More Americans are moving to cities in the wake of the slight uptick in the economy in recent years, reversing the decades-long trend of settling in the suburbs. New Census Bureau data shows that the American city is experiencing something of a renaissance, driven primarily by migration into the center of the nation’s metropolitan areas.
According to the Census Bureau data, 2013 saw 2.3 million more people living in metro areas than in 2012, with 269.9 million people now living in cities and their surrounding areas. Between 2012 and 2013, only 92 out of the country's 381 metropolitan areas lost population. The shift in population to America’s metro areas has been increasing since 2010, when the economic recovery began picking up.
The trend in city living is driven primarily by two groups: young professionals and Baby Boomers, who are retiring and moving back to the cities they left when they started families. William Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, told USA Today. Frey described the trend as a “180 degree” switch from the exodus to the suburbs over the last decade.
In all but five of the fastest-growing metro areas, the largest contributor to growth was net migration and not higher birth rates, according to the Census Bureau. Among the cities with the highest “natural increase” are Washington, D.C., and Provo-Orem, Utah, which was recently voted the city with the highest rate of well-being in the nation.
Houston had the largest numeric increase, gaining about 138,000 people between 2012 and 2013.
There is, of course, the other well-documented trend of young people getting married later and delaying starting families, two major life events that usually prompt a move to suburban life. And then there’s the nagging problem of actually being able to afford to live out in the ‘burbs, which are seeing their populations thin out.
"Young people are not going to make that plunge to a suburban house because they think there's risk to it," Frey told USA Today. "And on top of that, they can't afford the down payment." Frey said that moving to the cities, rather than the other way around, could become the “new normal.”
In Philadelphia, the population grew last year by 0.29 percent, which is slower than previous years but a growth nonetheless. “So the turnaround continues, but not as dramatically,” Emily Babay at the Philly.com reports. Philadelphia's increase in numbers stems primarily from births and foreign immigrants, but the city added only half as many residents as it gained in 2011 and 2012, Babay writes.
Most of the country’s fastest-growing metro areas are in the Midwest, and fueled by job opportunities in energy industries like mining, oil, and gas, according to the Census Bureau. Metro areas with highest growth rates include Odessa, Texas; Fargo, N.D./Minn.; and The Villages, Fla.
New Orleans also saw a growth in population. Gordon Russell at The New Orleans Advocate reports that the city saw a 2.5 percent population increase from 2012, but the city’s population remains roughly 20 percent lower than before Katrina struck almost nine years ago. “Idealistic millennials” have bolstered the population of New Orleans, according to Rich Campanella, a geographer at Tulane University. Young people were difficult to attract to the city in the decades before Katrina, he said.
Increased urban density can also be attributed to significant investment by cities in infrastructure and transportation. Speaking with USA Today, Robert Lang at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas, said the U.S. essentially had to “learn how to build cities a second time.”