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Miami is Not as Big as You Think

February 25, 2011 By Matt Meltzer in  | 27 Comments

Coming across the Rickenbacker Causeway from Key Biscayne, and looking at the steel and glass monstrosity that is now the Miami skyline, the uneducated person might think the city were a major world capital. After all, the glut of new, tall buildings is reminiscent of shots of Hong Kong and Shanghai, New York and Chicago. Never mind that the overbuilding and empty condos has created the world’s most impressive-looking ghost town. Miami looks downright HUGE!



But guess again. Miami is not only not in the league of major world capitals, but according to the U.S. Census Bureau it’s not even in the top ten of American cities. That’s right, despite some people’s assumption that Miami is the 4th largest city in America, Miami-Ft. Lauderdale ranks just ahead of Detroit and just behind Atlanta when it comes to overall Metro rank of Census Statistical Areas.  Eleventh.

If you add in Palm Beach County we climb up to the 7th largest, but doing that is kind of like counting San Diego as part of LA. Same geographic region, not really the same city. And even then we’re only one big hurricane away from dropping behind Atlanta and DC as the difference between us and them is under 100,000 people.


The Places Rated Almanac, which considers Metro Miami just Dade County, doesn’t even have us in its top 25 in American city sizes. And the City of Miami by itself?  42nd. Right between Virginia Beach and Cleveland, and 6 spots behind Fresno. Point is, while Miami is one of the larger American cities, it’s still not in the league of the ones ahead of us.


We must still be one of the fastest growing, right? I mean, look at how big our skyline has gotten in the last ten years!  And EVERYONE’S trying to move here! Not at all, actually. Between 2000 and 2009, Miami-Ft.Lauderdale-WPB gained about half a million residents, about a 10% gain. Sounds kinda impressive until you consider Dallas added 1.3 million people, Houston 1.1 million, Phoenix 1.1 and Atlanta added 1.2.

As a matter of fact, of the top 12 American Metro areas the only cities that had fewer people move to them were Philadelphia, Boston and Detroit. Which lost people. We even got beat by Riverside, Calif., which is more or less the armpit of SoCal. Again, we’re growing, but a lot slower than other cities that haven’t had their entire economy decimated and are freezing cold.


How about media markets? I mean, every 3rd show on Bravo is now filmed in Miami, and EVERYONE wants to be seen here. That stat, actually, is even more diminutive. Currently Miami-Ft.Lauderdale is market 16, right between Denver and Minneapolis-St. Paul.  2 spots behind Tampa and looking up at such media heavyweights as Phoenix and Seattle. For an aspiring News Media person, Miami is what you’d call a Stepping Stone market on your way to bigger and better things.



So where DO we rank among the big boys? Well, South Florida is the 3rd most densely populated Metro next to New York and LA. Though I think that has more to do with the lack of developable land than people actually living here (You can drive from one side of Miami to the other in under 20 minutes if the freeway is clear).  Other luminaries in the Top 10 for that: Providence, RI and Louisville. And when was the last time you even THOUGHT about Louisville when it wasn’t the first weekend in May?

We have the 3rd largest school district, but again this is more because other Metros split their schools among various municipalities, where all of Dade is one district. Miami-Dade is also the 7th largest county in America. Ranking right behind Kings County NY, which is another word for Brooklyn.


We allegedly have the 3rd biggest skyline, but I haven’t found any data to back that up aside from some forum thread on Not exactly the Places Rated Almanac.

The point is, yeah, the city gets a lot of media exposure, and looks impressive from its overbuilt downtown. But ultimately, we are in the same tier as Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta. Big cities, but hardly major players. This city appears to people to be a lot more impressive than it actually is. But then again, that’s pretty much what Miami is all about.

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About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

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27 Comments on

"Miami is Not as Big as You Think"

Carlos Miller says:

The other side of the coin is to look at what we have accomplished with the population we have.

