Americans are no longer infatuated with the suburbs, it seems. A U.S. Census Bureau report shows that in many of the largest cities of the most-populous metro areas, downtown is becoming a place not only to work but also to live.
Between the 2000 and 2010 censuses, metro areas with five million or more people experienced double-digit population growth rates within their downtown areas, defined as within a two-mile radius of their largest city's city hall.
Chicago experienced the largest gain in its downtown area, with a net increase of 48,000 residents over 10 years. New York, Philadelphia, Salt Lake City and Washington also posted large population increases close to city hall.
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But not everyone is moving downtown. New Orleans and Baltimore experienced the greatest population declines in their downtown areas. New Orleans lost 35,000 downtown residents, no doubt an effect of its overall post-Katrina population loss.
Downtown Baltimore lost more than 10,000 residents. Two smaller areas in Ohio -- Dayton and Toledo -- also saw downtown declines of more than 10,000.
Just who are the people who are moving downtown? Mostly the people who once populated the suburbs.
Leaving the suburbs
The report found that non-Hispanic white population from 2000 to 2010 increased in the central areas of many of the largest principal cities, especially those in the largest metro areas.
"The Washington metro area is a notable example of this pattern," said Steven Wilson, a co-author of the report. "We see increases in the non-Hispanic white population, in both numeric terms and share of the total population, in many of the District's census tracts in or close to the city's downtown area."
At the same time, this group's share of the population declined by 10 or more percentage points in many tracts in the surrounding suburbs of Washington, DC.
The report doesn't delve into why this migration is occurring. It's possible that it's a response, in part, to the escalation in home prices that occurred during the housing bubble. Neglected inner city property was renovated and sold, often at attractive prices.
Many college-educated professionals who work in downtown areas no doubt decided to live there as well because of the cultural amenities these areas offer. And as traffic congestion worsens, the idea of spending less time commuting holds obvious appeal.
City development and revitalization efforts may have contributed to the trend, or may be a response to it. Many major cities, such as Denver, have in recent years undertaken developments to make downtown a "magnet" for the work force.
While many people obviously choose to live downtown for practical reasons, lifestyle probably enters the equation as well. There's a certain romance about the city -- especially one that has been revitalized -- captured in Petula Clark's 1965 hit song "Downtown."