Philly Grows to Stay in Top Five Cities, Phoenix Nipping at its Heels

Philly added 6,000 people, according to Census estimates. Phoenix gained 24,000.

Broad Street Run | Photo by M. Edlow for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

Broad Street Run | Photo by M. Edlow for VISIT PHILADELPHIA

Philadelphia gained nearly 6,000 people last year, according to U.S. Census estimates released on Thursday, continuing its slow but steady recovery from decades of population loss. The population now stands at 1,567,442, up more than 40,000 since 2010, enough to remain the 5th largest city in the U.S. by population.

But Phoenix, a sprawling city with more than triple the land area of Philadelphia, is growing too. Last year, the Arizona capital gained more than 24,000 residents, bringing its population to 1,563,025. If the current growth rates for both cities continue, Phoenix will edge Philly out of the top five next year.

For Philly to gain population at any rate is a sign that people want to be here, which wasn’t what the numbers were indicating for the whole second half of the 20th century and into the 2000s. That’s something to celebrate, even if it would be pretty lame to be knocked out of the top five by a bloated suburb in a desert. (Phoenix has been gunning for Philly’s No. 5 spot for some time — and some estimates had the Arizona metropolis ahead of Philadelphia at various points in the last decade.)

It’s been Center City and the surrounding neighborhoods that have grown in recent years, while outlying areas are still shedding population. And those areas are responding to the population growth with a development boom. Just last year, 1,500 new apartment units opened in the “Greater Center City” area (Tasker to Girard, river to river), according to a report from the Center City District. According to the same report, nearly 6,000 apartment units are under construction in the same area and will become available in the next three years.

Rents were rising modestly downtown, and they have spiked dramatically in a few neighborhoods around Center City. Still, as the Pew Charitable Trusts discovered in a report released on Thursday, only a tiny fraction of Philly neighborhoods have gentrified since 2000, while most have seen significant drops in income.

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