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Sloppy reporting on Minneapolis, St. Paul population growth

This week’s reports on the Met Council’s 2010-11 population growth estimates is somewhat unfair to the ‘burbs and, in a way, to the cities, too. 

As anyone who follows me knows, I love Minneapolis and central cities in general. I still curse like a sailor every time I get lost driving the kids to the pediatrician near Eden Prairie Center. (Wife’s deal; ask her.)

That said, this week’s reports on the Met Council’s 2010-11 population growth estimates — highlighting Minneapolis and St. Paul population gains — is somewhat unfair to the ‘burbs and, in a way, to the cities, too.

Though a one-year population growth estimate is a pretty thin reed to hang a front-page story on, Minneapolis acquiring 5,000 people is worth a talker. However, reporting that this “revers[es] a decades-long trend of population losses to the suburbs,” as the Strib’s David Peterson did, is just plain wrong.

As recently as one decade ago (the 2000 census), Minneapolis grew by 14,000 people; St. Paul by nearly 15,000 people. Though both places were essentially flat in the 2000s (Minneapolis lost 40 people; St. Paul 1,900), both had more people than in 1980 or 1990. Since Jimmy Carter’s presidency, the trend is growth.

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It may be more accurate to say 2011 data show the pause of the 2000s is over. At the very least, we don’t need to dress the core in sackcloth and ashes to celebrate more recent gains.

Meanwhile, suburban successes were underplayed. MPR’s Sasha Aslanian led with, “Core cities were the winners,” adding, “no single suburb beat out the core cities.” The latter is only true if you look at absolute numbers (which unfortunately is all the Met Council did, city-by-city). If you use percentages — a better method for comparing a 380,000-person city to a 60,000-person ‘burb — the picture changes.

Of the eight suburbs on the Met Council’s Top 10 list, five grew faster than Minneapolis and all grew faster than St. Paul. The core cities grew more slowly (0.98 percent) than the top 15 cities overall (1.04 percent), though faster than the metro area (0.83 percent).

If you equate population growth with “winning,” it’s hard not to call Blaine (up 1.96 percent), Woodbury (up 1.87 percent), Shakopee (1.53 percent), Apple Valley (1.44 percent) and Maple Grove (up 1.39 percent) “winners” along with Minneapolis (up 1.37 percent) and St. Paul (up 0.45 percent).

In the media’s rush to emphasize city-versus-suburb conflict, the headline that got missed is this: The Twin Cities may be experiencing the closest thing to balanced growth it ever has.

The developing suburbs (Woodbury, Blaine, Maple Grove, etc.) got 39 percent of the metro growth, but developed ‘burbs (Bloomington, Apple Valley, Brooklyn Park) got 29 percent and the central cities 28 percent.

As much as I wish Eden Prairie would depopulate on days when I can’t figure out the difference between Prairie Center Drive and Flying Cloud Drive, it may better if every area wins (even if individual cities or a handful of exurbs lose). To me, fleshing out that story is more worthy of the front page.