America’s cities are still booming, says new census data

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Austin, TX grew by 9.2% in three years. Photo via Flickr. 

From San Jose to Sioux Falls, America’s cities are growing faster than the rest of the country — and within those cities, downtown is outpacing the suburbs.

New census data released Thursday shows that America’s cities continue to grow, with the strongest growth happening in Sun Belt cities like San Jose, Austin, and Nashville. Population in cities over 50,000 residents increased by 1.02%, on average, from 2012 through 2013. Growth in the suburbs improved as well but, despite a post-recession bump, continued to lag behind that in urban areas, with a rate of 0.96% over the same period.

The regrowth of cities (in recent times at the expense of the suburbs) is a fairly recent development, and it signals the end of decades of population loss from downtowns across the country. Even after several years of consistent growth, population numbers in many American cities still have yet to return to their mid-century peak. But now, cities’ fortunes seem to be changing: since 2010 Austin, TX has grown by 9.2%, Denver, CO by 8.2%, and Washington, DC by 7.4%.

“This is a pattern we’ve seen for the past few years in almost every region,” said Geoff Anderson, President & CEO of Smart Growth America. “People’s tastes are changing — walkability, transit, proximity to work, and housing choices are all high priorities — and it’s bringing them back to urban neighborhoods and walkable locations in suburbs as well. With demand for this type of housing growing, the next step is creating the right policies and investments to build even more of these dynamic places that are drawing people in.”

A large part of cities’ upward trend has been driven by millennials, who largely favor urban living for reasons such as affordability, quality of life, and stronger job markets. A recent study by Transportation For America, a program of Smart Growth America, showed millennials strongly considered transit and walkability in choosing a place to live. And an American Planning Association study released last month showed that the growing desire to live in connected, compact places is just as prevalent among baby boomers and the elderly.

The return of growth to cities is good news. As we demonstrated last month in Measuring Sprawl 2014, residents of compact, connected cities are healthier, more economically mobile, and longer-lived than their neighbors in the suburbs. As young and old alike continue to move back downtown, it will be essential to make policy decisions that ensure everyone can live in a neighborhood that is beautiful, safe, affordable, and easy to get around.