Matty Lang grew up believing that the suburbs were his destiny. That's where grown-ups moved to raised families, he thought.

"That was the ideal. That was what I was supposed to be doing," said Lang, who was raised in Faribault.

But he and his spouse bought a home in St. Paul's Midway neighborhood and are raising their 6-year-old daughter in the city. And their neighborhood is flush with young families.

After a decade of modest decline, Minneapolis and St. Paul are now growing at a faster clip than the suburbs, according to population estimates released this month by the Metropolitan Council.

Minneapolis and St. Paul combined grew by 6.8 percent in the past five years, according to the new data. St. Paul spilled over the 300,000 mark and Minneapolis topped 412,000. The urban core hasn't seen populations that robust since the 1970s.

Still, don't count the suburbs out. Suburbs and the rural fringe in the metro region grew by a collective 5.1 percent, with Blaine, Woodbury and Brooklyn Park topping the list in raw numbers.

The balanced growth is the most striking takeaway from the new data, said Libby Starling, the Met Council's manager of regional policy and research.

"We are seeing growth in all parts of the region. That means people who live here and move here have choices and options about where to live," Starling said. "One size does not fit all."

The growth of Minneapolis and St. Paul is a turnaround from the century's first decade, when despite a growing number of households in the two cities, each actually lost people (albeit just a few). That's because household sizes were smaller.

The cities' population likely began growing again around 2012, according to Met Council staffers.

"Cities have been making a comeback all across the United States. People realize there can be more than that suburban American ideal," said Lang, a filmmaker and video producer.

"I wanted to be in a bigger city for the opportunities they offer. Cities are designed to maximize human interaction, economic exchange and exchange of cultures."

As a region, the Twin Cities grew at a faster rate than most comparable Midwestern areas.

The Met Council compared the 16 counties that make up the greater Twin Cities region to 10 other Midwest metros with more than 1 million residents. It ranked third, behind Columbus, Ohio, and Indianapolis.

"We are growing much faster than regions like Chicago, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Cleveland," Starling said. "It's a combination of a strong economy, an appealing quality of life and the overall affordability of our region."

Overall, the seven-county region added 156,000 people in five years, and now tops 3 million. About two-thirds of that came from natural growth, when births outnumber deaths; the rest comes from immigration.

"This is part of the national trend of empty nesters and millennials wanting to live in a more urban place where you don't have to use your car as often or drive as far. They want to be closer to amenities," said Caren Dewar, executive director of Urban Land Institute Minnesota.

"Both cities are working hard to support more growth and more density. The apartment market is so hot. Apartments are a lot of what is driving the growth."

Minneapolis City Council Member Jacob Frey said more people of all ages want to live in places with a "dense, dynamic atmosphere."

A significant portion of Minneapolis' growth has been in Frey's ward, which covers part of downtown and east of the Mississippi River. Housing in the area has boomed in recent years, bringing business with it.

"If you look at world-class cities, what people love about them is the activity, the street life," Frey said. "And you don't get a vibrant street life without people on the street."

That's why Grant Simons left Eden Prairie as soon as he turned 18 and rented an apartment in Minneapolis. Simons, an architecture student, now lives just blocks from the historic Stone Arch Bridge over the Mississippi.

"There is a lot more creative design happening in urban areas versus suburbs," he said.

Plenty of people are still drawn to the suburbs, though.

Blaine is the fastest-growing city in the metro area in percentage terms. The north metro suburb grew by 10.6 percent, making it Anoka County's largest city with 63,000 residents.

Not far behind is Woodbury, with 8 percent growth in five years. Washington County's largest city now has an estimated 66,974 people.

Sam Villella and his wife, Megan, bought a house in Blaine. He said it's a perfect fit for their two children, and he gushed about its parks, proximity to the National Sports Center, safe streets and comfortable, newer homes.

Villela knows most of his neighbors by name and he's OK letting his children ride their bikes and explore the neighborhood.

"It's safe. Everyone is kind of watching. It's a great neighborhood for them to grow up in," said Villela, an eye doctor.

"There is a real sense of community.''

Staff writer Erin Golden contributed to this report.

Shannon Prather • 612-673-4804