2020 Urban Areas and Data Announced (United States)

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The Census Bureau has announced the new urban areas, following releases that began with the 1950 release of “urbanized area” data. The population, land area and population density of the larger urban areas from 1950 to 2010 is illustrated in this table. Generally, urban areas are settlements of continuous urbanization, as opposed to rural areas.

According to the Census Bureau urban areas are “defined as densely developed residential, commercial, and other nonresidential areas.”

“For the 2020 Census, an urban area will comprise a densely settled core of census blocks that meet minimum housing unit density and/or population density requirements. This includes adjacent territory containing non-residential urban land uses. To qualify as an urban area, the territory identified according to criteria must encompass at least 2,000 housing units or a population of at least 5,000.”

For 2020, the Census Bureau made significant changes by the minimum urban population of 2,500 to one of either 5,000 population or 2,000 housing units. The Census Bureau also made changes to the way that it splits large urban agglomerations (larger areas of continuous urban development), such as San Francisco and San Jose. The criteria also included discontinuance of the term “urbanized area,” replaced by “urban area” regardless of population.

Urban Areas of 500,000 or More Residents

This article highlights the 83 urban areas with 500,000 or more residents in the 50 states and the District of Columbia (Table).

The 10 Largest Urban Areas

New York (New York-Jersey City-Newark, NY-NJ) remains the largest urban area (UA), with 19.4 million residents. The New York urban area also has the largest land area, at 3,248 square miles. This gives New York the fourth highest density among the largest urban areas. While it is often presumed that New York is the densest large urban area, that has not been true since the 1990 census, when it was displaced by the Los Angeles UA, with its undeserved reputation for being the ultimate in urban sprawl.

Los Angeles (Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim) is the second largest urban area, a position it has held since the 1960 census, with 12.2 million residents in 2020. The Los Angeles UA covers 1,637 square miles, but the Los Angeles UA ranks only 8th in land area among the 83 with more than 500,000, including more sprawling New York Chicago, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Philadelphia, Atlanta and Boston UAs, the latter with barely a third the population of Los Angeles UA. The Los Angeles population density is 7,476 residents per square mile. The new data ranks the San Francisco-Oakland UA as the densest (below). The key to the high Los Angeles UA density is its small single-family lot size (photograph above). This is typical of urban California, which has 35 of the 43 urban areas of all sizes in the nation, with more than 5,000 residents per square mile.

Chicago, IL-IN is the third largest urban area, with 8.7 million residents. The Chicago UA covers 2,338 square miles, the third largest urban expanse after New York and Atlanta. The Chicago UA density is 3,709 residents per square mile, for a rank of 28th among the 83 UAs with half a million population.

Miami (Miami-Fort Lauderdale) is the fourth largest urban area, at 6.1 million population. Its 1,244 square mile land area is ranked 11th among the 83 UAs. Miami’s population density is 4,885 per square mile, for a 7th ranking.

Houston is the fifth largest urban area, with 5.9 million residents. The land area is 1,753 square miles and ranks fifth. Houston’s population density is 3,340 per square mile, for a 25th place ranking.

Dallas-Fort Worth (Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington) is the sixth largest urban area, with 5.7 million residents. The Dallas-Fort Worth UA fell behind in-state rival Houston, which was smaller in 2010. The difference can be explained by the creation of a new urban area, Frisco-McKinney part of which was previously in the Dallas-Fort Worth UA. The city of Frisco, formerly in the Dallas-Fort Worth UA had a 2020 population of 201,000, more than the 121,000 Dallas-Fort Worth difference with Houston. The Dallas-Fort UA covers 1,747 square miles, ranking sixth. The population density is 3,281 per square mile and ranks 28th out of the 83 urban areas.

Philadelphia, PA-NJ-DE-MD is the seventh largest urban area, with 5.7 million residents in a land area of 1,898 square miles, the fourth largest following New York, Atlanta and Chicago. The Philadelphia urban area population density is 3,001, ranking 35th.

Washington (Washington-Arlington, DC-VA-MD) is the eighth largest urban area, with 5.2 million residents. The urban area covers 1,295 square miles and is ranked 9th. The population density is 3,997 per square mile for a ranking of 35th.

