January 2017.

Furthermore according to Swamplot’s report, more than 80 percent of Harris County’s growth in numbers occurred in the unincorporated area for the last 16 years.

This, as the author’s describe, rapid growth, combined with recent floods are reportedly raising concerns over how to handle the sprawl; for one, there are hundreds of thousands of people operating under county and not city jurisdiction.


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“This creates a variety of problems because county governments in Texas were not designed to exercise municipal functions,” Bill King, a former Houston Chronicle columnist, wrote in a Jan. 14 opinion piece. “For example, they have no authority to pass ordinances or collect sales taxes. This void has been filled with a plethora of special districts.”

Houston’s annexation laws allegedly additionally add to the problem, the article claims, and the city is described as one displaying reluctance to absorb counties outside of city limits.

People in some Houston suburbs are also opposed to the idea of being annexed into the larger body of Houston.

The issue of just what to do with Houston’s massive suburbia is just one more item on the list of things city officials may be forced to more closely consider in the months and years to come.

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