Category Archives: Community

Getting people out on the water

Syracuse should reconnect with its waterfront. This City was built around water, and we have miles and miles of creeks, canals, and lakefront where people can get in touch with Syracuse’s maritime side.

One way to make that happen is to just make our various waterfronts more accessible—give people public space next to the water, and they will use it.

But Syracuse should go farther and actually get people out on the water. We need more boats in this town.

source: Creekrats

Syracuse’s small waterways are perfect for kayaking. The Creekrats—a very good volunteer organization that helps clean and care for Onondaga Creek—know this, which is why they host Fun Floats where anybody can show up, borrow a kayak or canoe, and take a trip down the Creek the entire length of the City.

This is great, and we need more of it. In addition to kayaks and canoes, people should be tubing down the Creek. In addition to the Creekrats volunteer efforts, the City Parks department should be providing the public with small boats.

As Syracuse’s summers get hotter, people are going to need new ways to keep cool. Getting them floating down Onondaga Creek is a great place to start.

ferry lines to the Amphitheater and State Fair

Car traffic to the State Fair and the Lake Amphitheater is famously terrible. That’s what happens when tens of thousands of people all try to drive to the same location. The only way to fix it is to give people more options for getting to those popular destinations.

Ferries would relieve that congestion, and they’d get people out onto Onondaga Lake. People going to concerts and the Fair could catch a ferry at the Inner Harbor, the Village of Liverpool, and Longbranch Park. They’d trade the hassle of traffic and parking for a leisurely sunset trip across the Lake.

skating on the Erie Canal

The ice rink at Clinton Square is great because it recreates a traditional recreational use of the canal. The people who redesigned the square in 2001 had that iconic photograph in mind when they planned the public skating program. They wanted to give people “a sense of the canal.”

That’s fantastic—let’s do more.

One of the other ways that Syracuse residents used to interact with the canal was by boarding the floating attractions, museums, and shops that travelled from town to town along the canal. If we make more of NYSDOT’s planned ‘canal district’ and actually rewater the canal between Franklin and Montgomery Streets, there should absolutely be boats in that water for people to board.

The Erie Canal Museum could run a historic packet boat, restaurants could put outdoor seating on a stationary barge, local artists could set up pop up retail shops. There are plenty of attractions that would get people onto boats, and that would reconnect them with the canal.

canal dining in Leiden, Holland

In order to really activate Syracuse’s waterfront, we need more programming. Kayaking, tubing, ferries, floating attractions, whatever. Just provide people with ways to get out on the water, and they will do it.

A Waterfront City

Water created Syracuse. Natural springs brought salt up from underground deposits to briny pools on the surface. Onondaga Creek powered a sawmill that turned trees into the lumber that built the early village. The Erie Canal turned the little settlement at the corner of Genesee and Salina into a city. This is a maritime town.

We’ve lost touch with that history. The canal’s filled in. Onondaga Creek’s buried through much of Downtown. We’re cut off from the Lake by a sewage treatment plant and the Mall’s parking lots.

But recently, Syracuse has started to reconnect with the natural and manmade waterways that flow through the City. This is fantastic, and we should celebrate it, and we should do much much more of it. Syracuse is situated on a site of stunning natural beauty—let’s make the most of it.

Onondaga Creek

The Creekwalk is incredible. It takes you almost clear across the City, passing through a wide variety of habitats and connecting diverse neighborhoods.

But the Creekwalk falls flat Downtown. For about a mile and a half, the designated trail route barely ever comes within sight of Onondaga Creek itself. When the trail does parallel the Creek, it’s two stories above the water. This stretch still provides good transportation infrastructure for people walking or biking through the center of town, but it doesn’t do a very good job of connecting people to the Creek.

Syracuse should create a new path that goes down to the water level at Water Street and follows the creek bed all the way to the Trolley Lot behind Armory Square. This is one of the most dynamic parts of the entire creek. It passes beneath a series of beautiful old steel and stone rail bridges, many decorated with beautiful graffiti. In Armory Square itself, the trail should widen to provide space for people to sit and relax, and it should include stair that let people access this public space from street-level.

San Antonio’s Riverwalk brings people right to the edge of the water

Onondaga Lake

For years, Onondaga County has been expanding and improving Onondaga Lake Park in bits and pieces. From the original park in the Village of Liverpool, to Maple Bay, to the West Shore Trail, to the Amphitheater, it’s been so exciting to watch this beautiful park grow. But it had been bittersweet knowing that no one from Syracuse could access the community’s premier public space without a car.

