The Urban US: Growth and Decline

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The urban population of the United States is now 249 million, according to the 2010 Census, 81 percent of the total. This is impressive, and not all surprising for a large developed economy. Yet the urban population --- meaning cities, suburbs and exurbs --- is not everything. And in many ways for everything from food, resources and recreation, the urban areas still depend on the nearly sixty million who live in rural America

It is fascinating to review how American demography has changed over the last decade. So I will briefly look at some obvious points, such as the largest, most important, places, those that grew the most absolutely and relatively, and those that, on the contrary, declined.

Our Giant Metropolises 

The Census is very generous, probably way too generous, in their defining the outer limits of our urbanized areas (agglomerations with over 50,000 people). They tend to respect the independence of historically separate places, which from a satellite view would appear to be part of a united larger agglomeration. For example, New York, as defined, is huge enough but dense settlement goes far beyond its census limits. (I’ll take a look at conurbations, like Megalopolis, in a separate discussion). The 30 giants are shown in Table 1. The top three, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago have kept their positions for decades, but  story of more recent times has been the upsurge of Southern giants of Houston, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, and of course, Washington, DC. Detroit is still in the top 15, but its position has fallen to 11th, while other historic places like Cleveland, St. Louis and Pittsburgh have dropped into the second set of 15.






Table 1: Largest US Urbanized Areas
Urbanized Area Name  2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
1 New York--Newark, NY--NJ--CT 18,351,295 17,799,861 551,434 3.10
2 Los Angeles--Long Beach--Anaheim, CA 12,150,996 11,789,487 361,509 3.07
3 Chicago, IL--IN 8,608,208 8,307,904 300,304 3.61
4 Miami, FL 5,502,379 4,919,036 583,343 11.86
5 Philadelphia, PA--NJ--DE--MD 5,441,567 5,149,079 292,488 5.68
6 Dallas--Fort Worth--Arlington, TX 5,121,892 4,145,659 976,233 23.55
7 Houston, TX 4,944,332 3,822,509 1,121,823 29.35
8 Washington, DC--VA--MD 4,586,770 3,933,920 652,850 16.60
9 Atlanta, GA 4,515,419 3,499,840 1,015,579 29.02
10 Boston, MA--NH--RI 4,181,019 4,032,484 148,535 3.68
11 Detroit, MI 3,734,090 3,903,377 -169,287 -4.34
12 Phoenix--Mesa, AZ 3,629,114 2,907,049 722,065 24.84
13 San Francisco--Oakland, CA 3,281,212 3,228,605 52,607 1.63
14 Seattle, WA 3,059,393 2,712,205 347,188 12.80
15 San Diego, CA 2,956,746 2,674,436 282,310 10.56
90,064,432 82,825,451
16 Minneapolis--St. Paul, MN--WI 2,650,890 2,388,593 262,297 10.98
17 Tampa--St. Petersburg, FL 2,441,770 2,062,339 379,431 18.40
18 Denver--Aurora, CO 2,374,203 1,984,889 389,314 19.61
19 Baltimore, MD 2,203,663 2,076,354 127,309 6.13
20 St. Louis, MO--IL 2,150,706 2,077,662 73,044 3.52
21 San Juan, PR 2,148,346 2,216,616 -68,270 -3.08
22 Riverside--San Bernardino, CA 1,932,666 1,506,816 425,850 28.26
23 Las Vegas--Henderson, NV 1,886,011 1,314,357 571,654 43.49
24 Portland, OR--WA 1,849,898 1,583,138 266,760 16.85
25 Cleveland, OH 1,780,673 1,786,647 -5,974 -0.33
26 San Antonio, TX 1,758,210 1,327,554 430,656 32.44
27 Pittsburgh, PA 1,733,853 1,753,136 -19,283 -1.10
28 Sacramento, CA 1,723,634 1,393,498 330,136 23.69
29 San Jose, CA 1,664,496 1,538,312 126,184 8.20
30 Cincinnati, OH--KY--IN 1,624,827 1,503,262 121,565 8.09
29,923,846 26,513,173



