Census Data: City Growth Strong, but Limited

Rates of growth in America's largest cities increased dramatically in 2010 but have leveled off. Suburbs are growing at nearly identical rates to center cities.

May 31, 2015, 11:00 AM PDT

By Josh Stephens @jrstephens310


America's urban resurgence is palpable and real, certainly over the past five years. But stories about adaptive reuse and new restaurants aren't the same thing as cold, hard facts. 

The Brookings Institution has crunched numbers on the past five years of U.S. Census data to conclude that the early 2010s were good years indeed for city growth, as center cities in metro areas with populations of 1 million or more grew at 1 percent per year from 2010 through 2014. Growth rates have leveled off, however, with 53 out of the country's 81 largest cities experiencing flat growth in 2014. Demographers debate whether these numbers reflect a genuine resurgent interest in urban living or whether young adults who had been living with parents have simply returned to the rental market. 

The death of suburbs seems to have been prematurely announced. Suburban growth rates have slightly lagged those of their respective center cities, but rates evened up in 2014.

Of course, trends do not apply to all cities evenly. Regional distinctions are stark. 

"One clue about why the slowdown is occurring can be gleaned from a look at the cities that are growing fastest. The six fastest-growing big cities include Austin, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; Durham, N.C.; Henderson, Nevada; Denver, Colo.; and Fort Worth, Texas, and each showed a recent uptick in its growth rate. These cities are located in Texas, the Southeast, and the Mountain West—Sunbelt regions that have experienced a recent re-emergence of growth that had stalled during the 2007-2009 recession and the immediate post-recession years."

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