Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Put the Urban Prairie on Hold, Detroit's Population is Stabilizing

One of the big debates in urban planning has surrounded the transformation of abandoned Detroit neighborhoods into urban prairies, with some wanting it to continue, while others seeing it as giving up.

Well, the debate could be dating itself as Detroit is showing signs of population stabilization. According to new Census data, the city lost just 1,713 people last year, a far cry from the 9,000 a year it was losing in the early 2000s. In fact, most large cities, which were still losing people to the suburbs ten years ago, are now growing. Even Oakland's growing again, with 6,000 net new residents bringing its 2009 population to 409,000.

Among cities with professional sports teams, most are growing now, which they weren't in the early 2000s. Even decliners, like Buffalo and Pittsburgh, are now losing fewer than 1,000 people per year. The I-95 cities are all growing about 1% a year, except for Baltimore, which was the only professional sports team city outside the Great Lakes and Midwest to lose population. Economically, that city continues to resemble a midwestern factory town, and is now unsuccessfully trying to market itself as an urban suburb of DC. DC itself grew nearly 2% a year, as did close-in urban suburbs Arlington and Alexandria, VA.

West of I-75, the only pro sports city in the Midwest losing population is St. Louis, which essentially broke-even, losing just 143 people. This is a big reversal from 5-6 years ago for many of these cities. Chicago, for example, lost 18,000 people in 2004, but added 21,000 in 2009.

Overall, U.S. cities are showing tremendous signs of improving health, while many obvious problems remain. As most large places have started growing for the first time in six decades, there's a good chance many of the policy debates surrounding depopulation could fade over the next ten years.

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