Cities with the Largest Gains  

Urbanized areas which gained the most population over the last decade are listed in Table 2. These numbers are truly large; these are clear leaders in “population power”. I’ll first draw our attention to the five cities which are in the top 35 in both absolute growth and in percent growth. These include Temecula-Murrieta, CA (most folks will never have even heard of it: think inland sunshine of Riverside county); Charlotte and Raleigh, NC; Cape Coral, FL (again, huh?); and Austin, TX (you were thinking Dallas or Houston? See below).

Temecula-Murietta : 25th absolute growth, 6th % growth               
Charlotte : 9th and 19th
Raleigh : 18th and 21st               
Cape Coral : 30th and 27th  
Austin : 10th and 34th

North Carolina wins the race for the fastest growing areas.  But in sheer growth in people, the winners are (Table 2) Houston, Atlanta, Dallas, Phoenix, Washington, Miami, Las Vegas (despite the recession), New York, Charlotte and Austin. Giant New York is the only non-sunbelt place in the elite, and it had a quite slow rate of growth (3%). The next places outside the southern tier are Denver (13th) and Seattle (18th).  The total absolute growth in these top 15 cities was a phenomenal 7.24 million, a rate of growth of 8.7 %. For the top 30 urbanized areas, the growth was 10.3 million, with a percent growth of 9.7 – the same as the rate of growth of the nation. This includes slow growing but still very big places like Los Angeles (growth displaced to its satellites), Philadelphia, Chicago, Indianapolis, Portland and Minneapolis.






Table 2: Largest Absolute Change in US Urbanized Areas
Urbanized Area Name  2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
1 Houston, TX 4,944,332 3,822,509 1,121,823 29.35
2 Atlanta, GA 4,515,419 3,499,840 1,015,579 29.02
3 Dallas--Fort Worth--Arlington, TX 5,121,892 4,145,659 976,233 23.55
4 Phoenix--Mesa, AZ 3,629,114 2,907,049 722,065 24.84
5 Washington, DC--VA--MD 4,586,770 3,933,920 652,850 16.60
6 Miami, FL 5,502,379 4,919,036 583,343 11.86
7 Las Vegas--Henderson, NV 1,886,011 1,314,357 571,654 43.49
8 New York--Newark, NY--NJ--CT 18,351,295 17,799,861 551,434 3.10
9 Charlotte, NC--SC 1,249,442 758,927 490,515 64.63
10 Austin, TX 1,362,416 901,920 460,496 51.06
11 San Antonio, TX 1,758,210 1,327,554 430,656 32.44
12 Riverside--San Bernardino, CA 1,932,666 1,506,816 425,850 28.26
13 Denver--Aurora, CO 2,374,203 1,984,889 389,314 19.61
14 Tampa--St. Petersburg, FL 2,441,770 2,062,339 379,431 18.40
15 Los Angeles--Long Beach--Anaheim, CA 12,150,996 11,789,487 361,509 3.07
16 Orlando, FL 1,510,516 1,157,431 353,085 30.51
17 Seattle, WA 3,059,393 2,712,205 347,188 12.80
18 Raleigh, NC 884,891 541,527 343,364 63.41
19 Sacramento, CA 1,723,634 1,393,498 330,136 23.69
20 Chicago, IL--IN 8,608,208 8,307,904 300,304 3.61
21 Philadelphia, PA--NJ--DE--MD 5,441,567 5,149,079 292,488 5.68
22 San Diego, CA 2,956,746 2,674,436 282,310 10.56
23 Indianapolis, IN 1,487,483 1,218,919 268,564 22.03
24 Portland, OR--WA 1,849,898 1,583,138 266,760 16.85
25 Minneapolis--St. Paul, MN--WI 2,650,890 2,388,593 262,297 10.98
26 Columbus, OH 1,368,035 1,133,193 234,842 20.72
27 Nashville-Davidson, TN 969,587 749,935 219,652 29.29
28 Murrieta--Temecula--Menifee, CA 441,546 229,810 211,736 92.14
29 McAllen, TX 728,825 523,144 205,681 39.32
30 Cape Coral, FL 530,290 329,757 200,533 60.81



