- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 21, 2006

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Elk Grove, Calif., wasn’t even incorporated six years ago, and now it’s the fastest-growing city in America.

The Sacramento suburb grew by 11.6 percent last year, to 112,000 persons, typifying the nation’s desire for open spaces, affordable homes and suburban living. Once a rural farming community, Elk Grove has given way to sprawling development, fueled by a short commute to Sacramento and employers such as Apple Computer.

“Ten to 15 years ago is when the housing started coming in. That was followed by the businesses,” said Janet Toppenberg, president and chief executive officer of the Elk Grove Chamber of Commerce.

Americans have been moving west and south for decades, and last year was no different. All but three of the 50 fastest-growing cities from 2004 to 2005 were in those regions of the country, with many in California and Florida, according to U.S. Census Bureau estimates released today. The estimates were for cities with populations of 100,000 or more.

Elk Grove was followed in the top five by North Las Vegas, Nev.; Port St. Lucie, Fla.; Gilbert, Ariz., and Cape Coral, Fla.

All five are suburban, and all have fewer than 200,000 residents.

“We have a pattern that is consistent across the country,” said Hans Johnson, a research fellow at the Public Policy Institute of California. “Families choose to move to areas where they can buy more housing for less money and often with better schools.”

Americans also are moving away from many of the nation’s biggest cities, although the reasons vary with the cities.

People are following jobs out of struggling Midwestern cities. Others are leaving expensive Northeastern and Western cities in search of more affordable homes. And people are fleeing big cities everywhere in search of better schools.

New York remained the nation’s largest city, with 8.1 million persons. The city has added 135,000 persons since 2000, but it lost 21,500 from 2004 to 2005, more than any other city in that one-year period.

Detroit, with its struggling economy, has lost 65,000 residents since 2000, the most of any city. Philadelphia, which has lost about 50,000 manufacturing jobs since 2000, has lost 54,000 persons during the same period. San Francisco, with the highest real-estate prices in the country, has lost 37,000 residents since 2000, according to the Census Bureau.

The bureau issues annual population estimates based on building permits, housing units and other changes since its 2000 head count.

States sometimes dispute those estimates based on their own calculations.

For example, California officials estimate that San Francisco has grown by 22,000 since 2000, rather than shrinking. But even if the city did add people, it did so at a much slower rate than cities in the center of the state, said John Malson, a research manager for the state Department of Finance.

“The housing market out here has gone nuts, especially in the coastal areas,” Mr. Malson said.

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