Redefining Cities: How Much of Our Cities are Suburban?

By Raquel Jones, GOPC Intern Cities are typically defined as centers of population, commerce, and culture. For this reason, they are often associated with dense urban development. However, there are many cities across the nation that do not conform to this description.

In a recent dataset compiled by Jed Kolko, the former chief economist of the real estate website Trulia, zip codes across the county were classified into three categories: urban, suburban, or rural. These classifications were developed using a series of metrics, including the density of households, business establishments, and jobs, as well as the share of auto communities and single-family homes in the specified area. Since the United States has no official definition of a suburb (even the U.S. Census Bureau lumps together urban and suburban neighborhoods in how it defines urban areas), these measures help to quantify the notion of a suburb as a mostly residential, car-dependent society consisting of single-family homes, as opposed to a more compact urban center.

According to this data, three of America’s largest cities - Phoenix, San Antonio, and San Diego - are predominantly suburban. Columbus, Ohio’s largest and most populous city and the fifteenth largest city in the U.S., similarly displayed a majority of suburban areas within the city limits. Moreover, the new census population data shows that the fastest-growing large cities tend to be more suburban.

Density Chart

Analysis of two of Ohio’s other major cities, Cleveland and Cincinnati, unveil different trends. By calculating the share of suburban and urban households in the city, Cincinnati was found to be nearly divided with 51% of households in urban settings and 49% in the suburbs. Cleveland was determined to be entirely urban, as is also true of Chicago and New York.

The notable differences in the density of Ohio’s three largest cities are representative of the diverse make-up of cities across the state. As the physical structure of cities continues to evolve and expand, it's imperative that we continue supporting sustainable growth in our cities and regions so that the state can remain economically competitive in the 21st century.

Trulia Resources:,,, (

This blog post was inspired by research conducted by Community Research Partners for their July 2015 DataByte on Columbus' density, which was featured in the Columbus Dispatch. To read more about density in America’s cities, take a look at the original blog post by Trulia’s former chief economist, Jed Kolko, here




  • Cincinnati: 45202, 45203, 45204, 45205, 45206, 45207, 45208, 45209, 45211, 45212, 45213, 45214, 45216, 45217, 45219, 45220, 45223, 45224, 45225, 45226, 45227, 45229, 45230, 45232, 45237
  • Cleveland: 44102, 44103, 44104, 44105, 44106, 44108, 44109, 44110, 44111, 44113, 44114, 44115, 44119, 44120, 44127, 44128, 44135
  • Columbus: 43085, 43201, 43202, 43203, 43204, 43205, 43206, 43207, 43209, 43210, 43211, 43212, 43213, 43214, 43215, 43219, 43220, 43221, 43222, 43223, 43224, 43227, 43228, 43229, 43231, 43232, 43235, 43240