The Fastest Growing Cities in America

22 Oct, 2015

Posted on October 20, 2015 by Sabrina Perry


When discussing the biggest threats to U.S. national security, people and politicians alike often jump to name enemy countries or terrorist groups. The recent democratic debate was no exception. When candidates were asked to name what they felt was the biggest national security threat, most referenced the Middle East or China. Senator Bernie Sanders, however, mentioned climate change.

Simultaneously hidden and in plain sight, climate change is a complex and pressing issue that has rarely been discussed as a specific threat to the nation. Recently, however, the conversation seems to be changing. Democratic candidates Lincoln Chafee, Martin O’Malley, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders all deemed climate change important enough to mention in their opening statements during the democratic debate. As evidenced by this event, a shift towards environmental sustainability is clearly on Americans’ minds. Much of this worry stems from the unrelenting growth and urbanization of not only America, but the world.

Though growing cities provide a host of benefits that scale at a rate greater than population size, such as increased wages, income, and rates of invention, they also have their downfalls. Despite only accounting for two percent of the earth’s land, cities produce 75 percent of global carbon emissions.

The U.S. has a particularly bad rap in this respect. It only comprises four percent of the world’s total population, but Americans produce an incommensurate percentage of CO2 emissions. In 2011, the U.S. produced 17.0 metric tons of it per person. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, this translates to 17 percent of the world’s total CO2 emissions. To put that in context, there are only 10 countries doing worse. While the U.S. often prides itself on coming in at the top, this is an area in which it falls short.

This growth, however, has not been evenly distributed. From 2000-2013, certain regions of the country grew at rates significantly faster than others. The heat map below depicts these fast growing areas. In order to see which cities in the U.S. have been growing the fastest, the experts at MooseRoots dove into the data from the National Historic Geographic Information Society (NHGIS) and The Census Bureau. Looking at cities with populations over 300K and using the most recently available information, we found the top 10 fastest growing cities from 2000-2013. These cities have experienced the greatest percent change in population over this time frame.

It is interesting to note that much of this growth is concentrated in the West and Southeast. Many attribute this to immigration, temperate climates, and the stronger economies of these regions. These dense areas, though often thought to be “greener” due to increased public transportation and smaller living spaces, are often the worst contributors to greenhouse gas.

Though fast-growing cities pose an obvious environmental threat, the world is not yet resigned to an inexorable demise. Recent legislation and current social movements provide much in which to find promise. In 2009, Obama called for improved sustainability measures with Executive Order 13514. Requiring government agencies to report and reduce greenhouse gas emissions was a good step forward, and other organizations are following suit.

From 2008-2011, an increased percentage of companies began reporting on their corporate social responsibility (CSR) initiatives. In 2011, the EPA established mandatory greenhouse gas emissions reporting for large U.S. sources and suppliers. So, if you live in a big city, it is likely to already be moving towards improved sustainability. And, if not, it probably will soon.

The top 10 fastest growing cities in the U.S. are listed below.

10. San Antonio, Texas

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 18.7%
Population in 2013 – 1,359,033

9. Aurora, Colorado

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 20.4%
Population in 2013 – 332,820

8. Riverside, California

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 21.2%
Population in 2013 – 309,150

7. Albuquerque, New Mexico

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 22.6%
Population in 2013 – 549,812

6. Las Vegas, Nevada

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 23.6%
Population in 2013 – 591,496

5. Austin, Texas

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 27.5%
Population in 2013 – 836,800

4. Charlotte, North Carolina

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 40.0%
Population in 2013 – 757,278

3. Fort Worth, Texas

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 42.3%
Population in 2013 – 761,092

2. Bakersfield, California

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 42.8%
Population in 2013 – 352,918

1. Raleigh, North Carolina

Population Growth Rate (2000 – 2013) – 50.1%
Population in 2013 – 414,530

Learn About Your City Over Time at MooseRoots