Cities are Growing but Sprawl Continues
Using 2000 and 2010 Census data for the top 100 metros, we analyzed the spatial distribution of household growth over the last decade by looking at changes in core urban cities (defined as large cities with populations over 100,000), suburbs (defined as urbanized parts of metros not in large cities), and exurbs (defined as all remaining non-urban tracts).
Our analysis found that, while household growth in core urban cities did occur, on the whole it was slower and smaller than growth in the suburbs and exurbs (See Figure 1). Overall, the rate of household growth in the core urban cities of these 100 metros was just 6.4 percent, which was much slower than that of suburbs (10.5 percent), and a fraction of the growth rate of the exurban areas (28.3 percent). In terms of magnitude, the number of households in the top 100 core urban cities grew by just 1.65 million in 2000-2010 while during the same period suburbs increased by 3.0 million households and exurbs grew by 3.2 million.
Source: JCHS Tabulations of U.S. Census Bureau data
Failure to grow as fast or as much as the suburbs and exurbs over the past decade caused the share of households living in the top 100 metropolitan areas’ core urban cities to drop. Core urban cities were home to fully 39 percent of all households in 2000, but accounted for only 21 percent of all metropolitan area household growth. Exurban areas, on the other hand, represented only 17 percent of all metropolitan households in 2000 but 41 percent of total metropolitan household growth in 2000-2010. As a result, the share of households living in urban cities dropped from 39 percent in 2000 to 37 percent in 2010, while the exurban share increased from 17 to 20 percent. The suburban share remained stable at 43 percent of all households.
Looking individually at the distribution of growth within each of the top 100 metros, we found that even in metros where core urban city household growth rates were high, suburban and exurban growth rates were often higher (click here for Excel spreadsheet). And in the five metros where core urban cities grew faster than the metropolitan areas as a whole, core city growth rates were only 0.5 percentage point higher than overall metropolitan growth rates. In contrast, in the remaining majority of metros, core urban growth rates were fully 8.8 percentage points slower than the overall metropolitan growth rates. As a result, many metros saw their share of households living in core urban cities drop significantly (See Figure 2).
To summarize our top-level findings, data from Census 2010 gives evidence of a ‘back to the cities’ movement in the form of household growth occurring in the majority of core urban cities of the top 100 metropolitan areas. However, our analyses so far have also provided much more convincing evidence that suburbs and exurbs continued to drive metropolitan household growth over the past 10 years. Indeed, even in the fastest growing cities, growth typically was neither as fast nor as large as that occurring in the surrounding suburbs and exurbs.