In the wake of the 2008 housing bubble crash in the US, the suburbs suddenly became a lot less attractive. Rapid homebuilding stopped in lower density suburbs. Instead, there was an “urban revival” which saw the inner cities undergoing somewhat of a revival as people stopped spreading out to the suburbs. Now, according to Jed Kolko at, the population growth rates the USA experienced in the decades before the 2008 crash are reemerging. While the urban revival is real, Kolko notes that it has mostly been “rich, educated people” living in “hyperurban neighbourhoods” rather than a “broad-based return” to city living. College-educated millennials who have no children have moved to the cities, where the better-paying jobs tend to be. However, other groups, such as older adults, families with school-aged children, and those with lower incomes have not moved into the cities.

Instead, for the fifth straight year, population growth in big cities (of over one million people) slowed in 2016 while the fastest-growth (1.3 per cent) was seen in lower-density suburbs. This is the fastest suburban growth-rate since 2008 and was particularly strong in the South and West (especially around San Antonio, Austin and Atlanta. At the other end of the spectrum, 2016 saw a drop in the population of rural counties of 0.04 per cent, the sixth straight year of decline and was particularly pronounced in the Northeast and Midwest. When controlled for education, the rural decline is not so pronounced however. In rural counties where at least 30 per cent of the population have a bachelor’s degree, the population grew by 0.8 per cent (the national average was 0.7 per cent), this is the highest growth in such areas in eight years.

16 of the 104 cities with over 500,000 people lost population in 2016. They were Honolulu and 15 others in the Northeast and Midwest. The largest metro to lose population last year was Chicago. Former shale boom towns like Williston, North Dakota and Midland, Texas have experienced rapid population declines while Houston, San Jose, Denver and San Francisco were metro areas which saw their population growth rates slow the most. What is most interesting is Kolko’s conclusion:

“In the last decades of the 20th century, the fastest growth was in the lower-density suburbs of large metros, with midsize and smaller metros growing more slowly and nonmetro counties lagging — just as in 2016. And, in those earlier decades, growth in the South and West far outpaced that in the Northeast and Midwest — as in 2016 … The further we get from the years before the housing bubble, the more population growth patterns look like the pre-bubble era.”

Marcus Roberts

Marcus Roberts was two years out of law school when he decided that practising law was no longer for him. He therefore went back to university and did his LLM while tutoring. He now teaches contract and...