The U.S. Census Bureau just announced its list of the fastest-growing cities in the country. At the top, perhaps naturally, is New Orleans –– evidently, people who moved away post-Katrina are moving back. In the 10th spot is probably the only real, bona fide city in the top 10, your very own Fort Worth, which indeed is positive news: More people means more money in city coffers, which means further improvements can be made in the quality of city services and the city’s overall livability. In between the Big Easy and Cowtown, however, aren’t real cities at all, with skylines and pedestrian-friendly downtown areas and neighborhoods, but exurbs. (Three of them are in Texas: Round Rock (No. 2), north of Austin; Killeen (No. 9), between Austin and Waco; and McKinney (No. 5), north of here.)

Exurbs are like suburbs but are much fancier and much farther from downtown sections. The growth of exurbs doesn’t necessarily mean that people with money are abandoning downtown areas –– cities, like Fort Worth, with drastically revitalized downtown areas are packing in upper- and upper-middle-class folks. What the exurbs’ growth likely means is that the suburbs are dying. Suburban home prices have been dropping over the past 10 years and, by the looks of things, will continue dropping, possibly until the average suburban home is the ’00 version of a Section 8 housing unit. Fort Worth, based on the census data, is immune –– for now.


  1. Will be interesting to see what number we drop to in the aftermath of the actions of our illustrious “boys in blue” this past weekend!

    Happy Independence Day Fort Worth!

  2. Have never been to Killeen, my good friend. Perhaps it’s an exception to the rule of exurbs as tony enclaves.

    Anyway, this recent Atlantic article is a must-read. As briefly as possible, large, economically diverse city centers –– Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, and Boston –– are becoming mini-New Yorks: not cities in the traditional sense of the term but mega-cities, stretching for miles and eating up outer-lying areas. Where are all of the people coming from? Most from large, non-diverse cities such as Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit, and St. Louis. Things are so bad in Detroit, recent tax foreclosure listings in the local daily newspaper ran for 137 pages. Economists and city planners all over the country are seriously contemplating plans for dismantling Detroit and other Rust-Belt cities like it to prevent them from becoming lawless ghost towns. Apocalypse now? Maybe.

    Here are some excepts from the Atlantic article:

    U.S. No Longer a Financial Superpower
    “‘One thing seems probable to me,’ said Peer Steinbrück, the German finance minister, in September 2008. As a result of the crisis, ‘the United States will lose its status as the superpower of the global financial system.’ You don’t have to strain too hard to see the financial crisis as the death knell for a debt-ridden, over-consuming, and under-producing American empire, the fall long prophesied by [economist] Paul Kennedy and others.”

    The Rise and Fall of the American City
    “It is possible that the United States will enter a period of accelerating relative decline in the coming years, though that’s hardly a foregone conclusion … What’s more certain is that the recession, particularly if it turns out to be as long and deep as many now fear, will accelerate the rise and fall of specific places within the United States –– and reverse the fortunes of other cities and regions.”

    Larger Concentrations of Educated People
    “The ability of different cities and regions to attract highly educated people –– or human capital –– has diverged … Thirty years ago, educational attainment was spread relatively uniformly throughout the country, but that’s no longer the case. Cities like Seattle, San Francisco, Austin, Raleigh, and Boston now have two or three times the concentration of college graduates of Akron or Buffalo. Among people with postgraduate degrees, the disparities are wider still. The geographic sorting of people by ability and educational attainment, on this scale, is unprecedented.”

    Sun-Belt Cities in Trouble
    “… some Sun Belt cities –– Phoenix and Las Vegas are the best examples –– developed economies centered largely on real estate and construction. With sunny weather and plenty of flat, empty land, they got caught in a classic boom cycle. Although these places drew tourists, retirees, and some industry — firms seeking bigger footprints at lower costs — much of the cities’ development came from, well, development itself. At a minimum, these places will take a long, long time to regain the ground they’ve recently lost in local wealth and housing values. It’s not unthinkable that some of them could be in for an extended period of further decline.”

    New Urbanism
    “The economy is different now. It no longer revolves around simply making and moving things. Instead, it depends on generating and transporting ideas. The places that thrive today are those with the highest velocity of ideas, the highest density of talented and creative people, the highest rate of metabolism. Velocity and density are not words that many people use when describing the suburbs. The economy is driven by key urban areas; a different geography is required.”

    “So how do we move past the bubble, the crash, and an aging, obsolescent model of economic life? What’s the right spatial fix for the economy today, and how do we achieve it?”

    “The solution begins with the removal of homeownership from its long-privileged place at the center of the U.S. economy. Substantial incentives for homeownership (from tax breaks to artificially low mortgage-interest rates) distort demand, encouraging people to buy bigger houses than they otherwise would. That means less spending on medical technology, or software, or alternative energy: the sectors and products that could drive U.S. growth and exports in the coming years. Artificial demand for bigger houses also skews residential patterns, leading to excessive low-density suburban growth. The measures that prop up this demand should be eliminated.”

    “If anything, our government policies should encourage renting, not buying. Homeownership occupies a central place in the American Dream primarily because decades of policy have put it there. A recent study by Grace Wong, an economist at the Wharton School of Business, shows that, controlling for income and demographics, homeowners are no happier than renters, nor do they report lower levels of stress or higher levels of self-esteem.”

    “Today, we need to begin making smarter use of both our urban spaces and the suburban rings that surround them: packing in more people, more affordably, while at the same time improving their quality of life. That means liberal zoning and building codes within cities to allow more residential development, more mixed-use development in suburbs and cities alike, the in-filling of suburban cores near rail links, new investment in rail, and congestion pricing for travel on our roads. Not everyone wants to live in city centers, and the suburbs are not about to disappear. But we can do a much better job of connecting suburbs to cities and to each other and allowing regions to grow bigger and denser without losing their velocity.”