What urban revival? In Michigan, residents still flock to suburbs

Michigan suburbs outside of Detroit and Grand Rapids are growing at the greatest percentages among communities in Michigan, new U.S. Census Bureau estimates show.

Suburban growth

Although much of Michigan is seeing population growth, the fastest growth is anchored in the townships just beyond the urban cores of Grand Rapids, Detroit, Lansing and Kalamazoo. SEARCH YOUR COMMUNITY by clicking the magnifying glass in lower lefthand corner.

Source: U.S. Census population estimates

For all the talk about the renaissance of Detroit and Grand Rapids, it turns out suburbs haven’t lost their allure.

With new homes and good schools, they’re driving the biggest population growth in Michigan as tens of thousands flock into the townships just beyond the urban cores of Detroit, Grand Rapids, Lansing and Kalamazoo.

Consider Oakland and Kent counties: Township residents comprise about 38 percent of each county’s population. But from 2010 to 2017, 53 percent of the counties’ growth was in semi-rural communities just outside inner-ring suburbs, according to Bridge analysis of population estimates released in late May by the U.S. Census Bureau.

“When you look at the big picture, we have parks, we have cops, we have fire (protection), good schools,” said Abe Ayoub, a real estate agent based in South Lyon in western Oakland County.

“It’s a trifecta.”

Actually, that’s a quadfecta, but Ayoub may be too busy to count.

He lives in Lyon Township, the fastest growing community in the state. Development stalled just before the Great Recession, but it has rebounded with abandon: the township has grown by 36 percent since 2010, and more homes are going up.

Those new homes, in developments with names like Rathmoor Park and the Estates of Hutsfield, are attracting young families that are sending hundreds more kids to South Lyon schools.

Biggest gainers, losers across the state

Biggest gainers

Rank Municipality 2017 population Change
1 Grand Rapids (Kent) 198,829 10,789
2 Macomb Township (Macomb) 89,479 9,899
3 Ann Arbor (Washtenaw) 121,477 7,543
4 Lyon Charter Township (Oakland) 19,912 5,367
5 Allendale Charter Township (Ottawa) 26,059 5,351
6 Shelby Charter Township (Macomb) 79,101 5,297
7 Georgetown Charter Township (Ottawa) 51,609 4,624
8 Novi (Oakland) 59,715 4,491
9 Pittsfield Charter Township (Washtenaw) 38,729 4,066
10 Clinton Charter Township (Macomb) 100,712 3,916

Biggest population losers

Rank Municipality 2017 population Change
1 Detroit (Wayne) 673,104 -40,673
2 Flint (Genesee) 96,448 -5,986
3 Dearborn (Wayne) 94,491 -3,662
4 Indianfields Township (Tuscola) 2,538 -3,510
5 Livonia (Wayne) 94,105 -2,837
6 Saginaw (Saginaw) 48,677 -2,831
7 Scio Township (Washtenaw) 17,642 -2,439
8 Westland (Wayne) 81,747 -2,347
9 Fayette Township (Hillsdale) 55,758 -2,274
10 Dearborn Heights (Wayne) 61,276 -2,016

Biggest gainers, percent gain

Rank Municipality 2017 population Percent
1 Lyon Charter Township (Oakland) 19,912 36.9
2 Washington Township (Sanilac) 2,104 26.8
3 Allendale Charter Township (Ottawa) 26,059 25.8
4 Aurelius Township (Ingham) 4,310 22.3
5 Algoma Township (Kent) 11,829 19.1
6 Jamestown Charter Township (Ottawa) 8,324 18.3
7 Byron Township (Kent) 23,835 17.3
8 Caledonia Township (Kent) 14,421 16.9
9 Vicksburg (Kalamazoo) 3,370 16
10 Texas Charter Township (Kalamazoo) 16,951 15.3

Biggest losers, percent loss

Rank Municipality 2017 population Percent
1 Indianfields Township (Tuscola) 2,538 -58
1 Coldwater Township (Branch) 4,858 -20.4
2 Ontonagon Township (Ontonagon) 2,251 -12.7
3 Scio Township (Washtenaw) 17,642 -12.1
4 Ironwood (Gogebic) 4,971 -7.7
5 Bloomer Township (Montcalm) 3,609 -7.6
6 Highland Park (Wayne) 10,900 -7.4
7 Clam Lake Township (Wexford) 2,292 -7.1
8 Mount Morris (Genesee) 2,883 -6.6
9 Croswell (Sanilac) 2,288 -6.5
10 Munising (Alger) 2,205 -6.4

The phenomenon is counterpoint to the narrative –  nationally as well as in Michigan – that Millennials are fueling an urban renaissance. Make no mistake, Grand Rapids and some areas of Detroit are growing.  But far more young families are following the path of their parents and grandparents and settling in the suburbs.

It’s happening around Lansing and Kalamazoo and in the fastest-growing region of the state, Kent County, where most of the area is seeing steady growth. But the biggest gains, from 13 to 26 percent, are in townships outside Grand Rapids: Allendale, Blendon, Byron and Jamestown townships.

“The further you’re getting from Grand Rapids, you’re getting more of the growth,” said Eric Guthrie, the state’s official demographer, who added that housing patterns still suggest a need to be within driving distance to urban cores.

“There’s a certain level of convenience being close to the city.”

In fairness, Grand Rapids still led the state in overall population growth from 2010 to 2017, even though neighboring communities grew at faster clips.

Detroit, in contrast, has lost more than 40,000 residents since 2010, much to Mayor Mike Duggan’s chagrin. He has made reversing decades of population loss the centerpiece of his administration, but the numbers have fallen, albeit at a slower rate, every year since he was elected in 2013.

Last year, the city lost 3,541 residents, Census figures show.

That’s more than have moved to Midtown –  a neighborhood that has seen explosive growth and investment –  since 2011. The neighborhood’s population has increased nearly 3,000 to 21,660.

One reason is because housing units that are constructed are often 700 square-feet or less, city officials acknowledge.

“Most of what is being built are smaller units for empty nesters and Millennials, they’re not good for anyone with families,” Detroit activist Linda Campbell said at a forum on housing in late April.

Urban living is attractive to young adults, but when children become school-aged, parents still typically move to the suburbs, Ayoub said.

“It’s the biggest reason people give for choosing this area,” he said.

The numbers back up Ayoub: The enrollment of kindergarten, first and second graders in South Lyon schools has jumped 30 percent since 2010, with the kindergarten class alone jumping nearly 140 students. That’s as many as seven more classrooms in a single grade.

If this story sounds familiar, it’s because it is.

Click to enlarge

“It’s similar to what happened in the last decade, except for (the recent growth in) downtown Detroit,” said Xuan Liu, manager of research and data analysis for SEMCOG, the regional planning consortium for Metro Detroit.

The attraction: big lots, good schools, low crime and convenient access to shopping and jobs. A map of 2017 building permits shows a crescent of development just beyond the inner-ring of Detroit suburbs.

Back in the 1990s and the early 2000s, developers built an average of 50,000 per year, mostly in suburbs. That number plummeted to about 8,000 in 2009 and has since increased to about 24,000.

Now, developers are returning, driven by land availability and customer preferences, Liu said. That’s found them targeting a ring of townships just beyond the inner ring of the state’s urban cores.

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Comments

***
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 8:15am

As millennials get older, married and with kids the fancy apt. downtown, the brewpub bar scene etc. starts to lose its allure and they want to get something for their money besides a rent receipt.

EMParmelee
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 11:29am

No different than any other generation. The difference with Michigan is that we haven't had much in terms of a city to offer until now. What will change is their demand to continue to be linked to the city through jobs and entertainment and the like. As they move out, others will move in, at least the urban core. Detroit's major problem is that it's so big and poor - the poor will of course move out to places that offer them hope, hence the constant push to sprawl. In cities like NYC there is another group, immigrants, which feed population growth or at least stability.

Mark
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 8:41am

Wow, sucks to be Caro right now.

John Q. Public
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 1:21pm

Actually, the drop in Indianfields Twp. is almost certainly wholly (or nearly so) attributable to Caro becoming a city. When it was a village, its population was attributable to the township. While they converted in 2009, census statistical changes weren't made until 2011.

Will Hathaway
Sun, 06/10/2018 - 12:17am

The decreased population number in Scio Township is likewise due to Dexter becoming a city. The 4,000 residents didn't go anywhere when they voted to change from being a village. They just ceased being residents of Scio. Once the population figure is adjusted for Dexter's changed status, Scio Township had significant increase in population.

GR-urbanite
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 8:49am

This is an interesting trend and good to note. I'm not sure there's anything here, though, that proves that "Millennials love suburbs" is anything other than a provocative email subject line. Big lots, good schools, low crime and convenient access to shopping and jobs are attributed to the growth (as are parks, cops, fire, good schools)... but do the urban cores not have these characteristics (other than big lots)? Is it really dwelling unit size? The numbers also don't seem to actually correspond to a specific age cohort... so I'm not sure where the hypothesis of suburban growth being led by millennials comes from. What am I missing? I'd be interested to see survey research asking people moving from the cores to the suburbs *why* it is they did so. My suspicion is that the reasons are not as simple as suburban realtors might want us to believe.

Joel Kurth
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 9:03am

Kindergarten enrollment is increasing dramatically in suburbs, which is a pretty good indication that young people are fueling increase.

EMParmelee
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 11:37am

Also missing is a breakdown between the urban core and the neighborhoods. In a city the size of Detroit this sort of issue makes a big difference in the title having any meaning. The 40,000 moving out of Detroit doesn't reflect the core. And your note regarding missing ages in important. I've found a great many empty-nesters looking to downtown Detroit living.

But this is evidence as to why we need to focus on only two urban cores as a state - Detroit and Grand Rapids. Spreading the state's resources to thin will not allow us to focus the needed urban cores. Anyone who predicted the death of the suburbs for either naive or over optimistic. The young, the old and the immigrant populations seem to like cities, tourists like cities, businesses like cities, the wealth who can afford multiple homes love cities, tourists like cities. This isn't everyone. Some families do, families looking at magnet, charter and private schools. Most will always look at the suburbs. This situation means that transit is even more vital for Michigan.

John Q. Public
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 1:57pm

Historically, the reason an urban core was important was because it generated tax revenue far disproportionate to the demand for services there, allowing a city to fund an even level of service throughout.

Tax policies like tax increment financing have effectively made a solid core irrelevant to the rest of the city. Since tax revenue never leaves the core to be disbursed in the neighborhoods, whether 7.2 is "vibrant" is irrelevant to the other 135.7. This is supported by recent measures declaring, "Detroit: a fantastic place to visit, but you don't want to live there. " The former is the core; the latter, the rest of the city. Growth in the core is an end in itself, and not a means to a better city throughout. Better mass transit won't change that.

EMParmelee
Wed, 06/06/2018 - 9:36am

I'm not talking about public transit to connect the core to the rest of the city but to connect the core to the rest of the metropolis. I haven't read the article to which you are referring but I am assuming when they say you wouldn't want to live there are they talking about outside of the urban core. As the urban core changes more and more people are finding they do want to live there, but certainly little has changed in the rest of the city to make it desirable in anyway. This historical use of taxes on an urban core is an issue to the downtown, because people move out into the suburbs where they don't have to be part of such a funding scheme thus leaving the core abandoned and rest of the city as a holding tank until they too can move into the suburbs - hence urban sprawl further and further out, hence Macomb Co. This is especially true in a state where little is done to off set this. I see your point about the core being irrelevant to the rest of the city, expect for the fact that a health core could provide jobs, it is very relevant to the far flung suburbs which need such an environment to attract money from out side of the area. We are not lacking quality suburbs or rural locations, but our urban scene is simply not competitive. We argue over transit and all the pieces but the fact of the matter when looking at places like San Francisco such has been of benefit, keeping different "types" of people on different systems but all areas looking to something to grow their competitive advantage. Basically they operate an inn city/core system, a system linking them to San Jose, a system of buses and ferries linking them to more rural north, and an expensive and multi lined system to the east with large pockets of poverty. So while I agree, growth in the core is an end in itself, that's not necessarily a bad thing, and better mass transit will help with the growth beyond the outer city. Now how to address the issues of the rest of the city - that is a complex issue.

Justin Carinci
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 9:52am

One thing to note in Michigan is the oddity of "charter townships" enshrined in state law. In every other state, cities grow by building out and then expanding their tax bases with new residents and businesses they've provided roads, water, electricity, etc. to. Michigan created charter townships specifically to prevent cities from annexing the growing areas on their borders. As a metro area grows, the city doesn't, and it increasingly fills up with employers such as hospitals, universities and other nonprofit employers that pay no property tax, while the fewer remaining residents pay more and more to keep services (many of which serve the whole region).
In short, of course you see growth in the townships. Much of this is growth that, in any other state, would represent the natural expansion, through annexation, of older built-out cities. The neighborhoods in, I'll use Kalamazoo as an example, fill out instead in Oshtemo and Kalamazoo Township and Texas Township, and why not? They enjoy everything the city has to offer and reap the rewards of a healthy property tax base that the city is barred from.

EMParmelee
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 11:41am

Excellent points.

A reason for the state to invest in two urban cores (Detroit and Grand Rapids) instead of spreading their efforts out thinner and thinner. Also a reason why public transit is of great important, to keep this region together and offering what is competitive to draw interest ( jobs, investment and tourists).

Justin Carinci
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 1:33pm

I certainly think we should invest in our urban cores and in transit, but I'm not sure what in my comment is a reason to invest in the two biggest cities over the others. All of Michigan's cities are feeling the pinch. Michigan Municipal League had a good breakdown of this at http://www.savemicity.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/michigans-broken-fi...

EMParmelee
Wed, 06/06/2018 - 9:42am

I'm not saying that they should be over looked altogether, but that these two are by far the only two urban cores that have a chance to be true "urban" centers and thus competitive on a national stage and anything else the state does is just watering down it's efforts. Cities like Kalamazoo should get attention as part of a great Grand Rapids metropolitan area with transit which links them to Grand Rapids and the "urban" environment they can foster. Grand Rapids will have the larger airport and the more developed downtown and a reputation on which can be built an urban core with a national draw. Kalamazoo can play a role in that, especially with Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan, much like Ann Arbor is to Detroit, but the idea that Ann Arbor will become the new core city doesn't work. One can't just pick up and move an urban core somewhere else and an urban core gives a sense of community, and pulls people together. This is something that Michigan as a state struggles with, preferring fiefdoms over collaboration.

Arjay
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 11:11am

And why wouldn’t people want to live in the suburbs instead of the cities. A decent dwelling in Detroit as an example costs as much as one in the suburbs. But the millage rate in Detroit is more than double what it is in the suburbs, and the service received is questionable at best. A recent story in the local papers stated that even after the attention given to the Flint water fiasco, inspectors in Detroit were unable to properly inspect a large percentage of water lines for lead. The big three, good schools, low crime, and convenient access to shopping and jobs tells it all. Top that with the fact that your property tax bill will be a lot less than in the city and it is a no brainer.

Jeff
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 1:26pm

Is the decline in Indianfields population associated with Caro becoming a city?

AIM
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 1:52pm

A lot of the recent arrivals in places like Lyon Township aren’t millennials moving from downtown Detroit to the suburbs. They are moving from other suburban communities for new housing that is cheaper than what they could purchase in a Novi or a Rochester Hills.

EMParmelee
Wed, 06/06/2018 - 9:45am

I've found many of them from Ann Arbor as well. It's sort of game of constant movement and urban sprawl we've encouraged in Michigan.

EMParmelee
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 1:54pm

When actually paying attention to the national narrative it is not so much a rebirth of cities but a rebirth of city centers - an island if you will where the suburbs are stretching further and further away. I didn't really watch it but from the advertisements it sort of reminds me of what Incorporated was getting at (SyFy series). Protected inner cities surrounded by government abandoned seas with suburban and rural areas beyond that. This attention to this far out suburbs (notice, beyond Wayne Co) is what we are seeing but that doesn't mean that the city core doesn't have a reliance to the metro area. Neighborhoods along the river away from downtown I would expect to see some growth as well into the Grosse Pointes, once we see more a true urban core. These will be the people looking to live closer to that urban core and in the case of the Grosse Pointes also looking for good schools. But still most families will live in these rural areas and commute in the city (why transit becomes so very important). Single people, including empty nesters as they mention, will be what make up those that live in the city core, something seen in one city after another in the United States. Simply because this is happening doesn't mean the city core has lost it's relieve but it does mean that public transit is even more important than before - and good, fast trains from the far flung suburbs into that city core. It also means the state needs to focus on a limited number of central cities (Detroit and Grand Rapids) and not every little place that wants to call itself urban and walkable.

Greg
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 1:54pm

This is not surprising considering that Detroit still isn't sufficiently healthy to drive the kind of growth that you see in comparably sized cities like: Boston, D.C., and Seattle. Grand Rapids isn't large enough to drive the kind of growth that you see in cities like: Minneapolis, Columbus, OH., Indianapolis, or Pittsburgh. Michigan pretty much invented suburbia by introducing the nation and the world to the automobile. That's why Detroit at it's peak population of nearly 2 million didn't look much like other cities of that size at the time. There was always the preference in Detroit for the single family home; and as families made more money and had the ability to travel faster and further houses became bigger and farther from the urban core. Probably the majority of people alive today in Michigan can't recall Detroit as a thriving city. Thus, they have no first-hand knowledge or experience of what a thriving major city looks like nor how it functions. Consequently their notions of desirable living is the suburbs because that's essentially all that they know. However, if Dan Gilbert (Detroit billionaire and major investor) along with Ford have their way this will change. As Detroit becomes more competitive at attracting more of the best educated, the brightest and the most talented, many of those individuals will come from other areas where they're accustomed to big, successful, vibrant cities; and many of them won't want to settle for the suburbs no matter how wonderful Michiganians may think they are.

EMParmelee
Wed, 06/06/2018 - 9:47am

Well said.

