Suburbs show new life with sunbelt growth after housing crash
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Reports of the death of suburbia have been exaggerated.
After a five-year slump spurred by the collapse of the U.S. housing bubble, record gasoline prices and deepening poverty, the nation's largest suburbs showed increasing signs of life in 2012. More than half of the 20 municipalities with the fastest- growing populations between 2010 and 2012 were suburbs, according to U.S. census data compiled by Bloomberg.
That means growing suburban communities will continue to get their share of the approximately $400 billion in funds the federal government annually spends based on population data provided by the Census Bureau. It also points to the durability of the suburban experiment, begun six decades ago on Long Island, New York, even after millions of home foreclosures, greater numbers of single-person households and delays by young adults in starting families.
"Suburbia has become so deeply embedded in the cultural DNA of our nation that it is nearly impossible for us to organize our life on the landscape otherwise," James Howard Kunstler, author of "The Geography of Nowhere," a 1994 history of suburbia, said in an e-mail. "We're just too deep into it to change."
Among urban areas, New York, the nation's largest city, has added 2 percent to its population of 8.3 million since the April 1, 2010, decennial headcount. Only Stamford, Connecticut, and Jersey City, New Jersey, posted higher growth rates among the nine major municipalities surrounding New York.
Other cities in the Northeast and Midwest continued to hemorrhage residents. Still, in a majority of municipalities, growth rates accelerated between 2011 and 2012, according to Census Bureau estimates released today that cover just that two- year period.
Large suburbs in the South and Southwest -- the Sunbelt -- and on the West Coast recorded some of the highest growth rates in the nation, while falling short of population increases seen during the economic boom of the early and mid-2000s.
"In fast-growing regions, there are signs of suburban revival," said William Frey, senior demographer at the Washington-based Brookings Institution. "Las Vegas is an example where the suburbs are leading the way back -- though well below the heyday of the past."
Other places that were hit hardest by the collapse of the housing bubble showed significant growth. Tempe, home to Arizona State University, posted a 3.2 percent increase in residents between 2010 and 2012, the data compiled by Bloomberg for that three-year period show. The Phoenix suburb lost 1.9 percent of its population between 2008 and 2010.
Inglewood, a Los Angeles County community, had a 1.4 percent population gain between 2010 and 2012 after losing 0.1 percent during the economic downturn. Clearwater, which borders both Tampa and St. Petersburg, Florida, recorded a 1 percent rise during the latest three-year period after losing 0.1 percent between 2008 and 2010.
Kent, a Seattle suburb that's home to outdoor gear company Recreational Equipment Inc., posted the largest percentage gain of any major U.S. city between 2010 and 2012, increasing its post-Census population by 33 percent to almost 123,000 people. About 24,000 residents were added to the suburb through an annexation that took effect in July 2010.
Eight of the 15 fastest-growing cities in the U.S. between 2011 and 2012 were in Texas, according to Census Bureau data. Six of the Texas cities were suburbs, with three -- San Marcos, Cedar Park and Georgetown -- located close to Austin. McKinney and Frisco, which also made the top 15, are near Dallas, and Conroe is north of Houston.
San Marcos was the fastest-growing city in the nation between 2011 and 2012, adding 4.9 percent to 50,001 people. The city, which is home to Texas State University, is one of the oldest continuously inhabited areas in the Northern Hemisphere.
Midland and Odessa in west Texas also made the top 15 fastest-growing cities between 2011 and 2012, the Census Bureau said. Irvine, California, was the largest fast-growing city, adding 4.2 percent to boost its 2012 population to almost 230,000.
In the industrial region of the Midwest -- the Rust Belt -- Detroit, which lost about 25 percent of its population between 2000 and 2010, shed another 1.7 percent since the last census. Its current estimated population of 701,475 puts the Motor City at less than half its 1930 size.
Only Flint, Michigan, which lost 18 percent of its total residents during the decade, reported a greater decline. The city, which is bulldozing thousands of abandoned homes, saw its population fall by 1.9 percent between 2010 and 2012.
The census figures are a rare bit of good news for U.S. suburbs, where about half of all Americans have moved since the first planned community was opened in 1947 in Levittown, about 35 miles east of downtown New York City.
Among those forecasting declining suburban growth, Arthur Nelson, director of the University of Utah's Metropolitan Research Center, predicted in a 2007 paper that there would be 22 million surplus homes on large lots by 2025. A 2010 study by RCLCO, a Washington-based land use economics firm, found 77 percent of people born between 1982 and 2000 wanted to live in an urban core.
Last year the Census Bureau reported that 37 of 39 counties with more than 1 million people gained residents between 2010 and 2011. The number of people living in inner cities climbed 0.8 percent, twice as fast as the exurban growth rate.
The Brookings Institution reported earlier this week that there are 3 million more poor people in the suburbs than in cities. The report also found that suburban poverty climbed by 64 percent between 2000 and 2011, while urban poverty rose 29 percent.
Another study put out this week by Smart Growth America found that roads, sewerage lines and other infrastructure cost 38 percent more for typical suburban neighborhoods than for high-density areas. Meanwhile, the Washington-based neighborhood-advocacy coalition said, high-density developments yield about 10 times more revenue on a per-acre basis in tax revenue than suburbs produce.
John Logan, a Brown University sociologist, said suburbs remain attractive because "concerns about school quality and crime levels still affect cities more."
Even so, he suggested, the revival of suburban growth, however limited, may represent "the smallest hint of recovery" for the U.S. economy.
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