Sam Roberts' Three Most Interesting Census Tracts

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U.S. Census officials announce the first results of the 2010 Census during a press conference in Washington, D.C. on December 21, 2010

Welcome to Politics Bites, where every afternoon at It's A Free Country, we bring you the unmissable quotes from the morning's political conversations on WNYC. Today on the Brian Lehrer Show, Sam Roberts, urban affairs correspondent for The New York Times, joins us for his final segment as our weekly guest this month to talk about the census results and dig deep into the NYC and metropolitan area census figures.


The Ongoing Churning of the City

While city officials are distressed, and Census numbers indicate that many former residents are leaving New York City for the south, the city still saw a larger population increase than most other cities in the US. Roberts thinks that the Census results indicate a healthy city. 

This is part of an ongoing renewal, an ongoing churning of the city, and a growing number of immigrants… When you look a the fact that this is a count after 9/11 and after a big recession, I think we came out pretty well even if there was an undercount.

When you look at the Census as a whole… I think you see a lot of bright signs for New York City, even though the count came in somewhat lower than the city had anticipated…  You see middle class, you see immigrants moving to better places as they improve their lot economically, you see the decline in Blacks in New York City, which could be for any number of reasons but one of them clearly has to be that they are finding more opportunities elsewhere, moving to the suburbs as many people have always done as part of the American Dream.

Most Interesting Census Tract Number One: Sheepshead Bay

Bound by Avenue V, Nostrand, Bedford, and Avenue Y, Sheepshead Bay makes up just a few blocks but has an unusually high number of vacancies noted in the Census. A neighborhood in transition, Sheepshead Bay has seen increases in population in Black, Latino and Asian people and a decrease in its white population.

These are places where we’ve found unusually high numbers of vacant apartments, and this is really what’s behind the city’s Census challenge: The city saying that the Census Bureau did not find people in those places because they did not look hard enough.

Most Interesting Census Tract Number Two: Central Park South

Central Park South stretches from 54th to 59th Street, and 6th Avenue to 8th Avenue in Manhattan. While the neighborhood is within the business district, Roberts said there are a number of residencies, mostly converted hotels. However the occupancy of these residencies tends to fluctuate due a large number of part-time residents and people who live abroad but keep apartments there. Roberts said the Census workers might have encountered additional difficulties. 

Some of the most difficult places to count are doorman buildings… It’s very hard to get in those doorman buildings to find out who lives in an occupied apartment and how many people live there.

Most Interesting Census Tract Number Three: Breezy Point

Past Rockaway Point in Queens. Breezy Point had a significant undercount, but Roberts saw a different reason behind the high vacancy rate in this area.

Breezy Point, I think, are people mostly with weekend homes or summer homes who probably weren’t there on April 1st last year when the Census was taken, and counted themselves in other places in Brooklyn and Queens where they live fulltime.

An Increase in Asians, but a Decrease of Asians in Chinatown

Flushing and Sunset Park saw increases in Asian populations, but Chinatown did not. Roberts was skeptical that thew count was reflective of the reality for Chinatown. 

That’s one of the sort of astounding things. Again, that might be a result of people not being counted enough and people who are doubled and tripled up in cubicles, living in less-than ideal conditions, who didn’t want to be found, didn’t want to be counted, didn’t want to be identified by landlords.

Trading Places

There have been some rather dramatic shifts. Hunter’s Point in Queens had a 250 percent increase in the total population. Williamsburg became overwhelmingly white, as Latinos moved out.

A lot of interesting trends… greater diversity, much greater growth on a percent basis…  Some New York boroughs grew faster than the inner suburbs — the Bronx grew by four percent and Staten Island by a little more than five percent, those were the two biggest gainers officially in the city and those are fairly big gains…  Brooklyn and Manhattan were the only counties of more than a million people in the United States that gained non-Hispanic white people, and what you see there… is gentrification.

More Mixed Race Youth, but not More Mixed Race Neighborhoods

While the percentage increase in people who identified as mixed race was large, in absolute numbers, Roberts said, it was not that large a number in the context  of the overall population. 

Certainly we’re finding as the city becomes more diverse there is more intermarriage among many groups. One of the interesting things we’ve seen as a result of this Census is not very much mixing of the population in terms of residential integration in the city. It’s one of the worst metropolitan areas in that category in the country.


Which census tracts really interest you? What jumps out as you look at these maps, and which neighborhood really stands out? Post your comments or questions below!