We’re like the scrappy junior high kid who hangs out with high school kids and gets respect.

You rarely hear Phoenix, Dallas and Houston mentioned in the same league as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, but Miami is always mentioned with those cities, whether it is about TV shows or restaurant openings or tourist destinations.

Posted on 02/25/2011 at 11:37 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

So is Las Vegas. The glut of tourism, which is great, is really what drives that. Not this being some sort of “World Class” city or anything.

But, yeah, I LIKE the fact that Miami isn’t that big. And I seriosuly hope it remains that way. If I wanted to live in New York or LA or Chicago, I would. Weather aside, living somewhere where you run into people you know, and where you meet mutual acquaintances all the time, and where you don’t feel insignificant when you walk outside, that’s pretty cool.

Posted on 02/26/2011 at 11:40 PM

Dan Margolis says:

There are different ways of looking at the relative size of a city. The U.S. census bureau likes to use the “metropolitan area” approach, which is different than the “urbanized area” approach. Miami’s metropolitan statistical area is the 7th largest in the country, as the article notes, but that includes all sorts of areas that don’t relate to Miami. But if you look at the urbanized area, Miami comes in at 5th, and more recently 4th. An urbanized area is far more cohesive than a metropolitan area, as it’s based on population density per square mile. It’s also more helpful than considering the actual population of a city itself. Boston, for example, is considered a small city, but only because the borders of it exclude much of the area that actually does function as Boston: Cambridge, Somverville, etc. Miami as a city comes in 42nd only because there are so many oddly independent towns and unincorporated areas.

Posted on 02/27/2011 at 5:07 PM

UTS says:

One true indicator about a city’s size is how corporate HQ’s have settled there. When you notice this is practically void in Miami, you realize it’s a revolving door for pleasure seekers and a weigh station for some till a better opportunity comes their way.

I’ve never considered it as a truly big functioning city.

Posted on 02/28/2011 at 10:57 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

Thanks, UTS, You make my point for me.

Dan, I get what you mean, and I’ve never taken a city proper’s population as a valid measure since there’s a lot of Metros, like Miami, where the actual main city is rather small. But there’s a ton of suburbs in the Metro. So that stat was just thrown in for fun. That “urbanized area” stat I dont buy, though, because the car has created such a regionalization effect so many places. Like people choose to live “in” a city way out in the suburbs because of cost and other reasons. Phoenix would be a good example.

Posted on 03/02/2011 at 8:33 PM

Dan Margolis says:

Matt, that’s a good point you make. My only point was that it really is hard to come up with a standard to compare cities by. But UTS, there are a lot of big bank headquarters here; downtown has the largest concentration of international banks of any city in the U.S., I believe. There are also communications companies, like Univision and Telemundo. Miami’s pretty much the U.S. gateway to the rest of the Americas.

The point someone made earlier, I agree with: I’m glad it’s not NYC. I just moved from there.

Posted on 03/02/2011 at 8:41 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Thanks, Dan, I get your point, and that’s why I think Media Markets are really the best way to gauge a city’s size. Since that really determines how much pull it’s gonna have nationally.

But if those industries are so big here, why is the job market so dreadful? Those banks are here because of proximity to Latin America, but how many jobs are they really providing? Again, don’ get me wrong. I’m glad the job market here is abysmal. Keeps the population and cost of living down. But saying, yeah, we have a lot of Latin American businesses with their American HQ here hardly makes us a major American player.

Posted on 03/03/2011 at 7:30 PM

UTS says:

I get Dan’s point as well. Those media outlets mentioned however are not HQ’d in Miami. I also suspect Matt will have difficulty finding a job there, as I’m sure the grand majority require prficiency in Spanish.

The one theory I have why Miami is not as large is it never had a chance to develop as a producer of any industry. Miami is the worst place you can be if a corporation needs to distribute goods across the country.