So it’s a big deal that the Empire State Trail now connects Syracuse to Onondaga Lake Park. That big bridge over the train tracks brought the City back into meaningful contact with Onondaga Lake for the first time in decades, and it’s glorious.

So think how much better it would be if Onondaga Lake Park actually went all the way around Onondaga Lake. We’re still cut off from about a quarter of the shoreline by a limited access highway, and that missing link is keeping this park from being all it can be.

In the short term, we can get part of the way there by opening turning the Parkway into a Park on Sundays. We did this from 1992 to 2014, and it was great. It’ll be even better now that people could use the opportunity to walk, bike, or jog all the way around the Lake.

In the long term, we should make this pop-up parkspace more permanent by reducing the speed limit on Onondaga Lake Parkway to 30 mph and repurposing 2 car lanes for park space and parking spots. This is a common-sense solution that will help complete the Lake trail, improve access to the park space, and—as an added bonus—keep big box trucks from running into the low bridge that crosses the Parkway.

Onondaga Lake Park offers incredible views of Syracuse

The Inner Harbor

Cor’s initial plans to redevelop the Inner Harbor were very interesting, but it’s clear they’re not going anywhere fast. The development company is embroiled in scandal, and they were always a kind of weird choice for this project since their core competency is building suburban shopping malls.

Let’s stop waiting for a miracle and work with what we have at the Inner Harbor now: a unique post-industrial waterfront less than a mile from the City’s center.

Baltimore shows how to activate a space like this. There’s a spot on that city’s inner harbor where the ground’s too polluted to build anything very big. For a while, the city let the waterfront lie unused and just waited for some private developer to take on the expense of cleaning the soil in order to build condos or whatever.

But for the last few years, this site has hosted a pop-up social space called Sandlot. They trucked in a bunch of sand, put up beach chairs, and built a temporary kitchen and bar out of old shipping containers. Now, all summer long, people flock to this formerly barren space. Maybe someday some developer will try to make money building a new office building there, but in the meantime this is a place where people want to be, and it’s making the city better.

Syracuse should do the same. The two piers that stretch into the Inner Harbor are unique in Onondaga County, and they’re such interesting spaces to sit and hang out. Syracuse should activate them with pop-up programming. It could be a semi-permanent beer garden like in Baltimore, or it could be a food truck rally, or a series of cultural festivals. What matters is that there should be something to do to draw people to this extremely cool and extremely underused waterfront space.

Baltimore turned a piece of polluted post-industrial waterfront into a popular social space

The Erie Canal

Visit any village where the canal still flows through the center of town, and you can see just what Syracuse lost when it built Erie Boulevard. The canal used to be the center of the community, and it’s a shame we replaced it with asphalt.

When Syracuse redesigned Clinton Square 20 years ago, it got something of the canal back. Look at the fountain from the right angle, and it really does appear like the canal is still flowing through the middle of the square.

But we can do so much more. Three more blocks of Erie Boulevard—one to the west and two to the east—carry barely any car traffic, and they don’t need nearly as much pavement as they’ve got now. Similarly wide streets in the Dutch city of Delft show how the current right of way could easily accommodate 2 lanes of traffic, curb parking, sidewalks, and a rewatered Erie Canal running down the center of the street. 

This would connect Clinton Square to the I-81 project’s planned Canal District, and it would help knit newly uncovered land into Downtown once NYSDOT demolishes the 81/690 interchange.

In Delft, streets no wider than Erie Boulevard accommodate surface traffic and a canal

Water is beautiful. We’re blessed to be surrounded by it. Syracuse ignored this blessing for decades, but we’re finally starting to come around. Let’s embrace it.

Neighborhood-Level Population Change

Since the 2000 census, the total number of people living in Syracuse has remained remarkably stable. From 146,070 people in 2000 to 145,170 in 2010 to 146,620 in 2020, the City’s topline population figure has never moved more than 2.4% between censuses, and the most recent count is within 1.7% of the 2000 count.

But that remarkably stable population figure obscures Syracuse’s massive demographic churn at the neighborhood level. Between 2000 and 2020 while the City’s overall population showed just a 1.7% increase, individual neighborhoods saw population shifts ranging from a drop of 21.7% to an increase of 59.1%.

To see these neighborhood-level changes, we need to look at the census tract level. However, because the Census Bureau adjusts tract borders every 10 years, we have to group multiple tracts in order to compare similar areas over the 2000, 2010, and 2020 censuses. The map above shows the groupings (between 1 and 4 census tracts) used in this analysis.

These population change maps show the population shifts that have characterized Syracuse’s neighborhoods during the first two decades of the 21st century. The maps show areas that lost population in red, and areas that gained population in blue. The intensity of each color corresponds to the magnitude of the percentage change in population.