Atlanta is the ninth largest urban area, with 5.0 million residents. Its land area of 2,451 square miles is the second largest among the newly announced urban areas. The population density of 2,040 ranks 70th out of the 83 urban areas.

Boston, MA-NH is the 10th largest urban area, with 4.4 million residents. Boston’s land area is 1,656 square miles and ranks as the 7th largest. This perhaps surprisingly low urban density is, like Atlanta, lower than the median 500,000+ density (2,841) of the 83 urban areas.

Other Observations

San Francisco-Oakland, though not among the 10 largest UA’s, now has the highest urban density, at 7,646 per square mile.. In 2010, San Francisco-Oakland had the second highest density, behind the Los Angeles UA. This change in ranking is principally due to creation of a new urban area from the San Francisco-Oakland 2010 geography, the San Rafael-Novato UA, which has a population density about 40% below the California urban density average.

The San Francisco-Oakland UA has 3.2 million residents, the 15th largest urban area. Its land area is 429 square miles, the 45th largest. This land area is smaller than all other UAs over 1,000,000 population, except for the adjacent San Jose UA, which covers 285 square miles and ranks third in population density, ahead of all but San Francisco and Los Angeles.

National Urban Population

The impact of the new criteria is a slight reduction in the nation’s urban population share. There are 265.1 million urban residents, or 80.0% of the total population, down from 80.7% under the previous criteria in 2010. But, like any significant redefinition of criteria (as was also the case in the 2000 revision), valid comparison to earlier years, such as in urban density, are impossible without considerable research and caveats.

Note: The author also produces Demographia World Urban Areas. The 2022 edition provides population, urban land area and urban population density for the nearly 1,000 identified urban areas in the world with 500,000 population or more.


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.

Photo: Los Angeles suburbs compared to New York suburbs at 35 miles from urban core (By author).

Table 1 (back to reference)

