March 30, 2011
By Jeremy Smerd
A decade ago, it would have been hard to imagine that New Yorkers would be moving to the financial district for the school, Or that in Williamsburg the phrase “bridge and tunnel crowd” would refer to people from Manhattan.
But like a time lapsed photo montage, the 10 year census released last week shows remarkable change in the city’s neighborhoods. A few came to define the decade, like downtown after September 11. Others changed with little fanfare: Roosevelt Island grew 22.4% to 11,661 people, thanks to a not-yet-completed 2,000 apartment development called Southtown. While the census data have been criticized for undercounting New York City, the block by block population count offers a micro level snapshot of neighborhood development. Taken together, these changes are recalibrating the city’s political and economic balance, with implications for the decade to come.
“Political power is shifting,” said Mitchell Moss, an urban policy and planning professor at New York University’s Wagner School of Public Service. “There are new coalitions in Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. The liberal coalition of the Upper West Side is fading, while lower Manhattan is surging.”
When Mayor Michael Bloomberg came into office, ground zero was still smoldering. But a conscious decision was made to transform lower Manhattan from a business district into a 24/7 community. Rezoning occurred and incentives for renters and residential development followed. The census breaks down the city into tracts, which don’t always correspond to neighborhoods. According to a tract by tract analysis of census data, lower Manhattan bordered to the north by Canal Street and by the two rivers on its east and west sides has grown 91.3% since 2000, an influx of nearly 30,000 residents. This booming neighborhood does not include Chinatown south of Canal Street.
“The story of the last decade is that after 9/11, people counted our community out,” said Julie Menin, chairwoman of Community Board 1. “We proved them wrong. We’re survivors.”
They are also flexing their newfound muscle. The Department of Education has greenlighted three new schools in the past four years: P.S. 276 in Battery Park City, P.S. 397, known as the Spruce Street School, and a new primary school to open initially at the department’s headquarters in the old Tweed Courthouse in 2012. The transformation of an abandoned railroad track into an elevated park symbolized the emergence of the far West Side from its gritty industrial past. With the High Line as their eastern border running along 10th Avenue, the neighborhoods spanning 14th to 70th streets have grown 56.1% in the past decade to nearly 36,000 people, census data show.
Williamsburg’s development into one of the city’s more sought after neighborhoods is by now old news. But the data show something more: a sustained flocking to the Queens and Brooklyn waterfront, from Long Island City and Williamsburg in the north to Sunset Park in the south.
Measuring neighborhoods not simply by sheer population, but by the nature of their change points to how far and fast they have come. A part of Dumbo grew 217%, to 3,604 people from 1,134. The stretch of mostly industrial land along the Gowanus Bay near Sunset Park is home only to 2,105 people, but the 46% increase over the past 10 years validates the city’s effort to enliven the waterfront there. Even the waterfront of the South Bronx, hemmed in by the Major Deegan and Bruckner expressways, has shown new life. The land bordered by East 148th Street and Third Avenue, part of which was affectionately referred to by locals as “Garbagia,” has seen a 21% gain to 1,917 people.
CHANGING BALANCE OF POLITICAL POWER
Demographic change not only reshapes neighborhoods but brings new political challenges, too. The 32% growth of Asians citywide shifts power from Chinatown to Queens and Brooklyn. The 5% drop in black New Yorkers diminishes the political and cultural influence of Harlem, Mr. Moss said. The Bronx’s 22% drop in white residents shifts more power to blacks and Latinos, but legislators from the borough will have a harder time forming broader based coalitions needed to win citywide office.
“One of the great lessons of the census is that the Bronx is barely 10% white,” Mr. Moss said. “It’s going to be hard for politicians from the Bronx to make the leap and move up to a higher office.”