“The Problem With Defining ‘Downtown
Last year, the U.S. Census Bureau released a report on population trends in American downtowns, a helpful step toward quantifying the claims made by many cities that residents (and jobs) are moving there in droves (you can view the original report here… whenever the federal government reopens and the Census Bureau’s shuttered website comes back online). The Census’ blunt definition of “downtown,” though, inevitably produced some grousing about over-and under-counts of local populations. It measured “downtown,” for lack of a better universal definition, as everything within a 2-mile radius of the local city hall.
In Baltimore (at left) and New York City (at right), here is what the resulting circles look like:
You can see that in these two cases we’re talking about an awful lot of water, not to mention some largely neglected neighborhoods in Baltimore. And as anyone in New York will quickly point out, this definition of “downtown” in Manhattan awkwardly includes a slice of New Jersey.
It’s a little hard to blame the Census. There actually is no single definition of what “downtown” means across the country. Nowhere do the Census Bureau, the Bureau of Economic Analysis or the Bureau of Labor Statistics actually count or keep tabs on the number of jobs in American “downtowns.”
Photo: CV Garas/Shutterstock