For the first time in more than a century, America's cities are growing faster than their suburban counterparts, according to updated U.S. Census Bureau estimates that were released Thursday, as younger Americans look to avoid the long commutes and lack of mobility that defined their parents' generation. This represents the reversal of a trend that has been in place since the widespread adoption of the automobile in the early 20th century.
"We're seeing a real bump for city growth," Brookings Institution demographics expert William Frey told Governing magazine following the report. "It has a lot to do with the metro area's economic base and whether the city has a good quality of life."
Overall, city populations grew 1 percent between 2010 and 2011, the Census Bureau reported, with large urban areas (those with populations of 100,000 or more) leading the way with 1.3 percent growth. As of July 1, 2011, 62 percent of U.S. residents (some 194 million people) lived in what Census considers urban areas, while a full third of the population lived in cities with populations larger than 50,000. Only 19 of the 277 cities covered by the report saw a drop in population, while New York City was again the country's largest gainer, adding 70,000 residents between 2010 and 2011.
In contrast, the suburbs grew at a 0.9 percent rate nationwide in that time, a dramatic change from a decade ago when suburban growth was three times that of the cities.
Blame the recession
There's more going on here than just an "urban renaissance," however.
Sure, public transport systems and the concentration of jobs have always attracted new city residents, but high unemployment and heavy student loan debts now have many young adults delaying homeownership in favor of more-flexible rental arrangements, which are most often found in urban areas. And, since many are also putting marriage, family and long-term careers on hold, there is no rush to put down roots by buying a house and moving to the suburbs.
As if they could even buy a home if they wanted to.
"Young adults simply can't amass the down payments needed, and don't have the earnings," Katherine Newman, a sociologist at Johns Hopkins University, told MSNBC, highlighting the strict new requirements banks are asking of mortgage applicants. "They will be renting for a very long time."
It is a cultural shift that is paying off for many U.S. cities (particularly in Texas, which is home to six of the top 10 fastest growing urban areas) and one that experts predict could last for some time. After all, with rising fuel costs those long suburban commutes aren't getting any cheaper.
America's 10 Fastest Growing Cities
New Orleans, La. — up 4.9% to 360,740
Round Rock, Texas — up 4.8% to 104,664
Austin, Texas — up 3.8% to 820,611
Plano, Texas — up 3.8% to 269,776
McKinney, Texas — up 3.8% to 136,067
Frisco, Texas — up 3.8% to 121,387
Denton, Texas — up 3.4% to 117,187
Denver, Colo. — up 3.3% to 619,968
Cary, N.C. — up 3.2% to 139,633
Raleigh, N.C. — up 3.1% to 416,468
What do you think? Are you more likely to consider moving to a city now? Are the suburbs in your area becoming less popular?