Census Data Reveal Increasing Density in the U.S.—Reversing a Two-Decade Trend

The New York Times is calling 2010 to 2020 the "Downtown Decade."

1 minute read

September 2, 2021, 8:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Downtown Los Angeles

Development in Chinatown in Los Angeles, north of the 101 Freeway near Downtown. | Robert Mullan / Shutterstock

"The recent 2020 census data confirmed earlier estimates that urban counties grew slower than suburban ones over the past decade," writes Jed Kolko. "But more detailed neighborhood census counts reveal that U.S. population density actually rose in the past decade after falling in the previous two decades, a result of faster growth in the most concentrated parts of urban counties."

The fastest-growing neighborhoods were located on the edges of metropolitan areas, explains Kolko. But many downtowns and central business districts grew quickly too. Adding up all the growth, "Americans were more likely to live in the highest-density urban neighborhoods in 2020 than in 1990, 2000 or 2010."

Kolko provides additional insight into the weighted-density measures for neighborhood-level Census data (which are "less skewed by unpopulated land area than conventional density measures," explains Kolko), such as the surprising number of U.S. cities thought of as car oriented appearing in the top 15 of densest cities in the United States (namely, Miami, San José, and Las Vegas).

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