Off the Northway: Saratoga, meet Kendall County, Ill.

I’ve watched for a few decades now as vacant fields and woods get bulldozed to make way for more hou

I’ve watched for a few decades now as vacant fields and woods get bulldozed to make way for more houses and lawns.

So I don’t doubt for a moment that Saratoga County’s population grew 10 percent in the past decade, as the U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

Very impressive, by New York state standards. Only Orange County, an hour north of New York City when traffic is good, has grown more quickly since 2000. It’s a refuge for those spooked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Most other counties across upstate — around creaking cities like Utica, Buffalo and Syracuse, in the valleys of the Catskills and Adirondacks, in the farm belt of central New York — watched people slip away, a few hundred or few thousand more each year.

But Saratoga County’s growth isn’t going to win us any stakes races nationally.

The census also released a list of the 100 fastest-growing counties in the United States during the 2000s — and they’re almost all in the South and Southwest. None are even northeast of Washington.

The fastest-growing county in the United States? It’s Kendall County, Ill., which has grown 92.1 percent in a decade, to a total population of 104,821.

At least they know what winter is like there.

Kendall County is nearly an hour outside Chicago, east of Joliet, on what was once flat tallgrass prairie and is today — obviously — giving way to suburban housing development, what we smarty-pants New Yorkers call sprawl.

Arizona, Texas, Florida and Virginia have the next four fastest-growing counties.

The closest county to these parts that makes the list is Delaware County, Ohio, ranked No. 20. It’s a half-hour’s drive north of Columbus. The area is going through a growth spurt local commentators have called “explosive.” Its population has gone up 53 percent in the decade, to close to 169,000.

2 cents from DiNapoli

So other states have sprawl, too. But New York was there first.

The state’s top fiscal officer, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, this week weighed in on land use policy with a report saying that sprawl is bad and open space preservation good for local governments’ pocketbooks.

“In many instances it is less expensive for a community to maintain open space that naturally maintains water quality, reduces runoff and controls flooding than to use tax dollars for costly engineered infrastructure projects such as water filtration plants and storm sewers,” DiNapoli wrote.

That sounds like a challenge to post-World War II low-density development — the proverbial half-acre with a single-family house.

Many people now see that as wasteful. That’s now the news. But DiNapoli said preserving open space is also good for the recreation economy and for industries like logging.

“New York state should take additional steps to encourage local open space planning and help ensure that the economic benefits of open space are recognized,” DiNapoli said.

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