Redefining Urban and Suburban America: Evidence from Census 2000

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Results from Census 2000 have confirmed that American cities and metropolitan areas lie at the heart of the nation's most pronounced demographic and economic changes. The third volume in the Redefining Urban and Suburban America series describes anew the changing shape of metropolitan American and the consequences for policies in areas such as employment, public services, and urban revitalization.

The continued decentralization of population and economic activity in most metropolitan areas has transformed once-suburban places into new engines of metropolitan growth. At the same time, some traditional central cities have enjoyed a population renaissance, thanks to a recent book in "living" downtowns. The contributors to this book probe the rise of these new growth centers and their impacts on the metropolitan landscape, including how recent patterns have affected the government's own methods for reporting information on urban, suburban, and rural areas.

Volume 3 also provides a closer look at the social and economic impacts of growth patterns in cities and suburbs. Contributors examine how suburbanization has affected access to employment for minorities and lower-income workers, how housing development trends have fueled population declines in some central cities, and how these patterns are shifting the economic balance between older and newer suburbs.

Contributors include Thomas Bier (Cleveland State University), Peter Dreier (Occidental College), William Frey (Brookings), Robert Lang (Virginia Tech), Steven Raphael (University of California, Berkeley), Audrey Singer (Brookings), Michael Stoll (University of California, Los Angeles), Todd Swanstrom (St. Louis University), and Jill Wilson (Brookings).

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780815708841
  • Publisher: Brookings Institution Press
  • Publication date: 3/28/2006
  • Series: James A. Johnson Metro Series
  • Pages: 300
  • Product dimensions: 6.80 (w) x 9.20 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan Berube is a fellow with the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. Bruce Katz is vice president, director of the Metropolitan Policy Program, and Adeline M. and Alfred I. Johnson Chair in Urban and Metropolitan Policy at the Brookings Institution. Robert E. Lang is co director of the Metropolitan Institute and a professor in the Urban Affairs and Planning graduate program at Virginia Tech.

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Read an Excerpt

Redefining Urban & Suburban America

Evidence from Census 2000

Brookings Institution Press

Copyright © 2003 Brookings Institution Press/Brookings Metro Series
All right reserved.

ISBN: 0815748604

Chapter One

The U.S. Census provides researchers, policymakers, planners, business leaders, journalists, and other interested parties with a valuable once-in-a-decade snapshot of the social, demographic, and economic makeup of America. This was not the original purpose of the census; the framers of the U.S. Constitution designed the population count to regulate democratic representation through population size and distribution. However, the census's value for understanding and tracking change among the American populace has become of paramount interest. The nearly $200 billion in federal funds that are distributed annually to states based on the decennial census attest to its importance.

Americans have long been fascinated with numbers-especially when they reveal who we are as a nation. Francis Walker, director of the 1870 and 1880 censuses, capitalized on an American "passion for statistics" to greatly expand the census beyond its original purpose. Under his leadership, the census invented such concepts as the center of population statistic in 1870 that tracked America's westward movement back to 1790. This measure helped the public to visualize national settlement, which the census found shifting westward an average of about seventy feet a day. Walker also added dozens of new questions to the census. The so-called jumbo census of 1880 was so stuffed with questions that it took the better part of a decade to analyze. Problems with data tabulation in the 1880 census led to the invention of a keypunch counter in 1890, whose commercial application led to the formation of IBM.

The 2000 census remains a treasure trove of information. It confirms that our nation is undergoing a period of dynamic, volatile change; and cities and suburbs are the places where these trends play out most vividly. The residents of our metropolitan areas are growing older, while the proportion of young workers is starting to shrink. Cities and suburbs are more diverse, as a surge of new immigrants into the country locates first in our metro areas and increasingly in the suburbs. Singles and older Americans living alone have now surpassed married couples with children as the prevailing household type in suburbs. And despite the rebirth of many U.S. cities, the census confirms that suburban growth still dominates.

The evidence from Census 2000 explodes many long-held stereotypes about cities and suburbs. Government, businesses, and nonprofits must now change their policies and practices to reflect the new metropolitan reality. This series, sponsored by the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy and the Fannie Mae Foundation, brings together analyses of Census 2000 data to depict the latest picture of urban and suburban America. The series outlines what this new reality means for the vast array of policies, politics, and programs shaping these places. This first volume is based on the first release of "short-form" data from the census on population, race and ethnicity, and household types in this country. Future volumes will reveal deeper spatial trends provided by "long-form" data and Public Use Micro Sample data, as they are released by the Census Bureau.


During the nineteenth century, Americans created a vast, coast-to-coast network of cities so that by 1900 the core of every major U.S. region, except for Las Vegas, was established. During the twentieth century, and especially in the years following World War II, growth spread from these urban cores, giving us today's vast metropolis. During the past two centuries, settlement swept into every corner of the nation, the census-defined "frontier" opened and closed (in 1890), waves of immigrants came from all parts of the globe (and keep coming), and the United States shifted from being majority rural to majority urban (1920) and is now half suburban (2000). Thus we have shifted from settling the original frontier of Daniel Boone's Kentucky to the crabgrass frontier at the metropolitan fringe.


