Back to the Suburbs: Most Metropolitan Are Getting Less Dense

A closer look at the data reveals a country that continues to sprawl.

2 minute read

May 23, 2017, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


San Antonio Riverwalk

The urban setting of the San Antonio River Walk is not a proxy for the whole region: the San Antonio metropolitan area is leading the nation in sprawl. | f11photo / Shutterstock

Jed Kolko lays out his argument for a post a New York Times Upshot article:

Be skeptical when you hear about the return to glory of the American city — that idealized vision of rising skyscrapers and bustling, dense downtowns. Contrary to perception, the nation is continuing to become more suburban, and at an accelerating pace. The prevailing pattern is growing out, not up, although with notable exceptions.

According to Kolko's analysis, "[r]ural areas are lagging metropolitan areas in numerous measures, but within metro areas the suburbs are growing faster in both population and jobs."

Kolko presents a number of infographics to make an unavoidable point: most metropolitan areas in the country have become less urban (defined by density) during this decade. Exceptions include Seattle, Chicago, and Minneapolis at the top of the list of cities growing the most dense between 2010 and 2016. Meanwhile San Antonio, Austin, and Oklahoma City lead the trend toward less dense living. Kolko also locates a trend within the urbanization trend: already dense metros are getting denser. Thus, Kolko forgives those propagating the perception that the entire country is urbanizing: "metro areas that are urbanizing have more than their fair share of urban planners, including Seattle, Minneapolis, Washington and Boston. Those who write about, advocate for and choose to live in cities really do see more urbanization around them."

Kolko's argument echoes that of an earlier article by Alon Levy, which took San Diego County, in California, as its case study for the same suburbanization trend.

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