Posted by: Josh Lehner | April 13, 2016

Suburbs Are People Too

There is no question that America’s largest metropolitan areas are outperforming the rest of the nation. Job growth over the past decade is significantly stronger than small and medium sized metros and rural areas. Furthermore, much has been made of the so-called urban renaissance. Population growth has returned to cities’ urban cores, as well as the bulk of the job gains. There is a very lively debate among demographers, economists, planners, urbanists and the like over why and how these shifts are occurring. The research is fascinating and very important for policy and future economic growth. However, the simple fact that most people do not live in the urban core is lost among many of these debates. Suburbs are people too. Today in Part One we quickly examine population growth in Portland. Friday in Part Two we take a look at job growth.

Population growth in the City of Portland is booming. Even more so in the urban core and close-in neighborhoods. Population growth is also accelerating as job opportunities increase and migration flows return. In percentage terms, the City of Portland is growing faster than the rest of the metro and certainly the state. This pattern of growth is the opposite of the housing boom when the suburbs and exurbs grew significantly faster.


However, significantly more people are moving to the suburbs than the City of Portland. Even amidst the urban renaissance, the suburbs are adding more people each year than the City of Portland. It is important to keep this in mind when you read or listen to the ongoing debates and research.


Finally, the demographics of who moves where are different. Two of my favorite sources for all things urban and/or housing are Jed Kolko, former chief economist for Trulia, and Joe Cortright from City Observatory (full disclosure: Joe also chairs the Governor’s Council of Economic Advisors, our office’s main advisory group).

Jed recently crunched some numbers on the urban renaissance. He found that the increase in urban living was concentrated among mostly young, mostly white, mostly childless or families with young kids, and mostly college-educated folks. Gains were also seen among the higher income households. Other demographics groups were becoming more suburban and less urban since 2000, as has the population overall. So even as the urban renaissance is real, it can be narrowly focused on a subset of the population. Joe’s 2014 report, The Young and Restless and the Nation’s Cities, focuses on young, college-educated individuals moving to city centers and close-in neighborhoods.

A lot of these patterns are intertwined with housing. As demand for urban living increases (some of it societal, some of it generational) housing supply must keep pace, otherwise affordability erodes and displacement occurs. Too many people chasing too few units. As Joe likes to say, there is a premium for urban living. Homes in close-in Portland now sell at a higher price point than the surrounding suburbs, which was not the case a decade ago. To ensure affordability, housing supply must increase to match the demand.

Complicating matters further is the fact that the intersection between demographics, economic growth, quality of life and housing is messy. Our office will have more on some of these issues and trade offs in the near future. However for now, even as the City of Portland and its urban core is booming, population gains in the suburbs are larger in absolute numbers.

Stay tuned for Part Two on Friday when we examine job growth across the Portland metro area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: