Faltering Growth in Largest US Municipalities, Concentrated in Densest

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The 2018 municipality population estimates indicate a general decline in the annual growth rate over the past year compared to that of the last eight years. Among the 37 municipalities (including Honolulu, see Note 1) with at least 500,000 residents, the population grew 0.39 percent, down by more than one-half from the annual rate since the 2010 US Census (0.88 percent). Critically, this measures not metropolitan populations but those of cities (municipalities) within metropolitan areas.

Population Growth Stronger in More Suburbanized Municipalities

Nearly all of the municipalities with more than 500,000 population are historical core municipalities, around which the major metropolitan areas have developed. All these municipalities have suburban neighborhoods, while the pre-World War II urban cores municipalities account for from 97 percent of the population (such as in New York) to zero (such as in Phoenix, Charlotte and others), as is indicated in a City Sector Model analysis (Note 2).

The decline in growth was most evident among the municipalities with the largest percentage of their populations living in the urban cores, as opposed to suburban and exurban areas. Over the most recent year, the five municipalities with more than 75 percent of their population in the urban core (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington and Boston) grew only 0.31 percent, well below their eight year annual growth rate (2010-2018) of 0.88 percent. The municipalities that are from 50 percent to 74 percent urban core experienced a similar loss, with 0.19 percent growth over the past year, compared to an annual rate of 0.69 percent since the 2010 Census. Growth over the past year was down in each of the urban core population categories. Growth remains, however, by far the strongest in the municipalities with under 25 percent of their population in the urban core. All of this indicates that even within the largest municipalities, much of the growth was in suburban areas of the cities (Figure 1).



The Largest Muncipalities

The decline in growth rates is obvious from a review of the seven municipalities with more than 1.5 million residents. Each of the seven cities is growing less quickly than earlier in the decade (Figure 3).


New York retained its commanding advantage as the nation’s largest municipality, a position it has held for more than two centuries. Over the eight years, New York had the second largest numeric population increase, at 224,000. However, New York experienced a drop in population of 40,000 between 2017 and 2018, to 8,399,000. This was by far the largest decline in the nation and left New York more than 75,000 short of its all-time peak in 2016. New York’s annual growth dropped from 1.0 percent in 2011 to a 0.5 percent loss in 2018.

Los Angeles, the nation’s second largest municipality, again failed to cross the elusive 4,000,000 barrier, which state population experts originally claimed had been exceeded in 2008. Los Angeles, with a population of 3,990,000, is up 198,000 from 2010. Growth peaked at 0.82 percent in 2012, but fell by three-quarters to 0.21 percent in 2018.

Chicago continued to lose population, ranking third with 2,706,000 residents. Chicago has lost population for four years. In 2015 and 2016, Chicago had lost population more quickly than any other muncipality, but has done better than New York in the last two years.

Houston has also seen a significant reduction in population growth, perhaps due to lower energy industry revenues and Hurricane Harvey. Even so, Houston has added more population than any of the nation’s more than 19,000 municipalities since 2010 (232,000).

Phoenix added the most population over the past year (25,000), and reached 1,660,000. From a population of 107,000 in the first Post-World War II census (1950), Phoenix has risen to pass Philadelphia during this decade, having trailed the “city of brotherly love” by 1,900,000 in 1950.

Now sixth ranked Philadelphia has 1,584,000 residents, and grew by a modest 4,000. Despite having a population now one half million below 1950, the city has gained residents each year since 2007 (see chart at https://www.philly.com/news/philadelphia-population-growth-south-jersey-...), something that has not been achieved by larger cities New York and Chicago.

The Philadelphia Inquirer, however, notes that San Antonio could pass Philadelphia within two years, with current growth rates. San Antonio is one of only four municipalities that had growth of more than 200,000 from 2010 to 2018 (205,000). San Antonio has experienced steady growth over the period, though has seen its growth rate moderate to some degree.

Seattle had the highest annual population growth rate from 2010 to 2018 (2.48 percent) among the 37 largest cities. Fort Worth had the largest growth rate in 2018, at 2.23 percent.


Still Suburbanizing

More detailed information is provided for the 37 municipalities in the table.

The latest municipal population estimates again reaffirm the trend toward suburban living in the United States, both within and outside many cities that represent the historic cores of metropolitan areas. In fact, more than 60 percent of the residents of cities with more than 500,000 population live in functionally suburban areas within the cities, rather than the dense urban cores.

Note 1: One municipality is missing from the Census Bureau’s list, Honolulu, Hawaii’s capital. Honolulu is a one-tier local government, at the county level, similar to combined city-county governments in San Francisco, Baltimore, St. Louis, Nashville, Indianapolis, Denver and others. Its 980,000 population should result in Honolulu being ranked as the 10th largest city in the nation, between San Jose and Austin. This is reflected in the table. In contrast, Honolulu is listed in the Census estimates tabulation with a population of 347,000 under the title “Urban Honolulu.” This is due to an agreement between the Census Bureau and the State of Hawaii.

