Big city downtowns are becoming people places – again or, for some, for the first time. New figures [PDF] out from the U.S. Census Bureau show that downtown areas saw huge jumps in population between 2000 and 2010. The biggest of these metro areas, those with populations of 5 million or more, saw a collective growth rate of more than 13 percent in the areas within two miles of city hall, a stand-in measurement that, for these purposes, designates "downtown."
In all U.S. metro areas, 16.1 million people were living within two miles of City Hall by 2010, about six percent of the total metro area population of 258 million.
Combined with the populations slightly farther out, in the two to four mile radius outside city hall, the numbers increase dramatically. Together, the total metro population living within four miles of city hall is more than 54 million – almost 21 percent of America's metro population. That's 17.5 percent of the national population living within a quick car ride, 30-minute bike ride or hour-long walk of the center of a big city.
Among the biggest metro areas, those over one million in population, the share of people living within two miles of city hall is nearly nine percent of the nation's metropolitan population.
The growth downtown, though, is mainly a large metro phenomenon. Metros with fewer than 2.5 million people saw only modest increases (0.2 percent for the 500,000 to 999,999 group) or even decreases (-1.2 percent for the 1 million to 2.499 million group).
And, of course, not all this growth is evenly spread. This list shows the metro areas that saw the largest numerical growth in their downtown areas:
|Metropolitan Area||2010 Downtown Population||2000-2010 Increase||Rate|
|New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA||437,777||37,422||9.3%|
|San Francisco, CA*||355,804||19,712||5.9%|
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
And this table shows those that saw the largest declines:
|Metropolitan Area||2010 Downtown Population||2000-2010 Decrease||Rate|
|New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA||80,880||-35,313||-30.4%|
|Saginaw-Saginaw Township North, MI||40,004||-9,674||-19.5%|
Source: U.S. Census Bureau
The report also shows that areas farther from city halls are still dominant population centers. And that's especially true in the largest metropolitan areas. While the close-in areas in these metros' downtown saw double-digit growth between 2000 and 2010, so did areas 30 miles and beyond. So while it's true that people are moving into downtowns, that doesn't mean they're still not moving out to the suburbs and exurbs as well.
Top image: Downtown Chicago. Credit: Flickr user footloosiety
*An earlier version of this article included Salt Lake City instead of San Francisco in the list of metro areas that saw the greatest population increases downtown between 2000 and 2010. Based on a correction issued by the U.S. Census Bureau on September 28, 2012, this mistake has been fixed.