Rate of Population Growth

Thirty six cities had a growth rate of more than 50 percent between 2000 and 2010, a decade not that fabulous in economic growth!  Only three of these are independent metropolises of over a half-million: Charlotte and Raleigh, NC, and Austin, TX. With growth numbers and rates of 491000 (65%), 343000 (63%), and 460000 (51%)—clearly places on the move up. The others fall more or less into these categories: (please see table 3 for a list of all 35).

Satellite places to larger urban areas: 21 places
Smaller regional capitals or centers: 10 place

The superstars in rate of growth were McKinney, TX (Dallas satellite), 212% growth; Avondale, AZ (Phoenix suburb), 190%; The Woodlands, TX (Houston satellite), 168%; Lady Lake, FL (Orlando satellite), 123%; West Bend, WI (Milwaukee satellite, 106%); El Centro , CA (Imperial Valley center), 103%; and  Hilton Head, SC (retirement, etc.), 101%.






Table 3: Greatest Percent Gains
Urbanized Area Name  2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
1 McKinney, TX 170,030 54,525 115,505 211.84
2 Avondale, AZ 197,041 67,875 129,166 190.30
3 The Woodlands, TX 239,938 89,445 150,493 168.25
4 Lady Lake, FL 112,991 50,721 62,270 122.77
5 West Bend, WI 68,444 33,288 35,156 105.61
6 El Centro, CA 107,672 52,954 54,718 103.33
7 Hilton Head Island, SC 68,998 34,400 34,598 100.58
8 Temecula--Murrieta, CA 441,546 229,810 211,736 92.14
9 Concord, NC 214,881 115,057 99,824 86.76
10 Visalia, CA 219,454 120,044 99,410 82.81
11 Los Lunas, NM 63,758 36,101 27,657 76.61
12 Myrtle Beach, SC 215,304 122,984 92,320 75.07
13 Portsmouth, NH--ME 88,200 50,912 37,288 73.24
14 Casa Grande, AZ 51,331 29,815 21,516 72.17
15 Fayetteville--Springdale, AR 295,083 172,585 122,498 70.98
16 Dover, DE 110,769 65,044 45,725 70.30
17 Kissimmee, FL 314,071 186,667 127,404 68.25
18 Salisbury, MD--DE 98,081 59,426 38,655 65.05
19 Charlotte, NC--SC 1,249,442 758,927 490,515 64.63
20 Victorville--Hesperia--Apple Valley, CA 328,454 200,436 128,018 63.87
21 Raleigh, NC 884,891 541,527 343,364 63.41
22 Manteca, CA 83,578 51,176 32,402 63.31
23 Cape Coral, FL 530,290 329,757 200,533 60.81
24 Provo--Orem, UT 482,819 303,680 179,139 58.99
25 Nampa, ID 151,499 95,909 55,590 57.96
26 St. George, UT 98,370 62,630 35,740 57.07
27 Cartersville, GA 52,477 33,685 18,792 55.79
28 Hammond, LA 67,629 43,458 24,171 55.62
29 Mauldin--Simpsonville, SC 120,577 77,831 42,746 54.92
30 Blacksburg, VA 88,542 57,236 31,306 54.70
31 Lee's Summit, MO 85,081 55,285 29,796 53.90
32 Hagerstown, MD--WV--PA 182,696 120,326 62,370 51.83
33 Santa Clarita, CA 258,653 170,481 88,172 51.72
34 Austin, TX 1,362,416 901,920 460,496 51.06
35 Daphne--Fairhope, AL 57,383 38,110 19,273 50.57



