Bloomberg carried a chart-laden article recently, written by Justin Fox, showing the disparate population growth rates in Northeastern and Midwestern cities. It charts the differences in growth rate distribution along the coasts, where three large metro areas are generating nearly all the population growth, and in the Midwest, where growth rates are more evenly distributed.
Here’s the chart showing the Midwestern cities, with MSP highlighted.
Fox’s point is about how those differences in distribution reveal some contrasting economic and demographic patterns.
The Midwest and the Northeast are the slow-growing regions of the U.S., with estimated population increases of 1.9 percent and 2.1 percent, respectively, from 2010 through 2017, according to the Census Bureau (compared with 7.9 percent for the South and 7.6 percent for the West). 1
They’re growing slowly in very different ways, though. As I discovered last week while working on a column about booming Sioux Falls, South Dakota, the Midwest has 23 metropolitan areas that have matched or exceeded the national population growth rate of 5.5 percent since 2010, while the Northeast has just two, Boston and State College, Pennsylvania. Yet population is growing faster overall in the Northeast than in the Midwest. That’s pretty weird.
What’s behind the disparity? My first thought was that perhaps the rural Midwest is still losing lots of residents to cities and their suburbs, while in the Northeast that process has mostly played out already. But it turns out the population outside of metropolitan areas has actually fallen faster in the Northeast since 2010 than in the Midwest. 2
No, the difference seems to be mainly that more than half the Northeast’s population lives in just three metropolitan areas, and all three have grown at or faster than the regional 2.2 percent rate since 2010.
Fox concludes by saying that “the Midwest, after having a generally awful time of it in the 2000s, now has a lot of interesting things going on economically and demographically.” Given that MSP is one of the Midwestern metros that’s leading the pack in terms of these growth numbers, that’s encouraging news for the regional economy. It might also point to how Midwestern urban areas seem to lack the extremes that mark the rapidly-growing large coastal cities.
I wonder if the story isn’t so much the focus of the article (the relative rates of economic/population growths of cities in two U.S. regions) but actually one of the side points of the article: rural regions continue to decline, and that decline manifests itself differently in different parts of the country.
Though the article does state that the rural population in the northeast is declining more rapidly than in the midwest, that could still partially explain the phenomena we’re seeing. My suspicion is that rural residents are more likely to move to ‘mid-size’ cities rather than the expensive mega-cities. Mid-size cities are more likely to draw from rural areas around them and they don’t really compete with ‘mega-cities’. Sioux Falls is not in the shadow of NYC like Buffalo is, for example.
Nor is it quite the leap in lifestyle to move from a small farm community to Sioux Falls than New York or Boston. Frankly, the problem with large cities is that they are becoming de facto gated communities that require a certain level of wealth to become part of. Most people from smaller towns haven’t accumulated that wealth (so much of which is held in the form of property, which is cheaper outside urban areas).
Going back to rural depopulation, I’d say we’re seeing the same phenomena hitting both regions but the presence of more mega-cities in one region rather than the other explains why the population movement is diffused to more and smaller cities in the midwest. So basically it’s urbanization but more decentralized in the midwest than the northeast.
Small anecdote, I’m a Minneapolis transplant living in Columbus, OH and the majority of the population growth seems like Ohio State students staying because the CIncy, Akron, Cleveland, Toledo areas aren’t as strong for finding a job and Appalachian families.
I’m sure there are typical Millennial movers and what not – that’s just how it seems to me
Thanks for sharing, the original article has some fascinating graphs. MSP’s population growth is extremely impressive.
I was surprised.
Looks like the more traditionally smokestack industry cities are lagging.
Funny, I’m a Columbus transplant living in Minneapolis. You’re definitely right that a lot of students from OSU end up staying there and like you said the rest of Ohio is gravitating there. Columbus does draw regionally beyond that: just look at the states it borders: Michigan, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Indiana.
What I noticed is that among the top performers the Twin Cities is the only metro with urban amenities that can compete with the coasts. Half of Columbus (city proper) is without sidewalks and they just plop sharrows on 35 MPH streets. High St, the north side, is the only vibrant urban corridor in the entire city. It’s the opposite of Minneapolis where the north side is bad part of town and everywhere else is thriving and easily accessible by foot, bus, or bike/train. Kansas City and Indianapolis are similar to Columbus in that there are few quality urban neighborhoods left and much of the city consists of drab strip malls, suburban apartment complexes, and lots of stroads.
What I find confusing about Columbus’ growth is that transplants have had zero effect on the transportation culture. Take the brewery phenomenon, sure lots of them have popped up but do you want to take a bus there that only shows up a handful of times a day or bike in 45 MPH traffic to check them out? And then they’re charging $930 for 320 sq ft studios on Front St in downtown where, aside from the few blocks of it in the chain filled Arena District, there’s blocks of literally nothing but parking garages, government buildings and Danny’s Deli based out of Cleveland. Sure, that corned beef melts in your mouth and they do pile it on, but come on; it ain’t worth hundreds more a month in rent And then the aBRT C-MAX stops an average of a 1/4 mile, which is twice as much as the A Line and you have to pay fare on the bus. If you have money to throw around for a micro apartment with not even the bare minimums of what a city should offer, it’s like, why not just move to a real city and pay the same for a lot more? Oh, and Columbus is still on pins and needles waiting for it’s first apartment tower over 20 something stories named: Millennial Tower.
It’s almost like there’s factors other than being “walkable” or “quality urban neighborhoods” that cause people to move to cities (maybe people like how easy it is to drive around Kansas City), and even in cities like Columbus not everyone moving there wants to ditch their car and ride around everywhere on the bus.
Especially if the transplants aren’t coming from areas that already have these things. It’s typically cities that change based on who moves to them, not the other way around.