October 11, 2012


Even After the Housing Bust, Americans Still Love the Suburbs (Jed Kolko, 10/10/12, New Geography)

Knowing that we couldn't use these Census data, we decided to tackle this question another way. Using U.S. Postal Service data on occupied addresses receiving mail, we calculated household growth in every ZIP code from September 2011 to September 2012. (A previous Trulia Trends post explains in more detail how these data are collected.) Consistent with earlier studies of city versus suburb growth, we compared the growth in a metro area's biggest city with the growth in the rest of the metropolitan area, across America's 50 largest metros.

By this measure, there was essentially no difference between city and suburban growth. When we looked at all 50 metros together, household growth was 0.536% in the metros' biggest cities and 0.546% in the rest of the metro area over the past year - which means that suburbs grew ever so slightly faster than big cities. The biggest city grew faster than the suburbs in 24 of those metros, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami and Philadelphia; the suburbs grew faster than the biggest city in the other 26 metros, including Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Detroit and Phoenix.

But comparing the biggest city with the rest of the metro area misses some of the action. In most metros, there are neighborhoods outside the biggest city that are more urban than some neighborhoods in the biggest city (as measured by density). For example, Hoboken NJ, just across the river from New York City, is denser and feels more urban than much of Staten Island, which is part of New York City. Central Square in Cambridge, next to Boston, feels more urban than West Roxbury and Hyde Park, two quiet neighborhoods within the City of Boston. In southern California, Santa Monica and Pasadena - which are outside the Los Angeles city boundary - feel more urban than Sylmar, Chatsworth and other outlying neighborhoods in the San Fernando Valley that are technically part of the City of Los Angeles.

Therefore, we took a new approach. We compared growth in neighborhoods based on whether they actually are more urban or suburban based on their density, regardless of whether those neighborhoods happen to be inside or outside the boundary of a metro area's biggest city. Within each metro area, we ranked every neighborhood - as defined by ZIP codes -- by household density. Neighborhoods with higher density than the metro area average are "more urban"; neighborhoods with lower density than the metro area average are "more suburban." (See "the fine print" at end of this post.)

By defining "urban" and "suburban" in this way, suburban growth is clearly outpacing urban growth. Growth in the "more suburban" neighborhoods was 0.73% in the past year, more than twice as high as in the "more urban" neighborhoods, where growth was just 0.35%. In fact, urban neighborhoods grew faster than suburban neighborhoods in only 5 of the 50 largest metros: Memphis, New York, Chicago, San Jose and Pittsburgh - and often by a really small margin. In the other 45 large metros, the suburbs grew faster than the more urban neighborhoods.

Posted by at October 11, 2012 4:58 AM

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