The fastest-growing big cities in America

Joel Kotkin

Since the housing crash of 2007, the decline of the Sun Belt and dispersed, low-density cities has been trumpeted by the national media and by pundits who believe that America's future lies in compact, crowded cities, generally crowded and generally in the north. But apparently, most Americans have not gotten the memo -- they seem to be accelerating their push into less dense regions of the Sun Belt.

An analysis of population data by demographer Wendell Cox, including the Census report for the most recent year released this month, shows that since 2000, virtually all the 10 fastest-growing metropolitan areas in the United States are located in Sun Belt states.

It's not just economic factors at play. One remarkable similarity in all the fastest-growing areas is their relatively low population densities. At the same time, we have to consider the issue of housing affordability, something that rarely comes up among proponents of "cool" cities. In contrast to slower-growing San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles, most of the fastest-growing cities have lower housing prices relative to income.

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Lower housing costs also seem to impact another critical growth component: family formation. Immigrants and domestic in-migrants are important to population growth, but equally critical is whether longtime residents in a region choose to have children. Virtually all the top 10 metro areas, both last year and since 2000, have also ranked among the fastest-growing in terms of the population under 15. The child population in the No. 1 city has expanded by almost 45% since 2000, compared with 2% nationally.

So what do these trends tell us about the demographic evolution of our major metropolitan areas? Certainly sustained economic growth, low density and more affordable housing all continue to push the center of population gravity toward certain Sun Belt cities, primarily in the Southeast and Texas. It turns out that neither the Great Recession, the housing bust or a much hyped preference for dense urbanity is turning this around.

Note: We looked at Census population figures for 2000 to 2012 for the 52 metropolitan statistical areas in the U.S. that exceed 1 million residents. These are the 10 cities that expanded the fastest:

No. 10: Dallas-Fort Worth, TX
2012 population: 6,700,991
Growth since 2000: 27.9%
Growth since 2011: 2.0%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 5

No. 9: San Antonio, TX
2012 population: 2,234,003
Growth since 2000: 29.9%
Growth since 2011: 1.9%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 6

No. 8: Houston, TX
2012 population: 6,177,035
Growth since 2000: 31.0%
Growth since 2011: 2.1%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 4

No. 7: Phoenix, AZ
2012 population: 4.329,534
Growth since 2000: 32.1%
Growth since 2011: 1.8%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 7

No. 6: Riverside-San Bernardino, CA
2012 population: 4,350,096
Growth since 2000: 32.7%
Growth since 2011: 1.1%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 23

No. 5: Charlotte, NC
2012 population: 2,296,569
Growth since 2000: 32.8%
Growth since 2011: 1.7%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 9

No. 4: Orlando, FL
2012 population: 2,223,674
Growth since 2000: 34.2%
Growth since 2011: 2.2%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 2

No. 3: Las Vegas, NV
2012 population: 2,000,759
Growth since 2000: 43.6%
Growth since 2011: 1.7%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 11

No. 2: Austin, TX MSA
2012 population: 1,834,303
Growth since 2000: 44.9%
Growth since 2011: 3.0%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 1

No. 1: Raleigh, NC, Metropolitan Statistical Area
2012 population: 1,188,564
Growth since 2000: 47.8%
Growth since 2011: 2.2%
Rank in 2011-2012: No. 3

To see the slowest-growing cities, go to

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