Secondary cities attractive but have a ways to go to catch biggest US cities

New data from Redfin suggests Americans are moving to secondary big cities:

Nashville, Sacramento, Atlanta, Phoenix, Austin and Dallas are among the top-10 cities with the largest influx of new residents, according to new data from the Redfin real estate brokerage…

“People in the coastal markets are just fed up with double-digit price increases, and they’re moving to a commuter town or to the middle of the country,” said Daryl Fairweather, chief economist for Redfin. “In our most recent ‘hottest markets’ report, Indianapolis tied for third place with Boston among the cities where homes go under contract fastest. People are moving there from Chicago, Los Angeles and the Bay Area because it’s affordable.”…

“It’s the combination of affordable housing and jobs that are causing people to move,” said Daren Blomquist, senior vice president at ATTOM Data Solutions, an Irvine, Calif.-based property database.

“In places like Tampa, Dallas and Las Vegas, there’s a booming economy, with lots of jobs, along with relatively affordable homes. You can cut your housing costs in half if you move to Dallas from Los Angeles and there are jobs there, too.”

The United States has now had a decades-long hierarchy of the largest cities: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago. It would be interesting to see if other regions could challenge those top three in terms of population or status/importance. I have written before about the case that could be made for Washington, D.C. but it also has relatively expensive housing and may be considered a secondary city. In population, Chicago has lost ground compared to Toronto and Houston may overtake it soon. But, does Houston or Toronto have the same status? Most of the locations on the list above of secondary cities are Sunbelt cities with relatively recent population growth and/or importance. Can a place like Phoenix or Nashville or Dallas translate these changes into global city status? It would take a lot of work and changed perceptions.

Living in, working in, and guiding Naperville for over 70 years

Long-time Naperville mayor George Pradel’s work in the suburb spanned tremendous change in the suburb:

When Naperville was a mid-sized suburb, beginning to outgrow its small-town roots but maintaining a family-friendly feel, Pradel was a police officer. He joined the force in 1966 and made his top priority children, teaching them to stay safe and letting them know someone was watching out for them. His actions made him Officer Friendly before he even took on the title as his nickname.

When Naperville was a growing city, expanding as developers turned farm fields into sprawling subdivisions, Pradel was a mayor. An unlikely mayor at that — the faithful, cheerful cop never intended to take on the role…

He became mayor because a handful of residents asked him to seek the seat, and Pradel never did master the art of tactfully saying “no.” With only a concession speech prepared, he won his first election in 1995, defeating a two-term city council member who worked in human resources for DuPage County. The newly minted mayor took office that spring. His hometown pride never ceased.

Born in Hyde Park on Sept. 5, 1937, as one of six children, Pradel was 2 when his family moved to a small house on Van Buren Avenue in Naperville. He always called it home.

When Pradel’s family first moved to Naperville in 1939, the community had just over 5,000 residents. When he joined the police force in 1966, the population was still short of 20,000. As a new mayor, the population was around 100,000. When his mayoral tenure ended, the city had over 142,000 residents. This is tremendous population change over one lifetime.

I wonder if a vocal and enthusiastic figure like Pradel helped ease the transition from small town to large suburb. Significant growth can change how residents feel about the community and their neighbors. Who are these newcomers? Do we have to build so many new schools? Where are all the locally-owned businesses? Why is the traffic so bad as I try to get across town? Naperville still tries to claim to be a small-town at heart and having a central popular figure to focus on could help.

How much influence mayors have in sizable communities is difficult to pin down exactly. Pradel will certainly be remembered for the length of his service as well as his efforts to boost the community. Might someone of a different temperament accomplished other things? Was Naperville already well on its way to what it is today when Pradel took office? How much did spending his formative years in the small town affect his later efforts? Regardless of the answers, it is hard to imagine there are many small children in Naperville today who will stay in the community for just as long or many who will see such change as Pradel witnessed.

Minority populations up, white populations down in almost every Chicago area county

New Census data displayed in the Daily Herald shows the change in population by race and ethnicity between 2010 and 2017 in the six northeastern Illinois counties in and around Chicago:

2017CensusDataChicagoAreaCounties

Daily Herald graphic of 2017 Census data.

The headline points out one clear trend of the data: the absolute numbers and percentages of non-white residents continues to increase in every Chicago area county. (The one exception is a decrease in the black population in Cook County.) Many of these collar counties had few non-white residents just a few decades ago.

But, there is another possible headline here: as the minority population grows, the white population has decreased in every county except for Kane County which had a very small increase in the white population. It is not required that the white population must decrease when the minority population increases so this is notable.

As the population changes in the Chicago region, it is due to both increasing minority populations and decreasing white populations.

Even with concerns, Nashville will likely push for more growth

Nashville is growing and reactions are mixed:

The Nashville region population grew 45% from 2000 to 2017, reaching about 1.9 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Ms. Ervin represents both sides of the city’s extraordinary growth: a transplant who was attracted to a booming urban hub, and a resident increasingly concerned that unbridled development may threaten the Tennessee capital’s charm…

Nashville’s thriving health-care, financial and tourism sectors have drawn national attention. In April, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the city had an unemployment rate of 2.7%—lower than any other major metro area in the U.S. From 2010 to 2016, Tennessee’s large urban areas, led by Nashville, accounted for 57% of all employment growth in the state, according to the Brookings Institution…

With urbanization comes pressure on local government to improve housing affordability, workforce education and public transit, Mr. Briley said…

The government has been working to manage growth, such as preserving green space and establishing a special fund to build low-income housing in the city, which spent $10 million last year, Mr. Briley said.

