Working for Smart Growth:
More Livable Places and Open Spaces


New Municipal Population Data from 2020 Census Show Where New Jerseyans Want to Live

Trenton, August 12, 2021— Today’s release of municipal population data from the 2020 Census illustrates that the demographic story of the 2010s in New Jersey was the return of population growth to the state’s walkable, mixed-use centers—its cities, towns, and older suburbs with traditional downtowns.

Driven primarily by Millennials’ desire for live-work-shop-play environments in which they don’t need a car for every trip, many of the state’s older centers experienced their biggest population increases since before the 1950s. Newark, the state’s largest city, grew more than twice as fast as the rest of the state this decade, growing by 12.4% between 2010 and 2020 compared to 5.7% for the state as a whole. This is the first time in many decades that Newark has outpaced the statewide growth rate.
“In general, the New Jersey municipalities that best embody the concept of walkable urbanism, with relatively high residential densities, mixed-use downtowns, and well-connected, walkable street grids, together grew by more than 1 ½ times the statewide growth rate, accounting for more than half (57.5%) of the statewide population increase in the 2010s, compared to only 13.6% of total growth in the 2000s,” said New Jersey Future Director of Research Tim Evans.
New growth in older centers is happening thanks to the rise of redevelopment—the reuse of land that had previously been developed for some other purpose—as New Jersey’s default development pattern. The 270 New Jersey municipalities that were at least 90% built-out as of 2007 together accounted for nearly two-thirds–65.1%- of the state’s population increase in the 2010s, after having contributed just 12.2% of the statewide increase in the 2000s.
“That the state’s population growth is now dominated by redevelopment areas represents a remarkable shift compared to the several preceding decades, which were characterized by low-density growth on the suburban fringe,” said Evans. “The trend toward redevelopment illustrates that ‘built-out’ does not mean ‘full,’ and that there are plenty of opportunities to absorb new residents in the state’s cities, towns, and older suburbs.”
Creating new opportunities for growth in these older centers is key to attracting and retaining younger generations who are looking for an in-town lifestyle.
“New Jersey should focus on reforming local zoning to allow more of the kinds of housing younger households are looking for—e.g., townhouses, duplexes, small apartment buildings, apartments above stores, smaller single-family homes on small lots—in the kinds of places they want to live,” said Evans. “Encouraging growth in already-developed areas has the added benefit of using our transportation and energy infrastructure more efficiently and avoiding the building of new sprawling infrastructure and then having to maintain it. The move to redevelopment also takes pressure off the state’s remaining open lands, helping to preserve the state’s overall quality of life by allowing those lands to continue being used for agriculture, recreation, and wildlife habitat.”

© New Jersey Future, 16 W. Lafayette St. • Trenton, NJ 08608 • Phone: 609-393-0008 • Fax: 609-360-8478

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