A few weeks back, there was a bit of a stir (see this article for an example) over new US Census Bureau estimates suggesting that, after the urban resurgence of the 1990s, center-city populations in the US were once again on the decline.  For someone like me who’s convinced of the environmental and social benefits of city living, this didn’t seem like good news.

But now, two Brookings Institution researchers writing in a Milwaukee, Wisconsin newspaper are urging that people take the Census estimates with a healthy dose of skepticism.  Apparently the agency was singing much the same tune a decade ago—a tune that turned out to be off-key:

Like Denver, Oakland, New York and other big cities, some of the Census Bureau’s methods effectively "cheated" Milwaukee out of population gains in the their mid-1990s estimates-and they may be doing the same thing this decade.

(The article makes some other good points—it’s definitely worth reading.)

Now, obviously, I’d like to believe that the Census estimates for urban areas are off-base; but I have no real basis for challenging them.  Still, it’s worth remembering that estimates are just that—estimates. So before we get carried away with hype—one way or the other—it’s worth keeping in mind that even the best estimates, by the best estimators, don’t always match up with reality.

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