Note 2: The City Sector Model classifies small areas (ZIP codes, more formally, ZIP Code Tabulation Areas, or ZCTAs) in metropolitan areas in the nation based upon their function as urban cores, suburbs, or exurbs. The criteria used are generally employment and population densities and the extent of transit use versus car use (Figure 4). The purpose of the urban core sectors is to replicate, to the best extent possible, the urban form as it existed before World War II, when urban densities were much higher and a far larger percentage of urban travel was on mass transit. The suburban sectors replicate the automobile-oriented suburbanization that began in the 1920s and escalated strongly following World War II. The suburban areas are largely within the continuous built-up urban areas, while the exurban areas are generally in the metropolitan areas, but outside the built-up urban areas.









US MUNICIPALITIES OVER 500,000 POPULATION IN 2018
Change from 2017 & 2010 Census
  Population (Millions) Annual Change
Rank Local Government Unit 2010 Census 2017 2018 2010-18 2017-18 % 2010-18 %2017-18
1 New York, New York 8,175 8,438 8,399 224 (40) 0.33% -0.47%
2 Los Angeles, California 3,793 3,982 3,990 198 8 0.62% 0.21%
3 Chicago, Illinois 2,696 2,713 2,706 10 (7) 0.05% -0.26%
4 Houston, Texas 2,094 2,317 2,326 232 8 1.28% 0.35%
5 Phoenix, Arizona 1,447 1,635 1,660 213 25 1.68% 1.55%
6 Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 1,526 1,580 1,584 58 4 0.45% 0.25%
7 San Antonio, Texas 1,327 1,511 1,532 205 21 1.76% 1.38%
8 San Diego, California 1,302 1,414 1,426 124 12 1.11% 0.82%
9 Dallas, Texas 1,198 1,343 1,345 147 2 1.42% 0.15%
10 San Jose, California 952 1,032 1,030 78 (2) 0.96% -0.20%
11 Honolulu, Hawaii (*) 953 986 980 27 (6) 0.34% -0.64%
12 Austin, Texas 802 952 964 162 13 2.26% 1.31%
13 Jacksonville, Florida 822 892 904 82 12 1.16% 1.36%
14 Fort Worth, Texas 745 875 895 150 20 2.25% 2.23%
15 Columbus, Ohio 789 882 893 104 11 1.51% 1.22%
16 San Francisco, California 805 879 883 78 4 1.13% 0.47%
17 Charlotte, North Carolina 736 859 872 137 13 2.09% 1.53%
18 Indianapolis, Indiana 820 862 867 47 5 0.67% 0.61%
19 Seattle, Washington 609 730 745 136 15 2.48% 2.10%
20 Denver, Colorado 600 705 716 117 11 2.18% 1.57%
21 Washington, District of Columbia 602 696 702 101 7 1.89% 0.97%
22 Boston, Massachusetts 618 688 695 77 6 1.43% 0.92%
23 El Paso, Texas 648 683 683 34 (0) 0.63% -0.04%
24 Detroit, Michigan 714 674 673 (41) (2) -0.72% -0.23%
25 Nashville, Tennessee 603 665 669 66 4 1.26% 0.55%
26 Portland, Oregon 584 649 653 69 4 1.37% 0.69%
27 Memphis, Tennessee 652 652 651 (1) (1) -0.02% -0.14%
28 Oklahoma City, Oklahoma 580 643 649 69 6 1.37% 0.88%
29 Las Vegas, Nevada 585 636 645 60 9 1.19% 1.42%
30 Louisville, Kentucky 595 620 620 25 0 0.49% 0.04%
31 Baltimore, Maryland 621 610 602 (18) (7) -0.36% -1.20%
32 Milwaukee, Wisconsin 595 594 592 (2) (2) -0.05% -0.32%
33 Albuquerque, New Mexico 546 560 560 14 0 0.31% 0.02%
34 Tucson, Arizona 527 542 546 19 4 0.44% 0.77%
35 Fresno, California 497 526 530 33 4 0.78% 0.77%
36 Mesa, Arizona 440 500 509 69 9 1.78% 1.71%
37 Sacramento, California 466 501 509 42 8 1.05% 1.51%
Total 42,062 45,028 45,206 3,144 178 0.88% 0.39%
(*) See note in text on Honolulu

 

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the "Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey" and author of "Demographia World Urban Areas" and "War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life." He was appointed by Mayor Tom Bradley to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. Speaker of the House of Representatives appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photograph: City of San Antonio: soon larger than Philadelphia? (by author)



















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