Losers

Urban growth is the expected norm, but not all areas of the country prospered 2000-2010. What kinds of place lost population and why? See Table 4 for a list of larger absolute and percent losses. Despite the comeback of the automobile industry, Detroit experienced the greatest loss, arguably because much of the industry has moved to the non-union and lower wage South. New Orleans had the second biggest loss, with almost an 11 percent loss, recovering only gradually from hurricane Katrina. Partly race or perhaps more a legacy of poverty and inept governance?  Other large numerical losses were in rust belt industrial and mining cities, such as Buffalo, Youngstown and Pittsburgh and Charleston, WV.  At least one was quite different: Seaside-Monterey CA, with losses due to reduced military operations as well as a generally weak California economy.

High rates of losses were mostly in the same places, but included several smaller industrial towns in Ohio, Indiana and Pennsylvania.






Table 4: Greatest Percent Losses  and Greatest Absolute Losses
Relative posses
Urbanized Area Name  2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
1 Mansfield, OH 75,250 79,698 -4,448 -5.58
2 Lorain--Elyria, OH 180,956 193,586 -12,630 -6.52
3 Pascagoula, MS 50,428 54,190 -3,762 -6.94
4 Youngstown, OH--PA 387,550 417,437 -29,887 -7.16
5 Wheeling, WV--OH 81,249 87,613 -6,364 -7.26
6 Lompoc, CA 51,509 55,667 -4,158 -7.47
7 Mayagüez, PR 109,572 119,350 -9,778 -8.19
8 Hightstown, NJ 64,037 69,977 -5,940 -8.49
9 Pine Bluff, AR 53,495 58,584 -5,089 -8.69
10 Seaside--Monterey--Marina, CA 114,237 125,503 -11,266 -8.98
11 Anderson, IN 88,133 97,038 -8,905 -9.18
12 Johnstown, PA 69,014 76,113 -7,099 -9.33
13 Saginaw, MI 126,265 140,985 -14,720 -10.44
14 New Orleans, LA 899,703 1,009,283 -109,580 -10.86
15 Uniontown--Connellsville, PA 51,370 58,442 -7,072 -12.10
16 Yauco, PR 90,899 108,024 -17,125 -15.85
17 Charleston, WV 153,199 182,991 -29,792 -16.28
18 Lodi, CA 68,738 83,735 -14,997 -17.91
19 Parkersburg, WV--OH 67,229 85,605 -18,376 -21.47
20 Ponce, PR 149,539 195,037 -45,498 -23.33
Absolute Losses
Urbanized Area Name  2010 Population 2000 Population Change % Change
1 Seaside--Monterey--Marina, CA 114,237 125,503 -11,266 -8.98
2 Lorain--Elyria, OH 180,956 193,586 -12,630 -6.52
3 Saginaw, MI 126,265 140,985 -14,720 -10.44
4 Lodi, CA 68,738 83,735 -14,997 -17.91
5 Yauco, PR 90,899 108,024 -17,125 -15.85
6 Parkersburg, WV--OH 67,229 85,605 -18,376 -21.47
7 Pittsburgh, PA 1,733,853 1,753,136 -19,283 -1.10
8 Charleston, WV 153,199 182,991 -29,792 -16.28
9 Youngstown, OH--PA 387,550 417,437 -29,887 -7.16
10 Buffalo, NY 935,906 976,703 -40,797 -4.18
11 Ponce, PR 149,539 195,037 -45,498 -23.33
12 San Juan, PR 2,148,346 2,216,616 -68,270 -3.08
13 New Orleans, LA 899,703 1,009,283 -109,580 -10.86
14 Detroit, MI 3,734,090 3,903,377 -169,287 -4.34



These statistics are also summarized in 5 maps – one showing the size and rate of growth of all urbanized areas, followed by maps of the largest 30 places, the 35 places with the highest absolute and highest relative growth, then a map of the largest absolute and percent losses.

