The fable of the City Mouse and Country Mouse goes back to Aesop. But in today’s U.S., America’s population continues to move to cities and their surrounding suburbs, with the share of people in rural areas declining.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the nation's urban population increased by 12.1 percent from 2000 to 2010, outpacing the nation's overall growth rate of 9.7 percent for the same period.
Urban areas—defined as densely developed residential, commercial and other nonresidential areas—now account for 80.7 percent of the U.S. population, up from 79.0 percent in 2000. Although the rural population grew by a modest amount from 2000 to 2010, it continued to decline as a percentage of the national population.
The Census Bureau identifies two types of urban areas: “urbanized areas” of 50,000 or more people and “urban clusters” of at least 2,500 and less than 50,000 people. There are 486 urbanized areas and 3,087 urban clusters nationwide.
The nation's most densely populated urbanized area is Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim, Calif., with nearly 7,000 people per square mile. The San Francisco-Oakland, Calif., area is the second most densely populated at 6,266 people per square mile, followed by San Jose, Calif. (5,820 people per square mile), Delano, Calif. (5,483 people per square mile), and the New York-Newark, N.J., area (5,319 people per square mile).
Of the 10 most densely populated urbanized areas, nine are in the West, with seven of those in California. Urbanized areas in the U.S., taken together, had an overall population density of 2,534 people per square mile.
The New York-Newark area continues to be the nation's most populous urbanized area, with 18,351,295 residents. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Anaheim is the second most populous (12,150,996), followed by the Chicago area (8,608,208). These areas have been the three most populous since the 1950 Census, when urbanized areas were first defined.
Among urbanized areas with populations of 1 million or more, the Charlotte, N.C.-S.C., area grew at the fastest rate, increasing by 64 percent, followed by the Austin, Texas, area, at 51 percent, and Las Vegas-Henderson, Nev., at 43 percent. The Charlotte and Austin areas also had the highest rates of land area change, increasing by 70 percent and 64 percent, respectively.
The population within the nation's 486 urbanized areas grew by 14.3 percent from 2000 to 2010. For any given urbanized area, population increase may be attributed to a combination of internal growth, outward expansion to include new growth, and outward expansion encompassing existing communities that previously were outside the urbanized area.
Based on 2010 Census results, the Census Bureau identified 36 new urbanized areas, including Cape Girardeau, Mo.-Ill. (52,900), Grand Island, Neb. (50,440), Lake Havasu City, Ariz. (53,427), Manhattan, Kan. (54,622), Mankato, Minn. (57,784), Midland, Mich. (59,014), and Sierra Vista, Ariz. (52,745).
Of the nation's four census regions, the West continued to be the most urban, with 89.8 percent of its population residing within urban areas, followed by the Northeast, at 85.0 percent. The Midwest and South continue to have lower percentages of urban population than the nation as a whole, with rates of 75.9 and 75.8, respectively.
Looking at the 50 states, California was the most urban, with nearly 95 percent of its population residing within urban areas. New Jersey followed closely with 94.7 percent of its population residing in urban areas. New Jersey is the most heavily urbanized state, with 92.2 percent of its population residing within urbanized areas of 50,000 or more population. The states with the largest urban populations were California (35,373,606), Texas (21,298,039) and Florida (17,139,844).
Maine and Vermont were the most rural states, with 61 percent of their populations residing in rural areas. States with the largest rural populations were Texas (3,847,522), North Carolina (3,233,727) and Pennsylvania (2,711,092).