The biggest American cities get a lot of attention but what about the population changes in smaller big cities? Here is a look at population trends among the 53 metropolitan areas that have between 500,000 and 1 million residents:
The United States has 53 mid-sized metropolitan areas, with populations from 500,000 to 1 million. These metropolitan areas together had a population of nearly 38 million in 2014, according to the most recent Census Bureau population estimates (Table). In number, they match the 53 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population), though they have only one fifth of the population (178 million). The mid-sized metropolitan areas are growing somewhat slower than the major metropolitan areas, at an annual rate of 0.81% between 2010 and 2014, compared to 1.00% in the major metropolitan areas. Combined, the major metropolitan areas and the mid-sized metropolitan areas have two-thirds of the US population…
The 10 fastest growing mid-sized metropolitan areas are from every major region of the country except for the Northeast. Cape Coral, FL was the fastest growing between 2010 and 2014. Its growth rate picked up substantially in 2013 to 2014. Cape Coral (formerly called Fort Myers) was hit particularly hard by the real estate bust of the late 2000s. The core municipality itself has not only the usual street system, but an extensive canal system (photo above). It is hard to imagine a metropolitan area that feels less urban…
Virtually all of the slowest growing mid-sized metropolitan areas are former industrial behemoths that lost out in the competition for survival in the Northeast and Midwest. A visit to any of these cities will reveal either a relatively strong pre-World War II central business district or the remains of one. Each of these has a built form that looks more like Louisville or Cincinnati than the dominant pattern for new metropolitan areas that developed with a far more modest density gradient and with much weaker cores…
The list of mid-sized metropolitan areas is fluid. As noted above, a number of mid-sized metropolitan areas could move into the major metropolitan category before 2020 or 2030. On the other hand, there will be new mid-sized metropolitan areas. Three seem likely to be added by the 2020 census (Lexington, KY, Lafayette, LA and Pensacola, FL). There should be a rush of new mid-sized metropolitan areas between 2020 and 2030, at current growth rates. This could include Visalia, CA; Springfield, MO; Corpus Christi, TX; Port St. Lucci, FL; Reno, NV; Asheville, NC; Huntsville, AL; Santa Barbara, CA; and Myrtle Beach, SC.
A lot of this seems to mirror broader trends: continued Sunbelt population growth, declining populations in the Northeast and Midwest, big effects of the economic crisis and housing bubble, and slow but steady population growth overall.
While the population data is interesting, it all raises some interesting questions that I know some scholars have taken up even as the lion’s share of attention rests on the bigger cities:
1. Is the experience of living in these cities and regions qualitatively different than living in a larger city? What are the advantages and disadvantages?
2. How does the size of the region affect all sorts of things including a region’s resiliency or ability to grow? In other words, are these places simply scaled down versions of bigger cities or are they something quite different?
3. Given the proclivity of Americans to choose small towns as their preferred places to live, would these kinds of cities offer a preferred lifestyle? (Of course, people still need jobs and want certain amenities so if they had to make tradeoffs between that but a manageable size, does that lead residents to cities like these?