This week, the Census Bureau released some updated data on growth and change in the last year. Here's a link to the press release. I plan to dive into this in more detail in the coming week, but it takes some time. In the meantime, the war of words has already begun regarding the data. Smart Growth America highlights the increases in cities, saying:
The regrowth of cities (in recent times at the expense of the suburbs) is a fairly recent development, and it signals the end of decades of population loss from downtowns across the country. Even after several years of consistent growth, population numbers in many American cities still have yet to return to their mid-century peak. But now, cities’ fortunes seem to be changing: since 2010 Austin, TX has grown by 9.2%, Denver, CO by 8.2%, and Washington, DC by 7.4%.
“This is a pattern we’ve seen for the past few years in almost every region,” said Geoff Anderson, President & CEO of Smart Growth America. “People’s tastes are changing — walkability, transit, proximity to work, and housing choices are all high priorities — and it’s bringing them back to urban neighborhoods and walkable locations in suburbs as well. With demand for this type of housing growing, the next step is creating the right policies and investments to build even more of these dynamic places that are drawing people in.”
Others counter that the new data shows a rebirth in suburban growth:
There were always at least two problems with the "return to the city" thesis. First of all, most people who live in the suburbs came from areas outside metropolitan areas and they couldn't return to where they had never lived (see Cities and Suburbs: The Unexpected Truth). More importantly, in every year for which there is data, the net inward migration to suburbs has been far greater than to the core counties, which have nearly always had net outward migration (seeSpecial Report: 2013 Metropolitan Area Population Estimates. Under these conditions, there could not have been net migration from the suburbs to the core municipalities.
Pete Saunders explores a more nuanced approach:
If there's one thing that really bothers me in urbanist circles, it's that there's no real agreed upon definition for what exactly is "urban". This is a fundamental problem, because it leads to differing sides always talking past each other, often using the same data to drive home vastly different points. Could astronomers and astro-physicists talk to each other if there were similar debates about what "space" is? I've been working on a development typology, based on my earlier "Big Theory" on American development, and it's time for us to stop being confused or misled about what's urban and what's not.
I think Saunders is on to a better way to look at this. Look, most of us know that the census data is pretty crude. Saunders suggests three categories vs two, and makes a good case for the distinction. I've previously suggested there are really five lifestyles. If we could get to a place to truly measure and compare, I think we'd have much more useful data. Even just comparing density is not helpful, since some suburbia can be fairly dense and some walkable places are not terribly dense. As it is, since the data is only somewhat helpful, we have to deal with press releases and ideology more than science.
One thing is clear from a new report this week - driving continues to decline. We're now at 1994 levels of VMT per capita.