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See How Much Philly Has Grown Since the 1940s

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A new report shows that the city's rate of expansion has dwindled over the years

One look at all of the cranes dotting Philly's skyline makes it clear that the city is in the middle of a building boom. Yet a new report reveals that Philadelphia's expansion rate has actually decreased significantly over the past 50 or so years.

The report, compiled by Build Zoom, found that while the Philadelphia metro area has expanded by 214.37 square miles in the 2000s, its rate of expansion has dwindled by 23.5 percent since the 1970s. That left the city to channel its economic strength into higher property values.

That's slightly higher than the overall rate of expansion in the U.S., which decreased by 15.3 percent since the 1970s. Overall, chief economist Issi Romem, Ph.D., says Philly falls somewhere in the middle compared to all other major metropolitan areas.

"Philadelphia has slowed down a bit more since the 1970s compared to the U.S. in general, but not by much," Romem says. "It's not an extreme case of slowing down compared to other cities where expansion has come to a halt."

He's talking about cities like Miami and San Francisco, where expansion rates have decreased by 63 percent and 75.4 percent, respectively. One big difference between Philadelphia and these other cities is their geography.

Romem writes:

Los Angeles and Seattle are also surrounded by geographic obstacles to expansion, like San Francisco, and so is Miami which is trapped between the Atlantic Ocean and the Everglades.

The role of geography is less prominent in other expensive cities like Boston, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, aside from their proximity to the ocean. As a result, it easier to shift the blame for restricted housing supply in these cities a step further towards land use policy. In these cities and elsewhere, such policy shows up in the form of numerous mundane, local rules, like zoning for single family homes and minimum parking requirements.

For the report Romem used data from the American Community Survey, specifically the age of existing residential structures. To read the full report, visit Build Zoom's website.