2020 Urban Areas 500,000+ (United States)
Rank Urban Area (2020 Census Based) Population Land Area (Square Miles) Rank Density Rank
1 New York--Jersey City--Newark, NY--NJ 19,426,449 3,248 1 5,981 4
2 Los Angeles--Long Beach--Anaheim, CA 12,237,376 1,637 8 7,476 2
3 Chicago, IL--IN 8,671,746 2,338 3 3,709 19
4 Miami--Fort Lauderdale, FL 6,077,522 1,244 11 4,885 7
5 Houston, TX 5,853,575 1,753 5 3,340 25
6 Dallas--Fort Worth--Arlington, TX 5,732,354 1,747 6 3,281 28
7 Philadelphia, PA--NJ--DE--MD 5,696,125 1,898 4 3,001 35
8 Washington--Arlington, DC--VA--MD 5,174,759 1,295 9 3,997 14
9 Atlanta, GA 4,999,259 2,451 2 2,040 69
10 Boston, MA--NH 4,382,009 1,656 7 2,646 45
11 Phoenix--Mesa--Scottsdale, AZ 3,976,313 1,110 12 3,581 22
12 Detroit, MI 3,776,890 1,285 10 2,940 36
13 Seattle--Tacoma, WA 3,544,011 983 14 3,607 21
14 San Francisco--Oakland, CA 3,269,385 429 45 7,626 1
15 San Diego, CA 3,070,300 675 22 4,550 8
16 Minneapolis--St. Paul, MN 2,914,866 1,015 13 2,872 40
17 Tampa--St. Petersburg, FL 2,783,045 969 15 2,872 41
18 Denver--Aurora, CO 2,686,147 645 26 4,168 11
19 Riverside--San Bernardino, CA 2,276,703 609 29 3,741 18
20 Baltimore, MD 2,212,038 655 24 3,377 24
21 Las Vegas--Henderson--Paradise, NV 2,196,623 435 43 5,046 6
22 St. Louis, MO--IL 2,156,323 910 16 2,369 53
23 Portland, OR--WA 2,104,238 519 35 4,052 13
24 San Antonio, TX 1,992,689 613 28 3,248 29
25 Sacramento, CA 1,946,618 468 41 4,163 12
26 Orlando, FL 1,853,896 645 25 2,876 39
27 San Jose, CA 1,837,446 285 63 6,436 3
28 Austin, TX 1,809,888 620 27 2,921 38
29 Pittsburgh, PA 1,745,039 907 17 1,925 75
30 Cleveland, OH 1,712,178 714 21 2,399 50
31 Indianapolis, IN 1,699,881 723 19 2,353 55
32 Cincinnati, OH--KY 1,686,744 752 18 2,242 59
33 Kansas City, MO--KS 1,674,218 714 20 2,345 56
34 Columbus, OH 1,567,254 516 36 3,036 32
35 Virginia Beach--Norfolk, VA 1,451,578 482 40 3,014 34
36 Charlotte, NC--SC 1,379,873 658 23 2,098 67
37 Milwaukee, WI 1,306,795 464 42 2,818 43
38 Providence, RI--MA 1,285,806 544 33 2,363 54
39 Jacksonville, FL 1,247,374 573 31 2,176 63
40 Salt Lake City, UT 1,178,533 300 60 3,923 16
41 Nashville-Davidson, TN 1,158,642 585 30 1,981 73
42 Raleigh, NC 1,106,646 555 32 1,995 72
43 Richmond, VA 1,059,150 512 37 2,067 68
44 Memphis, TN--MS--AR 1,056,190 491 39 2,150 64
45 Oklahoma City, OK 982,276 422 46 2,329 57
46 Hartford, CT 977,158 536 34 1,823 77
47 Louisville/Jefferson County, KY--IN 974,397 401 48 2,431 47
48 Buffalo, NY 948,864 341 53 2,787 44
49 Bridgeport--Stamford, CT--NY 916,408 397 49 2,307 58
50 New Orleans, LA 914,531 239 71 3,819 17
51 Tucson, AZ 875,441 357 52 2,450 46
52 El Paso, TX--NM 854,584 256 69 3,340 26
53 Honolulu, HI 853,252 145 82 5,886 5
54 Omaha, NE--IA 819,508 271 66 3,026 33
55 McAllen, TX 779,553 326 57 2,390 51
56 Bradenton--Sarasota--Venice, FL 779,075 404 47 1,927 74
57 Birmingham, AL 774,956 509 38 1,522 82
58 Albuquerque, NM 769,837 263 67 2,926 37
59 Tulsa, OK 722,810 338 55 2,136 65
60 Fresno, CA 717,589 159 79 4,510 9
61 Rochester, NY 704,327 292 62 2,413 49
62 Charleston, SC 684,773 339 54 2,020 71
63 Dayton, OH 674,046 320 58 2,107 66
64 Mission Viejo--Lake Forest--Laguna Niguel, CA 646,843 164 77 3,953 15
65 Colorado Springs, CO 632,494 200 75 3,157 30
66 Baton Rouge, LA 631,326 396 50 1,593 81
67 Allentown--Bethlehem, PA--NJ 621,703 262 68 2,377 52
68 Ogden--Layton, UT 608,857 213 74 2,864 42
69 Grand Rapids, MI 605,666 274 64 2,208 60
70 Cape Coral, FL 599,242 332 56 1,806 78
71 Knoxville, TN 597,257 432 44 1,383 83
72 Albany--Schenectady, NY 593,142 271 65 2,186 62
73 Columbia, SC 590,407 367 51 1,607 80
74 Provo--Orem, UT 588,609 161 78 3,653 20
75 Bakersfield, CA 570,235 132 83 4,316 10
76 New Haven, CT 561,456 298 61 1,884 76
77 Des Moines, IA 542,486 225 73 2,414 48
78 Akron, OH 541,879 301 59 1,802 79
79 Concord--Walnut Creek, CA 538,583 176 76 3,064 31
80 Temecula--Murrieta--Menifee, CA 528,991 150 81 3,515 23
81 Palm Bay--Melbourne, FL 510,675 251 70 2,038 70
82 McKinney--Frisco, TX 504,803 152 80 3,329 27
83 Wichita, KS 500,231 227 72 2,205 61
Median 1,106,646 464   2,864  
Source: United States Census Bureau