Where is the U.S. growing fastest, in cities or suburbs? And within those broad categories, what kinds of neighborhoods are growing fastest? Knowing where population growth is taking place is essential for projecting demand for infrastructure and public services. It can also be a window into what kinds of communities people prefer, though a cloudy one. Where people actually settle depends on much more than what they say they want. Housing supply, energy prices, tax policy, and other factors all affect the availability and cost of housing and, as a result, where people end up living.
In recent years, pinpointing where the U.S. population is growing has been particularly contentious, tangled up in the housing bubble and its aftermath. The housing bubble fueled construction and population growth in the suburbs and beyond, while, at the bubble’s height, the most urban counties actually lost population in absolute terms. After the bubble burst, growth returned to the highest-density counties, and, in 2011, the highest-density quartile of counties was the fastest growing. In the post-bubble years (2006-2013), urban population growth accelerated while suburban population growth slowed compared with the bubble and its run-up (2000-2006). That lends support to the view that America was seeing a permanent shift toward more urban living.