Census 2000 is the first decennial U.S. census to be released via the Internet. This creates opportunities for a wide range of users to have firsthand access to the data. The data are being released over a two-year period, with basic demographic information released first, followed by more detailed data.

What Do Researchers Mean by Short- and Long-Form Data?

In March 2001, the Census Bureau released the first data from Census 2000, the Redistricting Data Summary File, which provided population counts for race and Hispanic categories. Other files with data from the census short form followed. These data, referred to as 100 percent items because they derive from questions asked of all U.S. households and residents, include household relationship, sex, race, age, and Hispanic or Latino origin, and housing data related to tenure and occupancy status. All of the chapters in this volume contain analyses derived from short-form data.

The long-form questionnaire asked all of the same questions as the short form, as well as detailed questions relating to the social, economic, and housing characteristics of each individual and household. Information derived from the long form is referred to as sample data, because approximately one in six households receives the long-form questionnaire.

Data files are tabulated from the long form for a range of geographic entities, including states, metropolitan areas, census tracts, and block groups. The Census Bureau began releasing sample data files from Census 2000 in July 2002. Future editions in this series will include analyses of long-form data.

How Did the Census Bureau Collect Race Data This Time?

One of the most important changes in Census 2000 was the way data were collected on race and Hispanic origin. The federal government considers race and Hispanic origin distinct concepts and therefore captures information on them in two separate questions. These two questions appeared on the census short form and were thus asked of every individual residing in the United States. Respondents were first asked to identify whether they were of "Spanish, Hispanic or Latino" origin. That question was then followed by another question that asked people to identify whether they were white, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian, or "some other race." For the first time, respondents could check off more than one race to describe themselves. While race in the 1990 census was limited to six response categories, the ability to choose one or more race categories in 2000 raised the number of potential responses to 63. Adding the Hispanic or Latino dimension raises the possible identity combinations to 126. Because of these changes, racial and ethnic data from Census 2000 are not directly comparable to those from 1990.

Birth and death rates have also shifted dramatically during the past two centuries. In 1800 the United States had a demographic profile not unlike some current third world nations with high birth and death rates. Because of improvements in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries (especially in sanitation), death rates began to fall dramatically as life expectancy climbed. The nation's natural increase in population surged as birth rates remained high. The slow fall-off in birth rates was partly because of recent immigrants who maintained a higher fertility pattern reflecting their country of origin. By the 1930s, however, more restrictive immigration laws and the Great Depression began to significantly bring down birth rates. Increasingly assimilated immigrants and their children began to have lower fertility rates in line with native-born Americans. And as the nation shifted from rural to urban and mandatory elementary education laws became common, the demand for children as farm laborers diminished, and family size dropped.

By World War II, the nation was on the path of much slower growth than the previous century and a half, but a postwar baby boom and renewed immigration reversed this trend. The generation born during the 1920s and 1930s, for reasons often debated by social scientists, defied the downward trend in birth rates and instead parented the baby boom. This boom began in 1946 and gathered speed during the 1950s. By the late 1950s, births exceeded 4 million a year and the fertility rate climbed to more than 3.7 births a woman in child-bearing years (the rate is now below 2.1). The baby boom ended by the mid-1960s, and fertility rates began a steady fall, yet during these same years, the United States reformed immigration laws and set in place the next wave of renewed population growth.

While population growth dipped in the 1970s, it gained momentum in the 1980s and accelerated in the 1990s. By 2000, America's population had reached a high of more than 281 million. The nation grew by nearly 33 million during the 1990s, or a number equivalent to the total population at the start of the Civil War. This was the largest U.S. numerical increase ever seen. The decade's 13.2 percent increase was the fastest growth since the 1960s.

Metropolitan areas were clearly at the vanguard of the nation's latest growth trends. By 2000, more than eight out of every ten persons in the United States resided in metropolitan areas, up from less than two-thirds in 1960. Nearly one-third of all Americans lived in large metro areas of 5 million persons or more.


The dawn of a new century presents an opportune moment to take stock of the health and function of America's metropolitan areas. This is particularly true given the immense pace and scope of change under way in the United States. Cities and their suburbs do not exist in a vacuum. Rather, they reflect the "fashions and feasibilities" of American society. Yet discussions about cities and metropolitan areas often rely more on rhetoric than reality. There are knowledgeable urban observers who use the emergence of "living downtowns" as evidence of a broader back-to-the-city movement in the United States. But the renewed activities in a refurbished downtown may not capture the larger trends occurring in the remainder of the city or the metropolitan area as a whole.

The chapters in this volume turn to the first round of Census 2000 data on population, race and ethnicity, and household composition to begin to sort out the debate about the health of cities and suburbs. This volume attempts to answer these simple questions:

-Are cities coming back?

-Are all suburbs growing?

