San Antonio May Pass Philadelphia in Population by Cheating

It will take years, but San Antonio is moving forward with a plan to annex 66 square miles — and gain 200,000 people. It would pass Philly as a result.

San Antonio is considering annexing 66 square miles that surround the city. Proponents say the plan — which the mayor and most of City Council support — would help the city manage growth and stabilize its finances. It would also do one other little thing: Move San Antonio past Phoenix and Philadelphia and make it the country’s fifth-largest city.

San Antonio has been annexing surrounding areas for decades. It has been enlarged from 262 square miles in 1980 to 465 square miles today. The city’s population was estimated at 1,409,019 in 2012. Philadelphia’s was estimated at 1,553,165 last year. San Antonio’s annexation would add about 200,000 people to the city and take about four years to complete.

Philadelphia has dropped out of the fifth spot before. Phoenix passed it in 2007 in population but Philly regained fifth place in 2011, after its first decade of population growth since the 1940s.

San Antonio’s annexation may seem like “cheating,” but newer cities are often surrounded by unincorporated areas that are perfectly ripe ways to expand and improve a city. (Generally, the cities want to keep affluent tax bases inside the city, but there are plenty of reasons.) This wouldn’t even be the first time a city has annexed surrounding territories to pass Philadelphia! Philadelphians complained in 1899 when Chicago annexed 125 square miles and passed Philly in population.

Philadelphia consolidated the city and county itself in 1854, reaching 135 square miles. Mayor Thomas Smith wanted to annex the Delaware River waterfront as far south as Chester in the 1910s, but was not successful.

[WSJ | Planetizen]