The Universe of Discourse

Tue, 17 Feb 2009

Second-largest cities
A while back I was in the local coffee shop and mentioned that my wife had been born in Rochester, New York. "Ah," said the server. "The third-largest city in New York." Really? I would not have guessed that. (She was right, by the way.) As a native of the first-largest city in New York, the one they named the state after, I have spent very little time thinking about the lesser cities of New York. I have, of course, heard that there are some. But I have hardly any idea what they are called, or where they are.

It appears that the second-largest city in New York state is some place called (get this) "Buffalo". Okay, whatever. But that got me wondering if New York was the state with the greatest disparity between its largest and second-largest city. Since I had the census data lying around from a related project (and a good thing too, since the Census Bureau website moved the file) I decided to find out.

The answer is no. New York state has only one major city, since its next-largest settlement is Buffalo, with 1.1 million people. (Estimated, as of 2006.) But the second-largest city in Illinois is Peoria, which is actually the punchline of jokes. (Not merely because of its small size; compare Dubuque, Iowa, a joke, with Davenport, Iowa, not a joke.) The population of Peoria is around 370,000, less than one twenty-fifth that of Chicago.

But if you want to count weird exceptions, Rhode Island has everyone else beat. You cannot compare the sizes of the largest and second-largest cities in Rhode Island at all. Rhode Island is so small that it has only one city, Seriously. No, stop laughing! Rhode Island is no laughing matter.

The Articles of Confederation required unanimous consent to amend, and Rhode Island kept screwing everyone else up, by withholding consent, so the rest of the states had to junk the Articles in favor of the current United States Constitution. Rhode Island refused to ratify the new Constitution, insisting to the very end that the other states had no right to secede from the Confederation, until well after all of the other twelve had done it, and they finally realized that the future of their teeny one-state Confederation as an enclave of the United States of America was rather iffy. Even then, their vote to join the United States went 34–32.

But I digress.

Actually, for many years I have said that you can impress a Rhode Islander by asking where they live, and then—regardless of what they say—remarking "Oh, that's near Providence, isn't it?" They are always pleased. "Yes, that's right!" The census data proves that this is guaranteed to work. (Unless they live in Providence, of course.)

Here's a joke for mathematicians. Q: What is Rhode Island? A: The topological closure of Providence.

Okay, I am finally done ragging on Rhode Island.

Here is the complete data, ordered by size disparity. I wasn't sure whether to put Rhode Island at the top or the bottom, so I listed it twice, just like in the Senate.

State Largest city and
its Population
Second-largest city
and its population
Rhode Island Providence-New Bedford-Fall River 1,612,989
Illinois Chicago-Naperville-Joliet 9,505,748 Peoria 370,194 25.68
New York New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island 18,818,536 Buffalo-Niagara Falls 1,137,520 16.54
Minnesota Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington 3,175,041 Duluth 274,244 11.58
Maryland Baltimore-Towson 2,658,405 Hagerstown-Martinsburg 257,619 10.32
Georgia Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta 5,138,223 Augusta-Richmond County 523,249 9.82
Washington Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue 3,263,497 Spokane 446,706 7.31
Michigan Detroit-Warren-Livonia 4,468,966 Grand Rapids-Wyoming 774,084 5.77
Massachusetts Boston-Cambridge-Quincy 4,455,217 Worcester 784,992 5.68
Oregon Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton 2,137,565 Salem 384,600 5.56
Hawaii Honolulu 909,863 Hilo 171,191 5.31
Nevada Las Vegas-Paradise 1,777,539 Reno-Sparks 400,560 4.44
Idaho Boise City-Nampa 567,640 Coeur d'Alene 131,507 4.32
Arizona Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale 4,039,182 Tucson 946,362 4.27
New Mexico Albuquerque 816,811 Las Cruces 193,888 4.21
Alaska Anchorage 359,180 Fairbanks 86,754 4.14
Indiana Indianapolis-Carmel 1,666,032 Fort Wayne 408,071 4.08
Colorado Denver-Aurora 2,408,750 Colorado Springs 599,127 4.02
Maine Portland-South Portland-Biddeford 513,667 Bangor 147,180 3.49
Vermont Burlington-South Burlington 206,007 Rutland 63,641 3.24
California Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana 12,950,129 San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont 4,180,027 3.10
Nebraska Omaha-Council Bluffs 822,549 Lincoln 283,970 2.90
Kentucky Louisville-Jefferson County 1,222,216 Lexington-Fayette 436,684 2.80
Wisconsin Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis 1,509,981 Madison 543,022 2.78
Alabama Birmingham-Hoover 1,100,019 Mobile 404,157 2.72
Kansas Wichita 592,126 Topeka 228,894 2.59
Pennsylvania Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington 5,826,742 Pittsburgh 2,370,776 2.46
New Hampshire Manchester-Nashua 402,789 Lebanon 172,429 2.34
Mississippi Jackson 529,456 Gulfport-Biloxi 227,904 2.32
Utah Salt Lake City 1,067,722 Ogden-Clearfield 497,640 2.15
Florida Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Miami Beach 5,463,857 Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater 2,697,731 2.03
North Dakota Fargo 187,001 Bismarck 101,138 1.85
South Dakota Sioux Falls 212,911 Rapid City 118,763 1.79
North Carolina Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord 1,583,016 Raleigh-Cary 994,551 1.59
Arkansas Little Rock-North Little Rock 652,834 Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers 420,876 1.55
Montana Billings 148,116 Missoula 101,417 1.46
Missouri St. Louis 2,796,368 Kansas City 1,967,405 1.42
Iowa Des Moines-West Des Moines 534,230 Davenport-Moline-Rock Island 377,291 1.42
Virginia Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News 1,649,457 Richmond 1,194,008 1.38
New Jersey Trenton-Ewing 367,605 Atlantic City 271,620 1.35
Louisiana New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner 1,024,678 Baton Rouge 766,514 1.34
Connecticut Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford 1,188,841 Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk 900,440 1.32
Oklahoma Oklahoma City 1,172,339 Tulsa 897,752 1.31
Delaware Seaford 180,288 Dover 147,601 1.22
Wyoming Cheyenne 85,384 Casper 70,401 1.21
South Carolina Columbia 703,771 Charleston-North Charleston 603,178 1.17
Tennessee Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro 1,455,097 Memphis 1,274,704 1.14
Texas Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington 6,003,967 Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown 5,539,949 1.08
West Virginia Charleston 305,526 Huntington-Ashland 285,475 1.07
Ohio Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor 2,114,155 Cincinnati-Middletown 2,104,218 1.00
Rhode Island Providence-New Bedford-Fall River 1,612,989

Some of this data is rather odd because of the way the census bureau aggregates cities. For example, the largest city in New Jersey is Newark. But Newark is counted as part of the New York City metropolitan area, so doesn't count separately. If it did, New Jersey's quotient would be 5.86 instead of 1.35. I should probably rerun the data without the aggregation. But you get oddities that way also.

I also made a scatter plot. The x-axis is the population of the largest city, and the y-axis is the population of the second-largest city. Both axes are log-scale:

Nothing weird jumps out here. I probably should have plotted population against quotient. The data and programs are online if you would like to mess around with them.

I gratefully acknowledge the gift of Tim McKenzie. Thank you!

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