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Out of the burbs, into the city

Scott Jagow Jul 1, 2009

Looks like the recession is having a profound effect on where people are living. Census numbers out today show that the population in older cities, like New York and LA, is gaining or holding steady. But the Sun Belt boomtowns aren’t booming anymore.

Cities like Las Vegas that have been so dependent on housing construction and people relocating there are seeing stagnation. Marketplace’s Sam Eaton reported on this for the Morning Report:

Some say it’s a reflection of how deeply the economy has limited people’s ability to move.

But Carol Coletta with the urban leader network CEOs for Cities says the shift is more profound. She says cities have become more family friendly in recent years. And in a down economy, Coletta says, urban living can have economic benefits as well.

CAROL COLETTA: No one’s quite certain they’re going to have a job next week and being in a city generally delivers more access to more opportunity.

Earlier this decade, growth in the suburbs was outpacing city population growth by two to one. Not anymore. Demographer Kenneth Johnson sent this info in an email to Sam:

Another interesting finding is that the percentage gain in some of the bigger cities (New York and LA) is actually greater than in the suburbs over the last year. In Chicago, city and suburban growth rates are roughly equal… even in beleaguered Detroit, the loss in the city is smaller than the loss in the suburbs over the last year.

I think transportation is a key issue as well. I know when I was looking to move recently, finding a neighborhood with access to public transit (yes, they have it in Los Angeles) and a walkable neighborhood were high on the priority list. In fact, my fiance and I just went to one car. In LA!

And the numbers bear out the transportation concern. Even though many suburbs are losing people, the ones closest to big cities are doing better. [From USA Today](Census numbers out today]():

Arlington and Alexandria, Virginia suburbs of Washington, were among the 25 fastest-growing major cities. The cities were thought to have little room to develop, but they built high-rises and other projects on vacant lots in developed areas, says Robert Lang, director of the Metropolitan Institute at Virginia Tech.

“I’m surprised to see them in the top 25,” he says. “They were thought to not be growing anymore.”

USA Today also lists the population numbers for dozens of cities.

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