Downtown Revival: Where It Happened, Where It Didn't

MLewyn's picture

The Census Bureau recently issued a report on population patterns in metropolitan areas.   Most of the report is about metro-wide population patterns generally, as opposed to urban cores.  However, page 27 of the report caught my eye.  This table refers to "Percentage Change in Population in Metropolitan Statistical Areas by Distance From City Hall and Population Size Category: 2000 to 2010."  In other words, it allows us to see whether intown areas are growing, rather than having to rely on the blunt instrument of citywide population.  (The latter is a questionable tool because some cities encompass only a few dozen square miles, while others encompass hundreds).

Reviewing this data, we find that all types of neighborhoods gained population overall, but suburbs grew more rapidly than either downtowns or other intown areas.  This pattern, however, masked a difference between the largest metro areas and smaller regions.

In metro areas with over 5 million people, downtowns (that is, areas within 2 miles of City Hall) grew almost as rapidly as exurbs.  Downtown population grew by 13.3 percent, while the highest-growth exurban category (60+ miles away) grew by 17.2 percent.  However, intown areas (bewteen 2 and 9 miles from City Hall) actually lost population.  A roughly similar pattern occurred in regions with 2.5-5 million people; downtowns gained population but not as rapidly (6.5 percent), areas just outside downtown lost people, and areas further out gained people.

By contrast, smaller metro areas continued to suburbanize.  In regions with between 1 and 2.5 million people (including such Rust Belt metro areas as Buffalo and Cleveland) the average downtown actually lost a little population (1.4 percent over the decade).  Areas 2-4 miles from City Hall also lost population.  However, areas 5 or more miles out gained population- not just the outer suburbs 10-20 miles out (the biggest gainers) but, to a lesser extent, the inner suburbs 5-10 miles out. 

I look forward to seeing further research.  In particular I am curious about: (1) whether the "true" downtown (within a mile or even less of City Hall) showed different patterns than areas 1-2 miles out, and (2) whether some types of cities showed more of a downtown/intown revival than others.

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