The census tells us quite a bit about where people are populating and when. What we see in the chart below is a significant (not tested for significance) change in course for population movements. The data examines the population of central cities of each metro area, compared to the surrounding metro area populations. Suburban growth patterns continued to dominate the percent of growth through 2007 (noted by the tall blue bars above the metro area), then abruptly fell for both in 2007-2009. What follows is primarily growth in the central cities (green bars in 2009-2011) with some moderate growth in the surrounding towns.
I continue to believe that when faced with economic uncertainty, due to high fuel prices, sputtering economy, etc., people will choose a more efficient lifestyle. Cities are an opportunity for that, helping to reduce commuter costs and put people closer to the things they want and need. Even in the face of higher housing costs in central cities, the combined cost of transportation and housing is still a better deal. In a flat economy with high fuel prices, that is a choice many are inclined to make.