America’s cities (metropolitan areas) changed radically since the dawn of World War II. At that point, cities were dominated by their core municipalities (central cities), around which people traveled much greater percentages by transit and lived in much higher densities. Automobile oriented suburbanization had increased rapidly in the 1920s, but was slowed by the economic upheavals of the 1930s.
Texas continues to dominate major metropolitan area growth. Among the 53 major metropolitan areas (with more than 1 million population), Texas cities occupied three of five top positions in population growth, and four of the top 10 (Figure 1).
The headline line in the Sunday St. Louis Post-Dispatch asked “Are St. Louis Area’s Home Prices too Low?” This is could not possibly have appeared describing any major metropolitan area of Australia, New Zealand, or the United Kingdom. Nor will newspapers in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Portland, Seattle, Boston, New York or in any of the overpriced markets of California decry low prices any time soon.
The just released 11th Annual Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey shows the least affordable major housing markets to be internationally to be Hong Kong, Vancouver, Sydney, along with San Francisco and San Jose in the United States.
The urban cores of the nation’s 52 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population) lost nearly one-fifth of their school age population between 2000 and 2010. This is according an analysis of small area age group data for children aged 5 to 14 from Census Bureau data, using the City Sector Model.
Growth in the current land areas of the 52 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million) provides an effective overview of changes in how the population has been redistributed United States since 1900.
A few years ago, the satirical publication, The Onion ran an article under the headline “98 Percent of US Commuters Favor Public Transit for Others.” The spoof cited a mythical press release by the American Public Transit Association (APTA), in which Lance Holland of Anaheim, California said “Expanding mass transit isn’t just a good idea, it’s a necessity,” Holland said. “My drive to work is unbelievable. I spend more than two hours stuck in 12 lanes of traffic. It’s about time somebody did something to get some of these other cars off the road.”
Finally, there is credible housing affordability data from China. For years, analysts have produced “back of the envelope” anecdotal calculations that have been often as inconsistent as they have been wrong. The Economist has compiled an index of housing affordability in 40 cities, which uses an “average multiple” (average house price divided by average household income) (China Index of Housing Affordability). This is in contrast to the “median multiple,” which is the median house price divided by the median household income (used in the Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey and other affordability indexes). The Demographia Survey rates affordability in 9 geographies, including Hong Kong (a special administrative region of China). The average multiple for a metropolitan market is generally similar to the median multiple.
America is getting older, as medical science prolongs life expectancy and the fertility rate hovers at or even below the replacement rate. One metric for gauging the nation’s aging is the median age – the age at which one half the population is younger and the other half is older. In 2000, the median age in the United States was 35.3. By 2013, the median age had increased to 37.5.
Americans continue to favor large houses on large lots. The vast majority of new occupied housing in the major metropolitan areas of the United States was detached between 2000 and 2010 and was located in geographical sectors associated with larger lot sizes. Moreover, houses became bigger, as the median number of rooms increased (both detached and multi-family), and the median new detached house size increased.
The United States lost jobs between 2000 and 2010, the first loss between census years that has been recorded in the nation’s history. The decline was attributable to two economic shocks, the contraction following the 9/11 attacks and the Great Recession, the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. Yet, even in this moribund job market, employment continued to disperse in the nation’s major metropolitan areas.
The newly released American Community Survey data for 2013 indicates little change in commuting patterns since 2010, a result that is to be expected in a period as short as three years. Among the 52 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population), driving alone increased to 73.6% of commuting (including all travel modes and working at home). The one mode that experienced the largest drop was carpools, where the share of commuting dropped from 9.6% in 2010 to 9.0% in 2013. Doubtless most of the carpool losses represented gains in driving alone and transit. Transit grew, increasing from a market share of 7.9% in 2010 to 8.1% in 2013 in major metropolitan areas; similarly working at home increased from 4.4% to 4.6%, an increase similar to that of transit (Figure 1). Bicycles increased from 0.6% to 0.7%, while walking remained constant at 2.8%.
There is a general perception that the densest US cities are in the Northeast, where downtowns tend to be bigger and inner city densities are higher. However, cities have become much larger geographically, and also include the automobile oriented lower density suburbs that have developed since World War II. In fact, most of the densest major urban areas are in the West.
Cities have been pivotal role to improved living standards, because of the opportunities they facilitate. This is particularly evident over the past two centuries, as world urbanization has risen from 3 percent to over 50 percent, and to more than 80 percent in the United States.
Many American cities, described commonly as urban cores, are functionally more suburban and exurban, based on urban form, density, and travel behavior characteristics. Data from the 2010 census shows that 42.3 percent of the population of the historical core municipalities was functionally urban core (Figure 1). By comparison, 56.3 of the population lived in functional suburbs and another 1.3 percent in functionally exurban areas (generally outside the urban areas). Urban cores are defined as areas that have high population densities (7,500 or per square mile or 2,900 per square kilometer or more) and high transit, walking and cycling work trip market shares (20 percent or more). Urban cores also include non-exurban sectors with median house construction dates of 1945 or before. All of these areas are defined at the zip code tabulation area (ZCTA) level, rather than by municipal jurisdiction. This is described in further detail in the “City Sector Model” note below.
Much attention has been given the increase in transit use in America. In context, the gains have been small, and very concentrated (see: No Fundamental Shift to Transit, Not Even a Shift). Much of the gain has been in the urban cores, which house only 14 percent of metropolitan area population. Virtually all of the urban core gain (99 percent) has been in the six metropolitan areas withtransit legacy cities (New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and Washington).
The fortunes of U.S. core cities (municipalities) have varied greatly in the period of automobile domination that accelerated strongly at the end of World War II. This is illustrated by examining trends between the three categories of “historical core municipalities” (Figure 1). Since that time, nearly all metropolitan area (the functional or economic definition of the city) growth has been suburban, outside core municipality limits, or in the outer rings of existing, core municipalities.
Philadelphia was America’s first large city and served as the nation’s capital for all but nine months between the inauguration of George Washington is the first president in 1789 and the capital transferred to Washington, DC in 1800. Before the early 1900s, the United States Census Bureau had not developed a metropolitan area (labor market area) concept. However, the website peakbagger.com has attempted to define earlier metropolitan areas based on concepts similar to those used today. In the case of Philadelphia, this is important, because it was somewhat unique in having virtually adjacent, highly populated suburbs that make comparisons of municipal populations (the only population data available) misleading.