We reported last week that many large American cities are growing at a faster rate than their suburbs, according to new Census Bureau figures. “If the numbers hold up,” wrote Greg Hanscom, “they represent a dramatic shift … that fits nicely into our favorite narrative about cities rising from rust while suburbs languish in big-box obsolescence.”
Unfortunately, upon closer inspection, the numbers aren’t quite so encouraging.
Brad Plumer at The Washington Post‘s Wonkblog points out the problem: “Urban cores are still much, much smaller than the suburbs. Which means they can show higher growth rates even if they’re adding far fewer people in absolute terms.”
Plumer cites a post from David King, a professor of urban planning at Columbia University:
Consider Atlanta … Atlanta has 432,427 people as of July 2011 and grew at 2.4%. The suburbs have 4,926,778 in July 2011 and grew at 1.3%. Here is the data source. This means that the metro growth was 73,361 for the year, 10,135 settled in Atlanta and 63,226 settled in the suburbs. In percentage terms, 14% of the growth happened in the central city and 86% happened in the suburbs. That doesn’t suggest a sea change in attitude. …
There are also large variations by region of the country and metropolitan area, and there does not seem to be any obvious and coherent trend. …
I’m happy that many cities are doing well and growing. I hope the trend (if there is one) continues and expands. I’m just not sure there is any evidence of a broad trend yet.
Still, writes Kaid Benfield at NRDC’s Switchboard blog, “between 1980 and the mid-1990s, suburban population had grown a staggering ten times faster than central-city population in our largest metro areas.” So if growth rates in cities have rebounded — even if growth in absolute numbers still lags — that is progress.
Yes, the suburbs are winning, but city centers are starting to catch up.
Central cities now growing faster than suburbs, confirming trends for walkable lifestyles, shorter commutes, Switchboard.
The suburbs aren’t dead just yet, Wonkblog.
Some Thoughts on City v. Suburban Growth, Getting From Here to There.