Posted on 03/04/2011 at 2:25 PM

Dan Margolis says:

I think part of the reason I feel the need to argue that Miami is a “big” city is because I just moved here from New York. I really like this city, and, in the parlance of most people in NYC, saying a place is “small” or “smaller” seems to be an insult. I really like Miami, and felt an instinctual need to defend it. But I do think it is, regardless of size, an “important” city. Boston, though very small, is important in reproduction of culture, education, etc. Miami is important as well, in its relations to Latin America, other aspects of U.S. and inter-American culture and so on. Maybe that’s agreeable?

Posted on 03/04/2011 at 2:47 PM

James Farmer says:

It’s difficult to accept your premise that only the “uneducated” could view Miami as big city or a major player.  To view Miami as anything other than an important world city and the Gateway to Latin America is, however, a mistake.  Only time will tell whether the billions that have poured into the transformation of Miami was worth the price, but hundreds of corporations have bet on it (no doubt some have lost).  But there is no denying that Miami has transformed with more buildings in excess of 200 meters (over 600 feet) with the exception of NYC and Chicago.  And unlike prior commentary, in the field of banking, accounting, and finance, you have reached close to the top of the food chain when you get a post in Miami.  NYC, Chicago and SF are at the top - but to get a post in Miami is certainly sweet.  I suspect our friend Margolis has earned that price.  Many Latin American accounts are managed out of Miami.  And when you travel to other parts of the world, I am always amazed at how many people have come to Miami.  Remember that Miami is now at the hub of a State with the third largest population in the US and only California, Texas and NY have a higher GDP.  I enjoy reading your columns as they take me back to the sure mindedness of my youth, but you really need to take a step back and look at what’s happening in Miami.  Look forward to reading more of your stuff.

Posted on 03/04/2011 at 4:44 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Dan, I mean small as a good thing. I don’t like HUGE cities as places to live. And I like that Miami is not one of those places. Miami just gets a lot of hype for being this huge city (like NY or CHicago) when in fact it is a lot more like living in a regular sized place.

James, geographically, sure, this is a gateway to Latin America and the largest Metro is the FOURTH largest state in the country. Again, overrating Florida. Point being, there’s no industry based here that, if the city were wiped out, the country would be screwed. In terms of importance,e as I’ve said, it’s on par with Houston, Atlanta and Dallas. But there’s a reason that people leave here for career-related reason all the time.

Posted on 03/06/2011 at 3:41 PM

UTS says:

After viewing some video evidence, I’d like to redact my comment about Matt not speaking Spanish. It’s manageable

Posted on 03/07/2011 at 4:37 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

I can speak it when I have to. Like to get on TV. But otherwise I generally refuse.

Posted on 03/08/2011 at 1:25 PM

JD says:

I’m in agreement with Dan Margolis. Sure, we overbuilt our downtown, but it’s not empty as you claim it to be, with nearly 80% of the condos occupied and with sales still going strong during our down economy (sure, cheap prices have a lot to do with it as well). But people’s attracted to living in a downtown - and in a large part due to its location and proximity to important businesses in Downtown/Brickell area. As Dan has already stated, there’s major Latin American operations as well as major banks from all over in Miami. I can understand that some people get jaded since in comparison with other large cities, our corporate district is all over the place and is the least centralized out of all major cities. It’s for this reason most people probably did not realize that our Fortune 500 headquarters are all in far-flung locations. DHL is in Plantation. Office Depot is in Boca Raton. Most people are surprised that we even have one Fortune 500 company - in fact, we actually have 5 Fortune 500 companies in South Florida (visit this link to see the pdf file to understand how important Miami is, economically speaking: Also, there’s a good wikipedia entry based on the article and other good sources: But since notable companies with uber-large offices are not clustered together, we don’t get the corporate visibility other cities have - and there’s definitely none in Miami Beach. Someone who is living in Miami Beach can easily get jaded and think there’s no real corporate business anywhere. I can only name one sizeable company in Miami Beach at the top of my head - LNR, but if you’re not into corporate real estate (which probably you’re not), then you wouldn’t know that they even existed or count them in when looking for a job opportunity.

