Suburban vs. Urban Growth in U.S. Metros




Now that we have the full set of 2017 population estimates, I wanted to examine a popular claim a little more closely. The claim is that suburban growth far exceeds that of core cities/counties, and it’s often repeated in media throughout the country. One of the things that always bothered me about this was the constant use of basing this claim largely on % change. This has a major flaw, one that I will go into more below.

For this little study, I will look at the top 50 largest metro areas.

First, let’s look at the total change in the whole metro area, the core county and the core city between the 2010 Census and July 1, 2017. They will be ranked here by total metro change.
1. Dallas, TX: +973,431
2. Houston, TX: +971,941
3. New York, NY: +754,396
4. Atlanta, GA: +597,993
5. Miami, FL: +592,525
6. Washington, DC: +580,228
7. Phoenix, AZ: +544,141
8. Los Angeles, CA: +524,946
9. Seattle, WA: +427,240
10. Austin, TX: +399,507
11. San Francisco, Ca: +391,784
12. Orlando, FL: +375,432
13. Riverside, CA: +355,705
14. Denver, CO: +344,635
15. San Antonio, TX: +331,458
16. Charlotte, NC: +308,313
17. Tampa, FL: +307,930
18. Boston, MA: +283,935
19. Las Vegas, NV: +252,810
20. Minneapolis, MN: +251,760
21. San Diego, CA: +242,343
22. Nashville, TN: +232,162
23. Portland, OR: +227,167
24. Raleigh, NC: +204,590
25. Columbus: +176,724
26. Sacramento, CA: +175,740
27. San Jose, CA: +161,523
28. Jacksonville, FL: +159,382
29. Indianapolis, IN: +140,524
30. Oklahoma City, OK: +130,746
31. Philadelphia, PA: +130,427
32. Kansas City, MO: +119,574
33. Salt Lake City, UT: +115,297
34. Baltimore, MD: +97,572
35. Richmond, VA: +86,117
36. New Orleans, LA: +85,903
37. Chicago: +71,499
38. Cincinnati: +64,396
39. Louisville, KY: +58,247
40. Virginia Beach, VA: +48,429
41. Memphis, TN: +23,433
42. Birmingham, AL: +21,751
43. Milwaukee, WI: +20,282
44. Providence, RI: +19,912
45. St. Louis, MO: +19,575
46. Detroit: +16,685
47. Buffalo, NY: +1,239
48. Hartford, CT: -2,139
49. Cleveland: -18,427
50. Pittsburgh, PA: -22,924

Now that we have the total growth, let’s break it down a bit more.

How much of the total metro change occurred in the core county of each metro? This will be ranked by the highest to lowest % occurring in the core county.

Core County Change—————-Core County % of Total Metro
1. Las Vegas: +252,810———————-100.00%
2. San Diego: +242,343———————-100.00%
3. San Jose: +161,523**———————100.00%
4. Buffalo: +6,488——————————100.00%
5. Salt Lake City: +105,994——————91.93%
6. Phoenix: +489,916————————–90.03%
7. Raleigh: +171,210————————–83.68%
8. San Antonio: +243,805——————–73.56%
9. Columbus: +128,567———————–72.75%
10. Los Angeles: +344,902——————65.70%
11. Sacramento: +111,827——————63.63%
12. Seattle: +257,400————————-60.25%
13. New York: +447,565*——————–59.33%
14. Tampa: +179,340————————-58.24%
15. Houston: +560,521———————–57.67%
16. New Orleans: +49,463——————-57.58%
17. Jacksonville: +88,902——————–55.78%
18. Riverside: +198,100———————-55.69%
19. Providence: +10,870———————54.59%
20. Orlando: +203,019————————54.08%
21. Oklahoma City: +69,325—————-53.02%
22. Louisville: +30,052———————–51.59%
23. Charlotte: +157,209———————50.99%
24. Austin: +202,432————————-50.67%
25. Miami: +255,361————————-43.10%
26. Memphis: +9,317————————39.76%
27. Minneapolis: +99,599——————-39.56%
28. Indianapolis: +46,689——————33.22%
29. Philadelphia: +41,866——————32.10%
30. Portland: +72,221———————–31.79%
31. Denver: +104,463**———————30.31%
32. Nashville: +64,663———————-27.85%
33. Boston: +75,916————————-26.74%
34. Richmond: +22,818**——————26.50%
35. Virginia Beach: +12,441**————25.69%
36. Dallas: +250,009————————25.68%
37. Chicago: +16,588———————–23.20%
38. Milwaukee: +4,350———————21.45%
39. Kansas City: +24,737—————–20.69%
40. Atlanta: +120,843———————-20.21%
41. San Francisco: +79,128**————20.20%
42. Cincinnati: +11,448——————–17.78%
43. Washington, DC: +92,249**———15.90%
44. Birmingham: +731———————-3.36%
45. Hartford: +1,374————————-0.0%
46. Baltimore: -9,313**———————-0.0%
47. St. Louis: -10,668**———————0.0%
48. Detroit: -66,968————————–0.0%
49. Pittsburgh: -300———————– -1.31%
50. Cleveland: -31,608——————- -100.00%

*New York includes all 5 main boroughs, so it is different than core county, but still represents the urban center of the metro area.
**Core County and City are consolidated, or city exists as separate entity.

Going down even further, let’s compare the core city to the total metro, again ranked by %.

