Peak metro? Maybe not here, yet, but the urban-rural economic and population divide may be changing.

The tale of the urban-rural divide for has for some time been a story of persistent population and economic growth in the nation’s major metros, with a slow decline in rural prosperity. So today’s Census report (media release,  data tables) may represent the possible beginnings of a counter-narrative. (Earlier, we wrote of the accelerating trend of people without college degrees moving away from cities, a decision largely prompted by high housing costs.)

The Associated Press reports

Big cities in the U.S. aren’t growing like they used to.

Most of the nation’s largest cities last year grew by a fraction of the numbers they did earlier in the decade, according to population and housing unit estimates released Thursday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Seattle Times “FYI Guy” Gene Balk reports that Seattle appears to be an outlier (how many times have we written that?).

Census data released Thursday shows that from July 1, 2017, to July 1, 2018, the city’s population grew by more than 15,000, bringing the total to 745,000.

That pencils out to a one-year increase of 2.1%, which ranks Seattle as the second-fastest growing among the 50 most-populous U.S. cities. We were just a fraction behind No. 1, Fort Worth, Texas…

He acknowledges the trend has slowed and, in some metros reversed.

In fact, the list of major cities that are losing people has been getting longer each year. In 2018, among the 50 largest cities, eleven shrank. Just five years earlier, in 2013, only two major cities saw one-year population declines (Detroit and Cleveland).

The data make a lengthy commentary by Joel Kotkin in American Affairs even more compelling reading. Note that much of the Kotkin pice considers city versus auburn, but is nonetheless more broadly instructive.

Perhaps no song has been belted out more often than the one that claims that America is moving “back to the city.”

Noting how widely the theme had been trumped in the last decade-plus, he writes,

In fact, however, these views are more aspirational, or even delusional, than reflective of reality. Overall, data suggests that we are not seeing a great “return to the city” but, with few exceptions, a continued movement out to the suburbs and less dense cities, nota­bly in the sunbelt…

Even the country’s most influential urbanist, scholar Richard Florida, now suggests that the great urban revival is “over.” Rather than the usual belief that density leads to productivity and innovation, a new Harvard study demonstrates that, between 1970 and 2010, suburban areas have overall steadily increased their economic advantages: the share of suburbs making up the top ranks of all urban and suburban neighborhoods (measured as the top quartile) went from roughly two-thirds in 1970 to almost three-quarters by 2010.

Seattle is mentioned.

During the last decade, several urban cores—notably New York, Boston, Seattle, Denver, and San Francisco—have enjoyed significant growth. Yet at the same time, as Florida notes in his New Urban Crisis (2017), this process has served to enlarge “deepening economic segregation between a prominent elite and stubborn pov­erty, as well as a shrinking middle class.”

In the past, the traditional urbanist notion, advanced by the late Jane Jacobs, maintained that cities grew best not by “luring” talent but by “creating” a middle class from its existing residents. Yet now, according to two recent Oregon studies, lower-income people in cities experience less upward mobility than people from rural areas.

It’s an interesting read. We certainly don’t agree with all of his observations, but find the piece and supporting data  both provocative and useful. 

The major underlying theme: expanding opportunity. The close:

For most of the twentieth century, America’s cities incubated opportunity and produced upward mobility. The fundamental ap­peal of cities and their ability to attract diverse workforces has not disappeared. It’s time to forge an urban renaissance that transcends hype and embraces the interests of not only high-paid knowledge workers but middle- and working-class residents as well. We need to restore Descartes’s notion of cities providing “an inventory of the possible,” places that propel residents not outwards or downward but towards the achievement of their aspirations.

Can’t disagree with that.