And as someone working in advertising, I can tell you that you should not measure how big a city is by the government regulated Media Market either. Why? Because Miami’s media market covers only Miami-Dade and Broward. It’s for this reason we never see news about Palm Beach on tv unless if its major news. And that’s not all - our unregulated newspaper market just makes it even more confusing, with Miami Herald covering Dade and southern Broward and Sun-Sentinel covering Broward and Palm Beach.

I’d stick with either the metropolitan area of South Florida (Miami-Ft.Lauderdale-West Palm) or with the urbanized area which I like more (you should see the metropolitan area of DFW - there’s a gaping hole between the two cities of Dallas and Fort Worth in contrast with the constant buildings I see on I-95 on the way to Palm Beach.)

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 8:25 AM

JD says:

Btw, after living here in a while, I noticed that Miami is a big player in the following industries: international banking, hospitality, aerospace, logistics, and trade - but not in that order. We are also growing in medical/pharmaceutical research, media (particularly Spanish media - we have large studios for Univision, Telemundo, Venevision, etc and we also have major radio international radio stations and cable stations as well. Even American channels like CNN has a sizable presence here, as they’re broadcasting their morning daily show CNN Cafe for CNN en Espanol here too). So, I wouldn’t underestimate the media companies here - and in addition, as a result of that industry, we also have a large number of Spanish advertising companies that focus on the US Hispanic market and also the Latin American market.

It’s all this that separates us from Vegas and makes us one of the larger players in the American economy. And of course, it’s also all this that makes us the Capital of the Americas as we claim to be. However, I do see that over the years the dominancy of Spanish is waning a bit so that title may be at risk.

Note: I falsely stated that DHL’s main HQ was here - their Latin American operation is here (although they have large offices in Miami and in Plantation that it would fool anyone into thinking they have a HQ here). The five Fortune 500 companies are:  FPL Group (Juno Beach), Office Depot (Boca Raton), World Fuel Services (Miami), AutoNation (Fort Lauderdale), Ryder System (Miami).

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 8:59 AM

JD says:

And lastly - another thing to think about. Compare Seattle with Detroit.

Detroit has more big companies than Seattle - especially in the Fortune 500, thanks to the major automobile industry they have there. But it’s a city that is losing population, with those staying mainly in manufacturing. They do not have a large educated class nor a diversified economy.

Seattle has less Fortune 500 companies, has a diversified economy relatively speaking, and is a growing city. It’s often touted to have a better quality of life, especially in comparison with Detroit.

I definitely don’t see Miami like Detroit. We have much more in common with Seattle, with us having regional headquarters rather than the main corporate headquarters and with our quality of life being good, if not great. Fortune 500 companies are not always a good indicator of how well a city is doing. In fact, remember that in America well more than half of our economy is driven by small industries rather than large ones. And Seattle alongside with Miami is a good example of that. The difference though, we’re also a cross-boundary regional player (as in we cross over to Latin America in a big way other cities with smaller industries often don’t do). Because of this, as well as the media hyping our beach lifestyle, the name Miami is played up as often as one of the more major American cities.

Posted on 03/12/2011 at 9:28 AM

DesieTee says:

Hey Matt! I couldn’t have said it better. I was truly disappointed after moving here from the Caribbean due to a job transfer. Everyone was so excited for me. The same job also placed me in NY and DC some years before, so I am in a position to compare. I Was truly disappointed with Miami. Other pple in the same line of work I do from other countries have expressed the same feeling quietly, and I know of three who have requested transfers ( two have succeeded so far & one is almost there!). I’m not by any means putting down Miami, but people here are way too materialistic and have no real commitment to the city other than what they can get from here ... and the ‘profiling’ ugh! I’m just thankful that I wasn’t sent to a place with a cold climate and that I’m closer to home than my other assignments have been

Posted on 11/25/2012 at 8:41 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

From what I’ve learned in the Caribbean Miami is like the BIG city. Probably because it’s the entry point for so many people, and is the largest US city near that region. But once you get here it’s kinda like, oh, this place isn’t like NY or Paris or anything. Not bad, but it’s in that 2/3 tier of size in the US.

