Census Bureau Report: Downtown Populations on the Rise

A U.S. Census Bureau special report, co-authored by UA geography professor David Plane, shows significant downtown population growth in many of the country's largest cities between 2000 and 2010.
Oct. 5, 2012
Extra Info: 

The full text of the report, as well as interactive tools, is available on the Census Bureau’s website. A full-color hard copy of the report is expected to be released in November.

David Plane, UA professor of geography, co-authored a new special report by the U.S. Census Bureau.
David Plane, UA professor of geography, co-authored a new special report by the U.S. Census Bureau.
Tools like the population pyramid let users look at population distribution in an area by sex and age.
Tools like the population pyramid let users look at population distribution in an area by sex and age.

An increasing number of people in some of the nation’s largest cities are making downtown areas their home, according to a recently released special report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Titled “Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change: 2000 to 2010,” the report examines population patterns and changes between the 2000 and 2010 censuses. It looks specifically at metropolitan areas – those containing at least one urbanized area with a population of 50,000 or more – and micropolitan areas, defined as areas containing at least one urban cluster with a population of at least 10,000 people but fewer than 50,000. 

The 89-page document is the culmination of a research project designed by David Plane, a professor in the University of Arizona’s School of Geography and Development in the College of Social and Behavioral Sciences.

Among the report’s findings is that many of the country’s largest metropolitan areas – those  with 5 million people or more – saw double-digit population growth rates between 2000 and 2010 in their downtown areas, with “downtown” being defined as the region within a two-mile radius of a metropolitan area’s largest city hall.

Although the findings were not universal – Baltimore and New Orleans, for example, saw population declines within a two-mile radius of their city halls – many of the nation’s largest cities, including New York, Philadelphia and San Francisco experienced major population growth in their downtowns over the 10-year period, Plane said. The most significant gain occurred in Chicago, which saw a net increase of 48,000 residents in its downtown area between 2000 and 2010.

In Tucson, the population increased within two miles of city hall, as it did for slightly more than half of all metro areas. Tucson’s increase amounted to 1,059 people, or 2.3 percent.

Plane, who teaches a Human Geography and Global Systems general education course at the University, as well as an Urban Growth and Development class for geography majors, spent the 2011 fall semester working on the project in Washington, D.C. with a U.S. Census Bureau team. The resulting report, which Plane co-authored, looks at population change in terms of density, as well as several other dimensions such as age, race, sex and Hispanic origin.

“Censuses historically have just been sort of this one-time snapshot of the population, and the census hasn’t been that good at looking at how things change over time,” Plane said. “We really wanted to look at a fine-scale pattern of change over a whole decade. This goes beyond the basic data.” 

The report is accompanied by maps, tables, graphics and new interactive online applications that can be used by the public to easily access information about population statistics and trends in their areas compared to other parts of the country between 2000 and 2010. For example, the downloadable “population pyramids” tool lets users quickly compare the populations of two metropolitan areas based on age and sex. Another tool, the “census tract thematic map viewer,” offers a visual representation of nationwide population density and growth patterns, overlaid on a U.S. map.

“Anybody interested in comparing their metro area to other metro areas is going to find this really interesting,” Plane said. “Increasingly, I think metropolitan areas are how people think about where they live. When you talk about where people might move, they say, ‘I might go to Denver or Boston,’ but they don’t necessarily mean the city of Denver or the city of Boston. They mean that region of the country, so I think this scale is really important.”

The report and its related tools also should prove useful to other researchers, Plane said.

“We set it up for local people to check out their own place and how it compares to other places, but we also set it up for researchers to make it really easy to get metro data,” he said. “Hopefully a lot of academic research will come out of this by the urban specialists – the geographers, the economists or planners – who really care about these kinds of things. We have it all in one place on our website, so it’s one-stop shopping.”

Other key findings from the Census Bureau report include:

  • The Hispanic share of the population increased in every U.S. metro area between 2001 and 2010.
  • Hispanics were the most populous race or ethnic group in most metro and micro areas in the western half of the U.S., next to those who were non-Hispanic white alone. Single-race blacks were the most populous non-Hispanic white group in the eastern half of the country.
  • Non-Hispanic white alone, black alone and Asian alone populations grew faster in metro areas than in micro areas, while Hispanic populations grew faster in micro areas.
  • Although metro areas covered only slightly more than one-quarter of the nation's land area, they were home to eight of every 10 people.
  • More than one in 10 U.S. residents lived in either the New York or Los Angeles metro area in 2010.
  • Metro area populations were younger (a median of 36.6 years) than the population in either micro areas (39.3 years) or territory outside either of these areas (41.9 years).
  • Areas with the highest median ages were either in slow-growing regions like western Pennsylvania, which had past outmigration of the young combined with “aging in place,” or were faster-growing areas in parts of Florida and Arizona that were traditional retiree migration destinations.
  • Areas with the lowest median ages included metro areas and micro areas in Utah, southern Idaho and along the U.S.-Mexican border.