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Downtown Baltimore.

Census estimates raise question about Baltimore renaissance

Baltimore lost population between 2014 and 2015, according to U.S. Census Bureau population estimate, as the nation as a whole reverted to pre-housing bubble trends favoring suburban growth.

The estimates only put Baltimore’s year-over-year population loss at less than 1,000 residents, and the current population is estimated to be higher than what is was in 2010 by several hundred residents.

But static growth makes it hard to claim an urban renaissance in Charm City. Also concerning for those banking on a wider urban resurgence to boost Baltimore is evidence the nation is trending back toward favoring the suburbs over cities.

Here’s what CityLab found:

Since 2000, population trends have reflected the housing boom, bust, and recovery. The boom, lasting until 2006, favored the suburbs, where most new single-family homes were built (or overbuilt). Then, in the housing bust, patterns reversed, with urban counties and large metros rebounding while suburban and rural growth slowed. Now, as the recovery continues, old patterns — from before the 2000s — are returning.

For starters, compare population growth in metros by the severity of their local housing bust. In the hardest-hit metros, where prices climbed during the bubble and then fell 30 percent or more, population growth slowed dramatically from 2006 to 2009. Note that population in these metros started to slow before the bubble reached its height in 2006, as rising prices hurt affordability, and continued when the bubble burst as people lost their homes and local job markets suffered. In contrast, in metros with a relatively mild housing bust (price declines of 15 percent or less), population growth accelerated in 2007-2009: their economies held up better in the recession than the hardest-hit metros did. But since 2011, the metros with the severest housing busts have once again had the fastest population growth, and their lead over metros that had a moderate or mild bust has grown.

That move is contrary to what many experts predicted because the belief is the large millennial generation has a preference for urban living. Many developers locally have invested heavily in apartments in areas of the city that catered to the live, work and play urban lifestyle they believed would be in demand. But if these trends continued the great urban return may have been a side effect of the recession and not a shift in the way Americans want to live.

About Adam Bednar

Adam Bednar covers real estate and development for The Daily Record.