The Growth of American Populations
Guest Post by Patrick Burke
The future of urban growth is unset and constantly changing, the way we understand urban and suburban structure may dissolve and evolve into something new. Cities may grow and shrink, they may grow outwards instead of upwards, new populations may come to replace older ones, or newer populations may begin to more aggressively mix with older groups. The demographics of urban and suburban areas are going to change in the future and groups historically referred to as the “minority” may, in fact, become the majority in many places throughout the country over the next couple of decades. As affluence increases and more and more people have better access to private transportation suburban areas may continue to grow outwards, consuming more land instead of sky, while cities remain in a limbo of slow growth or decline.
Historically, cities have been dense urban centers surrounded by rural areas that produce resources, such as food, for the city, with some mid-density neighborhoods between them. Cities typically hold the majority of populations for nations and this notion is only reinforced by a map provided by Business Insider which shows the largest counties in the United States. These top 146 counties, out of 3,000, hold over 50% of the nation’s population. Typically these counties are found on the coasts and incorporate a major city, but there are some larger counties in the middle of the country.
Over the past fifty years, we have seen a new historic trend in urbanization: suburbanization. These are typically characterized with neighborhoods of (almost) solely residentially-zoned lots, with roads that end in cul-de-sacs or otherwise twisting roads. Usually there is a single home to a lot, both of which can vary in size and shape, and a car either in the garage or in the driveway if not parked along the side of the street. The people who populate these homes are typically from rural areas who want to be closer to the city but cannot afford to live in the city or by people who have moved out of the city, either because they can afford to commute or have grown tired of the negative aspects of the city, such as congestion or pollution. A large percentage of suburbanites commute from their neighborhood each day to the city in order to work instead of in the suburb that they live in.
The suburbs only appear to be growing too. Projections by Jed Kolko, Chief Economist at Trulia Trends, suggest that population growth will outdo growth in urban areas and over 50% of people either live or want to live in a suburban area within the next five years. In the 1970s and 1980s people began to leave urban centers in large numbers, racing for the suburban lifestyle. This was, usually, either because they could afford to do so or the jobs, typically manufacturing, that they had had were disappearing and they could no longer afford to live in the city. This trend has continued since then, but to a smaller degree. However, if this trend does not stop or slow down to a manageable speed, many metropolitan areas may begin to look donut-shaped, with a populated suburban area and a de-populated urban area, or at the very least like Swiss cheese, with many depopulated areas creating holes in the urban fabric.
Historically, suburbs have been typically populated by mostly-white Americans. Much of that as a result of the post-World War II economic boom in the America, the growing need for housing with the birth of the baby boomers generation, and “white flight”, that took place during the Civil Rights movement. Now, however, there appears to be a new trend which predicts that minority populations will begin to move in to these suburban areas and even possibly surpass white Americans as the majority population throughout the country. According to an article written by Tanvi Misra from The Atlantic: City Lab, although the breakdown of white age population growth will remain relatively consistent from 2000 to 2030, population grow by black and Hispanic populations will grow significantly more.
Both urban and suburban areas will grow as a result of this predicted population growth, but some areas will see more growth than others. Suburban areas are predicted to grow more than urban areas by upwards of 30% while cities such as New York will grow by 10% or less. However, these numbers are based off of a percentage and not specific growth numbers. A suburban area of 10,000 that receives an additional 10,000 will grow by 100% while an urban area of 100,000 that grows by 50,000 people will only increase by 50%.
What this population growth could mean for suburban areas is a needed increase of infrastructure: roads, water, sanitation, electricity, education, and much more. Suburban areas could start to become new urban areas, or suburban areas could continue to expand, although it could lead to very costly infrastructure for those areas, if not initially then certainly in maintenance costs years or decades later. Land values in these areas will certainly rise, which will put more economic pressure on those attempting to move in to these suburban areas.
In urban areas, this could lead to unpopulated areas could once again become populated. If education improves for these new population groups, it could lead to a larger, more educated workforce for those cities. It will also mean new infrastructure costs, but possibly to a lesser extent if the infrastructure is already existing in those areas, to a minor degree at least based off of disrepair and lack of maintenance in depopulated areas. Education and other sorts of social infrastructure will need to be improved/added to these areas. New urban areas may even develop, adding to the overall land area of the city.
Lastly, from a social perspective, this will lead to new forms of integration between typically-segregated population groups. In areas close to the borders of Mexico or along the coasts, this has already begun in urban areas, but now these integration will begin more heavily in suburban areas as well. Although, this trend may not become noticeably developed until close to 2040 or 2050.
Hickey, Walter and Joe Weisenthal. “Half of the United States Lives in these Counties”. Business Insider: Politics. September 4th, 2013. <http://www.businessinsider.com/half-of-the-united-states-lives-in-these-counties-2013-9>
Misra, Tanvi. “See What Your City will be like in 15 Years”. The Atlantic: City Lab. January 21, 2015. <http://www.citylab.com/work/2015/01/see-what-your-city-will-be-like-in-15-years/384648/>
Yglesia, Matthew. “The Death of the Suburbs Turns out to be a Total Myth”. Vox: Business and Technology. January 22, 2015. <http://www.vox.com/2015/1/22/7871687/death-suburbs-myth>