Census shows continued shift to exurbs

News AASHTO Journal March 23, 2006
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Underscoring a trend that has repercussions for transportation agencies, the U.S. Census Bureau recently released figures that show an increasing shift of population farther out of center cities and close-in suburbs.

According to an analysis of data on the nation’s fastest-growing counties, the new census figures show that growth is often occurring on the farthest fringes of metropolitan areas, as residents seek space and affordable housing.

Cook County in Illinois illustrates the trend, losing more population over five years than any other county in the country—about 23,000 people. At the same time, suburban Will County gained 25,000 people, and a more distant suburb, Kendall County, was the third-fastest growing county in the country, according to the Chicago Tribune.

William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution, told USA Today, “It’s not just the decade of the exurbs but the decade of the exurbs of the exurbs.” He explained, “People are leaving expensive cores and going as far out as they can to get a big house and a big yard. Suburbia is moving much farther out.”

The new data show some areas struggling with very rapid growth, with several reporting increases of 40 to 50% or more over just the past five years. The figures also indicate a readiness by commuters to drive 50, 80 or even more than 100 miles to a center-city job location.

The majority of fast-growing counties are in the South and West, with rapidly expanding Flagler County in Florida claiming the most annual growth for the second year in a row.

From 2000 to 2005, the U.S. population grew by 5% overall according to the Census Bureau.

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