Though astounding, a recent post from Business Insider informing that half of the United States population lives in a mere 146 counties is not new news. Out of the total 3,144 counties and county-equivalents in the U.S., each of these 146 mega-counties has over 440,000 people.
A March 2012 piece in The Atlantic considered an interesting query based on 2010 Census data that 80.7 percent of Americans live in urban areas: “U.S. Urban Population Is Up …But What Does ‘Urban’ Really Mean?”
I encountered the latter article a few months ago as my boyfriend and I were driving on Highway 101 on our way to San Jose (cue song.) We were just north of Santa Maria, in a scenic little somewhere in the middle of California, when we started wondering how many people live in urban cities versus “the country” in the U.S. As my boyfriend drove, I searched for articles and information on my iPhone, and we discovered the answer wasn’t that simple.
In the U.S., “there are officially two types of urban areas: ‘urbanized areas’ of 50,000 or more people and ‘urban clusters’ of between 2,500 and 50,000 people. For the 2010 count, the Census Bureau has defined 486 urbanized areas, accounting for 71.2 percent of the U.S. population. The 3,087 urban clusters account for 9.5 percent of the U.S. population.
Though these smaller urban clusters account for a relatively small portion of the total population, they make up the vast majority of the roughly 3,500 ‘urban’ areas in the U.S. But is a town of 2,500 people really what we think of as ‘urban’?