Doug Caruso The Columbus Dispatch @DougCaruso
According to new population estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau released Thursday, the city of Columbus has more residents than the city of San Francisco. But the San Francisco metropolitan area is still more than twice as populous as the Columbus metro area.
More people now live in Columbus than in San Francisco. Yes, San Francisco, California.
At 892,533, Columbus now has more people than San Francisco, but that counts only the population within each city's borders. The San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward metropolitan statistical area, at 4.7 million people, remains more than twice as large as Columbus' metro area of 2.1 million people.
Columbus grew by 10,770 people last year to surpass San Francisco, but Columbus remains the 14th-most-populous city in the United States. Fort Worth, Texas, which has been growing faster than Columbus for years, is now almost 3,000 residents larger. Fort Worth leaped over both Columbus and San Francisco to become the 13th-largest city in the nation.
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For Aaron Schill, director of data and mapping at the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, surpassing San Francisco — even if only within city borders — helps remove any doubt that Columbus' growth competes on a national scale. Often, he said, the growth of the city and the region is couched as surprising "for our size" or "for the Midwest" or "for Ohio."
"We are growing fast regardless of where you are in the country," Schill said. "We tend to want some confirmation that we are growing into a large city, and this just helps cement that."
Robin Davis moved from San Francisco to Columbus in 2002 to take a job as food editor for The Dispatch. Today, she's the spokeswoman for Columbus Mayor Andrew J. Ginther.
"I had never considered that," she said when told Columbus had grown larger than San Francisco. "I always think of San Francisco as being a big city. Columbus, what's great about it is that it has that small-town feeling."
Even 20 years ago, Davis said, she and her friends noted there wasn't much room for growth in San Francisco. It can't annex more land like Columbus can, and it packs a lot of people into a smaller area. Housing prices were out of reach then and they're even further so now. But she sees similarities between Columbus today and San Francisco in the early 2000s.
"You had the influx of talent that was going in there," she said. "And we're starting to see that here to a different degree."
The news is good for Columbus, said Aaron M. Renn, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute who focuses on urban economic development. In 2009, he called Columbus "the new Midwest star." But he pointed out that many of the people moving to Columbus are coming from elsewhere in Ohio.
"That's different for Austin or Nashville or Charlotte, where it's a national story," he said. "There's no reason in the world that Columbus can't become a national draw of people. Columbus can be competitive with them. It's on its way up."
In Ohio, and the Midwest, Columbus — and the rest of the central Ohio region — remains a center of growth, adding population at a rate of 1.2% between 2017 and 2018. At No. 11, Columbus is the only Midwestern city in the top 15 cities for numerical growth. All of the others are in the South and West.
Across Ohio, about 38 percent of cities and villages showed population growth between 2017 and 2018. That included Newark, which exceeded 50,000 residents for the first time. Suburbs, including places such as Grandview Heights, Marble Cliff, Pickerington, Canal Winchester and Sunbury, tended to show more growth than rural towns.
Among Ohio's largest cities, Dayton and Cincinnati showed modest growth, as did Youngstown. Akron's population remained stable, with the census estimating the city lost just 86 people. Canton, Cleveland and Toledo showed significant declines in population.
Bill LaFayette, an economist with Regionomics in Columbus, was interested to see Youngstown's growth, which is in its second year after a long decline, according to census data estimates.
"Youngstown is kind of the poster child for managing a shrinking city," he said. "It would be great to find that they're not losing population like that anymore."
All bragging rights for Columbus aside, LaFayette said, the whole state and the Midwest need to be growing for Columbus to continue to prosper.
"We need to care a whole lot more about what's going on in the rest of the state and the rest of the Midwest," he said. "The customers of the companies here are there and vice versa. What's going on elsewhere in Ohio affects us."
City and village growth rates
Ohio municipalities of 5,000 or more population that lost population between 2017 and 2018 are in orange, those that did not are in blue. Hover over a town to see its statistics.
Source: U.S. Census population estimatesDoug Caruso | The Columbus Dispatch
At MORPC, Schill said it's important to foster growth in areas that aren't growing and to plan for it in the areas that are. He points to a report by the Building Industry Association in December that said central Ohio is building just half the new homes needed to meet demand.
Looking at skyrocketing real estate prices in places Columbus considers growth peers, such as Charlotte, Nashville and Austin, Schill warns that could happen here if construction doesn't catch up to demand.