ITHACA, N.Y. — For many years, the story went like this – people moved out of the crime and grime of cities seeking greener pastures. According to the latest census estimates for Ithaca city and the towns and villages of Tompkins County, it’s the opposite.

A population chart for communities in Tompkins County. Note that villages are included in town populations (for example, Trumansburg village is part of Ulysses’s town population). Click to expand.
A population chart for communities in Tompkins County. Note that villages are included in town populations (for example, Trumansburg village is part of Ulysses’s town population). Click to expand.

In fact, estimates from the U.S. Census suggest that most communities in Tompkins County lost population from 2016 to 2017. The city of Ithaca was the top performer by population, gaining over 300 residents and nearly 1,000 since 2010, crossing the 31,000 mark for population for the first time in its history. Ithaca’s population had been between 26,000 and 30,000 people since the 1940s, and only exceeded 30,000 in 2010.

Meanwhile, the village of Dryden is estimated to have added another 87 residents to reach an all-time high of 2,159 residents, 14.23% population growth since 2010. This past year’s growth may be attributable to the opening of the second phase of the Poet’s Landing apartment complex on the northwest side of the village, but these estimates are for July 1st, 2017, and Poet’s Landing didn’t open until near the end of the calendar year.

However, most communities generally saw very little growth, if any. Lansing town and Dryden town added 41 and 32 respectively, and since town estimates include the villages within their boundaries, that suggests Dryden lost population, and the village grew enough to offset the loss elsewhere. Danby and Ithaca town’s growth could be counted on your hands.

Everyone else had fewer residents in 2017, as far as the census bureau can tell. The losses were most profound in Enfield where 35 people, just under one percent of the population, moved out of town. Newfield town lost the most people in the 12-month period, 40 residents by the bureau’s estimate.

Photo by Brian Crandall

It’s a strange result in an area where economic growth has been consistently positive and affordability due to a lack of housing is a major issue, but SOCDS building permit reports from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development lend support to the theory. In 2017, permits for 468 housing units were filed in Tompkins County. 264 were in Ithaca city, 73 in Lansing town, 62 in Ithaca town, and only 13 in Dryden town. Most other communities were ten homes or less. As households trend smaller or homes existing homes go vacant, the growth in new housing may not offset those population losses.

However, let’s take a step back and not overanalyze – with the exception of Freeville village and Groton village, all Tompkins County communities are thought to have seen population growth since 2010. Plus, estimates are estimates; the formal census isn’t until 2020.

Brian Crandall

Brian Crandall reports on housing and development for the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached at bcrandall@ithacavoice.com.