Tag Archives: census

A Long Hard Look

30 Mar

The sobering census figures for the Buffalo Metro region and all of Upstate New York should give us all pause, and induce a significant amount of self reflection. Judging by the disappointing comments from our local elected leaders, and pablum vignette coverage from the Buffalo News, none of this is yet occurring.

First, the local facts. Despite my sincere and secret hopes to the contrary, the City of Buffalo’s losses have not stopped, and hardly seem to have slowed, losing approximately 31,000 people (11% of the population), 27,000 of which were white. Erie County also lost 31,000 people, and gains in population in Clarence and Grand Island were offset by losses in Cheektowaga and Tonawanda. While it may be tempting to say that Erie County’s loss could be explained by the loss in Buffalo, there is no way yet to accurately generalize about the migration trends and determine how fair of a statement that is. Niagara Falls lost a similar percentage (10%) of population, and overall, the entire metro area lost 35,000 people.

Second, the under-reported facts for the rest of Upstate. While the cities of Rochester and Syracuse lost population, their metro areas grew. Overall Rochester inched up, offsetting city losses, and some of its counties were near the top for the state for growth. Metro Syracuse grew by 1.4% overall, and the city itself shrank by far less than expected. Albany grew by 4%, or nearly 100,000 people.  Utica, Schenectady, and Troy all grew as well. Even Binghamton held its own.

My inescapable conclusion from these data, the new reality that I see us faced with, is that metro Buffalo is no longer part of a broad upstate trend. The chains binding Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse and Albany are breaking, if not already shed. We can no longer blame our population depression on the state – its unbearable high taxes, bad business environment, and policies unfriendly to all but New York City. The other areas of upstate have found a way to overcome those challenges and grow. We have not. There are no more scapegoats – we have no one to blame for our losses but ourselves. We are now uniquely bad in New York.

Albany has made a convenient foil to pass our problems off on. Byron Brown and Chris Collins mouthed the same tired excuses when the census numbers were announced. But Rochester, Syracuse and Albany face the same hurdles, and they have turned the corner while we dither and fight the long defeat.

I will start the self-reflection, if our public figures so far refuse to. I see two main truths we must first confront before we can move on to solve this problem. First, at the most basic level, people find our oldest urban environments less and less pleasing to live in. They vote with their feet, despite pleas about the benefits of city and/or Buffalo living. For this point, I see little distinction between Buffalo and Lackawanna, Cheektowaga or Tonawanda – the line on the map matters politically, but less so when it comes to the age and desirability of the housing stock or population migration. Those that wish to leave and can clearly are. Less people are moving in. Fewer and fewer people find our city (not New York, not upstate, but our city) a satisfactory place to live. Why?

The second truth is that the valiant efforts of Buffalo’s boosters and promoters have been superficially successful but fundamentally in vain. What do I mean by this? Buffalo has succeeded in reinventing its image as an architectural destination. You can’t go a week without reading about Buffalo’s magnificent masterpieces in national media. Likewise, community organizers are succeeding in rebuilding rotting homes, bringing hope to downtrodden neighborhoods and converting lands to urban farming. Developers are bringing loft apartment living to downtown, UB and Kaleida are building a mecca health and research campus doing national work, non-profits have reinvested in and revitalized our historic park system, festival organizers are making national tourism events out of gardening and chicken wings, and entire neighborhoods (such as the Hydraulics) are being reborn from the ashes. All of these hard working, principled, well-intentioned organizers and leaders have successfully completed their projects. They have changed the “spirit” of Buffalo. And yet. And yet the combination of all these efforts is not enough to convince more people to live here. At the most fundamental level, we still fade away. Why?

I say we must address these two questions – the dichotomy of the undesirability of the urban space and the success of individual revitalization projects and programs – to finally move our community towards growth. “Why is growth even required”, you ask? “I love Buffalo just the way it is.” As I have argued before, the Buffalo you love will not be present much longer without growth. Growth means we stop all gnawing off the same bone. Growth means one more dollar for the Albright Knox doesn’t have to mean one less dollar for Shakespeare in the Park. Growth means a job for me without taking one away from you. Growth increases the size of the pie so the Broadway Market, our numerous historic churches and inner-city neighborhood development aren’t all hanging on by the flimsiest of threads. Growth encourages investment. Growth enables healthy risk. Growth lets us all exhale.

We aren’t yet close to Growth. But Rochester, Syracuse, and Albany already are. Why?

Those Numbers are People

25 Mar

Here’s all I have to say about the census figures.

I am aware of two recent political races where a very young man made a run for a very big race.

They are smart guys who had good ideas, new ideas, bright ideas. Matt Bova, who just this week moved to California, ran in 2004 against George Maziarz for state senate, and ran to become the mayor of North Tonawanda when he was just 18 – a senior in high school.  He’s a hard worker and a bright mind. Regrettably, in 2006 he became embroiled in illegalities related to gathering petitions for Jack Davis’ “Save Jobs Party”, and left politics forever. But his departure is western New York’s loss. After all, he’s a bright young guy who lived in the city, paid taxes, and held a very good job indeed. He left earlier this week.

Max Tresmond ran against Jack Quinn III for state assembly in 2006 when he was just 18. Another bright kid, ran an almost impossible race as a Democrat in Hamburg against the son of a very popular former Congressman. He’s bright, ambitious, and brought new ideas and blood to local politics.  He recently moved away from the area, as well.

They both have very bright futures. Just not here in western New York.

Not everybody moves because of taxes.


Census 2010, The NY Results

24 Mar


We’ll have some analysis up tomorrow morning after we’ve had time to comb through the data, but I wanted to post a link to the full statewide results for your perusal.


These numbers are fascinating for many reasons as they influence everything from political redistricting formulas to rates media outlets can charge for advertising.

The long and short of it?  The numbers are predictably terrible for Buffalo, pretty bad for Erie County, mediocre for Rochester and Monroe County and generally not-so-good for all of New York State.

Here’s a quick look at the numbers and the percentage change between 2000 and 2010:

  • Erie County’s population decreased by 31,225 people or 3.2 percent
  • The City of Buffalo’s population decreased by 31,338 people or 10.7 percent
  • Niagara County’s population decreased by 3,377 people or 1.53 percent
  • Cattaraugus County’s population decreased by 3,638 people or 4.3 percent
  • Chautauqua County’s population decreased by 4,842 people or 3.5 percent

I think you get the idea, lots of people moved.

Here is a sampling of the responses we’ve received via email from various planning groups and politicians:

Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown:

All upstate cities have lost population, Buffalo is still the second largest city in New York. That’s why I’ve focused such attention on making Buffalo competitive.

Lou Jean Fleron, Cornell University ILR School and co-director of the Partnership for the Public Good:

It’s important that we don’t use population figures to measure the health and success of our city. For our 93 partner organizations, the key question is not how many people live here, but what is the quality of life for those who do

So, the early noise out of the gate is that it’s quality, not quantity that matters. Alrighty then.  However, I would like to note that population loss isn’t necessarily an “upstate” problem.  Counties in the eastern and central portions of upstate remained relatively static or grew while Western New York hemorrhaged people.  You’ll notice that as you go over the data…interesting, eh?

More tomorrow.