Slowdown in exurban growth

New estimates from the US Census suggest that growth in the exurbs has slowed in recent years:

The annual rate of growth in American cities and surrounding urban areas has now surpassed that of exurbs for the first time in at least 20 years, spanning the most recent era of sprawling suburban development…

“The heyday of exurbs may well be behind us,” Yale University economist Robert J. Shiller said. Shiller, co-creator of a Standard & Poor’s housing index, is perhaps best known for identifying the risks of a U.S. housing bubble before it actually burst in 2006-2007. Examining the current market, he believes America is now at a turning point, shifting away from faraway suburbs to cities amid persistently high gasoline prices…

About 10.6 million Americans reside in the nation’s exurbs, just 5 percent of the number in large metropolitan areas. That number for exurbs represents annual growth of just 0.4 percent from 2010 to 2011, smaller than the 0.8 percent rate for cities and their surrounding urban areas. Still, it also represents the largest one-year growth drop for exurbs in at least 20 years…

In all, 99 of the 100 fastest-growing exurbs and outer suburbs saw slower or no growth in 2011 compared with the mid-decade housing peak – the exception being Spotsylvania County, Va., located south of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, which has boomed even in the downturn. Nearly three-fourths of the top 100 outer suburban areas also saw slower growth compared with 2010, hurt by $3-a-gallon gasoline last year that has since climbed higher.

Translation: growth on the metropolitan fringes slowed in 2010. This doesn’t mean that suburban growth overall slowed but growth on the edges has slowed. I don’t think we should be too surprised by this: the housing market is in bad shape, gas prices are up, and the number of both residential and commercial projects in the suburbs has dropped. If the economy was good, the exurbs would be where growth tends to happen as there is available land (cheaper to build here than to redevelop existing suburban properties or tackle some small infill projects) and people would have money for transportation to job centers (whether these are edge cities or big cities).

I think the real question is whether the exurban growth picks up when the economy improves or at least if gas becomes cheaper. Even if exurban growth essentially stops today, many metropolitan regions could tolerate some more dense land use in their suburbs.

Comparing inner vs. outer suburban growth

There are numerous types of suburbs (I think I now have at least 13 different types in one of my lectures in American Suburbanization) but one broad comparison includes looking at suburbs adjacent to cities (“inner-ring suburbs”) vs. suburbs on the metropolitan fringe (often referred to as “exurbs”). USA Today reports on some of the population trends in these two areas:

A new pattern is emerging this century. Most of the growth is happening on opposite ends of the suburban expanse: in older communities closest to the city and in the newer ones that are the farthest out.

“A few decades ago, all the growth was on the edge,” says Robert Lang, an urban sociologist at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas who analyzed 2010 Census data. “Now, there are citylike suburbs doing well on one side of the metropolis while conventional suburbs still flourish on the fringe.”

Close-in suburbs in the 50 largest metropolitan areas added 6 million people from 2000 to 2010, an 11.3% increase. The nation grew 9.7% in the same period.

At the same time, less populated suburbs on the outer edge grew even faster. They gained 6.7 million, a 24.5% increase.

DuPage County, Illinois is cited in this story as an example of suburban areas that are between these two extremes. Such “mature suburbs” had lower rates of growth as they “add[ed] 3.5 million people, a 7.8% increase” over the previous decade.

I like this emphasis on looking at the different rates of suburban growth depending on proximity to the city. There are a couple of stories that one could tell:

1. The suburban population is growing. I still am eager to hear the final 2010 figures that tell us what percentage of Americans live in suburbs compared to urban and rural areas.

2. The fastest-growing suburbs are on the metropolitan fringe. This is what might be considered typical suburban growth and/or “sprawl” as metropolitan regions continue to expand. It would be helpful to know how this 24.5% population increase over the last decade compares to previous decades.

3. Inner-ring suburbs are also growing quicker than the national growth rate. This may support recent findings that people want denser neighborhoods. It would be interesting to see how much of this growth is due to city dwellers moving just across municipal boundaries (for example, did those 200,000 people who left Chicago move to Oak Park or to Joliet?) or whether this population growth is from people from other areas, such as outer-ring suburbs, moving closer to the city.

4. So where does this leave mature suburbs? They are caught in the middle as they don’t have the open land for sprawl development but also are unlikely to have the denser or taller development of inner-ring suburbs. Most projects will either have to be small in-fill projects or bigger redevelopment projects. It will be interesting to see how these suburbs adapt: they were once outer-ring suburbs but will now have to make decisions about what direction to go.

h/t The Infrastructurist

2010 Census figures show growing urban population

In the last 110 years, the United States has become very urbanized: in 1900, 60.4% of the population was rural and 29.6% urban while in 1990, those numbers changed to 24.8% rural and 75.2% urban. New 2010 Census figures show that this trend has continued:

The U.S. population grew by 27 million over the decade, to 308 million. But growth was unevenly distributed. Metropolitan areas, defined as the collection of small cities and suburbs that surround an urban core with at least 50,000 people, accounted for most of the gain, growing 10.8% over the decade to 257.7 million people.

Rural areas, meanwhile, grew just 4.5% to 51 million. Many regions—from the Great Plains to the Mississippi Delta to rural New England—saw population declines. About 46% of rural counties lost population in the decade, including almost 60% of rural counties that aren’t adjacent to a metro area, according to an analysis of Census data by Kenneth Johnson, senior demographer at the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire.

Based on these 2010 figures of 308 million US residents (though the population now is just over 311 million), that means 83.67% of the US lives in metropolitan areas. I still want to see the breakdown of urban areas: how much of the population now lives in suburbs (50.0% of Americans in 2000 compared to 30.3% percent in central cities – page 33 of this report) compared to cities. It is interesting to note that rural areas have still grown in population even as nearly half of rural counties lost population. Where exactly are the rural growth spots and are these exurbs that will soon become part of a metropolitan region or tourist spots?

(The rest of the article talks about how the population continues to grow more in the South and West. Read more about that here.)