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The Still Elusive "Return to the City"

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We started a discussion on another thread as to whether there really was a measurable move from the suburbs back to the urban core. The attached article is a pretty interesting read on the topic. The statistics seem to indicate that there is no trend and that infill development inside the city is just a product of the overall growth of the city.


  • In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the preponderance of growth between 2000 and 2010 was in the suburbs, as has been the case for decades. This has occurred even though two events – the energy price spike in mid-decade and the mortgage meltdown – were widely held to have changed this trajectory. On average, 4 percent of the growth was in the historical core municipalities, and 96 percent of the growth was in the suburbs (Figure 1).
  • In each of the eight metropolitan areas, the suburbs grew at a rate substantially greater than that of the core municipality. The core municipalities had an average growth from 2000 to 2010 of 3.2 percent. Suburban growth was 21.7 percent, nearly 7 times as great. Overall, the number of people added to the suburbs was 14 times that added to the core municipalities.

Houston: The historical core municipality of Houston had comparatively strong population growth, adding 146,000 and 8 percent to its 2000 population. However this figure was 8 percent, or 174,000 below the expected figure. By contrast, the suburban growth was 39 percent, more than five times that of the central jurisdiction. The suburban population growth was 1,085,000, more than six times that of the core jurisdiction. The suburban population was 4 percent or 144,000 higher than expected.

The core jurisdiction of Houston accounted for 12 percent of the metropolitan area growth while the suburbs s accounted for 88 percent. This was evenly distributed between the inner suburbs of Harris County and the outer suburbs. The inner suburbs added 38 percent to their population while the outer suburbs added 41 percent.

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My thought on this is that it's possible more singles and couples are moving to the city, but are they staying when they make families? If it's only single and couples moving and staying there, the rate of growth is gonna be much smaller. Lots of townhomes and condos are going up, but aren't they just replacing housing anyway; housing that more than likely had families in them?

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Well, it's possible that the next wave of suburbs is dying as growth moves further out, and downtowns still need to overcome some major difficulties. Unlike festival marketplaces of the 1980s, today's enormously expensive down refurbishments try to make downtowns, especially in smaller cities, ultra-idealistic. And while it's a great novelty, it's just not something that can be overcome. City planners tend to think that the mold of suburbia can be easily adapted back into the downtown. Bryan has LaSalle Hotel which they're trying to make into a destination (even though it finally turned its first profit in years). They're willing to sink even more money in to try to make a success, going so far as to advocate a railroad quiet zone.

What about new urbanism developments, like CityCentre? How's that coming along?

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The link is broken. Please fix it.

As to your commentary, which I gather is primarily based on New Geography's methods, which appear to use cities and counties rather than to carefully define the census tracts that best define an urban core, an inner suburb, and an outer suburb...Houston is an anomaly. Its size as a municipality precludes this kind of analysis. Harris County is also unusually large, even as counties within Texas go.

I hope that they can develop some more sophisticated analytical techniques. (They might start by looking at a map.) Unfortunately, it seems that most analyses of this sort that have been conducted to date are similarly flawed. Even articles written by local journalists don't capture what is really happening. ...it's almost as though they're jumbling around words in a press release. :huh:

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What I take from this is that Houston has better growth in the core than the other cities analyzed, however the core is defined.

The data provided is insufficient to draw such a sweeping conclusion. In spite of comparable growth in the Dallas metro area and urban redevelopment in the form of both infrastructure and housing that made many HAIFers drool, the population growth in the much smaller City of Dallas was stagnant. What do you suppose explains this? And how do you think that Houston might fare if compared using a more comparable spatial query?

I don't claim to know the answer. And that's my point.

Edited by TheNiche
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