ITHACA, N.Y. –– The last time this happened, people were buying chrome bedecked DeSotos and Bel Airs, reading newspapers about President Eisenhower, and tuning in on their radios to hear a new rock and roll heartthrob named Elvis Presley. In the 2020 Census, the city of Ithaca grew faster than Tompkins County.

The 2020 decennial Census figures for counties, cities, towns and villages was formally released by the U.S. Census Bureau Tuesday afternoon. The findings indicate that the United States is a more slowly-growing, more racially diverse and urban population than ever before.

It was an unexpected surprise when statewide figures released earlier this year found that New York State’s population actually grew 4.2 percent in the 2010s, to 20,201,249 (an increase of 823,147 residents). As it turns out from the city and county figures, most of that can be attributed to New York City, which is now bigger than ever before at 8,804,190, an increase of about 629,000 residents since 2010.

Closer to home, Tompkins County showed growth just a hair below the statewide average and well above most of its upstate peers, adding 4,176 residents since 2010 for a 2020 Census total of 105,740 denizens.

However, the gains were not consistent through the communities that comprise Tompkins County. According to the Census, the city and town of Ithaca comprised the bulk of local population growth. The town of Ithaca grew the fastest, adding 11.8 percent and 2,353 residents to its population to reach a figure of 22,283, while the city of Ithaca grew just about seven percent from 30,014 people in 2010, to a 2020 population of 32,108, a growth of 2,094 residents. Cayuga Heights also appears to have experienced substantial growth, growing by over 10 percent over the last decade.

In fact, if you removed the city and town of Ithaca, Tompkins County would have lost population. In terms of percentage, the fastest shrinking community was the village of Trumansburg, which lost nearly five percent of its population. The town of Dryden lost the most residents, its 2020 count is 530 persons less than its 2010 figure.

Now, while these are the actual Census figures, do keep in mind that this is mostly data collection but with some degree of modeling to account for non-response issues in parts of the general population, with COVID migration and the pre-census departure of college students being just a couple of the issues faced during the data collection period, not to mention political efforts by the Trump administration to manipulate the tallies. All these obstacles and issues are why the numbers are several months later than they were otherwise planned to be.

Speaking purely anecdotally, as the beat reporter who covers real estate development and is in a good position to recognize population growth, if anyone from the Census can tell me how Cayuga Heights added 385 residents when it only added 30 housing units in the 2010s, I’m all ears. I doubt there’s been a baby boom or that they’re cutting up houses like they’re Collegetown specials. Alas, these are the official figures and it’s what we’ll be working off of for the next decade, from federal funding to legislative reapportionment.

On that latter note, these figures suggest greater representation for New York City in the state legislature in the coming decade due to the population shift. At least two more of the Assembly’s 140 seats and one more of the 63 State Senate seats will have to take in New York’s neighborhoods to ensure equal representation. On the local level, Tompkins will maintain roughly equal representation in Albany as growth kept pace, but within the county’s legislative redistricting, done by an independent commission, the mapmakers will have to contract and concentrate seats into the city and town of Ithaca, as those communities densified with new residents and now make up a greater share of the county’s population.

Image courtesy of U.S. Census Bureau.

Most Upstate counties saw population decreases in the 2020 Census, including all the counties that neighbor Tompkins County. This was true for other states as well, where 52 percent of the nation’s 3,143 county-level subdivisions saw drops in population. The few exceptions in the region are mostly counties that are a part of major metropolitan areas.

However, the Census did find a number of Upstate cities grew for the first time in decades, including Rochester (+0.4 percent), Binghamton (+1.3 percent), and Syracuse (+2.4 percent). Buffalo has emerged as the biggest surprise, not only growing for the first time in 70 years, but growing a whopping 6.5 percent, above the state average and almost as fast as the city of Ithaca (a sentence I never thought I’d type, but here we are). The statistics appear to be reflections of changes in urban planning and development towards not just suburban growth but infill, density and revitalizing existing urban centers, as readers are well aware of from Ithaca’s rapidly-evolving skyline.

Brian Crandall

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