Generally, population growth is good in the United States. It is seen as a positive sign for business and the status of the city. It means that the city will be taken more seriously by outsiders, whether that includes businesses considering moving, sports teams wondering where to locate, or where government money should be spent. Nashville is now the 24th largest city in the United States and moving up that list – with established cities like Detroit and Boston in sight – means something.

At the same time, significant growth does inevitable change cities and communities. At the least, it pits longer-term residents versus newer residents who can be perceived as jumping on the bandwagon. Growth can transform a lot of neighborhoods and open space as demand for housing and other land uses increases. It can lead to questions about how to bridge the gap between being a smaller big city and a big city. Some will perceive that they are being left behind as the city now tries to chase bigger dreams.

Two final thoughts:

  1. Even with concerns expressed by some, very few leaders will ever try to limit growth. Whatever problems arise with changes due to growth will be seen as secondary to the goal of growing in population, business, popularity, and capital.
  2. It is too bad this story does not include more about the suburbs and the whole region. The city of Nashville is growing but what about the suburbs? As noted above, a recent vote over mass transit in the region pitted city and suburban voters against each other.

Naperville at buildout to try to avoid complacency

What does a large wealthy suburb do with little available land to expand? The mayor of Naperville put forward some ideas:

As he gave his third State of the City address Monday before a Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce crowd of 580, Chirico talked about the decisions he thinks will create a successful future with balanced finances, a strong economy and a well-run city.

“Great communities just don’t happen by accident,” he said during a lunch at the Embassy Suites hotel. “Careful planning and thoughtful decisions made Naperville the city it is today.”…

Chirico also emphasized the idea of consistent optimization toward goals of providing financial stability, economic development, public safety and a high-performing government.

“We must fight complacency — and the status quo — all day every day,” he said. “Naperville is a leader. We always have been, and we always will be. It’s simply who we are.”

These are not necessarily easy tasks for multiple reasons:

  1. Population growth is often associated with vitality and success. With little open space, population growth will have to come through infill and higher densities. Are these desirable in a sprawling suburb?
  2. Economic activity is necessary. This requires more new businesses and jobs. Properties can be redeveloped – several are highlighted in this article – but is there net economic growth over time? Additionally, Naperville has to compete with new up-and-coming places.
  3. Infrastructure and existing services cost could increase as the community ages.
  4. Having a sense of community can be difficult in any larger community. Are there common events, experiences, and spaces that bring people together and spur acts of civic activity?
  5. Naperville is a leader in the sense that it grew quickly and developed into a wealthy community with a high quality of life. Will it always be a model because of its earlier experiences or can it be a leader as a suburban innovator as many American suburbs encounter new challenges?

I will be interested to see how this all turns out in a few decades.

Aurora, IL a large suburb or a place that should celebrate pumpkins and strawberries?

A recent interview with the director of Wayne’s World included some comments about the suburb of Aurora, the hometown of Wayne Campbell.

“It’s starting in February and ending on July 4 with a headbanging session to ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ in an effort to get more people than ever before together to headbang to that song,” Spheeris said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly posted online Thursday. “I can’t believe it. Don’t they have pumpkins or strawberries to celebrate? Isn’t that crazy?”…

For its 25th anniversary, the film is set to return to some theaters Feb. 7-8. Meanwhile, the Aurora Downtown group, the city of Aurora and the Aurora Area Convention and Visitors Bureau are organizing a celebration of the movie scheduled to start Feb. 3 and wrap up July 4.

Planned events include a children’s air guitar competition, a trivia contest and a headbanging event to try to beat the Guinness record…

“She may not be aware that Aurora is a city of 200,000. She may think it’s a lot smaller based on the ideas of the movie,” Rauch said. “I think she might just be thinking that her movie may not be as important as pumpkins or strawberries.”

This all sounds fairly lighthearted but it does provide an opportunity to highlight the second largest city in Illinois. Indeed, the Downtown Aurora group has a page dedicated to this topic: “Aurora, Beyond Wayne’s World“:

You might be aware that Aurora is the second largest city in Illinois. With a population of 200,456 it is second only to Chicago. But did you know that Aurora got it’s nickname “The City of Lights” by being the first city in the country to have all electric street lights? Or that Aurora has been scouted for top-name films in recent years? Here is a list of fun facts that you might know about Aurora, IL.

In the film, Aurora doesn’t look so big. At the same time, the population doubled over this time period (1990-today) from just under 100,000 residents to 200,000 residents.

Calls for a special census as Naperville continues to grow

There is some evidence that Naperville has grown since the 2010 Census – and a special census would be able to prove it.

This would be the first special census in Naperville since 2008 and would follow other special counts taken in 2003 and four times between 1990 and 2000 during a period of major expansion…

Some subdivisions on Naperville’s southwest side are still filling with residents and the city has approved a few new housing developments in recent years…

“If things in Springfield were normal, which they haven’t been for a long time, each additional body would have been worth $100,” Krieger said. “This year there has been a lot of discussion about reducing that amount.”

Conducting the special census could cost between $80,000 and $140,000, depending on how many census tracts the city decides to count. Officials would want to be certain a tract has seen enough new residents — based on building permits and occupancy certificates — before counting it.

It sounds like this is all about money: proof of more residents = more state dollars. Many communities could use such cash but as this story points out, there has to be enough growth to outweigh the costs of conducting the census. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen the reverse where communities conduct a census to track population loss; that would be a double cost.

Another note: population growth can translate into funding but it can also add to a community’s image. If it hasn’t already, Naperville is very close to being a built-out suburb. Yet, we generally have the idea in the United States that good communities are growing communities. A special census could suggest Naperville is still attractive.