NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Population Density Declining In Metropolitan Areas

July 10, 2001

Most metropolitan regions are expanding faster than they are adding people, according to a Brookings Institution study. This is particularly true in the Midwest and Northeast.

  • Although population is increasing, population density is declining in all but 17 of the 281 metropolitan areas covered.
  • Analyzing Agriculture Department statistics, Brookings found that between 1982 and 1997 about 25 million acres of farmland and open spaces -- roughly the size of Indiana -- were developed in metro areas.
  • That is a 47 percent increase in developed land, during a period when the population in those areas rose 17 percent.
  • Notably, Phoenix and Los Angeles bucked the trend: their population growth exceeded the growth in the amount of developed land and population density increased.

The findings will be unwelcome news to those who want to put a lid on what they see as population "sprawl." But homebuilders say they build on the fringes of cities largely in response to people seeking the American dream of large homes with big yards.

Source: Peter Grant, "Sprawl Thins Populations of Older Suburbs," Wall Street Journal, July 9, 2001.

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