The Return of Suburbanization

The "back to the city" movement of the past decade or so could prove to be the outlier, as Census data shows population growth slowing in the biggest cities while suburban areas lead population growth in more metropolitan areas.

2 minute read

June 9, 2019, 5:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Sprawl

Jeffrey B. Banke / Shutterstock

William H. Frey writes:

As we approach the end of the 2010s, the biggest cities in the United States are experiencing slower growth or population losses, according to new census estimates. The combination of city growth declines and higher suburban growth suggests that the “back to the city” trend seen at the beginning of the decade has reversed.

Frey provides plenty of specificity about which large cities are showing slowing growth (e.g., Boston, San Francisco, Dallas) and which large cities are shrinking (e.g., Chicago, New York City, and San Jose). "In some respects, New York epitomizes the reversal from beginning of the decade city magnetism," according to Frey. Large cities showing an uptick in growth are in the vast minority, according to Frey, but they include Sacramento, Tucson, and Henderson.

A consequence of the decline of big city growth, according to Frey, is the return of suburbanization:

In 2011-2012, city growth exceeded suburb growth in 19 of the 34 Sun Belt metros, and in eight of the 19 Snow Belt metros. However, in 2017-18 the city growth advantage appeared in just nine Sun Belt metros and two Snow Belt metros. Among these 11 areas that still registered city growth advantages are: Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Denver, and Boston.

As for why this return to historic settlement patterns is underway, Frey only offers a very speculative sentence: it's "perhaps propelled by young adult millennials who may be finally departing dense urban cores as they make a delayed entrance into marriage and the housing market."

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