Cincinnati Posts Population Gain for Second Consecutive Year

Cincinnati has added about 1,000 new people since the decennial census in 2010, according to new estimates released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

The modest increase comes from two consecutive years of population gains that followed an immediate downward revision after the 2010 Census. The increase also means that just Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton were the only big cities (more than 50,000 people) in Ohio to post gains.

Columbus and Cincinnati, meanwhile, were the only big cities to post population gains for the past two years.

The population estimates are derived using the 2010 Census as a baseline and then factoring in new permitted residential construction and mobile homes, and subtracting out the estimated number of homes lost each year. As a result, all of the annual estimates should come with a grain of salt.

Ohio Cities Comparison

With that said, Dayton’s population gains appear to be an anomaly, while the increases in Columbus and Cincinnati appear to be more rooted. In any case, the news for Ohio’s big cities is not good as the rest all lost population, especially those in the northeastern part of the state.

Columbus continues to stand out from the rest of Ohio’s big cities in terms of its population trends. In this latest estimate release, Columbus posted the fifteenth largest numeric population gain of any municipality in America; and it comes on the heels of equally impressive gains in prior years.

Some observers, however, would attribute some of the gains in Columbus to its unusually large municipal boundaries that include what would be far suburbs in other Ohio regions.

While Columbus has been growing by about 1.5% annually over the past several years, Cincinnati has been growing annually by about 0.25%.

When compared with other peer cities, Cincinnati’s gains look even more tepid.

Peer Cities Comparison

Of fifteen other cities competitive with Cincinnati, the city bested only five of them in terms of population growth, while being significantly outperformed by most all others. In this comparison, even Ohio’s best performer – Columbus –fares only reasonably well against the field.

For Cincinnati’s peer cities, national trends appear to hold true. Southern cities continue to grow at the fastest clip, but their growth rates are leveling off. In our comparison, Austin, Atlanta and Tampa have all experienced significant declines in annual population growth since the 2010 Census. Charlotte has also experienced a similar trend, but appears to be holding steady more so than its Sun Belt peers.

Meanwhile, while many Midwestern cities continue to lose population, they are doing so at a slower rate or have stopped the losses entirely.

As we previously examined on UrbanCincy, the Cincinnati region continues to grow by about 0.4% annually. The City of Cincinnati’s 2013 gain represents approximately 12.5% of the total regional population growth, and half of Hamilton County’s increase last year.

In a nutshell, Cincinnati is over performing regionally, but under performing amongst its peers. If Cincinnati were growing as fast as Charlotte or Austin, the city would be adding around 9,000 new people every year.

  • This probably won’t change for a few years with the current mayor fighting downtown, OTR and urbanists tooth and nail.

    • EDG

      Liberty Twp issued 5x more sf permits than Cincy through April yet he continues to hold up 4th and Race. Cranley is trying to build a Chicago-style approval system where everything has to go through him.

    • matimal

      cranely is like the old ‘elected’ South American dictators. A coalition of corrupt local elites in a ‘special relationship’ with American government and business got many of the old-school South American presidents elected despite their open hostility to the majority of the residents of their countries. Thankfully those days are over in Latin America. Unfortunately they aren’t in Cincinnati. It was non-Cincinnati financial interests and a band of fearful old timers who elected cranely. They are desperately clinging to the vestiges of power they once had using every trick in the book. They see nothing to gain from Cincinnati’s growth. Cincinnati is THEIRS, THEY run it, not a working political majority of its legal residents. Fortunately, their days are numbered. The harder we work to undermine cranely (and he doesn’t exactly make it difficult) the faster we push them out of the way.

    • Neil Clingerman

      The only part of the coalition you are missing is a significant portion of the LGBT population who was attracted to Cranley due to him pushing hard for the repeal of the really nasty charter amendment that was passed in the 90s. In addition he managed to grab part of the African American population. He was good at building an unlikely coalition to tack on the people you are describing which is one of the biggest downfalls of Qualls IMO is that she didn’t do enough outreach to non-core members of her constituency or sling enough mud at Cranley who has a giant pile of steaming crud in his history namely the public safety committee meeting on a fateful day in 2001 – his failure of leadership there should have been amped up because its certainly representative of his failings as a leader in general and not just him being green.

    • matimal

      There was LGBT support for cranely? really!? I never saw any evidence of it.

    • One of the LGBTQ organizations “endorsed” both Cranley and Qualls.

    • matimal


    • Neil Clingerman

      I did chatted with a few friends last winter and that point was brought up

    • Neil Clingerman

      I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again, I don’t like Cranley but a Chicago-style politician he is not. Council still has quite a bit more power over the mayor in Cincy than it does in Chicago and people who don’t like Cranley should be writing the moderates who are sitting on council to push back against his idiocy.

    • AJ

      Haha, just watch City Council Meetings. Cranley tries to shove stuff through all the time, then Council starts asking questions, then Cranley pouts like a child. He literally called Chris Seelbach’s questions “stupid” yesterday.

