Suburban Growth Slowing Or Roaring

To chart the general dimensions of suburban growth in the last part of the 20th century, designated central cities are compared with their total suburban rings for metropolitan areas in each decade between 1960 and 2000. While some of the analysis in this chapter concentrates on the period since 1970, inclusion of 1960 in the analysis of growth provides some comparative perspective with the heyday of post-World War II suburbanization. The data focus on the census-designated Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) with total populations of at least 250,000 in 2000, an admittedly arbitrary threshold but one suggesting large-scale urbanization. While 163 such areas were recognized in the 2000 census, two could not be included because they lacked the requisite data for 1960.

Since the development of the census-designated metropolitan area in the 1940s, numerous changes in the specific definitions and their parts have occurred, although many of the basic conceptions remained fixed. Literal use of central city designations in 2000 would be a mistake. In earlier censuses, central city designations were generally limited to one or two places per metropolitan area and were restricted primarily to places with over 50,000 population. However, by 2000, the number of central cities ''exploded'' in census reports. By then, many MSAs contained ''central cities'' of less than 50,000 population, and many of the designated central cities could hardly be considered original growth centers for their regions. For instance, the Seattle-Bellevue-Everett MSA includes Seattle, clearly the original growth center for the region and the dominant community in terms of population; Bellevue, which now has over 100,000 population but which developed as a residential suburb near Seattle in the period after World War II; and Everett, a peripheral, small lumber mill city that was the hometown for Henry ''Scoop'' Jackson, Washington's powerful senator at the time Everett was designated as a ''central city.''

This chapter treats as central cities those census-designated places that have at least 50,000 population and are the largest designated central city in the MSA. In addition, to recognize the very real possibility of dual central cities, census-designated central cities of 50,000 population that are at least half the size of the largest recognized central city are also included.

The stupendous dimensions of suburbanization since 1960 are suggested by Figure 2.1, which shows the total numbers of persons living in the central cities and suburban rings of the 161 profile areas. In 1960, 61.9 million persons lived in the suburban rings, while 124.8 million lived in the rings in 2000. Some observers of the suburban scene (Jackson 1985: 297) have argued that suburbanization would slow down in the late 20th century due to such checks as the high costs of transportation fuel and new land. But the most noteworthy aspect of the figure is the virtually linear, continuous increase in the suburban population, regardless of decade. The data suggest that suburbanization, as measured by raw numbers, is on an upward, endless trajectory. The figure shows that the absolute number of new suburbanites has grown by a constant number each decade, although the percentage growth rate is higher in earlier decades because the base number of suburbanites was smaller.

In contrast, central cities have also shown some overall growth, but the pattern is much less dramatic and more erratic. Interestingly, in the 1970s, the average central city actually declined slightly in population size, yet the 1990s were characterized by the most positive growth of any decade, gaining 5.3 million residents. In addition, the 1980s also showed overall positive central city growth, but at a lower rate. Apparently, the 1970s involved the ''dog days'' of central cities in the United States, when their problems and outmoded land uses resulted in little attraction for population growth.

However, one should be cautious about emphasizing the rebound of central cities from their losses in the 1970s. Even in the 1990s, suburban growth was strikingly higher than central city growth, and there is little evidence that any central cities have moved from dramatic patterns of population decline to dramatic patterns of population increase. The so-called rebound of central cities is but a ''blip'' in the larger pattern of continuing, massive suburbanization. For instance, Chicago, the third largest U.S. central city, grew in the 1990s by 112,290 to a population of 2,896,016 in 2000. However, given previous losses, Chicago's population size in 2000 was still 109,662 less than in 1980, and 470,941 less than in 1970.

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