Phoenix poised to pass Philadelphia; Buckeye’s surge ranks 9th in U.S.
By Ronald J. Hansen
Shaking off a population slump tied to the housing bust, Phoenix once again was among the nation’s fastest-growing cities last year, newly released Census Bureau estimates show.
The city added more than 24,000 new residents and edged closer to overtaking Philadelphia as the fifth-largest city in the country. The population surge spilled into the Valley’s suburbs as well, with 11 municipalities adding a collective 42,000 new residents. Among them was Buckeye, which ranked as the ninth-fastest growing city in the nation in 2012.
Nationwide, 94 of the 100 largest cities gained population, a sharp improvement from recent years when growth was more subdued. The gains were sharpest in Texas, with six of the nation’s 20 largest cities growing briskly again.
The annual census estimates are slightly higher than estimates produced by the state, but they both suggest growth is picking up momentum in Arizona again.
“The growth has resumed, but it’s nowhere near what it was in the middle of the last decade,” said Jim Chang, the state demographer. “There was a pause for a couple of years, but it looks like the economy is growing again.”
Economic gains usually translate into population gains as well, he said.
Phoenix is estimated to have 1.49 million residents, about 59,000 fewer than Philadelphia. But Phoenix grew 1.7 percent last year while Philadelphia grew 0.6 percent, suggesting a reordering is only a matter of time.
The Census Bureau has been wrong before. It overestimated growth in Arizona by the widest margin in the country leading up to the 2010 census. Phoenix was originally thought to have passed Philadelphia by 2006, only to learn it had fallen short.
In the metro area, Mesa, Gilbert and Chandler added a combined 20,000 residents.
Tucson gained population in 2012 as well, but at a far slower pace, the Census Bureau estimates. It showed Tucson gaining about 1,100 residents, for 0.2 percent growth. By comparison, Buckeye added nearly 2,200 residents, for 4.1 percent growth.
Chang said the Tucson area is expected to grow more slowly than the Valley for years to come.
Yuma was the only large Arizona city to shed population, losing an estimated 700 residents. Lake Havasu City added an estimated 11 residents.
Many of the biggest U.S. cities, such as New York, Houston, San Antonio, San Diego and Dallas — like Phoenix — are outpacing the nation’s 1.7 percent growth rate since 2010.
“Urban America is recovering faster than more remote, more rural places,” said Robert Lang, a professor of urban affairs at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas.
Lang said urban areas appeal to Millennials (those born from about 1982 to 2001) “in part because they haven’t seen cities in crisis. They missed the riots of the 1960s, the urban decline of the 1970s and the crack epidemic of the 1980s.
“If you’re a kid born in 1993 or 1992 and you’re in college now, you’re looking around the country thinking about where you want to move … you’ve seen fairly … tranquil cities, in relative terms to what their history was.”
The urban resurgence is led by midsize cities including Austin and Fort Worth, Texas, and Charlotte, N.C. Austin grew 6.6 percent in two years, leapfrogging Jacksonville, Fla., Indianapolis and San Francisco to become the nation’s 11th-largest city. In 2000, it was No. 17.
USA Today contributed to this article.