California: Densifying Like No Other

We have previously shown that California is the least sprawling state, with an urban population density of 4,304 per square mile of land in 2010 (the last year for which such data is available --- new data will be reported in the 2020 census). This is slightly higher than New York, at 4,181, with its large lot New York City suburbs and low density urbanization upstate. This more than dilutes the effect of the nation’s densest large municipality (New York), which has more than 27,000 per square mile.

California’s urban densification between 2000 and 2010 was simply above and beyond that of any other state. The density of new urban development was 11,100 per square mile. (See: State Urban Density: 2000-2010 and below). This is nearly as dense as the city of Chicago, yet is spread all over the state, from Siskiyou County to Imperial --- and thus includes a lot of areas that can hardly be considered dense urban.

California’s density of new urban development was more than double that of number two --- Oregon, with its tough urban planning law. It is more than five times that of urbanization in the nation.

California has some of the most restrictive land use policies in the nation and there has been much analysis of the relationship between these and rising house prices. With California’s growth rate having dropped by 40% in the 2010s from the 2000s, and now losing population, these contrasts could be shown to be even greater when new data is released.

View or download PDF of statistics

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm located in the St. Louis metropolitan area. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston, a Senior Fellow with the Frontier Centre for Public Policy in Winnipeg and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. He has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers in Paris. His principal interests are economics, poverty alleviation, demographics, urban policy and transport. He is co-author of the annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and author of Demographia World Urban Areas.

Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (1977-1985) and Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich appointed him to the Amtrak Reform Council, to complete the unexpired term of New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman (1999-2002). He is author of War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life and Toward More Prosperous Cities: A Framing Essay on Urban Areas, Transport, Planning and the Dimensions of Sustainability.

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New Urban Area Data

It may be a year or more before the 2020 data is available. We will provide comparisons to the 2000 and 2010 data (2000 was the first year that such comparisons were possible, except on individual urban areas over 50,000 population

Wendell Cox

new data

will the 2010-2020 update be part of the decennial Census release?