  • So…housing development/demolition is used as a stand-in for population change?
    How does this compare to population the estimates from the American Community Survey? Perhaps I misunderstand your (the Census Bureau’s?) method.

    • This is one of the most contentious issues about the annual estimates. Just because you are issuing building permits doesn’t necessarily mean you’re adding population. This is what makes the completeness of the decennial counts so much more important.

      It’s my understanding that these annual estimates are used as a baseline for the ACS.

    • I never had quite understood how the ACS estimates total population, but that makes sense, or at leasts points in a direction that makes sense.

      There’s no way they could survey a household before knowing it existed.

      Presumably they must factor in known average household sizes(people per unit) for each basic housing type too.

  • Mark Christol

    So what the heck is up with Springfield? I had read their population decline was the worst in the state but that graph is REALLY depressing. It’s not THAT bad.
    Whats weird is that their tourism is growing more than a lot of Ohio cities.
    Maybe all the expatriates visiting home?

  • EDG

    Probably reasonable numbers to assume. I find it frustrating that certain urbanists, particularly Aaron Renn, take any Census or other pro-growth stat and assume good urbanism in other cities he routinely touts as if all growth is infill and none of it is sprawl. We have certain pockets and neighborhoods where significant growth could occur, including vertical downtown, but we don’t need to use county-city states like Indianapolis, Columbus and Nashville as our growth benchmarks just because they’re regional competitors. Efficient municipal administration is separate from good urban design and not every great city has to be large and continuously growing outwards.

  • matimal

    More than ever, people are not equal in America today. The departure of one poor person who used substantial city services and paid little in taxes to the city and the simultaneous arrival of one professional class person who pays far more in taxes than they receive in services is a large net gain to Cincinnati’s financial position. Multiply that by a few thousand and a modest demographic change can be a large change in Cincinnati’s financial position. An analysis of the average wages, taxable income, and tax expenditures per person would reveal important changes happening beneath these modest headline numbers.

  • Kendall Jolley

    That Cincinnati would be underperforming C-bus, Indianapolis and Louisville by as much as estimated is actually a bit counterintuitive given that it’s in the middle of the region and is seeing similar urban investment to those other cities. My guess is that it’s simply lagging and the population will start to catch up over the next few years.

    • Mary S-b

      But don’t all three of those cities (not just C-bus) have metro-government, such that the comparison to Cincinnati is really inapt?

    • Right. The size of their municipal boundaries is much larger than Cincinnati’s, and thus capture growth that in Cincinnati wouldn’t even be counted. Cincinnati’s case is even more complicated by the fact that its center city is spread across two states, three counties and a half-dozen cities.

    • EDG

      Yeah, despite stats, anyone that thinks Lville or Indy outpaces Cincinnati in anything urban hasn’t looked around. Louisville still has to deal with the fact that they’re in KY and Indy is basically sprawled out with cheap mf and shiny office parks around 465.

  • matimal

    Again, comparing municipalities is comparing apples and oranges. Metro numbers are the only comparable units.

    • Kendall Jolley

      This is true too. Downtown Columbus remains a parking crater, and Victorian Village and Italian Village areas around Short North are already full, meaning most of the population growth continues to be around the Polaris and Easton areas which are more suburban in nature. Indianapolis is similarly growing more on the periphery than downtown. Cincy’s city growth is likely concentrated in the CBD and OTR.

    • Clinton Stähler

      There is currently more housing under development in downtown Columbus than any other Midwest city with the exception of Chicago. Several hundred units have come online in the last three years and several hundred more units are out of the ground and slated to come online this year and next. I have lived in and maintained homes in both Cincinnati (Mt. Adams) and Columbus (German Village) for virtually all of my adult life. The two cities are not comparable in these types of discussions, and it makes no sense to keep score competitively. The success of one is the success of the other. Both are similarly scarred with blighted structures, surface parking, and occasionally by ineffective government; and both are actively working to mitigate and repair the damage. Columbus has triple the city-limits footprint of Cincinnati, and despite boasting over 800,000 residence, is still less dense than Cincinnati. However, Columbus has not annexed (more than isolated parcels (e.g., Hollywood Casino site)) in fifteen years, and the city population growth now is the result of a residential building boom across the city. This is evident as the city’s population density also continues to rise. The metro areas of the two cities are more easily compared, but only marginally so. Cincinnati is growing slow and steady at 2.2M, while Columbus is at 1.9M and growing at the highest rate in the region (by far). Sometime in the next decade the two will be about even. But who cares? What’s important is where these cities are headed. What will each city look and feel like in fifty years? While Columbus City Hall continues to support and foster the city’s growth and image, Cincinnati’s struggles within City Hall are only a relatively short term problem. With the right leadership and the support of the community, both of these cities are poised to emerge as Midwest leaders – head-and-shoulders above their mid-sized peers.

