Watch decades of economic expansion in 5 American cities from space


Las Vegas, above, is among the most visible examples of rapid growth over nearly 30 years. (Google Earth screengrab.)

Economic booms, bubbles and busts often require decades to unfold and can happen on a scale so large it’s hard to visualize and contextualize. But thanks to modern technology, that’s no longer the case.

Earlier this year, Google and a handful of partner organizations unveiled a time-lapse project using satellite imagery taken over decades that allows users to see how the planet has changed over time. The interactive animations show off the effects of deforestation, glacial retreat and urban growth. Roads, routes and highways appear like wisps over years; dense urban areas are colored in; green pastures fade to brown developments; and city borders slither outward.

We compiled a handful of time-lapses below that show the swelling of some of the nation’s fastest-growing cities during the first decade of the 2000s. Some were also epicenters of the housing bubble that ultimately sparked the Great Recession and continue to suffer. Others are still going strong. Here’s what five of America’s booming cities — all but D.C. were among the 10 fastest-growing from 2000 to 2010 — look like from space from 1986 through 2012. (NOTE: Zoom in and pan around to see more of each region’s expansion in clearer detail.)

Las Vegas, Nev.

Las Vegas was famously home to one of the most dramatic housing booms and busts — a fact vividly clear in the time-lapse below. Home prices were nearly halved between the summer of 2006 and this summer — the biggest price decline of any metro area tracked by the Case-Shiller Home Price Index.

Mesa, Ariz.

The greater Mesa region, including Phoenix and Glendale, suffered a similarly steep falloff, with prices falling nearly 40 percent from the summer of 2006 to this summer.

Washington, D.C.

The nation’s capital hasn’t suffered broadly, though the income gap continues to grow as it is in many state and local economies. Generally, D.C. has undergone a tremendous boom — one that’s been covered by every major national newspaper, including this one. “During the past decade, the region added 21,000 households in the nation’s top 1 percent,” The Post’s Greg Jaffe and Jim Tankersley recently wrote. “No other metro area came close.”

Raleigh, N.C.

Raleigh has enjoyed quite the boom as well. Forbes even recently named the greater metropolitan region as the third best place for business and careers. The region’s economy grew 14 percent last year and is projected to grow an additional 7 percent this year.

Riverside, Calif.

The Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario area was the fifth fastest-growing metro area during the first decade of the 2000s. It suffered quite a fall, with the pain ongoing. San Bernardino is bankrupt and foreclosure rates in the region are among the highest in the nation.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post showed an incorrect animation for Riverside, Calif.

Niraj Chokshi reports for GovBeat, The Post's state and local policy blog.

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