NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – Suburban growth may be making a comeback. 

A new Rutgers Regional Report, “The ‘Burbs’ Bounce Back: ‘Trendlet’ or ‘Dead Cat Bounce’?” finds that the demographic shifts of the early part of the decade, 2010-2016, where urban areas had a strong resurgence, may be shifting back to the suburbs.

"During the 2010-2016 period, the broad metropolitan region showed an almost 75 percent growth in population in the urbanized regional core, while the suburban ring increased by only 25 percent, James Hughes, University Professor and Dean Emeritus of Rutgers University’s Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, and co-author of the report, said. “It appears, however, that in 2016-2017 this pattern has reversed itself, with almost 62 percent of the population increase in the suburban ring.” 

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The report, based on an analysis of recent Census estimates, and co-written by Hughes, Joseph J. Seneca, University Professor Emeritus; and Will Irving, research associate at the Bloustein School shows:

  • Between 1950-1980, the suburban ring counties in Connecticut, New Jersey, New York, and Pennsylvania nearly doubled its total population, gaining more than 5.3 million people; in comparison, the eight regional core counties in New York and New Jersey lost close to a million people.
  • The suburban ring continued to grow from 2010-2017, but at one-sixth of the earlier period. During this time the regional core grew at an annual pace of more than double that of the suburban ring, accounting for 71.8 percent of the region’s total population growth.
  • In a single year (2016-2017), 62 percent of the region’s total population gain was in the suburban ring, while the regional core captured just 38 percent.
  • The longer-term trend (2010-2017) shows the regional core as the locomotive of the region’s demographic train.
  • The highest growth totals in the suburban ring (2010-2017) were achieved by the five inlying counties closest to the regional core; at the same time 13 of the 27 (48 percent) suburban counties lost population in this time frame.
  • The metropolitan outer rim, once the demographic “hot spots” of population growth, accounted for almost all of the population loss from 2010-2017. But in 2016-2017 the losses generally abated and several even saw modest growth.

This latest analysis builds on work done in 2014 Rutgers Regional Report, “The Receding Metropolitan Perimeter.” If the time frames do indeed represent two fundamentally different eras—namely, suburbanization/urban decline versus re-centralization/perimeter contraction—then a transformative regional change may be underway that is only just now beginning to be revealed.

But at this time, determining whether the end result will be a long-term, fundamental shift or a temporary change in growth dynamics and population distribution within the region will be difficult.

The Rutgers Regional Report produces formal studies on regional and state economies, demographics, housing markets and other key public policy issues and is used extensively by the state’s planning and public policy communities.