Downtown Residential Population by City

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As I’ve always enjoyed aggregating data and trends across major cities, I thought I would take a stab at creating a resource for every major city’s downtown residential population. First, I excluded cities where the extent of downtown is truly indistinguishable from the rest of the city, such as D.C., San Francisco, or even Charleston or Savannah. Secondly, this is totally apples to oranges. Indianapolis defines their downtown as 5-6 square miles, whereas Cleveland defines their downtown as merely 2-3 square miles, while still yet Austin may define it as just a few blocks in either direction of Congress Avenue.

To understand how the numbers were derived, I have hyperlinked the source for each city. The sources are usually the local downtown business improvement district (BID) or similar organization. I used the MSA population for the Metro in all except for a few instances in which there really is a concise urbanized area (for instance San Jose and San Francisco, or Cleveland and Akron, are more intertwined than Columbus and Zanesville, OH).

The Census bureau has begun tracking downtown residential populations, which will lead to higher-quality data in coming years on this topic. The Census bureau has noted that these areas exhibit some of the highest population increases in the nation, in an article from 2012. Another imperfect way of solving the same riddle involves comparing populations inside mile increments, assuming that the first mile is the downtown population, the first five miles are typically surrounding inner city neighborhoods, and so on. However, this is imperfect as many downtowns are legitimately larger in area.

So while it’s not perfect, hopefully it is still interesting and useful, and without further ado, here it is:

DOWNTOWN RESIDENTIAL METRICS: METROS OVER 1 MILLION
City (Source) Downtown Pop 2015 City Pop % of City Metro Pop % of Metro Fixed-Guideway Transit
Atlanta 25,376 463,878 5% 5,710,000 0.0045 MARTA
Austin 12,000 931,830 1% 2,000,000 0.0060 Capitol Metro
Birmingham 4,000 212,461 2% 1,145,000 0.0035 None
Buffalo 8,300 258,959 3% 1,135,000 0.0073 Metro Rail
Charlotte 15,000 827,097 2% 2,426,000 0.0062 LYNX
Chicago 136,000 2,720,546 5% 9,551,000 0.0142 The L
Cincinnati 16,000 298,550 5% 2,157,000 0.0074 Streetcar
Cleveland 15,000 388,072 4% 3,515,000 0.0043 RTA
Columbus 7,000 850,106 1% 2,021,000 0.0035 None
Dallas 13,041 1,300,092 1% 7,102,000 0.0018 DART, TRE, Streetcar
Denver 73,000 682,545 11% 2,814,000 0.0259 RTD
Detroit 35,000 677,116 5% 4,302,000 0.0081 PeopleMover, QLine
Ft. Worth 5,000 833,319 1% 7,102,000 0.0007 TRE
Hartford 1,800 124,893 1% 1,211,000 0.0015 None
Houston 3,600 2,296,224 0% 6,656,000 0.0005 Metro
Indianapolis 27,000 853,173 3% 1,988,000 0.0136 Monorail
Jacksonville 3,730 868,031 0% 1,449,000 0.0026 None
Kansas City 24,000 475,378 5% 2,087,000 0.0115 Streetcar
Little Rock 1,300 197,992 1% 724,000 0.0018 Streetcar
Los Angeles 58,702 3,971,883 1% 13,340,000 0.0044 LA Metro
Louisville 9,000 615,366 1% 1,278,000 0.0070 None
Memphis 24,000 655,770 4% 1,344,000 0.0179 Streetcar
Miami 80,750 441,003 18% 6,012,000 0.0134 Metrorail
Milwaukee 21,000 600,155 3% 1,575,000 0.0133 None
Minneapolis 40,000 410,939 10% 3,524,000 0.0114 Metro
Nashville 10,000 654,610 2% 1,830,000 0.0055 None
New Orleans 5,100 389,617 1% 1,262,000 0.0040 Streetcar
Oklahoma City 7,500 631,346 1% 1,459,000 0.0051 Streetcar
Omaha 2,500 443,885 1% 915,000 0.0027 None
Orlando 43,388 270,934 16% 2,387,000 0.0182 SunRail
Philadelphia 180,000 1,567,442 11% 6,089,000 0.0296 Subway
Phoenix 12,000 1,563,025 1% 4,574,000 0.0026 Valley Metro
Pittsburgh 12,500 304,391 4% 2,353,000 0.0053 The T
Portland 25,000 632,309 4% 2,389,000 0.0105 MAX
Raleigh 7,000 451,066 2% 1,273,000 0.0055 None
Richmond 10,000 220,289 5% 1,271,000 0.0079 None
Sacramento 19,650 490,712 4% 2,274,000 0.0086 SacRT
Salt Lake City 5,000 192,672 3% 1,170,000 0.0043 TRAX
San Antonio 21,274 1,469,845 1% 2,384,000 0.0089 None
San Diego 35,000 1,394,928 3% 3,299,900 0.0106 Streetcar
San Jose 15,000 1,026,908 1% 8,713,000 0.0017 VTA
Seattle 70,000 684,451 10% 3,733,000 0.0188 Link
St. Louis 14,000 315,685 4% 2,811,588 0.0050 MetroLink
Tampa 8,100 369,075 2% 2,975,000 0.0027 Streetcar
Tulsa 6,000 403,505 1% 1,151,000 0.0052 None

By this metric, it is worth pointing out a unique class of cities with over 10% of their city population in their downtown. Some cities get here by virtue of having a smallish city relative to the metro, while others get here by having truly maximized centrally-located dwelling space. These cities are Seattle, Philadelphia, Orlando, Minneapolis, Miami, and Denver. Philadelphia’s CBD is the nation’s second-most populous CBD, after Midtown Manhattan, and Center City Philly is truly in a class of its own when compared to any other 4-square mile area of almost any other city. This includes similarly-sized metros such as Dallas, Houston, Atlanta, Phoenix, etc.

