One of the articles making the rounds on Twitter, especially, over the past few days has been an Upshot piece in the NYTimes summarizing a new report by Joe Cortright at the City Observatory. In this case the upshot is that newly analyzed data from the Census Bureau show that job growth has recently been faster in the central city core of metropolitan areas than it has been in the periphery. The analysis covers the 41 largest metro areas of the country, and the central city is defined a bit arbitrarily as the area within a 3-mile radius of the major intersection within the downtown area of the metro region's largest central business district. In other words, if there is more than one CBD, it is only the largest (most populous) that counts as the central city. Everything beyond that three mile radius is then the "periphery."
Kudos to the Census Bureau for creating a new set of employment data that allows this kind of micro-level geographic analysis, and Cortright has done a nice job of exploiting the data. The major limitation is that the data series only goes back to 2002, a period of time coinciding with the rapid rise in home construction that eventually led to the Great Recession. Cortright compares the period 2002-07 with 2007-11. Thus, he compares the run-up to the Great Recession to the Recession and early post-recession period. This may not be an historical period in which we can reliably search for trends. His data show, not surprisingly, that construction and manufacturing (much of which was undoubtedly related to construction) are disproportionately located in the periphery and took the biggest hits in the 2007-11 compared to the 2002-07 time frame.
Even with those caveats, though, I think that Cortright is correct with respect to the broader trends. Before the big housing boom--falsely pushed along by the sub-prime mortgage market--city centers were trying to make a comeback. Gentrification, downtown revitalization, and job growth in city centers were trends that were essentially derailed by the housing boom, which took place largely in suburbs and exurbs. We are now in all likelihood returning to those earlier trends. They are not dramatic trends and they may not last, but they remind us that urban evolution will be part and parcel of human existence for the rest of our lives because the vast majority of Americans, and the majority of all human beings, live in urban places.