The south Haymarket skyline while the Hudl Building building was under construction in April 2016.

Believe it or not, Lincoln could have a population similar to that of Atlanta by 2050. Plan Forward is the name and theme of the Lincoln-Lancaster County comprehensive plan, which aims to plan and set policies for land use, housing needs, transportation, community buildings, public utilities, environmental initiatives, and other visions from the community. Unlike most comprehensive plans, Plan Forward relies heavily on extensive community input from all walks of life.

In a May 2020 study published by the University of Nebraska Omaha’s Center for Public Affairs Research, Lincoln and Lancaster County could be home to 500,000 or more people by 2050. The county will also become more diverse, with non-white populations increasing 5% or more each decade. The study estimates the non-white population will rise from 66,000 in 2020 to 155,000 by 2050.

The study also examines the large inmigration of college-aged people, which are considered 18 to 24 year olds. Their influx is followed by an outmigration, where 25 to 44 year olds leave Lincoln in search of another place to live.

If outmigration among that age group decreases, which the city is focused on, the study says, “it would have significant impacts on the population’s overall structure,” said Andrew Thierolf, a planner for Lincoln-Lancaster County Planning Department. That’s been a big focus of a lot of our redevelopment efforts. Younger demographics are interested in mixed use neighborhoods with good bicycle, pedestrian, and transit access.”

Thierolf notes there have been several new major redevelopment projects such as the 48th & Holdrege, 48th & Leighton, and Telegraph District that are targeted to young professionals. 

“Since downtown is the main interaction that many UNL students have with the community at large, we realize that making downtown a desirable environment is important to retaining more college students,” he said. “I think we’ve been fairly successful with that over the past couple decades.”

College-aged students aren’t the only focus, though.

“We’re also focused on bringing back people in their 30s, who may be moved away after college, but are now ready to start a family and looking for a safe affordable community,” he said

Plan Forward has completed its first phase, which focused on public outreach. The first community survey received 650 responses, and the second survey had 500 responses. 

According to survey data, the top three things respondents like about Lincoln and Lancaster County are the schools, low crime, and sense of community. However, respondents listed transportation, cost of living, and physical appearance as needing improvement.

It’s generally been positive feedback, focused on building upon the community’s strengths. Traffic congestion and road maintenance have been the two biggest concerns from the public,” according to Thierolf.

PayScale, a Seattle-based compensation software and data company, ranks Lincoln’s cost of living at 7% below the national average, utilities 28% below average and housing 17% below average. 

However, Lincoln’s cost of transportation, including gas, is 2% higher, as well as, Lincoln’s cost of healthcare, which also sits at 2% higher.

The Plan Forward Committee will unveil its draft land use and growth plan later this month, which will outline growth and land use by 2050.

“A draft comprehensive plan will be released in Summer 2021,” Theirolf said.

Once a draft is released, the formal approval process will continue through the end of 2021. The plan will need to be approved by the city planning commission, city council and county board.

Lincoln and Lancaster County residents will have four more opportunities to express their ideas and concerns for Plan Forward. The next hearing is scheduled for Nov. 19 at 3 p.m.

Journalism student. Coffee-dependent life form. Proud plant dad. Not your typical Nebraskan.