BOOMBURBS! A new type of city explodes around the edges of metropolis

A special Fannie Mae Foundation report from the 2000 census

provided by Fannie Mae Foundation

arge, rapidly growing cities are bursting on the urban scene, surrounding more traditional cities and forcing policy makers and others to take notice of their impact on sprawl and other hotly-debated issues, a Fannie Mae Foundation report analyzing 2000 Census data has found.

    Released last month, the report identifies 53 cities with a different look and feel from traditional cities and, for the first time, gives them a name: Boomburbs. Entitled Boomburbs: The Emergence of Large, Fast-Growing Suburban Cities in the U.S., the report was discussed in detail at a US Conference of Mayors meeting in Detroit.

    “The Boomburbs are elusive and not yet fully part of the public policy debate,” said Stacey Davis, President and CEO of the Fannie Mae Foundation. “They are complicated places with potentially big problems that will need attention affordable housing, traffic jams, spread-out development, strained public services. But they also present opportunities for cities and suburbs to find regional solutions to their common challenges.”

    US Conference of Mayors' President and Boise Mayor Brent Coles said the nation's mayors welcome new partnerships for comprehensive, regional planning. “Cities of all shapes and sizes have been on the comeback,” said Coles. “Older cities are coming alive again with new investment and activity. Newer cities are continuing to thrive. We need to grasp this moment in time and forge relationships that will help deliver a better quality of life for everyone.”

    The report defines a Boomburb as an area that currently has more than 100,000 residents, has maintained double-digit rates of population growth in each recent decade, but is not the largest city in its metropolitan area. Boomburbs differ from traditional central cities and older satellite cities in that they almost always lack a dense business core. Rather, their housing, retail, entertainment, and offices are spread out and loosely configured.

    Authors Robert Lang, Director of Urban and Metropolitan Research at the Fannie Mae Foundation, and Patrick Simmons, the Foundation's Director of Housing Demography, described their findings as surprising.

    The 53 Boomburbs identified in the report are located in 14 metro areas surrounding Phoenix, Los Angeles, San Diego, San Francisco, Denver, Miami, Tampa, Chicago, Las Vegas, Portland, Dallas, Salt Lake City, Norfolk, and Seattle. Boomburbs range from Mesa, AZ, with nearly 400,000 residents, to Westminister, CO, with just over 100,000. Of the 53, four Boomburbs top 300,000 in population, eight surpass 200,000 and 41 exceed 100,000. These important but seldom recognized areas account for 51 percent of the past decade's growth in cities between 100,000 and 400,000 people. Cities in this class size gained 4.1 million new residents during the 1990s, 2.1 million of whom live in the Boomburbs. Boomburb residents now account for one quarter of the total population of cities of that size.

    Boomburbs grew quickly and, in some instances, exploded over the past several decades. Irving, TX, grew by more than 7,000 percent from 1950 to 2000, and several other Boomburbs grew by more than 4,000 percent during this period.

    According to the Fannie Mae Foundation report, comparison of Boomburbs' current populations with those of some better-known traditional cities helps to convey just how big many Boomburbs have become. Mesa, AZ, the most populous Boomburb at 396,375, is bigger than Minneapolis (382,618), Miami (362,470), and St. Louis (348,1889). Arlington, TX, the second biggest Boomburb with 332,969 people, falls just behind Pittsburgh (334,536) and just ahead of Cincinnati (331,285). Even such smaller Boomburbs as Henderson, NV, with 175,381 residents, now surpass older mid-sized cities such as Knoxville, TN (173,890), Providence, RI, (173,618) and Worcester, MA (172,648).

    While Boomburbs are found throughout the nation, they are, for the most part, a Western Sunbelt phenomenon, with almost half in California. Los Angeles has the highest number of Boomburbs (18) and the biggest cumulative Boomburb population. Even a relatively small city, such as Las Vegas, has two of its own Boomburbs. In contrast, big cities in the South, Northeast, and Midwest, with the exception of Chicago, all lack Boomburbs. Only one Boomburb with more than 200,000 people (Hialeah, FL) exists east of the Mississippi.

    Lang and Simmons note in the report that regions can boom but have no Boomburbs. The authors cite master-planned community development and the need to form large water districts as the primary reason why Boomburbs concentrate in the West.

    The Fannie Mae Foundation report also reflects on the Boomburb phenomenon's impact on three key issues: the role of homeowners associations, class and race diversity, and low-density, “built out” development.

    The master-planned communities that dominate Boomburbs are often organized into homeowners associations that act as small private governments delivering services to residents; these have become so common and comprehensive that they often take the place of municipal governments. Thus, the Boomburb political dynamic is often between city hall and the homeowners association.

    Because of their large size, Boomburbs often have more diverse populations than smaller suburbs. Many are affluent, but virtually all Boomburbs contain lower-income neighborhoods as well. They also tend to attract people of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds. For example, Hialeah, northwest of Miami, had a 70.4 percent foreign-born population in 1990. In Santa Ana (Orange County), CA, 50.9 percent of the 1990 population was foreign-born.

    Boomburbs generally grow out rather than up, Lang and Simmons note in the report. While some Boomburbs have annexed land to expand their populations, others are landlocked and near a “build-out point.” Landlocked Boomburbs, such as Tempe, AZ, are at a crossroad: if they want to keep growing, they must change their land use patterns to accommodate higher density development.

    The Fannie Mae Foundation creates affordable homeownership and housing opportunities through innovative partnerships and initiatives that build healthy, vibrant communities across the United States. The Foundation is specially committed to improving the quality of life for the people of its hometown, Washington, D.C., and to enhancing the livability of the city's neighborhoods. The Foundation, a private nonprofit organization supported solely by Fannie Mae, has regional offices in Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Pasadena, and Philadelphia.