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Salt Lake City is a leader in a national trend of big city downtowns becoming places to live — not just work or shop.

Salt Lake City ranked No. 4 nationally in the increase between 2000 and 2010 of people living within two miles of its city hall — behind only Chicago, New York City and Philadelphia, the U.S. Census Bureau reported Thursday.

That is not No. 4 based not just on percentages of downtown growth, but in actual people.

Salt Lake City had an additional 19,712 people move downtown in the decade (up 5.9 percent), compared to 20,769 people in Philadelphia, 37,422 in New York and 48,288 in Chicago.

Salt Lake City's total downtown-area population was 355,804 ­— actually larger than Chicago's 181,714 or Philadelphia's 234,529.

"That's fantastic news," said Art Raymond, spokesman for Mayor Ralph Becker. He said the mayor has pushed for residential growth downtown because "of the important role it plays in initiatives that are important to him like walkable communities and efficient transit."

"It's a place to live and celebrate life," said downtown resident Frank Gray, the city's community and economic development director.

He says it was not always that way.

"When we came here five years ago, you could walk around downtown Salt Lake City on an evening and wonder where the people were. Now, it's alive. Businesses are open. People are on the street. Just in five years, it has changed tremendously," he said.

Gray said young people are attracted downtown "for the excitement, for the night life, the fun of living downtown. Then there are a lot of seniors who are empty nesters who really like the vitality of being able to walk to Abravanel Hall or over to the Broadway theaters or go to Capitol Theatre for a play," and many like to be near the LDS Temple.

He said pioneers in attracting residents downtown were condominiums at American Towers and The Gateway, "and some of that was instituted by the 2002 Olympics. Finding housing for the Olympians really gave a boon to it."

He said the city recently has had "a whole series of loft projects in the downtown area, older buildings that have created lofts." Also since the 2010 Census, the new City Creek project added more residence towers.

That is more common nationally. The Census analysis said all metropolitan areas nationally had an average of 1.7 percent growth in downtown areas — but it was much higher in bigger cities.

In metro areas with 5 million people or more, average downtown population growth was 13.3 percent. For metro areas of 2.5 million to 5 million people, it was 6.5 percent. —

Downtown population growth

Largest numeric increase in population living within 2 miles of city hall, 2000-2010:

1 • Chicago metro area, 48,288

2 • New York City, 37,422

3 • Philadelphia, 20,769

4 • Salt Lake City, 19,712

5 • Washington, D.C., 19,502

Source • "Patterns of Metropolitan and Micropolitan Population Change, 2000-2010," by U.S. Census Bureau.

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