Density, Size and Location

People are often surprised by the fact that the highest urban densities are not in the historic eastern cities but in newer western cities. Los Angeles, often called the epitome of sprawl, is in fact the densest urbanized area in the US, for the third straight census! Table 5 lists the densest urbanized areas and the densities of the largest areas.




Table 5: Highest and lowest urban densisties
Highest urbanzed area densities
Place State Population (Thousands) Density
Los Angeles CA 12,151 6,999
San Francisco CA 3,281 6,266
San Jose CA 1,664 5,820
Delano CA 54 5,483
New York NY 18,351 5,319
Davis CA 73 5,157
Lompoc CA 52 4,816
Honolulu HI 802 4,716
Woodland CA 56 4,551
L:as Vegas NV 1,886 4,525
Densities of largest places (not on above list)
Chicago IL 8,608 3,524
Miami FL 5,502 4,442
Philladelphia PA 5,442 2,746
Dallas TX 5,122 2,879
Houston TX 4,944 2,979
Washington DC DC 4,586 3,470
Atlanta GA 4,515 1,707
Boston MA 4,182 2,232
Detroit MI 3,734 2,793
Phoenix AZ 3,629 3,165
Seattle WA 3,059 3,028
Lowest density places
Hickory NC 212 811
Hammond LA 68 883
Barnstable MA 247 890
Gadsden AL 64 892
Homosassa Spgs FL 81 895
Anniston AL 80 920
Los Lunas NM 64 921
Spartanburg SC 181 952
Hilton Head SC 69 1,020
Anderson SC 76 1,022



The remarkable story is that of the 10 densest areas, 9 are in the west, and 7 in the Golden State. Four of these are fairly small, another surprise. The only eastern city in the top 10 is New York, which is fairly sharply limited by the census. Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Jose are the three most densely settled areas. The main underlying reason is not just planning regulations, although these probably play a role, but the issue of providing water to developable land. Both are restricted. This is one reason why growth in the southwest tends to be relatively dense. These drier areas lack the local water supplies that enable the kind of low density sprawl typical of the historic eastern cities like, yes, Boston with a density of only 2231, less than one-third that of Los Angeles!!  Other large urban areas with lower densities include Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Houston, Dallas and Atlanta, a mere 1707!

The winners for low density are an interesting mix of satellite places, such as Hammond, Barnstable, Los Lunas, and independent places like Hickory, Gadsden and Anniston, AL, and Spartanburg and Anderson, SC, many in hilly Appalachian environments, with settlement limited to valley floors. This is why the density could be below 1000 per square mile, the usual demarcation point of urban densities. Several are rather resort-like, e.g., Barnstable, Hilton Head and Homosassa Springs.

Even if our urban definition is a little generous, 80 percent of the population or 250 million persons is an impressive total. Most of us cannot escape the city, where most jobs and opportunities are. We need to live in cities and perhaps most of us love the city. So the settlement issue in our lives becomes what city to live in and where to live within that place.

Richard Morrill is Professor Emeritus of Geography and Environmental Studies, University of Washington. His research interests include: political geography (voting behavior, redistricting, local governance), population/demography/settlement/migration, urban geography and planning, urban transportation (i.e., old fashioned generalist).

Next: Megalopolis and its rivals.

Los Angeles skyline photo by Bigstockphoto.com.



















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Missing The Forest for the Trees

This exhaustive discussion is undermined by the selection of misleading data. Metropolitan statistical areas are the scale at which people live and economies operate non-farm wage and salary data and metro domestic product numbers of the total value of a metro economy are also useful. Use of urbanized areas only obscures how metro economies function instead of revealing anything new. Your propaganda efforts have yet again led you to misrepresent, or even misunderstand, the role of cities in the U.S. today.