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The fastest growing and shrinking cities in Alabama

May 26, 2019

Alabama’s list of largest cities is due for another shakeup. In 2016, Huntsville passed Mobile to become the state’s third-largest city. Next year the Rocket City will likely pass Montgomery to become the second-largest.

If population trends hold true over the next few years, it won’t be long until Huntsville stands at the top of the list.

The U.S. Census Bureau released new city population estimates Thursday. According to the estimates, Birmingham, the largest city in the state, is losing population. The Magic City’s population has been mostly stagnant - no growth or major loss - since 2010. But for the first time in nearly 100 years, its population is now below 210,000.

And Montgomery continues to steadily lose people. The state’s capital started the decade with a healthy 15,000 population lead over Huntsville. Now that lead has dwindled to fewer than 1,000 people.

Huntsville, meanwhile, has been adding population at a substantial rate since the start of the decade. In those eight years the city has added more than 17,000 people. If those trends continue at their current pace, Huntsville could pass Birmingham in population in just six years.

Huntsville was one of only three Alabama cities to grow its population by 10,000 people or more since 2010. The other two are notably college towns. Auburn added around 12,300 people and Tuscaloosa added around 10,600 people since 2010.

Auburn’s growth is impressive. The city is also in the top 10 in terms of percentage growth in the state. Among Alabama cities with at least 10,000 people, only five grew at a faster rate than Auburn. Three of those are in Baldwin County, which continues to grow like a weed.

Tuscaloosa’s growth has been a bit slower than Auburn’s, but it remains a significantly larger city. According to the estimates, Tuscaloosa passed the 100,000 population mark in 2017, and had 101,113 people in 2018. Auburn sat at 65,738 people in 2018.

Montgomery isn’t the only large city that’s shrinking. Mobile has lost more than 5,000 people since 2010. Birmingham, Anniston and Gadsden have all lost significant population, as have Decatur, Eufaula and Prichard.

But perhaps the most alarming population loss has come from Selma, a historic civil rights town that AL.com reported last year was the fastest shrinking city in the state. That’s still true, according to the new estimates.

Selma has lost nearly 14 percent of its population since 2010, the worst rate in the state over that span, according to the Census. It’s the only city in the state to lose more than 10 percent of its population over that time.

That decline isn’t slowing down. The city lost 2.7 percent of its population in just a year, between 2017 and 2018. The next closest was Eufaula, a city in southeast Alabama along the Georgia line.

These population trends are mostly consistent over the past decade. Most cities that are growing continue to grow, and vice versa, but there are a couple of exceptions that are worth keeping an eye on in the future.

For instance, Homewood, a Birmingham suburb, has been growing slightly since 2010, but actually lost population between 2017 and 2018. That may be a case of the city reaching a population limit of sorts. It’s hemmed in on all sides by other municipalities, so there’s not much space to grow.

Troy and Saraland both added over 1,000 people between 2010 and 2018, but both lost people between 2017 and 2018.

The reverse isn’t true anywhere in the state - there wasn’t a single city with more than 10,000 people that lost population since 2010 but gained it from 2017 to 2018.

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