Business Trends

The Decade of Big City Growth? by Brookings

File Type: Free Content, Article
Release Date: June 2014
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K Street, Washington, D.C.

Big city populations are continuing to grow faster than they did in the previous decade. Is this trend here to stay, or is it “a lingering symptom of the recession”? A new Brookings report, “Will This Be the Decade of Big City Growth?” by William Frey, says that new U.S. Census Bureau statistics “give some credence to both theories.”

“On the positive side for urban boosters,” Frey notes, “… many cities have gained more people in the three-plus years since the 2010 Census than they gained for the entire previous decade.” These include nine of the nation’s 25 largest cities: Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, San Jose, California; and Washington, D.C. Among the fastest-growing cities in the past three years, with rates exceeding 2 percent, are those with new knowledge-based economies and high-amenity downtowns: Austin, Texas; Charlotte, North Carolina; Denver; and Washington, D.C. Furthermore, “in the cities versus suburbs realm, the new numbers once again affirm a reversal that counters decades of suburban-dominated regional growth among metro areas with more than 1 million people. Now, for three years running, primary cities are growing faster than their suburbs.”

Yet the new numbers for 2012 and 2013 “suggest a closing of the city-suburb growth gap with the small downtick in city growth and an even tinier suburban growth uptick. This modest suburban growth rise is reinforced by a separate updated analysis of exurban counties,” which shows that their populations also are rising a bit.

What does this mean for city growth through the remainder of the decade? “The initial city growth upsurge could well be attributable to recession’s aftermath and the suburban housing market slowdown,” and thus the newest numbers “could signal that past suburban growth patterns are re-emerging.” On the other hand, “city growth levels remain strong by the standards of recent history. Moreover, the cities that are growing most rapidly are located in areas with economies and amenities that are attractive to millennials, graduates and young professionals, who make up a growing portion of potential movers. So, while it is too soon to anoint this ‘the decade of the city,’” Frey concludes, “the persistence of big city growth is hard to ignore.”