Kurt H Schindler
Tue, 06/05/2018 - 7:38pm

How does this compare to other states? My guess is the urban (city) revival has taken place elsewhere (Chicago, Minn., Mass., etc.). My observation is too many municipalities in Michigan did not take seriously the need for Placemaking in the new (global) economy, and did little actual actions to do so. That may be one of the significant reasons for the lack of urban revitalization in Michigan.

EMParmelee
Wed, 06/06/2018 - 9:50am

Well said. And place making requires proximity and collaboration and we just don't seem to like that here. We have people who get mad when a sports team moves from the suburbs. We fight transit out into the far flung reaches of the metropolis. Detroit's corridor and water front should be competing with Chicago, Minn, Mass not the rest of the state of Michigan.

Gottobeme
Sun, 06/10/2018 - 8:04am

The good news is Michigan is a relatively large state and residents still have an abundance of options. Where they decide to live does not necessarily mean it's their preference, but often is. No place is perfect for everyone. Some prefer walkable urban areas, both BIG and small; others like suburban or rural settings. Older homes versus new construction is another factor. Top notch, non-chain restaurants appeal to foodies who can afford to frequent them. Chains are a great option for folks who prefer to know exactly what to expect on the menu regardless of the location. Proximity to sports and entertainment venues might have an appeal to those who regularly attend these types of events. Movie theatres and activities for kids might be the preference of others. Working close to home is a priority for some; others do not mind spending considerable time in traffic congestion as long as their other needs are met. In the end, costs relative to HHI, personal preferences, schools, taxes, perceived safety and security drive their decisions. Has anyone done a study on what the people of Michigan think about all of these variables and others? I would include mass transit even though it is currently not an option anywhere in Michigan. I personally enjoy the efficiency of trains when visiting major US cities and other countries. Realize that many others do not. Cities, townships and counties all across the state could benefit from this data. Assume the more progressive ones are already doing this. I end as I began: The good news is there are many options in Michigan.

Gottobeme
Sun, 06/10/2018 - 8:05am

The good news is Michigan is a relatively large state and residents still have an abundance of options. Where they decide to live does not necessarily mean it's their preference, but often is. No place is perfect for everyone. Some prefer walkable urban areas, both BIG and small; others like suburban or rural settings. Older homes versus new construction is another factor. Top notch, non-chain restaurants appeal to foodies who can afford to frequent them. Chains are a great option for folks who prefer to know exactly what to expect on the menu regardless of the location. Proximity to sports and entertainment venues might have an appeal to those who regularly attend these types of events. Movie theatres and activities for kids might be the preference of others. Working close to home is a priority for some; others do not mind spending considerable time in traffic congestion as long as their other needs are met. In the end, costs relative to HHI, personal preferences, schools, taxes, perceived safety and security drive their decisions. Has anyone done a study on what the people of Michigan think about all of these variables and others? I would include mass transit even though it is currently not an option anywhere in Michigan. I personally enjoy the efficiency of trains when visiting major US cities and other countries. Realize that many others do not. Cities, townships and counties all across the state could benefit from this data. Assume the more progressive ones are already doing this. I end as I began: The good news is there are many options in Michigan.

Rex LaMore
Mon, 06/11/2018 - 8:28am

The narrative that accompanies this data is in some of the cases misleading. Relying on percent change as your primary determinant exaggerates the absolute change and the impact of the change. For example if a community has a population of 100 and 10 people move in, that is a 10% increase. Whereas a community of 100,000 would have to see a population increase of 10,000 to achieve the same percent change.
Clearly a population change of 10,000 is more substantial in impact than a population change of 10 .
Bridge Magazine I suggest you re-write and publish a revised paper looking at absolute change rather than percent change to provide your readers with a more accurate assessment of what is happening in communities.

James Thornton
Sat, 06/16/2018 - 9:25pm

Like My Dad said, "Put a pencil through it". Find out the costs and what you are getting. You might be shocked. Then there is owing a house near you to rent. The costs to make houses cute are a lot. People spend on the garden that brakes or dies each year. Concrete that cracks. Houses that are heat venting sources, not warm and cheap to heat. An what do you spend on just a green lawn that is never let to grow, so It can grow it's self; then cut the grass after the seeds have fallen to the ground.?? Gas used. Cutting machines to buy. Time to trim the lawn. People are just pouring money down the drain with out really knowing it. I guess you would get a big fight if you wanted to put porous concrete, that would look like bad grass and or bad concrete. It is an expensive fad that keeps the likes of Home Depot in business for things that are designed to brake or wear out in 6 months. Know why you are spending on the equivalent of a rotten stationary car, that you know will work bad and have a nice paint job.