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Utah’s urban areas continue to be drivers of growth, even if technically there are fewer of them than a decade ago.
Nearly 3 million Utah residents — roughly 90% of the state’s population — lived in 25 urban areas as defined by the US Census Bureau as of 2020.
That’s a smaller proportion than in 2010, when 91% of the state’s population lived in 36 urban areas and clusters, but it’s more people.
Urban areas, with their educational and economic opportunities, have generally been the “heart of the state’s greatest growth,” said Mallory Bateman, director of demographic research at the Kem C. Gardner Policy Institute.
Gardner’s demographers don’t expect that to change, she said.
Urban areas are one of the few ways to look at a state’s urban population, Bateman said. They would generally be larger in area than city limits and than a metropolitan or micropolitan area, she added.
From Logan across the Wasatch Front to St. George, the state-defined urban areas covered more than 940 square miles in 2020. This corresponds to about 1% of the land area of the state.
It’s also about 3% more square miles than urban areas in 2010, although the US Census Bureau classified Beaver, Gunnison, Kanab and nine other areas as rural.
These cities can still feel like the urban heart of their region, Bateman said, but they are small communities.
They didn’t reach the new threshold of 5,000 people or 2,000 housing units, but a new area – Brigham City – did.
In 2020, Utah’s 25 urban areas had a population of 2.94 million, 1 million housing units, and an average population density of about 2,340 people per square mile.
That’s 434,000 more people than in 2010, as well as thousands more housing units and more densely populated metropolitan areas. In comparison, around 74,000 more people lived in rural areas in 2020 than in 2010.
Urban areas varied widely in population, size, and density, from:
1,048 people in the West Wendover area (on the Utah-Nevada border) to 1.18 million people in the metropolitan area of Salt Lake City.
3.14 square miles in Stansbury Park (in Tooele County) to 300.42 square miles in Salt Lake City.
186.3 people per square mile in West Wendover to 5,081.2 in Eagle Mountain in Utah County.
All but three — Ephraim, Price, and West Wendover — grew between 2010 and 2020.
Ephraim also shrank according to the US Census Bureau definition, but Price and West Wendover lost people despite increasing in size.
Overall, urban areas in Utah experienced a 17.3% population increase between 2010 and 2020. That’s more than all states except North Dakota, where the urban population increased by 17.9%.
Two other views of urban population also show that cities have been driving Utah’s growth since 2020.
Utah has nine metropolitan and small-town areas, most of which are along Interstate 15.
They all grew between 2021 and 2022, adding an estimated 40,179 residents. Growth ranged from 210 people in Price to 17,003 people in Provo-Orem.
In addition, there are 253 cities and major cities throughout the state.
About 180 of them gained a total of 57,732 people between 2021 and 2022. Another 70 cities and towns lost a total of 18,918 people, and four had unchanged populations.
That’s a net increase of 38,815, with much of the increase concentrated on the Wasatch Front and the area around Logan and St. George.
Regardless of how you look at the numbers, urban growth is driving population growth in Utah.
That’s been true for decades, Bateman said.
She is currently working on a report on urban populations and said most of the state’s growth in every decade since 1950 has come from urban areas.
Those areas, too, have grown, she said, and their presence has increased.
“When I was younger in Utah, you came into Spanish Fork and then you got onto the freeway,” Bateman said.
It makes sense for people to move to established population centers because there are more educational and economic opportunities there.
And the limitations of lakes and mountains mean growth must shift north or south from the Wasatch frontline’s population center, she said.
Bateman and other demographers are forecasting that growth in urban areas will continue.
“We don’t think the economic engine of Salt Lake City, Salt Lake County, is going to change,” she said.
Utah and Washington counties can also expect similar growth, she said.
Megan Banta is the data reporter for the Salt Lake Tribune. a philanthropic position. The Tribune retains control of all editorial decisions.