WASHINGTON — Urban renewal? New census estimates show that most of the nation's largest cities further enhanced their allure last year, posting strong population growth for a second straight year.
Big cities surpassed the rate of growth of their surrounding suburbs at an even faster clip, a sign of America's continuing preference for urban living after the economic downturn quelled enthusiasm for less-crowded expanses.
Farther-out suburbs known as exurbs saw their growth slip to 0.35 percent, the lowest in more than a decade.
Economists generally had played down the recent city boom as an aberration, predicting that young adults in the recovering economy would soon be back on the move after years of staying put in big cities. But the widening gains for cities in 2012 indicate that young people — as well as would-be retirees seeking quieter locales — are playing it safe for a while longer in dense urban cores, where jobs may be easier to find and keep.
Prior to 2011, suburbs had consistently outpaced big cities since 1920, with the rise of the automobile.
The new census estimates are a snapshot of population growth as of July 2012. The Associated Press sought additional analysis from William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution, and Kenneth Johnson, a senior demographer at the University of New Hampshire.
Cities with booming regional economies continue to see the biggest gains — from Seattle and San Francisco to Austin, Texas, Raleigh, N.C., and Washington, D.C., locales seeing a burst of new apartment construction.
"Cities have become more appealing to young people, with more things to do and places to see," said Mark Obrinsky, chief economist at the National Multi Housing Council, a Washington-based trade group. "Many of the cities are committing themselves to regrowth and development, and in newer cities like Dallas we're beginning to see new restaurants, bars and apartments in the downtown areas that put it a bit closer to being a 24-hour city."