Understanding Cities Through Their Life Cycles

Cities go through ups and downs over time, and where a city is in its longer history can reveal the reasons behind population changes.

1 minute read

June 18, 2019, 9:00 AM PDT

By Camille Fink


Los Angeles sprawl

Melpomene / Shutterstock

Pete Saunders writes that the growth and decline of cities should be considered in the context of their life cycles and the different dynamics seen in younger and older cities.

While the populations of New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago dropped between 2017 and 2018, many other cities grew, particularly cities in the West and the Sun Belt. "So the population drop of the three largest metros may be more anomaly than trend," writes Saunders. And when examining change over time, he notes that 49 of the 53 largest metropolitan areas actually grew in terms of population.

Saunders suggests that younger cities experience distinct population changes. "They are still quite dependent on outside resources to facilitate continued growth. These younger cities still rely heavily on domestic in-migration to grow their regional economies." Growth in older cities, on the other hand, does not depend on an influx of new residents.

"Comparing the growth profile of large, older metro areas with younger and smaller cities makes as much sense as comparing the growth of a 54-year-old adult with that of a 13-year-old teenager," argues Saunders.

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