4% appears to the divide between the next tier of cities – most of these cities have surging downtown populations, and many could cross the 10% threshold with a few more years like the last ten or so. These cities are St. Louis, Sacramento, Richmond, Portland, Pittsburgh, Memphis, Kansas City, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Chicago. Chicago’s CBD has the second-highest plurality on this list of cities (which drops when you add NYC submarkets), and while the broader Chicagoland region looks more like most Midwestern metros, the region still checks in at 5% which is noteworthy for a metro of 10 million (compared to LA).

Lastly, there are a tremendous number of cities that show 1%. These are often cities that think they have a uniquely fast-developing downtown living city, but really they need to take a look around them. I can attest that OKC and Ft. Worth in particular seem to think they are unique for having downtown revitalization, and many people in Ft. Worth (who clearly don’t make it past Tarrant County often) think it somehow differentiates them from Dallas, which now has 150,000 people living in the neighborhoods adjacent to Downtown Dallas. Ft. Worth and OKC both have great downtowns, but like many other cities in the 1-4% range, their downtown is not as developed as others – which is an opportunity!

All of this said, only two cities have a ratio that rounds down to 0%. Jacksonville and Houston, do better!

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15 thoughts on “Downtown Residential Population by City

  1. Great to see how the cities compare, and the variety of data sources. I’d add that here in Houston there’s going to be a boom in the number of those living downtown. That 3,600 number will be more than doubled. I was hoping that you hadn’t used ACS data, which doesn’t extract the number of people living in prisons. So, like here in the two census blocks that comprise Downtown Houston, there were at one time 19,000 “residents” in Downtown Houston. Out of those 19,000, 10,000 find the Harris County Jail to be home. (http://www.cdandrews.com/2014/10/downtown-houston-families-and.html)

    thankfully, there’s better projections now, and there’s been an update from the Downtown District in their 2016 “Downtown at a Glance”. We’re now up to at least 5,000, and there are at least another 4,000 housing units that are planned and under construction. The greater downtown area is probably closer to 75,000 at this point, including the neighboring East Downtown and Midtown districts, which would likely be considered part of the Downtown cityscape if not for a few highways that create boundaries. (https://www.downtownhouston.org/site_media/uploads/attachments/2016-12-01/Downtown_at_a_Glance_120116.pdf)

    Again, a great look at how cities live up to one another.

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    • Thanks Jerry, I greatly appreciate you pointing this out for me. Obviously I just went with the best number I could find quickly. I’m at work till 6ish EST and the change will be made shortly thereafter bc the excel is saved on my home computer.

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  2. Pingback: New York’s New Economic Strategy for Buffalo: More Light Rail – Streetsblog USA

  3. Orlando at 16%? I almost fell out of my chair. Thinking that the city must consider downtown as a rather large area I checked the source and it was…1000 acres or 1.5625 sq miles. I almost fell out of my chair again.

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  4. Yes, Fort Worth’s revitalization is nothing new and I don’t know of anyone in our city forum who thinks it is unique. However, FW was one of the first American cities outside of the major American cities (NYC, Chicago, SF) to focus on and begin to revitalize it’s downtown, starting in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I also remember reading in the 90’s that city officials from several cities, including Cleveland, actually made trips here during the 90’s to see what FW was doing right and what several other American cities were doing wrong. There wasn’t much of a residential boom at that time because people were still flocking to the suburbs, but nonetheless we had established a foundation during that time to take advantage of the urban renewal that is currently sweeping across the nation. We still have a ways to go, but progress is being made and several new residential areas are still in the planning .

    Just a word of advice. I have lived in other cities (SF, Seattle & Chicago) and I have traveled outside of Tarrant County, including Cleveland, so If you want to take a stab at a city’s revitalization claims in comparison to othe cities then that is fine. However, when you start attacking that city’s residents as being misinformed or not well-traveled then your whole article just sounds elitist and turns to garbage.

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  5. I’m frankly annoyed by the constant urbanist buzz around Houston and Austin, two cities with a combined downtown population less than Cincinnati.

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  6. I’m not sure these numbers are usable yet, for they’re showing Seattle with almost three times the downtown population as Portland, and having lived in both cities, I can tell you it is the reverse, if not more. This may be a topic that doesn’t lend itself to large scale comparison, for microgeography, especially the barriers of freeways, really affects what you call “downtown”

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  7. Los Angeles recently began a process to rezone its downtown to accommodate a population of 250,000. Only a decade ago the population downtown was about 18,000 and today is around 58,000.

    I’d be curious to see the rates of increase in other cities as well, if they are staying stable or increasing relative to the larger population.

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  8. I really hope you can find the sq. miles for each of these downtown areas. Density of downtowns is a much better way to compare different cities because , as you said, it is apples to oranges when it comes to size. Milwaukee is one of the densest cities in the Midwest outside of Chicago, but this makes them look like suburbia.

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