We’ve all heard about Downtown’s growing residential population, but the most recent census figures only put the neighborhood at 3,298 permanent residents. That’s just 2.3% of Syracuse’s entire population, and it’s far fewer people than live in Eastwood, the Southside, Westcott, or just about any other city neighborhood. If Downtown were a village, it’d be medium sized for Onondaga County—bigger than Liverpool, but smaller than Fayetteville and less than half as large as Baldwinsville.
Downtown’s village-sized residential population is dwarfed by the roughly 20,000 people who commute into the neighborhood for work. 78% of those workers live outside of the City. The Downtown that exists during the workday—the Central Business District filled with commuters—disappears at night and on the weekends when its primarily suburban population is absent.
This same pattern repeats itself at festivals like the Taste of Syracuse, and entertainment events like Symphoria concerts. These crowds sustain Downtown’s businesses, its infrastructure, its vitality—they’re what make Downtown different from other city neighborhoods and the villages that its purely residential population otherwise resembles.
But they also mean that when there are lots of people Downtown, a majority of them likely live outside the City, and that throws a lot of Downtown-specific policy choices into a new light. City tax cuts for Downtown companies often go to supporting suburban households. Panhandling bans protect suburban visitors from having to interact with city residents. Circulator bus routes that skip the Hub and only run from 11am to 7pm are designed to ferry suburban office workers to business lunches and happy hours for the short time that they spend within the city limits every day.
Downtown is the City’s center, but it’s also—in an economic, cultural, and governmental sense—the center of the entire region. That makes it some of the most contested space in the county, and it is key to understanding this demographically dynamic neighborhood.