    • I couldn’t agree with you much more. However, I would say that the growth in Columbus, even having not annexed land in 15 years, is still a different situation. If you were to triple the land area of the City of Cincinnati you could include close in suburbs in Nky that have been booming with residential development for many, many years now. You could also include places like Green Township, which continues to grow and is one of the state’s most populated townships.

      The true city portion of Columbus is doing well, and is performing better than Cincinnati, but not by as much as these numbers would tell. I think you’re right in saying that both are headed in the right direction and appear to be positioning themselves amongst the winners in the Midwest…right there with Minneapolis, Indianapolis, Chicago and Pittsburgh (if you consider Pittsburgh in the Midwest). I think the jury is still out on St. Louis and Kansas City, but I could be persuaded otherwise.

    • AkronRonin

      Pittsburgh and Western PA are governed as part of an Northeastern-oriented state but are socially and culturally as much part of the Midwest as the better part of Ohio.

    • Mplsite

      Columbus has more downtown housing U/C than any other city in the Midwest outside of Chicago? I find that hard to believe considering Columbus had 6,300 residents as of 2013 when we reached 38,000 here in Mpls: we added 3,500 downtown residents or the equivalent of more than half of Downtown Columbus’ population. In one year.

      Columbus also has to tally the huge losses in the donut hole around Downtown save due north where population losses are as high as 20% or more each decade: improving a small corner of Franklinton and a tiny isolated residential neighborhood (American Addition) have no effect on stemming the exodus of residents in other huge struggling areas of the city where crime such as homicides regularly make the headlines. Minneapolis, like Seattle and Portland has more than double the number of healthy urban neighborhoods easily than any Ohio city due to the high ratio of healthy ones to a small number of struggling ones,

      And then you have to factor in that urban housing requires urban transit to to connect it to the rest of the city. St Paul, which was not listed on that graph and has a population similar to that of Cincinnati at 294,000 had already seen a 5.5% increase 1990-2000, while it lost 0.7% 2000-2010 it has gained 3.4% 2010-2013 to offset the loss: it far exceeds any urban area in Ohio. Right now, St Paul has its 1st LRT line that recently debuted, meaning it offers a huge QoL asset that Columbus and Cincinnati don’t, granted the latter will have a streetcar, but that’s another two years out.

      Meanwhile, there is already infrastructure in place in St Paul and plenty of developable land around several stations that will no doubt result in more major changes in just a couple of years. I don’t see how Columbus could catch up with us when it’s so far behind in every department of what constitutes good urbanism and even lagging behind St Paul. High St is booming, but when hasn’t it? Not to mention having to catch up on tons of bike infrastructure and the bike-oriented development that has occurred with it in Mpls (see: Midtown Greenway)..In short, without serious urban transportation infrastructure a city just isn’t going to reach its potential, especially when others already have it in place.

    • I too find it hard to believe that Columbus is outperforming Minneapolis, which is arguably the best performing region in the Midwest by a number of metrics.

      The implementation of light rail throughout the Minneapolis region has left a lot to be desired, but it does in fact have it while virtually no other city in the Midwest does. I checked it out for myself a couple of years ago, but I am very excited to see what the light rail extension to St. Paul is looking like.

    • Kendall Jolley

      I agree with you about the recent growth, it’s pretty clear that C-bus has been outpacing Cincinnati for the past decade plus by a considerable margin, but the forward projection looks a lot closer given the difference in investment money currently heading to the cities. It’s tilting heavily back to Cincinnati which typically means the population will start to shift as well. I’m no longer as convinced that the Columbus MSA will catch up as soon as these past trends suggest, if it does at all.

      I’m curious too where you get the downtown housing figures, by my last check, both Columbus and Cincinnati were currently around 1500 units under development in their cores (this includes OTR, but doesn’t include Newport or Covington for Cincy, it includes the Short North and German Village areas of C-bus) but this was as of 6 months ago and I know a few of the properties are now open in both cities and I haven’t knocked off the 100 units Cincy’s lost in the 4th and Race plans.

    • EDG

      Columbus is a sun belt city in the Midwest- modern/postmodern downtown with low population, unreliable transit, concentric outward growth. Not necessarily negative things to most people today.

    • matimal

      what is your point? that Columbus’ lack of political complexity is an asset or a liability? Is cincinnati’s layered politics borne of being much older a liability or an asset. Are 3CDC, the port authority, the active role of Hamilton county in Cincinnati, or cincinnati’s regional water and sewer system assets, liabilities, or just differences that neither hurt or help its growth in comparison to other metros?

    • Metro numbers are definitely the best comparison we have since they don’t follow arbitrary political boundaries, but we shouldn’t discount these comparisons either.

  • Neil Clingerman

    I like reading that Cincinnati is doing well, but I’m not sure if I could take the census estimates with more than a grain of salt. They were pretty far off in 2009 vs the real census of 2010 so I’m not sure victory should be called yet until the final numbers come out for 2020.

    Doesn’t mean people should give up hope and pushing for progress either 😉

    • One thing to consider about the 2009 difference is that those data were nine years removed from their baseline decennial census figure. These numbers are just three years removed.