Has Burlington saved the Bay State’s bacon?

Last December, the US Census Bureau estimated that Massachusetts had gained residents in 2006, after being the only state to lose population in both of the previous years. This summer, we got some more specifics, as the Census Bureau released data for all 351 cities and towns in the state, and I was suprised to learn that it was not the southeastern part of Massachusetts that turned things around. In fact, Cape Cod, which had been growing faster than the state as a whole for several decades, lost some 1,300 residents from 2005 to 2006, and is now at its lowest population level since the beginning of the decade. This is only an estimate, of course, and it’s entirely possible that Cape Cod is still gaining people as a result of legal and illegal immigrants, students, and other groups that are often undercounted between complete censuses. But it’s still remarkable that Cape Cod, and the southeast in general, is no longer driving population growth here.

Below are four maps that show geographic patterns in population change in Massachusetts. First, we see that last year’s uptick in population was strongest in a scattered assortment of suburbs in all directions (save dead east) from Boston, but the adjoining towns of Burlington and Billerica registered the biggest jumps. Meanwhile, 160 of the state’s 351 communities still lost population, which was slightly up from the 156 that lost population from 2004 to 2005.

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The map below shows raw numbers rather than percentages, and the three biggest gainers (Burlington, Billerica, and Revere) grew by more people than the state did as a whole. Cambridge was the only other community to add more than 1,000 residents; that all four communites lie north of Boston goes against the perception that urban sprawl is mostly affecting newer suburbs to the south and west of the capital city. Boston itself is estimated to have lost almost 6,000 people last year, but the Census Bureau has admitted that it undercounted the city’s population during the first half of the decade, so it could be off again.

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The two maps below show the changes from 2000 to 2006, and the usual growth suspects (the Cape and Islands, MetroWest, South Shore) are more prominent here. We’ll have to wait until next year to see if they pick up again, something that may depend on home prices and on zoning decisions by local governments.

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