Cities Gaining People? Hardly

Aaron Renn, The Urbanophile, argues that the stats actually show that cities are losing people in their urban cores, not gaining them.

Renn writes, "The sad fact is, many of our urban cores have experienced significant housing abandonment and demolition. So in addition to construction of net new units, there's a countervailing force of reduction. For example, the greater downtown area of Indianapolis has been seeing lots of construction. But the regional center comprehensive plan noted that between 1990 and 2000, the net number of dwelling units actually decreased."

Full Story: Let's Not Fool Ourselves on Urban Growth

Comments

Comments

Michael Lewyn's picture
Blogger

Weak statistics

Renn focuses on a core county's "share" of regional development. But this statistic doesn't prove that a city is growing or declining, for two reasons.

First, a "share" of development is not the same thing as growth or decline. If a central city is growing by 20 percent and its suburbs are growing by 30 percent, it is obviously a booming place. But its share is declining. So by Renn's measurement it is not such a healthy city.

Second, a "core county" often includes much more than a core city. So if the city is growing and its inner suburbs are declining, than Renn's measurement understates the city's strength. On the other hand, if a city is declining but its inner suburbs in the same county are growing, Renn's measurement overstates the city's strength. So his criteria are too optimistic and too pessimistic at the same time!

Demographics Please

Louis Colombo
Perhaps the only real way to tell if a city is gaining or loosing population is to conduct a demographic forecast using the actual population at a starting time in the past, say the year 2000, project this forward for a period of time, say to 2010, and then compare the found population in 2010 to the forecasted population.
Population increase or decrease needs to be measured relative to naturally expected change. In Community A, with mostly young, family-aged residents, the population is expected to grow rapidly. By comparison, Community B has mostly older residents and is predicted to decline in population.
The found population in the year 2010, in this example, may be increasing slower than forecasted in Community A and that would represent a net loss of population. By comparison, the found population might be staying constant in Community B and this would in represent a notable increase in population.

Irvin Dawid's picture
Correspondent

Long Term Demographics needed to judge city growth/decline

Agreed.
I'd also like to see the demographics of say, the most populous 25 cities from 1950 to current (I'm sure a Planetizen reader has that and might post here).
I know I follow it whenever I see an article about it.
NYC was the biggest turnaround, while other cities are deemed successful because their "rate of decline" has slowed.
But it does seem that 1950 was the heyday...and it's been downhill ever since for the rustbelt cities.

Here's a good one from Planetizen, though it's just on one city.
Irvin Dawid, Palo Alto, CA

'Cored-Out' Central areas

The data to consider IS the DIFFERENCE between core city/county data and the remaining county areas. The critical factors are those households, jobs and establishments that completely exited the MSA.

This scenario is repeated throughout the country as individuals and businesses seek the best bang for their buck. However this type of development is not sustainable and 'cored out' MSAs will fail. Cored-Out refers to how central areas of infrastructure, industry and population abandoned core capital assets, move and demand a new building of assets to serve new areas and now lack capacity to build new or recycle existing assets to serve sprawl areas.

I agree with Renn, who would want to pay 250k for a 2bdrm condo hi-rise in Downtown when someone can hunt and pay under 100k for a split level in a decent area still in the central city?

Truth is that the central city that offers the best opportunity for quality of life to residents will experience the growth. People want to be able to afford the American Dream again and that's where declining cities fit. Crime and education are huge obstacles but the cities that answers those critical issues sufficiently will be on the right path.

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