Thursday, June 28, 2007

Big Apple, Southern cities tops in growth


City Population Change 2000-06

New York 8,214,426 205,750

Los Angeles 3,849,378 154,884

Chicago 2,833,321 -62,700

Houston 2,144,491 172,936

Phoenix 1,512,986 191,314

Philadelphia 1,448,394 -69,156

San Antonio 1,296,682 136,738

San Diego 1,256,951 33,535

Dallas 1,232,940 44,317

San Jose 929,936 34,619

Source: Census Bureau

By Dennis Cauchon and Paul Overberg, USA TODAY

The century-long quest of Americans to live in perpetual sunshine and far from snow shows no signs of letting up as surging growth infuses Sun Belt cities with new residents.

The Census Bureau reports today that seven of the 10 most populous U.S. cities are within 500 miles of Mexico. In 1910, all 10 of the biggest cities were within 500 miles of the Canadian border. The once-dominant industrial cities of Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Buffalo find themselves smaller than Mesa, Ariz., and Fresno.

The big exception to the smaller gains outside the Sun Belt is the Big Apple. New York City ranks No. 1 in attracting new residents since 2000, adding nearly 206,000 people. That's more than Phoenix, Houston or Los Angeles gained. Of the 35 cities that added the most population, New York is the only one not located in the South or West.

Economic prosperity and the arrival of new immigrants, who have higher birth rates than the overall population, are driving the city's growth. "It's written into the DNA of New York that immigrants are welcome," says Warren Brown of the Cornell Institute for Social and Economic Research.

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In a change more symbolic of national population trends, Phoenix has supplanted Philadelphia as the nation's fifth-largest city, according to Census estimates for July 1, 2006.

"It's hard to think of the cradle of liberty being overtaken by a rough-and-tumble, independent Western town, but that tells you something about the nature of our country," says Brookings Institution demographer William Frey. "We're a country that's always seeking new horizons."

The explosive growth in parts of the South and West has created boom cities that many people have never heard of. Gilbert, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb, has been adding more than 1,000 people a month for five years and had a population of 191,517 last year.

"It's fun. It's exciting to be growing this fast," says Gilbert Mayor Steve Berman, who moved to town in 1981 when the population was 4,000. "We're creating the coolest place to live."

By contrast, Green Bay, Wis., (100,353) has been losing population.

"We don't want to fall below 100,000," says Green Bay City Council President Chad Fradette. "That has a little prestige with it."

Other findings:

•Hurricane Katrina. New Orleans lost 261,286 residents from 2005 to 2006, dropping its population to 223,388 after Katrina. Gulfport, Miss., lost 7,988 residents to drop to 64,316.

•Suburbanization. Only 27% of Americans live in cities of 100,000 people or more, down from 27.5% in 2000, according to a USA TODAY analysis.

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