From The Trussville Tribune staff reports
TRUSSVILLE — Three of the four largest cities in Alabama are seeing population declines, according to the U.S. Census population estimates released last week. Birmingham, Mobile and Montgomery all shrank, but Huntsville grew and may be on track to takeover as the state’s largest city in the 2020s.
In 2010, the buzz was all about big cities making a comeback. The premise was that people were returning to the urban centers for mass transit, jobs and amenities such as restaurants and entertainment. But that narrative seems to have been more wishful thinking than reality as population growth in major cities in Alabama has slowed or, in some cases, reversed.
Birmingham’s population has fallen below 210,000 for the first time since 1920, according to the data. The U.S. Census estimate for 2018, which was released last week, pegs Birmingham at 209,880. Populations in Montgomery and Mobile are also declining. But Huntsville is the exception with growth in new residents.
Huntsville is estimated at 197,318, an increase of 17,000 above the 2010 Census. If the Rocket City can continue that pace, it will replace Birmingham as the state’s largest city by 2025. Huntsville has already passed Mobile and should replace Montgomery as Alabama’s second largest city this year.
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One positive for Birmingham is that even with the drop in population, the decline has come at the slowest rate in decades.
The trend is not limited to Alabama. According to a study by Brookings Institute, “the combination of city growth declines and higher suburban growth suggests that the ‘back to the city’ trend seen at the beginning of the decade has reversed.”
An improved economy and millennials leaving the inner cities to start families in the suburbs are two possible reasons for the big city decline, Brookings wrote.
“In many respects, the city growth dominance earlier in the decade was an aberration of historical patterns — perhaps a result of the down housing market following the Great Recession, and the ‘stuck in place’ millennial generation,” the article stated. “Now, the new census data suggest that earlier suburbanization patterns are re-emerging.”