March 25, 2011
By: by Chris Churchill, Staff Writer
Capital Region cities are winners in the 2010 census results for New York released Thursday, reversing a decades-long trend of suburban gains at urban expense.
Schenectady saw its population jump 7 percent from the count done in 2000. Albany recorded a 3.8 percent increase, while Troy had a 1.9 percent rise.
But it wasn't just larger cities. Most of the region's old river cities were up, too.
The population of Rensselaer rose 21 percent over the decade, according to the Census Bureau, while Cohoes saw a 4.2 percent rise.
"We had a lot of residential growth over the decade," said Cohoes Mayor John McDonald III, pointing to the Lofts at Harmony Mills and developments along the Hudson River.
McDonald and other observers also pointed to other reasons for urban gains, including a stepped-up emphasis on making sure every resident was counted.
The census numbers don't necessarily mean that wealthier or middle-class residents are returning to cities. In fact, recent census estimates suggested intensifying poverty in cities of the Capital Region.
Gains in Troy and Albany, in particular, were attributed to a more accurate count of the large student population in each city.
Albany's population is 97,856, up from 94,301 but down from its historic census high of 134,995 in 1950. The city had seen population declines in five straight counts.
The numbers are more than idle statistics. They can affect a city's share of sales tax revenue and federal funding. They can also shape its sense of self.
Rocky Ferraro, head of the Capital District Regional Planning Commission, noted that Troy's population had climbed back above 50,000, to 50,129.
"That's really important psychologically," he said.
To be sure, the population increases in cities did not come at the expense of suburban towns. That's still where the most growth is occurring.
Suburbs in Saratoga County, in particular, remain especially popular. Wilton recorded a 29 percent population increase, the highest in the region, alongside a 13.5 percent gain for Malta, 10.9 percent for Clifton Park, and 17.3 percent in Halfmoon.
The Capital Region overall, with gains in its four counties, grew by 5.5 percent -- more than double the 2.1 percentage increase for the state.
"That's a good sign for the Capital Region," said Ferraro, who attributed the growth, in part, to developments like the nanotechnology complex at the University at Albany.
The signs weren't good for all parts of the Empire State.
Counties in much of western New York are struggling with population losses, according to census data, even as all the counties along the state's eastern edge, including those in the New York City area, posted gains.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a statement, said the census numbers "offer stark evidence of the lack of growth in certain regions as well as ongoing stagnation."
Buffalo, the state's second-largest city, shed 10.7 percent of its population. In fact, its loss -- 31,338 people -- is roughly equal to the entire population of Guilderland.
Rochester, the third-largest city, dropped 4.2 percent, while Syracuse lost 1.5 percent.
Those declines made the increases in Capital Region cities all the more remarkable.
Leif Engstrom, a former official with the regional planning commission who is now the Albany city auditor, said the city's gain isn't entirely due to a better count of students.
Despite the continuing struggles of some neighborhoods, Engstrom said, Albany is a "more stable community than it was 10 years ago."
Albany's population increase should end for now speculation that its upstart neighbor, Colonie, would eventually become the region's largest municipality.
The city's growth rate topped that of Colonie, which saw a 2.9 percent increase to 81,591.