The economic crisis appears to be causing a slight but noticeable shift from the suburbs to the cities, according to an analysis of recent Census data by Brookings demographer William Frey, reported in the Wall Street Journal.
"The central-city population in U.S. metropolitan areas with more than one million people (excluding New Orleans ...) grew at an annual rate of 0.97% between July 2007 and July 2008 ...That compared with a growth rate of 0.90% in 2006-2007, and growth rates around 0.5% in the years between 2002 and 2005, when the robust real-estate market led to new jobs and new housing developments outside the cities, where open land is more plentiful ... Population growth in the cities has translated to slower growth in the suburbs. U.S. suburbs in metro areas greater than 1 million people grew at a 1.11% annual rate in 2007-2008, the same as a year earlier and down from growth rates between 1.29% and 1.48% between 2002 and 2005."
The combined effects of the recession, job loss, and the housing crisis have made it more difficult for many to sell their houses, in effect locking them in place and slowing rates of residential and geographic mobility. Frey points out that:
"This shows cities were reviving at the end of this decade, and they are also surviving a recession that has been a lot harsher for other parts of our landscape ...Cities are big enough and diverse enough that they are able to survive these ups and downs in the economy a lot better."
And this is especially true of the biggest and most diverse cities, like New York and Chicago, which are hubs of large mega-regions, as well as magnets like greater D.C. and Silicon Valley which continue to draw in highly skilled and ambitious people from the U.S. and the world. Large Rustbelt cities, like Detroit, continue to lose people, and rates of growth in housing-driven Sunbelt cities have slowed considerably.