WASHINGTON (AP) - For the first time, more Americans live in huge urban areas than in small cities and rural localities, according to Census Bureau figures released Wednesday.
And while those urban centers grew rapidly in the 1980s, more people preferred the suburbs to the core cities.
``It's not flight'' from the cities, said William Frey, a research scientist at the University of Michigan Population Studies Center. ``It's a natural evolutionary process.''
America's migration to the metropolis has gathered speed over a century. Still, in 1950, fewer than 30 percent of Americans lived in urban areas of 1 million or more.
By 1980, that figure had grown to 45.9 percent. And in 1990, the census found 124.8 million people living in metro areas. That's 50.2 percent of the total population of 248.7 million people. The bureau will report later in the year regarding the breakdown of the rest of the populace - those in smaller cities and on farms.
The big urban areas expanded in part because service industries - businesses that don't manufacture anything - played a bigger role in the economy, said Tom Kingsley of the Urban Institute.
Service industries ``have always been more concentrated in larger cities, so when the structure of the economy expands, it's not surprising the larger cities would grow more,'' he said.
But more businesses are locating in the suburbs rather than downtown, and the core city has become just another shopping and office center among many, he said.
New York and its suburbs remained the largest urban concentration, with 18.1 million people, a growth of 3.1 percent from 1980.
Greater Los Angeles ranked second at 14.5 million, up from 11.5 million in 1980.
The Chicago area was third at 8.1 million, a slim increase from 7.9 million in 1980.
San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and their suburbs grew by 16.5 percent to 6.3 million and took fourth place from Philadelphia. …