Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Resource Center

Urban Growth and Decline: The Role of Population Density at the City Core

In recent decades, some cities have seen their urban centers lose population density, as residents spread farther out to suburbs and exurbs. Others have kept populous downtowns even as their environs have grown. Population density in general has economic advantages, so one might wonder whether a loss of density, which may be a symptom of negative economic shocks, could amplify those shocks. This paper looks at four decades of census data and show that grow­ing cities have maintained dense urban centers, while shrinking cities have not. There are reasons to think that loss of population density at the core of the city could be particularly damaging to productivity. If this is the case, there could be productivity gains from policies aimed at reversing that trend.