While mayors of shrinking cities do all they can to buoy a discouraging metric, others ask whether population growth is all it's cracked up to be.

1 minute read

October 17, 2017, 9:00 AM PDT

By Philip Rojc @PhilipRojc


Phoenix is Crane City

Alan Levine / Flickr

It makes sense to see leaders like Detroit mayor Mike Duggan focus heavily on population growth. As J.B. Wogan writes, "Population loss can become a symbol for other things people feel is going wrong in a city, such as rising poverty and unemployment rates, vacant and blighted housing, increased violent crime, the exit of pro sports franchises, racial segregation and police brutality."

People vote with their feet, so the story goes, and rising populations imply basic desirability. Wogan goes on, "Interestingly, it's the mayors of cities struggling to attract people who insist population numbers are the secret of success. The mayors of the fastest-growing cities tend to have a much different attitude about population gains."

The creed of growth-at-all-costs has its challengers. "Perhaps the leading voice in this contrarian club is Paul Gottlieb, an economist at Rutgers University. He has argued for decades not only that local elected officials should take a measured approach to growth, but that metropolitan areas with stable or slow-growing populations are likely to have greater economic prosperity." Wogan discusses similar views from Eben Fodor and Charles Marohn.

While residents of growing cities may not be automatically better off, interest groups like retailers, the real estate industry, and developers are often at hand to sing growth's praises. At the same time, analysis treating cities as separate entities from surrounding communities can oversimplify.

Friday, September 22, 2017 in Governing

Aerial view of homes on green hillsides in Daly City, California.

Depopulation Patterns Get Weird

A recent ranking of “declining” cities heavily features some of the most expensive cities in the country — including New York City and a half-dozen in the San Francisco Bay Area.

April 10, 2024 - California Planning & Development Report

Close-up of maroon California 'Clean Air Vehicle' carpool lane access sticker on the back bumper of a silver Tesla vehicle.

California EV Owners To Lose Carpool Lane Privilege

A program that began in 1999 to encourage more electric car ownership is set to expire next year without Congressional and state action.

April 2, 2024 - San Francisco Chronicle

Aerial view of Oakland, California with bay in background

California Exodus: Population Drops Below 39 Million

Never mind the 40 million that demographers predicted the Golden State would reach by 2018. The state's population dipped below 39 million to 38.965 million last July, according to Census data released in March, the lowest since 2015.

April 11, 2024 - Los Angeles Times

Google street view of grassy lot next to brick church with elevated freeway on other side in Houston, Texas.

Houston Supportive Housing Development Sparks Debate

Critics say a proposed apartment building would negatively impact the neighborhood’s walkability.

April 12 - Houston Chronicle

Closed black wrought iron gate in front of gated residential community with large palm trees along sides of street.

Friday Funny: Gated Community Doubles Down

The Onion skewers suburbia.

April 12 - The Onion

Aerial view of Chicago with river in foreground.

‘Cut the Tape’ Report Takes Aim at Inefficiencies

A set of recommendations from the Chicago mayor’s office calls for streamlining city processes to stimulate more residential and commercial development.

April 12 - Block Club Chicago

News from HUD User

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Call for Speakers

Mpact Transit + Community

New Updates on PD&R Edge

HUD's Office of Policy Development and Research

Urban Design for Planners 1: Software Tools

This six-course series explores essential urban design concepts using open source software and equips planners with the tools they need to participate fully in the urban design process.

Planning for Universal Design

Learn the tools for implementing Universal Design in planning regulations.