Just Look at This Place. What’s Not to Love?
By JAVIER C. HERNANDEZ
March 30, 2011
"It makes you wonder if the Census Bureau is living on a different planet," Senator Charles E. Schumer said.
“Flabbergasting” was the word in Brooklyn. “Impossible,” newspapers in Queens claimed. “Inconceivable,” said the mayor.
In a city that likes to call itself the center of the universe, the news that New York City grew by a mere 2.1 percent over the past decade prompted an array of emotions across the five boroughs: exasperation, indifference, shame, bewilderment.
This is the city of the Yankees and Broadway, of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, of sky-high buildings and never-ending parks. How could the world not be rushing to its shores?
For many New Yorkers, what seems to be at stake is nothing less than the city’s supersize reputation. In a place that likes to dream big, an increase of about 167,000 people over 10 years feels anemic and, to some, embarrassing.
“It’s a feather in our cap, so to speak, being the largest city in the country,” Dan Moreland, 42, a Manhattan lawyer, said at Grand Central Terminal the other day. “It’s important that we maintain that as a matter of our own self-worth.”
Yes, the official count of 8,175,133 was an all-time high for the city for a 10-year census, and the 2.1 percent increase came at a time when other major cities were in decline — Detroit’s population, for instance, plunged an astonishing 25 percent. But never mind that: this is New York, where it does not seem so preposterous that 167,000 people could be crammed into a few No. 6 trains during rush hour.
The city, perhaps sensing its pride was at stake, has reacted angrily.
Stage one: denial. Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg cried “undercount,” saying the data crunchers at the Census Bureau had missed scores of immigrants. It seemed highly suspect, he said, that the population of Queens increased by just 1,343 people since 2000.
“Could that really be possible?” Mr. Bloomberg said. “As they say in Brooklyn: Fuhgeddaboudit.”
Stage two: defiance. Dozens of lawmakers joined Mr. Bloomberg on Sunday to demand a recount. “The numbers are dead wrong,” Senator Charles E. Schumer said. “It makes you wonder if the Census Bureau is living on a different planet.”
To be sure, more than bragging rights are at stake: the federal government factors in population when it allocates aid, and elected officials say that the city could be shortchanged by millions of dollars if the current figures stand. Population data is also used to determine how legislative lines are drawn.
But money and politics aside, the census figures seem to have done something more profound to New York, bruising the ego of a city known for egos.
When Phyllis Newman, 78, an actress and Tony Award winner, heard about the census results, she said she had three words for the federal government: “Get a life.”
“It’s more crowded than ever,” said Ms. Newman, a lifelong New Yorker who lives on the Upper West Side. “It always looks like New Year’s Eve in Times Square. That’s vitality. They made a terrible mistake.”
Based on preliminary census estimates, city officials had expected New York’s population to increase by nearly 400,000, to 8.4 million.
Joseph J. Salvo, the city’s chief demographer, said it was important to look at the numbers in context, even if they prove to be correct, which he doubts. While other cities outpaced New York in their growth rates, he noted that only one other — San Antonio — actually added more people (183,000, for a growth rate of 16 percent).
“We are still adding close to 170,000 people, and while that is below what we expected, it’s still quite formidable,” Mr. Salvo said.
Still, there are signs that after growing by 9 percent from 1990 to 2000, New York’s population boom might have begun to ease.
While the entire country grew more slowly in the past decade, the New York metropolitan area, including the suburbs, was particularly sluggish, increasing by 3.1 percent. By contrast, the metropolitan areas of Atlanta, Dallas and Houston all grew by more than 20 percent.
Historians attribute the growth in Sun Belt states to a variety of causes, including a lower cost of living, less-onerous building regulations and cheap and abundant land and housing.
The supply of housing in a city is generally a good predictor of population growth. A city can thrive financially, but it will not attract more people unless it allows robust building, economists say.
New York has added some 170,000 housing units over the last decade, compared with 200,000 in the previous decade. But according to census data, the number of people living in each unit has fallen, a trend the city disputes.
Kenneth T. Jackson, a Columbia University historian, said New York was “a city where people come, and then disperse.” He said one reason behind the lackluster numbers might have been the reluctance of New Yorkers to return census surveys. For the 2010 census, 63 percent of residents did so, up from 60 percent in 2000 but below the national average of 74 percent. Census takers are sent out to find the rest. “There’s a bunch of cantankerous types in New York,” Professor Jackson said. “Some people,” he said, would not send the survey back “if you gave them $200.”
But even for less-than-grouchy New Yorkers, the census data was enough to cause a fit. Several were adamant that the city’s image as a thriving home to artists, entrepreneurs, financiers and everyone in between would endure.
“This is still the place where legends are made and dreams come true,” said Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president. “We’re not going to take it lying down. We know we’re right.”
"Could that really be possible?" Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg asked.
NEW YORK. World's capital.
“Office buildings are our factories – whether for tech, creative or traditional industries we must continue to grow our modern factories to create new jobs,” said United States Senator Chuck Schumer.