ITHACA, N.Y. — For the past several decades, the trends for population growth (or loss) were fairly consistent – the City of Ithaca was stagnant or decreasing, while the towns, particularly the towns of Ithaca, Lansing and Dryden, grew as the suburbs wended their way into the countryside. The newest municipal census estimates, however, suggest that pattern might be changing, as the city grows and many of the towns are estimated to have experienced population losses.

Since the census revised its estimation approach for 2017 onward, nearly all communities in Tompkins County are estimated to have lost population, with the exceptions of the City of Ithaca and the town of Lansing. Both of those had the highest number of new residential home permits issued over the past decade (through 2017, the latest year with federally reviewed and published numbers, Ithaca had approved 863 new housing units since 2010, and Lansing town and village, which are combined for the town’s census estimate, had 414 housing units). A full table of the population estimates of every New York State town can be found here.

Population changes since 2010.  Note that villages are included in town populations (for example, Trumansburg village is part of Ulysses’s town population).
Population changes since 2010.  Note that villages are included in town populations (for example, Trumansburg village is part of Ulysses’s town population).

With those building permit figures in mind, it should be noted that estimates are just that, estimates. As demographer Jan Vink noted in our look at the countywide estimate last month, if one year shows an abnormal spike or drop, unless there’s a very clear reason like a big apartment complex opening up (Poet’s Landing in the village of Dryden, for instance), take it with a grain of salt. The estimates are calculated using a baseline of the the county’s growth, and apportioning it out based off of tax forms indicating those moving in and out, and consideration of other details such as birth certificates, death certificates and residential building permits.

In this case, we already covered that the countywide estimate may not be very good due to the changes in census methodology. Splitting piles of manure into smaller piles doesn’t suddenly make it smell like roses.

New housing construction building permit totals from 2010-2017. Note that villages are included in town populations (for example, Trumansburg village is part of Ulysses’s town permit total here).
New housing construction building permit totals from 2010-2017. Note that villages are included in town populations (for example, Trumansburg village is part of Ulysses’s town permit total here).

Still, the data does note some important trends. One is the renewed interest in urban living. Ithaca’s population had been between 26,000 and 30,000 people since the 1940s and only exceeded 30,000 in 2010. With hundreds of housing units approved so far this decade, and hundreds more in the pipeline, it appears the city is experiencing something of a resurgence.

As for the towns, the suburbs still have their appeal, as Lansing proves. The population decreases in the Town of Ithaca might be surprising, especially given the Maplewood redevelopment, which added about 500 residents to Ithaca. However, the project wasn’t occupied until August 2018 onward, and the estimates are dated to July 1st, 2018. In other words, it hadn’t opened yet. Whether or not Maplewood is reflected in the final estimate (2019’s, due out around the same time the actual census is underway in spring 2020) is unknown.

For the sake of comparison, only the village of Dryden exceeds the national average for growth in the United States (5.96%). This has potential implications on the federal level if the actual census values support these results. With the continued population decreases or slow growth throughout upstate, more counties would need to be merged into the same congressional district as Tompkins County, for instance, to maintain fairly equal population shares among the country’s 435 U.S. House seats, and certain seats are likely to be eliminated outright, and transferred to growing states and communities in the Sunbelt and Pacific Northwest. Recent estimates suggest New York will lose two congressional seats after the next census, while Florida gains two seats and Texas three.

Brian Crandall

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