Posted on 11/25/2012 at 3:38 PM

Stephen Malagodi says:

It’s an outpost.
Always has been.
Always will be.

Posted on 01/21/2013 at 5:13 PM

206joe says:

Hey Matt, didn’t see this before or when it was originally posted. Just thought I’d help you with a reference though on buildings and skyscrapers, downtown, etc. Well it won’t let me post the link but Emporis is a legit source and they rank and list skyscrapers. Its a pretty reliable source and they rank city downtowns as well which is a bit subjective but they do. They however break it down by number of skyscrapers though and Miami is third in the US.

@ JD, if he ever reads this, yes there are less fortune 500 companies in Seattle but the ones here are huge. Next time you get on a plane carrying starbucks, carting the carry on you bought at costco, with your labtop with Windows on it, and the head phones you found on Amazon, well you can thank Seattle then. Now you might say planes are Boeing and that is Chicago. Well you know how many people associate boeing with chicago? Only the people working in those offices. I think my friend Maylisa can vouch for the quality of life being better. With that, don’t move here (Seattle) the weather and traffic are horrible. Cloudy 9 months of the year.

Posted on 01/21/2013 at 5:27 PM

Matt Meltzer says:

Seattle actually is in now way, even economically like Seattle. Right now it seems to be dominated by one industry (technology) with a few others (aerospace, light manufacturing, coffee) taking up the rest. Miami, my God, it seems like every other person I meet here is in real estate, certainly never an industry that could single-handedly sustain a major city. Same with hospitality (with Las Vegas being the lone exception).

I agree with you that fortune 500 companies are not really an indicator of the relative quality of a city’s economy. But the main reason I’ve found educated people cite for leaving here (this city is a black hole for intelligence. Don’t even try to argue that) is that you can’t really reach much past the upper-middle of your field here. A REAL large city would allow for that and have people moving here for career advancement rather than career change.

Posted on 01/22/2013 at 3:25 PM

Kell says:

Shut up Miami is a large city to whom ever created this page, you probley don’t even live in Miami. Gosh it’s not small pulse that little map you got up there is a small part of Miami it’s not the whole county.

Posted on 10/30/2013 at 1:10 AM

Kell says:

Shut up Miami is a large city to whom ever created this page, you probley don’t even live in Miami. Gosh it’s not small pulse that little map you got up there is a small part of Miami it’s not the whole county.

Posted on 10/30/2013 at 1:10 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

I’ve actually lived here for 15 years. It’s not that big. Believe me.

Posted on 10/31/2013 at 2:10 PM

Bryan says:

Why are you so hateful of the city? The city is famous world wide and it’s name is mentioned with a lot of these big cities like New York and LA because it’s a city that has been historically popular for many years and it’s always changing and I’ve lived here for 19 years and I can say that I still haven’t seen everything Miami has to offer.

Posted on 06/14/2014 at 3:49 AM

Matt Meltzer says:

Well, it all depends on how much effort you make to see it.

Posted on 06/15/2014 at 8:22 PM

desietee says:

Matt Meltzer on that score you are correct @ the fact that you can’t reach much past the upper-middle of your field. I actually know of persons who have moved away or are planning to move from Miami ( as much as they love it) and even Broward, Tampa & Orlando for this reason. One of my best girlfriends recently moved to Texas and one is planning to move out of Florida to the HQ of her company as she says she is risking being ‘stigmatized’ for a promotion if she stays in Florida for too much longer according to the culture in their corporation

Posted on 06/18/2014 at 1:21 PM

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