Core City Change————————Core City % of Total Metro
1. New York: +447,565————————-59.33%
2. New Orleans: +49,463———————–57.58%
3. San Antonio: +184,539———————-55.67%
4. San Jose: +89,375—————————55.33%
5. Columbus: +92,137————————–52.14%
6. Oklahoma City: +63,649——————–48.68%
7. San Diego: +112,114————————46.26%
8. Jacksonville: +70,278———————–44.09%
9. Philadelphia: +54,857———————–42.06%
10. Charlotte: +127,611————————41.39%
11. Louisville: +24,012————————-41.22%
12. Austin: +160,325—————————40.13%
13. Los Angeles: +207,138——————-39.46%
14. Las Vegas: +64,468———————–36.68%
15. Phoenix: +180,446————————-33.16%
16. Raleigh: +65,098—————————31.82%
17. Denver: +104,463————————–30.31%
18. Indianapolis: +42,557———————30.28%
19. Chicago: +20,852————————–29.16%
20. Portland: +64,029————————–28.19%
21. Nashville: +64,562————————-27.81%
22. Seattle: +116,085————————–27.17%
23. Richmond: +22,818**———————26.50%
24. Virginia Beach: +12,441**—————25.69%
25. Kansas City: +29,156———————24.38%
26. Boston: +67,500—————————23.77%
27. Memphis: +5,347————————–22.82%
28. Houston: +212,454————————21.86%
29. San Francisco**: +79,128—————20.20%
30. Sacramento: +35,413———————20.15%
31. Minneapolis: +41,412———————16.45%
32. Tampa: +49,721—————————-16.15%
33. Washington, DC: +92,249**————-15.90%
34. Dallas: +143,259—————————14.72%
35. Salt Lake City: +14,104——————-12.23%
36. Providence: +2,351————————11.81%
37. Orlando: +41,957—————————11.18%
38. Atlanta: +66,287—————————-11.08%
39. Miami: +54,122——————————9.13%
40. Cincinnati: +4,356————————–6.76%
41. Riverside: +23,857————————-6.71%
42. Milwaukee: +518—————————2.55%
43. Birmingham: -1,527———————–0.0%
44. Buffalo: -5,218——————————0.0%
45. Baltimore: -9,313**————————0.0%
46. St. Louis: -10,668**———————–0.0%
47. Detroit: -40,673—————————-0.0%
48. Pittsburgh: -3,297———————– -14.38%
49. Cleveland: -10,889——————— -59.09%
50. Hartford: -1,375————————- -64.28%

*Again, I used the 5 boroughs of New York here, so the numbers don’t change.
**See above.

Finally, because core counties and cities can be absolutely huge, like in Phoenix, I wanted to take see the ratio of people moving vs. the area size. To do this, I divided the growth by the land area of each core county and city.

So basically, how many people moved there per each square mile.

Core County Ratio——————————-Core City Ratio
1. San Francisco: 1,687.52————————-1,687.52
2. Washington, DC: 1,511.04———————-1,511.04
3. New York: 1,475.51——————————-1,475.51
4. Boston: 1,308.90———————————–1,394.05
5. Denver: 681.30————————————–681.30
6. Richmond: 379.67———————————-379.67
7. Houston: 329.14————————————354.33
8. Philadelphia: 312.43——————————-408.83
9. Charlotte: 300.02———————————–428.66
10. New Orleans: 291.95—————————-291.95
11. Dallas: 286.38————————————-420.73
12. Columbus: 241.67——————————-424.26
13. Atlanta: 229.30———————————–497.65
14. Orlando: 224.83———————————-398.75
15. Raleigh: 205.04———————————-455.87
16. Austin: 204.48————————————538.18
17. San Antonio: 196.62—————————-400.36
18. Minneapolis: 179.78—————————–754.32
19. Tampa: 175.82————————————438.38
20. Portland: 167.57———————————-481.42
21. Salt Lake City: 142.85—————————129.28
22. Miami: 134.54————————————-1,503.81
23. Nashville: 128.30———————————128.01
24. San Jose: 125.21———————————503.49
25. Seattle: 121.64————————————1,384.11
26. Indianapolis: 117.81——————————117.72
27. Jacksonville: 116.67——————————94.02
28. Sacramento: 115.88——————————361.65
29. Oklahoma City: 97.78—————————-105.89
30. Los Angeles: 84.99——————————-441.90
31. Louisville: 79.08———————————–63.11
32. San Diego: 57.84———————————344.76
33. Phoenix: 53.25————————————348.59
34. Virginia Beach: 49.96—————————-49.96
35. Kansas City: 40.96——————————-92.57
36. Las Vegas: 32.04———————————474.73
37. Cincinnati: 28.20———————————-55.89
38. Riverside: 27.49———————————–293.70
39. Providence: 26.51——————————–127.08
40. Milwaukee: 18.05———————————5.39
41. Chicago: 17.5————————————–91.72
42. Memphis: 12.21———————————–16.97
43. Buffalo: 6.22————————————– -128.52
44. Harford: 1.87————————————- -79.02
45. Birmingham: 0.66——————————- -10.46
46. Pittsburgh: -0.41——————————— -59.53
47. Cleveland: -69.16——————————- -140.14
48. Detroit: -109.42———————————- -293.14
49. Baltimore: -115.12—————————— -115.12
50. St. Louis: -172.34——————————- -172.34

So what’s all this mean? Columbus performs particularly well here. Franklin County attracts a high percentage of the total metro population, and Columbus itself is one of only 5 cities with more than 50% of the metro growth entering the city limits. Even accounting for area size, Columbus does fairly well. This suggests that urban growth there is stronger than in most cities.