Census Says: City Growing As 'burbs Slowing

Recession hit 'fringe' worse

Posted: April 06, 2012

THE NATION'S prolonged economic downturn appears to have claimed another victim: expansion of suburbs at the edges of metropolitan areas.

For the first time in almost two decades, data released by the Census Bureau show, the annual growth rate of cities and adjacent communities have surpassed metropolitan fringe areas.

Since 2010, the data show, cities and older "ring" suburbs have posted an annual 0.8 percent increase in growth compared to 0.4 percent for exurbs. For Philadelphia, growth since the 2010 census has translated to a population increase of 10,465, mainly the result of an increase in births.

But John Kromer, senior consultant at the Fels Institute of Government, at the University of Pennsylvania, said that the data "reinforced the findings of Philadelphia's population increase in the 2010 census," the first since 1950.

In contrast to suburban areas, where residential builders have been hamstrung by lower demand, tightness of credit and competition from cut-rate short sales and home foreclosures, "throughout the recession the city . . . experienced a growth in infill construction and upgrading of existing housing stock, with the expectation that activity will pick up speed as the economy recovers," Kromer said.

High energy prices, for gasoline and home-heating fuel, are contributors both in this region and elsewhere, observers say.

Of the national census data released Thursday, Kevin Gillen of Econsult Corp., in Philadelphia, who tracks the region's housing patterns, said: "It really does seem to be fundamentally different this time around." During past economic downturns, Gillen said, "the further away you were, the better off you likely were."

In 2006, at the height of the housing boom, exurbs nationwide grew 2.1 percent, according to census data, compared with a 0.2-percent loss for cities and their near suburbs.

But throughout the housing bust, Gillen said, it's also been true that "the more centrally located you are, the better that your home has continued to hold its value" - a sign that people are gravitating once again toward the jobs and other amenities of life in the city or just beyond.

Contact Alan J. Heavens at 215-854-2472, aheavens@phillynews.com or @alheavens at Twitter.

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