Suburban sprawl appears to be shrinking as more people devastated by the economic downturn are staying put closer to cities, according to new Census population estimates released Thursday.
The estimates as of July 2011 indicate that metropolitan areas are growing again for the first time in at least two decades instead of losing population to outer-lying suburbs and counties.
The reason: Hurt by the recession and the housing collapse that began five years ago, and still fearful of what the future may hold, people are renting instead of buying, and staying closer to big job centers. Retirees are also seeking more convenience and certainty in urban neighborhoods, instead of distant communities where getting around is difficult because of high gas prices and amenities are getting harder for local governments to provide.
“There’s a pall being cast on the outer edges,” John McIlwain, senior fellow for housing at the non-profit Urban Land Institute, told USA Today
. “The foreclosures, the vacancies, the uncompleted roads. It’s uncomfortable out there. The glitz is off.”
According to a USA Today analysis of the Census estimates, 28 of the nation’s biggest metropolitan counties grew faster from April 2010 to July 2011 — the period covered by the Census estimates — that the rest of the nation as a whole.
Overall the nation grew by 0.73 percent, the slowest rate since the great depression, while the metropolitan core county median growth rate was 1.3 percent. Those 28 counties generated more than a third of the nation’s growth, the analysis found.
“It shows the locational advantage of being in the biggest cities,” Robert Lang, professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas and author of “Megapolitan America,” told USA Today. “The core is what’s left of our competitiveness as a country.”
“I’m not sure we’re going to see outward sprawl even if the urge to sprawl continues,” McIlwain added. “Counties are getting to the point that they don't have the money to maintain the roads, water, sewer . . . This is a century of urbanization.”
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