Cities’ Growth Outpaces Suburbs’ for First Time Since 1920s

Blame the recession: more urbanites are staying put, and more young people are flocking to join them

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New Orleans topped the list as the fastest-growing city in the U.S.

Dreaming of a white picket fence? You may have to settle for a fifth-floor walk-up.

U.S. cities are growing faster than the suburbs for the first time since the 1920s. Twenty-seven of the nation’s 51 largest metropolitan areas exceeded their suburbs in population growth in the nine months between July 1, 2011, and April 1, 2012, according to census data.

“This is the culmination of a trend that’s been going on the last several years,” says William Frey, a demographer and Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Using other data sets, you can see that this trend was kind of starting already around 2007.”

But while the trends aren’t new, 2012 became the tipping point when cities finally overtook the suburbs. The data even showed growth in areas that historically had been declining in population. Midwest cities like Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis all gained in population in the past year, despite in some cases a decadelong decline. Even Detroit and Cleveland showed smaller population losses than they had suffered in the 10 years prior.

(MORE: Big U.S. Cities Growing Faster than Suburbs)

But just because these cities are growing doesn’t mean that people want to be there. Experts say that even though the recent crash in property prices has made the suburbs more affordable, because of a lagging economic recovery, people can’t afford to move out of urban areas. Young families who would normally lead the exodus to the suburbs are “hunkering down” in cities, Frey says. Young professionals, especially, are living in low-rent apartments with roommates or moving in with parents rather than buying a house in the burbs.

Urban growth isn’t all bad. “The crash also gives younger people and other households a chance to give cities a second look,” Frey says. Denver, Washington, Austin, Seattle and Atlanta have become “youth magnets” — areas that have had an influx of young people looking for jobs.

Which metropolis topped the list of fastest-growing cities? New Orleans came in at No. 1, growing 4.9% to 360,740 people, reflecting an ongoing return to the area after Hurricane Katrina six years ago (the Big Easy’s suburbs grew as well). The city’s population is now at 79.2% of pre-Katrina population estimates.

Texas cities are also exploding, accounting for eight of the 15 fastest-growing urban centers. Overall, the population of U.S. cities grew 1% in 2010 and ’11, with large cities growing at an accelerated rate of about 1.3%.

MORE: Census Update: What the World Will Look like in 2050

12 comments
barkway2
barkway2

Cities are harder to evacuate from and provide services to after natural disasters & national security events. I wouldn't want to be there when the SHTF.

barkway2
barkway2

The untold story (here) about New Orleans growth is that many of those displaced by Katrina were never able to return both because they can not afford the move from the far flung places they were sent, and also because the city has replaced many of the low income housing units and neighborhoods with pricier real estate so only the new transplants can afford it. There is currently a big rift growing between residents of old neighborhoods and new residents who are outlawing their music, street parades and way of life, fundamentally changing tthe whole culture and community of New Orleans.

wendellcox
wendellcox

People are Still Moving from Urban Centers

If, as you indicate that young people are "flocking" to urban centers, then their flocking is being more than offset by other people who are moving out to other areas (such as the suburbs). Census estimate data indicates that urban cores are overwhelmingly losing domestic migrants (people moving from one county of the nation to another). The better performance over the last year of urban centers in population gains relative to the suburbs has virtually all been as the result of higher international immigration to urban cores and higher natural growth rates. Before the housing bubble, these factors were more than outweighed by high domestic migration numbers, but people are "staying put" more now and the most significant drivers of population growth have become immigration and natural growth.

This is best illustrated by the case of New York City, which added 55,000 residents in the last year but lost 57,000 people to other parts of the country. ALL of New York's population growth was the result of international migration and natural growth.

These data are described at:

http://www.newgeography.com/co...

and

http://www.newgeography.com/co...

wendellcox
wendellcox

People are Still Moving from Urban Centers

A quick comment on the article above

If, as you indicate that young people are "flocking" to urban centers, then their flocking is being more than offset by other people who are moving out to other areas (such as the suburbs). Census estimate data indicates that urban cores are overwhelmingly losing domestic migrants (people moving from one county of the nation to another). The better performance over the last year of urban centers in population gains relative to the suburbs has virtually all been as the result of higher international immigration to urban cores and higher natural growth rates. Before the housing bubble, these factors were more than outweighed by high domestic migration numbers, but people are "staying put" more now and the most significant drivers of population growth have become immigration and natural growth.

This is best illustrated by the case of New York City, which added 55,000 residents in the last year but lost 57,000 people to other parts of the country. ALL of New York's population growth was the result of international migration and natural growth.

These data are described at:

http://www.newgeography.com/co...

and

http://www.newgeography.com/co...

Best regards,

Wendell Cox,

Talendria
Talendria

Urban living is much healthier for people and the environment.  You live in a smaller space which requires less energy to heat and cool.  You walk or bike to work, which means you're not polluting the air with your car and can stay slim without dieting.  You tend to buy only what you need and can carry easily.  You have access to more culture and entertainment, as well as better restaurants.  I'm not convinced that education is satisfactory in the suburbs either.  Our educational standards have slipped so low that "better" is still pretty bad.

Michael A Harring
Michael A Harring

I like the suburbs I live in better  since they are quieter,less crime and living cost are lower than the center of town I moved from.But to each,their own.

GizmoDuck
GizmoDuck

I'd rather live in Somalia than the suburbs.

Samian
Samian

I'm not surprised one bit. 

I'm 24 and moved to Austin from Houston for graduate school.  I definitely could not see myself moving back to Houston (i.e., the Suburban Wasteland) to live out my life. I thoroughly hated the hour-plus long commutes in Houston and there's simply no social scene when you're living in a suburban house. 

I like to stay connected to fun, interesting places. But I do realize that there's a huge cost involved to this:  Wages are lower in Austin because there's such a solid labor pool of young people who really want to work and live there.  Plus, the costs of living in urban areas are rapidly rising, so some of us are fearful of being priced out of the city.

Still, sacrifices must be made.

I bet real estate developers who build apartment complexes and condos in those areas are going to be filthy rich, indeed.

Gin Heedneeds
Gin Heedneeds

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barkway2
barkway2

@Talendria Nonsense. Urban pollution is not "healthier" for people, and where do you imagine all the  contaminants associated with services for urban dwellers winds up? In outer space? No, it pollutes the environment for many miles away ffrom cities (an imposition on those living outside them, btw).

Hill
Hill

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