Back-to-the-City Trend Reversing: Suburbanization Returns

Recent studies show more interest in suburban living over urban.

For years we have been hearing that it’s all about urbanization: everyone is moving into the city core, desiring higher density housing like apartments and condos, Millennials and Baby Boomers alike. The high life! 

Certainly if you are leading or running a large city like Dallas, the chart to the right might want to make you slug Scotch. Dallas, as in City of Dallas, is losing population just as San Francisco, New York, and Chicago are.

Why? Why is Dallas, smack in the center of business-friendly Texas, with average home prices up but still not out of reach, on this death-spiraling list?

Dallas Isn’t Immune

We know that the over-priced real estate market in San Francisco — average home price is about $1 million — plus the homeless and constricting building laws (hello, it’s California) is starting to rub on even the most faithful Bay-area residents. 

Chicago, my beloved hometown: overpriced real estate, crime, so much corruption I almost cannot remember when we didn’t have a governor who went to jail. 

New York City: My favorite place on earth for a week, but who can afford to live there without a bottom income of $200K annually?

But why Dallas? My take — and I’d love to hear yours — is past weak leadership and corruption that weakened our police force, a reputation for poor public schools that is not at all deserved, and crime. Couple that with relatively cheap gas prices that make the extra five to 10 miles of commute more manageable, more people working remotely, and more jobs actually in the suburbs, Dallas is toast:

The new census statistics provide estimates for city populations annually between 2010 and 2018. They show that the average annual growth for the nation’s 87 cities with populations over a quarter million have slipped to 0.69% in 2017-2018—down from 0.76% the previous year, and from 1.21% in 2011-2012, the highest average growth since the Great Recession. Among the 87 largest metros, 66 exhibited lower growth in the last year than in 2011-2012. Among the 87 largest metros, 66 exhibited lower growth in the last year than in 2011-2012 (download Table A).

Slowing Growth

According to the Brookings Institute, not only are the nation’s formerly fastest-growing cities slowing growth, an increasing number of cities are doing so. That is, with the exception of two: Jacksonville, Florida, and that town to the west I love, Fort Worth:

These slowdowns were especially pronounced in the biggest cities. Among the largest 22, all but two (Jacksonville, Fla. and Fort Worth, Texas) showed lower growth last year than in 2011-2012. Twelve of the cities displayed their lowest growth since 2010, including northern cities like New York City and Boston but also other pricey coastal cities like San Francisco and Sun Belt growth centers like Dallas. Chicago, the nation’s third largest city, has now registered four straight years of population loss. In addition to Chicago, New York City and San Jose were other cities with populations over one million to register losses last year.

Those fast-growing cities: “San Antonio’s enviable growth rate of 1.38% in 2017-2018 still represented a fall from its previous rate of around 2% earlier in the decade.” Even Charlotte is cooling growth: “growth previously exceeded 2% per year, registered a 2017-2018 growth rate of 1.53%.

Cities that did record growth: Sacramento, California; Tucson, Arizona; and Henderson, Nevada, which is outside of Las Vegas.

New York City has lost so many people they could create their own suburb:

In 2017-2018, as in the year before, 20 of the 87 big cities lost population (download Table B). New York City led all cities in losses at -39,500, the second straight year with a major loss. In some respects, New York epitomizes the reversal from beginning of the decade city magnetism. For the first three years of this decade, New York—by far the nation’s largest city—led all others in population gains at levels of 50,000-80,000 per year. In fact, in 2011-2012, only four of the 87 big cities—Detroit, Toledo, Cleveland, and Buffalo—showed population losses.

The article says the city growth dominance in the early part of this decade was an “aberration” — a result of societal and economic upheavals such as the Great Recession and the slow-to-leave-the-nest Millennial generation so saddled with college debt it took them longer to gain a financial foothold and start families of their own. Now, we are back to the traditional patterns of live urban until you get married and have kids, then flee to the ‘burbs for safety and schools:

…the 2020 census will likely show greater city growth in the 2010-2020 period than in the prior ten-year period (2000-2010 was a decidedly down decade for cities). Already 54 of the nation’s 87 big cities have gained more people from 2010 through 2018 than they did in the entire 2000-2010 decade. But this really reflects the growth surge in the early 2010s—a surge that continues to fall off.

One Comment

  • Dear Candy:
    I am a fourth gen. Texan on my dad’s side, (and my mom was a war bride), who graduated from H.P. in 1970.
    About 6 years ago, I decided to move back home, from years in SF bay area. Here is why it did not happen:
    1. Your property taxes are insane. At least with state income tax, you are taxed on income you receive; high property taxes can force you out of your home.
    2.Corrupt city government. Same as Ca. But cheaper to keep the devil you know…
    3. Tornados are more frequent than large earthquakes. A gamble.
    4. Is it hot in here, or is it just me?
    5. I grew up in University Park. Bwa ha ha; Thomas Wolfe knew what he was writing about!!!You can never go home again…sigh. New folk are taking down all the Dilbecks on Bryn Mawr. My heart is broken, and my childhood robbed.
    6. Some day I will return… to a family plot in Greenwood Cemetery sheltered in a bend of the Trinity with my folks, grandparents, great grandparents, and an number of battle axe great aunts, and other assorted cousins and relatives. Paid for.