The Revenge of the City?

You get the feeling that, after nearly a century of blooming, booming suburbs, we're all waiting for the inflection moment when we can finally announce the unequivocal comeback of the American City.

Is this it?

More than half of the country's 51 largest cities grew faster than their suburbs in the year before July 2011, according Census data analyzed by the Brookings Institution for the Wall Street Journal. The trend is truly cross-country. Cities as diverse as Atlanta, New York, Phoenix, and Boston are growing faster inside their city limits than outside. 

Our always-fabulous sister site The Atlantic Cities brings some maps to the party that show the metros with faster urban growth versus those with faster suburban growth. See any trends?

Higher Rate of Urban Growth


Higher Rate of Suburban Growth


I've got three observations: (1) Northeastern cities are, mostly, growing faster than their surrounding suburbs; (2) Texas and California suburbs are, mostly, growing faster than their cities; (3) There aren't many cities where the urban/suburban growth gap is greater than half a percentage point. In the urban column, the Big City Winners are Atlanta, Denver, Washington, and Charlotte. In the suburban column, you've got Jacksonville and Indianapolis. (I'm excluding New Orleans because of Hurricane Katrina.) To me, these graphs suggest, but do not prove, that the country's highest-productivity areas are re-urbanizing at a faster rate.

To borrow a point I made here, during the late 1990s and 2000s, U.S. migration resembled a river flowing from the New England to the Sunbelt. It was a kind of suburban Space Race, as cheap gas prices, lax borrowing rules, the decline of manufacturing in the Midwest, and plenty of housing encouraged families to push south and west. Arizona and Nevada led the nation in percent growth year after year, adding nearly a third of their year-2000 population in a decade. After the recession, suburban growth collapsed, and even with historically low migration, cities are staging something of a comeback.

Screen Shot 2012-03-12 at 12.13.39 PM.png

A chunky jambalaya of variables are pushing families from the suburbs: from high gas prices, to high youth unemployment, to personal technology which makes it more satisfying to live alone than it's ever been. But when you widen the lens a bit, you can appreciate that even if the cities aren't growing faster than the suburbs in total, the very fact that they're getting close is something remarkable.

Presented by

Derek Thompson is a senior editor at The Atlantic, where he writes about economics, labor markets, and the entertainment business.

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well. Bestselling author Mark Bittman teaches James Hamblin the recipe that everyone is Googling.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

How to Cook Spaghetti Squash (and Why)

Cooking for yourself is one of the surest ways to eat well.

Video

Before Tinder, a Tree

Looking for your soulmate? Write a letter to the "Bridegroom's Oak" in Germany.

Video

The Health Benefits of Going Outside

People spend too much time indoors. One solution: ecotherapy.

Video

Where High Tech Meets the 1950s

Why did Green Bank, West Virginia, ban wireless signals? For science.

Video

Yes, Quidditch Is Real

How J.K. Rowling's magical sport spread from Hogwarts to college campuses

Video

Would You Live in a Treehouse?

A treehouse can be an ideal office space, vacation rental, and way of reconnecting with your youth.

More in Business

Just In