The 2010 Census — Highs and Lows

The recently released 2010 census figures for New York City have certainly stirred some controversy, with their finding of only a modest overall population increase in the city, coupled with mysterious decreases in population in immigrant-heavy neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Queens. Of course these findings are being challenged, though changes in final census numbers are rare.

Census Map from the New York Times

Nevertheless, the picture the 2010 Census paints of Greenwich Village, the East Village, and NoHo is much more mixed, and you can explore the census’ 2010 findings for these neighborhoods, or any other part of the country, by visiting the New York Times 2010 Census map HERE — just zoom in on the area you want to explore, and pick the type of information you want to view.  I suggest starting with “Changes in Population Since 2000.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most dramatic changes the census records for our neighborhoods seem to stem from a single institution — NYU.

Census figures show both increases and decreases in the population in the Village, East Village, and NoHo between 2000 and 2010, depending upon which tract you are looking at, though the trend is somewhat more up in the East Village, slightly down in the West and Central Village, and a slight increase in NoHo.

Census map from the New York Times

But a closer look reveals some more dramatic shifts.  The census tract with the single largest increase in population — a whopping 40.4% — is tract 42, stretching from Third to Fourth Avenues, from 14th Street to 9th Street (technically it goes down to 6th Street, but everything below 9th is either Cooper Union buildings or parks and roads).

Anyone familiar with these blocks knows that by far most of the new construction in this area over the past decade has come in the form of three enormous NYU dorms — Palldium and University Halls on 14th Street, and the much-maligned 26-story ‘Founders Hall’ on East 12th Street, on the site of the (largely) demolished St. Ann’s Church (GVSHP, and many others, fought very hard against the construction of this ‘mega-dorm’).

NYU's 'Founder's Hall' dorm under construction

These three dorms added over 3,000 residents to the area.  As a result of a rezoning of these blocks in 2010, which GVSHP, Community Board #3, Councilmember Rosie Mendez and other community groups fought very hard to secure, however, this may be the end of the line for new NYU dorm construction in this area.

Interestingly, NYU also seems to be responsible for the census tract with the largest drop in population. Tract 5501, bounded by Houston and West 4th Streets, Broadway and LaGuardia Place, lost 14.3% of its population between 2000 and 2010, or more than 700 people.  An explanation for such a dramatic drop in population may seem difficult to surmise, until you look more closely at the blocks in question.

By far the majority of residential units in this tract are in three NYU-controlled developments — Silver Towers (NYU faculty housing at 100 and 110 Bleecker Street), Washington Square Village (owned by NYU and largely housing NYU faculty, but with a significant percentage of rent-stabilized and rent-controlled tenants remaining from the days before NYU took over), and the Mercer Street Residence at 240 Mercer Street (NYU Law School housing).  While there are some non-NYU residences in this tract, these are mostly loft or small apartment buildings with considerably fewer units.

NYU's Mercer Street residence

To figure out why the population in this tract would have so dramatically decreased during this time, however, one can switch settings on the census map to look at “Change in Vacant Housing Units” to find that the census shows a 76.7% increase in vacant housing units in this tract between 2000 and 2010, with 288 unoccupied units.

While it’s possible that some of this could be accounted for by the non-NYU housing , a more plausible explanation would seem to be that NYU may be warehousing or keeping some of its units empty.

Ironically, NYU is asking for a raft of special zoning changes from the City to allow it to build, among other things, new dormitory, faculty housing, and hotel units in this exact area — changes GVSHP and many others in the community are adamantly opposing.

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Andrew Berman

Andrew Berman has been the Executive Director of GVSHP since 2002.