News Release

In-City Population Growth Occurs Near the Edge

October 11, 2002

A new survey of census data released today by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy reveals that previously released city-wide indicators hide a more complex story about which neighborhoods benefited from the economic boom of the 1990s ? and which were left behind. The findings of ?Living on the Edge: Decentralization Within Cities in the 1990s? show that revitalized central business districts in the 100 largest cities are often ?islands? surrounded by neighborhoods experiencing significant population decay, and that 62 percent of all major-city population growth occurred along suburban borders, compared to just 11 percent in city cores.

?Metropolitan decentralization begins inside city borders. In many metropolitan areas, sprawl doesn?t start at the city edge,? said Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy. ?The success of revitalized downtown areas is often a good first step, but major city residents have clearly shown their tendency toward living at the outskirts, closer to the suburbs that increasingly provide access to high-paying jobs and other desirable amenities.?

Co-authored by Alan Berube and Benjamin Forman of the Brookings Institution, the report reveals that:

  • Over 60 percent of central-city population growth occurred in ?outer-ring? city neighborhoods, compared to just 11 percent in ?inner-core? neighborhoods.
  • Several cities experienced overall population growth, yet had more neighborhoods that lost residents than gained. Seventy-two percent of large cities grew, yet only 55 percent of neighborhoods added population.
  • About two-thirds of all ?downtown? census tracts gained population, but this was quite small compared to overall city population change, and was often overshadowed by population loss elsewhere in the urban core.
  • In the Southeast, cities grew massively at the outer edge, largely driven by annexation and the lack of natural boundaries such as water or mountains. Atlanta bucked the trend through intensive downtown revitalization.
  • In the Midwest, many cities such as Kansas City, Columbus, and Indianapolis “hollowed out,” with significant population loss at the core and growth mainly at the periphery.
  • In the West, cities on the whole grew at the fastest rate in the nation, and this growth was more evenly distributed throughout cities in most cases. Still, on average, inner-core neighborhoods in Western cities grew 8.4 percent, as opposed to 24.1 percent growth on the outer edges.
  • In the Northeast, the spatial distribution of growth and decline was also balanced, likely due to the fact that most cities are “landlocked” ? they border other incorporated jurisdictions or natural barriers on all sides and cannot grow in area. Boston, for example, experienced resurgence in several close-in neighborhoods.

The report can be downloaded at

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