The 2010 decennial census data collection is underway, but in the meantime the US Census Bureau just released its 2009 annual population estimates for counties and metro areas. So let’s take a look, focusing on the Midwest, but also giving everyone else a look at some types of analysis that might be useful for them to apply to their own city.
Let’s Not Fool Ourselves on Urban Growth
There has been a lot written lately about the return to the city. I’ve noted myself how places like central Indianapolis have reversed decades of population declines. That’s exciting. And the New York Times, for example, just trumpeted how “smart growth is taking hold” in America.
But let’s not kid ourselves here. In my view this represents a possible inflection point, but it is way too early for the type of triumphalist rhetoric being bandied about by advocates.
Let’s take a look at the change in the regional population share in core counties in 2009 vs. 2008 for the Midwest cities I typically focus on.
|City||Core County Share Change||2009 Core County Share||2008 Core County Share|
For St. Louis, I use St. Louis city + St. Louis County as the core. For Minneapolis-St. Paul, I used Hennepin+Ramsey as the core.
As you can see, only two regions managed to increase core county share of population, and these by a minuscule amount. Everyone else lost core county share. Keep in mind that even these “core” counties have many places with suburban characteristics. Now you might prefer a purely core city measure, and if so, be my guest. But don’t be surprised if the data gets even worse in many cases. Even in Chicago, which might have experienced the biggest urban core construction boom in America, the city lost population while Cook County gained it. Looking at the core city would make Chicago’s share loss worse.
I think this shows there is still some work to do, to put it mildly.
So why the difference versus the EPA study the NYT trumpets? Well, for one thing, the EPA study is worthless as a measure of urban health. They measure only new building permits, not people. This I think taps into a subtle suburban mindset in our outlook, that new housing units must represent net new inventory and net new people moving in, but in urban areas that’s not necessarily the case.
The sad fact is, many of our urban cores have experienced significant housing abandonment and demolition. So in addition to construction of net new units, there’s a countervailing force of reduction. For example, the greater downtown area of Indianapolis has been seeing lots of construction. But the regional center comprehensive plan noted that between 1990 and 2000, the net number of dwelling units actually decreased. “The actual number of housing units declined over the 10-year period as some housing became dilapidated or was demolished and as some projects were emptied to await renovation (the Census only counts habitable units).”
What’s more, as yuppies move in, and others move out, there is bound to be an effect on household sizes. Is it is really a good idea to price out larger immigrant families to the inner ring suburbs so that DINK’s can move in? How’s that for the environmental footprint of the region?
I’m glad we’ve got big increases in urban construction and even population increases in some neighborhoods, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves by trumpeting a “fundamental shift”, as the EPA does, when the demographics don’t back it up.
The New York Times article is also a disappointment. It fails to do any independent analysis of the data and only talks to people who are cheerleaders for the study, making it a sad piece of journalism.
Someone recently described me as an “apologist for sprawl”. I in no uncertain terms reject that label. I am a passionate urban advocate who wants to see our core cities thrive and prosper. I want more growth there. I live in a city in a walkable neighborhood and rarely drive.
But advocacy research of the type urbanists are quick to decry in others does a disservice to the cause. To change the trajectory of our cities and our built environment in America, we need to start with something called “reality”. I am optimistic that there’s a change in the air. But let’s not make claims about “fundamental shifts” that are simply not supported by any realistic look at the totality of the data.
The big news is that for the first time in forever, Pittsburgh, the incredible shrinking city, actually had positive net domestic in-migration. Here’s a chart:
Graphic via Null Space
The region still lost population, but that’s because of an odd case of natural decrease – more deaths than births. It looks like Pittsburgh might be really hitting its inflection point and starting to regenerate positive demographic growth.
The United States as a whole grew by 0.9% last year. Here is how my Midwest cities fared, ranked by last year’s percentage growth. The rank is the rank within the 52 metro areas with more than one million people.
- Indianapolis – 1.3% (#19)
- Columbus – 1.2% (#22)
- Kansas City – 1.1% (#24)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul – 1.0% (#26)
- United States Average – 0.9%
- Chicago – 0.7% (#34)
- Louisville – 0.7% (#34)
- Cincinnati – 0.6% (#37)
- Milwaukee – 0.6% (#37)
- St. Louis – 0.4% (#44)
- Pittsburgh – 0.0% (#49)
- Cleveland – (0.1%) (#51)
- Detroit – (0.5%) (#52)
This is pretty much the same as last year. I’ll again note that while Indianapolis is #1, and is growing 50% faster than the country as a whole, Columbus is coming on strong, increasing its growth rate from 1.1% to 1.2%. I would not be surprised if Columbus took over the top spot shortly.
Let’s take a look at this sorted by absolute population growth.
- Chicago – 64,913 (#8)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul – 32,202 (#21)
- Indianapolis – 22,862 (#27)
- Columbus – 22,026 (#28)
- Kansas City – 21,502 (#29)
- Cincinnati – 13,253 (#35)
- St. Louis – 10,302 (#40)
- Milwaukee – 9,216 (#41)
- Louisville – 8,838 (#42)
- Pittsburgh – (434) (#50)
- Cleveland – (2,765) (#51)
- Detroit – (20,344) (#52)
Cities that added more people in 2009 than 2008: Indianapolis, Columbus, Kansas City, Milwaukee, and Cincinnati. Cleveland and Detroit also lost fewer people, as did Pittsburgh. Chicago, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Louisville, and St. Louis added fewer people than last year.
Again, I like to look at net domestic migration as a key figure of urban demographic health, so let’s take a look.
- Indianapolis – 7,034
- Columbus – 5,018
- Kansas City – 3,929
- Louisville – 2,122
- Pittsburgh – 1,144 (WOW)
- Cincinnati – (384)
- Milwaukee – (2,336)
- Minneapolis-St. Paul – (2,503)
- St. Louis – (4,532)
- Cleveland – (10,191)
- Chicago – (40,389)
- Detroit – (45,488)
Keep in mind, these are total, not percentage figures. Chicago is huge so will naturally put up big numbers. Chicago is also a big immigrant port of entry, with significant international in-migration to offset this, and a structural exporter of people domestically as a result.
Indianapolis remains the migration champ of the Midwest. In terms of total net domestic in-migration, it ranked #18 in the nation. Over 72,500 have moved into Indianapolis metro in the past decade. That’s pretty amazing for a Midwest city and a huge source of demographic strength for the community.