The state data center released a new map today showing how jam-packed we are. Or, in some cases, how far in the boondocks:

Population Density as of July 2007

Observation #1: The world may be flat, but Pennsylvania isn’t. The areas where population density is low are the areas where there are mountains:


Observation #2: The “buffer zone” of eastern Lancaster County remains impressively resilient. Lancaster is not about to be morphed into another Philly suburb any time soon. Given our rate of farmland preservation, it’s unlikely to happen ever.

Population density in Southeast Pennsylvania

Observation #3: A lot of people live “halfway between.” The notion of a Southcentral PA is not a media-market fiction. Lancaster is clearly connected by dense populations to Reading, Hershey, Harrisburg and York. Thousands of people can easily consider themselves a part of two or more of those urban centers. Columbia borough, for instance, is practically as much York as it is Lancaster. Elizabethtown is as much Harrisburg as it is Hershey as it is Lancaster.

Observation #4: While York County is becoming Marylandized, Lancaster County is not. Look at the pockets of dense population in southern York County–Shrewsbury, Loganville, New Freedom. Credit them to new housing developments built to meet the demand of “Baltimorons.” In Lancaster, there is no density to speak of south of Quarryville. No doubt this will intensify the growing cultural contrasts between the two counties.

I’m viewing these as an amateur, not an expert. I’m sure I’ve missed some interesting stuff. What do you see that I don’t?

Also, I am holding off on considering what these observations, if accurate, really mean. How will our lives and communities be changed by the patterns we can observe here?

11 thoughts on “Population Density in PA: The World May Be Flat, But Our State Ain’t

  1. As soon as I say I’m holding off on considering what this all means, I see the obvious connection that, unlike our nearby metropolitan areas, we are fairly well buffered. We are becoming neither Philadelphized or Marylandized. So, where does change originate? What outside influences are there on Lancaster?

  2. Kind of hard to comment without seeing previous incarnations of this map and watching change over time. But living in E-town, I would imagine that much of the growth in my area…the in-between zone…is from people moving OUT of the cities of Lancaster and Harrisburg…as they seek suburban life with easy access to the larger cities. I know of a number of couples who live here because one spouse works in Lancaster while the other works in Harrisburg. And some couples where one works in the E-town area, while the other is in one of those larger cities…perhaps even York.

    One other thing that bears watching would be changes in mass transit. I often take the train into Philly, and see plenty of people from this area who commute into Philly. Did they move here from the Philly area? or are they from this area and have taken jobs in Philly because of the ease of commute?
    Lots of questions.

    One other question. Having worked in the news media in this region a long time ago, I remember when the Farm Preservation Trust (I might have the name of this group wrong) would buy up land and designate it as undevelopable “in perpetuity.” But I’ve also seen some of that land taken back…and developed. So what exactly, in this case, does “in perpetuity” mean? Are your assumptions about farmland preservation and the buffer zone necessarily valid? Just asking the question because I certainly don’t know the answers.

  3. The outside influences effecting Lancaster are people moving into the area from Philadelphia, Puerto Rico, Harrisburg, etc. Hopefully we are attracting the kind of people to enact good change and that want to create a wonderful place to live. Seems like so far so good.

    We are surrounded by farmland used by people not dependent on oil and electricity. I think as long as we continue to support the Amish way of life around us we will be prosperous.

  4. Ken, we’re also seeing people moving back to the cities from the suburbs, so I would certainly like to learn more about how that is working. Are more people just moving into the area in general? Or do people move from city to suburb, or suburb to suburb to city, or city to suburb to country? We’ll need a flow chart.

    The question about the nature of farmland preservation is, as you know, a good one. I’ll make it a point to learn more. I do know that Lancaster Countians are increasingly zealous about truly protecting open spaces as farm land.

    HIRH, Puerto Rico is quite an outlier in your list next to Philadelphia and Harrisburg! It’s really true, though. In a few years, Lancaster city will be majority Latino. The Workforce Investment Board’s Latinos study presents some great research on how Latinos end up settling on Lancaster as a place to live. How we integrate (or segregate) Latinos into our local culture and community will really be a trend to continue to watch.

  5. Daniel,

    Being a fan of railroad history, I noticed right away that the most populous areas (and their “connectedness”) appear to be in direct correlation to the major rail lines and their “hubs” of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s, which also correlate to major rivers.

    I believe, over the last 100 years, you would see the population fanning-out from these areas. Since people insist on reproducing, the most populous areas will continue to grow at a rate faster than the rate that folks spread out (barring any extraordinary event — Centralia just came to mind).

    Of course, this is all only my personal observation and opinion. Totally not based on any real research.

    Oh, and did you happen to notice where the Home Rule counties (and those on the fence) are? Think there’s any correlation there from a prosperity/growth/advancement standpoint? (hah, sorry. I couldn’t talk about stats, growth, counties, prosperity, and opinions without bringing it up. I can’t help it!!)


    p.s. Awesome blog, and even better followers! I’ve actually found intelligent life out here on the interweb!! Kudos!

  6. Pingback: Is York County Becoming Marylandized? What About Adams County? | The Gettysburg Pennsylvania Blog
  7. Daniel, thanks for your comment at I really enjoyed reading your comments on the subject and thought I’d piggyback off it. Thanks for approving the trackback and more power to you in Lancaster County!

  8. i agree with rylan and i also heard he was super sexy and hot and was gonna be a chef a rapper a football plyr and a marine so yeah

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