-Are cities and suburbs becoming more alike?

What emerges is a story of immense change and heterogeneity. Some of the distinctions relate to which region a city or suburb is located in, the South or the Northeast, the West or the Midwest. These regional variations are further distinguished by differences in economic function (for example, hi-tech economies rather than older manufacturing places) and in historic racial and ethnic composition (for example, immigration centers rather than primarily white-black metro areas).

Are Cities Coming Back?

Several factors define the health of a central city, but population growth is often used as a common barometer of city vitality. Population change is one of the first measures provided by the decennial census that gives urban observers, experts, and leaders a sense of the state of America's cities.

Without a doubt, central cities performed better in the 1990s than they did in the 1980s when it came to population growth. In chapter 1, Edward L. Glaeser and Jesse M. Shapiro show us that U.S. cities of 100,000 persons or more grew at twice the rate in the 1990s than they did in the 1980s. But despite this good news, there were some large variations in city population growth-from as high as 85 percent growth in Las Vegas to as low as a 15 percent decline in Hartford. Western cities grew the fastest, at an average pace of 19.5 percent, while the cities in the Northeast, on average, lost population. The authors offer several explanations for the different patterns of city growth. Cities were more likely to grow if they had high percentages of educated residents and thus strong human capital, if they had a service sector-rather than a manufacturing-economy, and if they began the decade with a large immigrant population base. Ironically, the most important factor affecting the population growth of cities may be the one factor that leaders simply cannot control: the weather. Glaeser and Shapiro state it plainly, "these regional patterns can be understood as the result of the tyranny of the weather. Warm, dry places grew. Cold, wet places declined."

Alan Berube's analysis in chapter 2 reinforces Glaeser and Shapiro's cautionary note that not all cities did well in the 1990s, especially if one compares their population growth rates to those of their suburbs. On the whole, the top 100 cities gained population in the 1990s; however, 28 of these cities lost residents or did not grow at all. As Glaeser and Shapiro reveal, most of these cities were located in the Northeast or Midwest. Furthermore, only five central cities experienced a true comeback in that they had converted their 1980s population loss into a net gain in the 1990s. These "renaissance cities" were Denver, Memphis, Atlanta, Chicago, and Yonkers. Berube finds that no matter how strongly or weakly cities grew in population in the 1990s, their suburbs fared better. Although the top 100 cities grew by 9 percent as a whole, their suburbs grew twice as fast-by 18 percent. Suburban growth outpaced city growth in four out of every five cities.

It is evident that despite the strength of the 1990s economy, Rust Belt cities in the Midwest and Northeast still struggled to attract new residents and hold on to existing ones. But, no matter whether they gained residents or lost them, Patrick A. Simmons and Robert E. Lang find that the 1990s were still the best decade for older, industrial cities since the 1940s. In chapter 3, they examine population growth trends for thirty-six older, industrial cities during the past five decades-from the 1950s to today-and then rank the decades by how well the cities fared during that period. The authors find that, as a group, the older cities performed best during the 1990s when they together added approximately 580,000 people. The worst decade was the 1970s, when suburban expansion took off and twenty-nine cities suffered their worst postwar population declines. Many of these cities have not yet regained the population levels of their heyday; however, several, including Chicago and New York, have grown again since the 1970s.

The 1990s were clearly a positive decade for many cities. As Rebecca R. Sohmer and Robert E. Lang confirm in chapter 4, the 1990s were also a good decade for the nation's downtowns.


Excerpted from Redefining Urban & Suburban America Copyright © 2003 by Brookings Institution Press/Brookings Metro Series
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Introduction-by Alan Berube, Bruce Katz and Robert E. Lang
1. Demographic Change in Medium-Sized Cities-by Jennifer S. Vey and Benjamin Forman
2. Who Lives Downtown?--by Eugenie L. Birch
3. Growth Counties: Home to America's New Suburban Metropolis-by Robert E. Lang and Meghan Zimmerman Gough
4. Are the Boomburbs Still Booming?--by Robert E. Lang
5. Living Together: A New Look at Racial and Ethnic Integration in Metropolitan Neighborhoods, 1990-2000--by David Fasenfest, Jason Booza, and Kurt Metzger
6. Modest Progress: The Narrowing Spatial Mismatch between Blacks and Jobs in the 1990s-by Steven Raphael and Michael A. Stoll
7. Pulling Apart: Economic Segregation in Suburbs and Central Cities in Major Metropolitan Areas, 1980-2000--by Todd Swanstrom, Peter Dreier, Colleen Casey, and Robert Flack
8. Vacating the City: An Analysis of New Home Construction and Household Growth-by Thomas Bier and Charlie Post
9. Tracking American Trends into the Twenty-First Century: A Field Guide to the New Metropolitan and Micropolitan Definitions-by William H. Frey, Jill H. Wilson, Alan Berube, and Audrey Singer
10. Micropolitan America: A Brand New Geography-by Robert E. Lang and Dawn Dhavale Contributors Index
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