During the mid-decade housing boom, city growth came close to a standstill as the wide availability of low-interest mortgages pushed new residential development outward.
In all, city growth in 2011 surpassed or equaled that of suburbs in roughly 33 of the nation’s 51 large metro areas, compared to just five in the last decade.
“City growth in recent years clearly has ramped up faster than suburban growth has declined, suggesting an increased attractiveness of cities,” Frey said. “The real question is, will cities continue to hold their own when the suburban housing market picks up? Cities that market themselves well to young people and that offer job growth, cultural amenities and access to rapid transit are likely to see continued growth.”
In Denver, for instance, civic leaders have been actively promoting their city to young, educated professionals ages 25 to 34, touting in brochures the city’s “walkable urbanism” including a newly formed Theatre District, pedestrian walkways, high-rise apartments, bicycle lanes and a variety of sidewalk cafes and restaurants.
Similar efforts have been under way in other larger cities across the U.S., including Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, D.C., seeking to turn excess city asphalt to greenery with new planters, small parks and pedestrian plazas.
In recent years, the share of 16- to 39-year-olds with driver’s licenses has declined markedly. The suburb also is no longer a refuge from poverty, now surpassing cities in numbers of poor people.
Still, some economists aren’t so certain “generation rent” will last. They point to practical considerations such as better schools in the suburbs, continued government tax breaks for home ownership and subsidies for travel in rural areas, as well as rapidly rising downtown rents, that are likely to push young adults to the suburbs once they sort out decisions about jobs, kids and finances.
Symm Vafeades, 33, isn’t so sure. Growing up in Denver, he briefly moved outside the city as an adult to experience suburban life. Before long, though, he was back in town. Vafeades said he likes being able to stop at his favorite shop for iced coffee and a breakfast burrito on his way to work instead of sitting in traffic. His commute to his job as an architect clocks in at just 2 miles.
“I much prefer living in the city,” Vafeades said. “There’s just a lot more you can do without having to drive everywhere.”
—Roughly 52 of the 73 cities with population of greater than 250,000 showed faster annual growth (or slower rates of losses) in 2011 than their average growth over the last decade. Cities switching from declines to gains included Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minn.
—Texas dominated the list of the 15 fastest-growing large cities from April 2010 to July 2011, including Round Rock, Austin, Plano, McKinney, Frisco, Denton, McAllen and Carrollton.
—The city of Chicago added nearly 9,000 people last year compared to annual losses of roughly 20,000 in the last decade, having benefited as fewer moved to the outlying exurban areas of Will and Kendall counties. Detroit saw much smaller losses last year, a sign that its 25 percent decline over the past decade has bottomed out.
—New York remained the most populous city at 8.2 million, followed by Los Angeles and Chicago. The 15 most populous cities were unchanged since the 2010 census with the exception of Austin, Texas, which moved up from 14th to 13th, supplanting San Francisco.
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