The Northside, the Valley, and University Hill all gained population during each of the last two decades. Salt Springs, the Southside, the Westside, Tipperary Hill, and Strathmore all lost population both from 2000 to 2010 and from 2010 to 2020.

These broad trends held constant over the last twenty years even though Syracuse as a whole shrank between 2000 and 2010 and the city grew between 2010 and 2020. The City gained population between 2010 and 2020 because Downtown and Franklin Square grew by an enormous amount (65.7%) after shrinking modestly the previous decade, and because outer neighborhoods like Eastwood and Outer Comstock grew rather than shrank during the last decade.

This series of density maps shows how those population trends have changed the concentration of people in different Syracuse neighborhoods has changed over the last 20 years. The South and West Sides lost a lot of density while the Northside and University Hill became much more densely populated and Downtown/Franklin Square gained some density (although this area is still nowhere near as densely populated as the surrounding inner city neighborhoods).

Overall, though, Syracuse’s patterns of density remained relatively stable between 2000 and 2020: outer neighborhoods remained sparsely populated while inner neighborhoods house lots of people in a relatively small area.

The total number of people living in Syracuse has remained essentially stable for the last 20 years, but the populations of the City’s neighborhoods have varied widely. The South and West Sides have lost a huge percentage of their total population while the Northside and the City’s center have grown dramatically. Looking forward, Syracuse will need to reverse these downward trends in its shrinking neighborhoods while also accommodating continued growth in its booming neighborhoods.

A New Kind of Population Growth

The 2020 census is a big deal for Central New York. Not only did the City of Syracuse post its first decade of population growth since 1950, but—more importantly—the City’s rate of growth exceeded the rest of the county’s. Between 2010 and 2020, Syracuse’s population grew by 2.38% while the towns’ collective population grew by just 1.88%.

To understand just how crazy this is, we need to back up to 1850: the first census taken after Syracuse became a city. From this point until 1930, Onondaga County grew from a population of 85,890 to 291,606—a 240% increase. Over the same period, Syracuse grew by 840% while the towns that make up the rest of the County grew by just 29%. Syracuse accounted for 91% of the County’s overall population growth during this time.

This was a period of rapid urbanization. Syracuse was a major city at the front of economic, technological, and social change, and people flocked to the city—both from the surrounding countryside, from elsewhere in the United States, and from overseas—to get a better life.

But what these raw numbers don’t show is how Syracuse grew. New housing for all these new people was often built at the edge of town, and the city would annex it in order to provide municipal services. New transportation technologies like electric streetcars facilitated day trips between the growing city and existing villages like Geddes (now known as Tipperary Hill), and the two municipalities agreed to join. Developers built brand new communities like Eastwood—designed from the beginning to function as a suburb of Syracuse—and the City eventually annexed them too.

So this period of rapid urbanization was also a period of suburbanization. Syracuse grew by growing outward—as cities like Houston still do today—and the towns appeared not to grow much at all because the City’s boundaries ate into theirs in order to encompass all of these new people.

All that changed after the 1930 census. The 1920s saw a huge increase in car ownership that made it easier for people to move far beyond the City’s municipal boundaries, and new laws made it harder for Syracuse to annex land from surrounding towns. Syracuse annexed Eastwood, Meadowbrook, and parts of Salt Springs, Strathmore, and Winkworth between 1920 and 1930—a huge increase in both land area and population—but it was the last time the City was able to annex any significant amount of land.

After 1930, the County’s population continued to grow, but that growth occurred in the towns. Between 1930 and 2010 they grew by 291% while the County’s overall population increased by just 60%, and the City lost 31% of its population.

This was a big change with huge implications for life in Onondaga County, but the demographic trends after 1930 weren’t so different from those before: the County as a whole continued to grow both in population and in extent of urbanized land as prosperity attracted new people, and new transportation technology made it possible for people to live further and further away from each other. The only difference is that Syracuse’s city line used to expand to capture all that sprawl, but since 1930 municipal boundaries have remained essentially static.

So the 2020 census is a big deal because it might signal that Onondaga County has moved into a new phase of population growth. For the first time since Syracuse stopped growing in land area, its rate of population increase outpaced the County as a whole. The city’s population rose by 2.38% while the County gained just 2.03% and the towns only added 1.88%. For the second time since 1850, the lines on the graph on the right have intersected, and Syracuse is again adding people more quickly than the towns.

But what’s different this time is that the City is gaining population without spreading out. All of this past decade’s population increase occurred within a set boundary line. For the first time in its history, Syracuse has managed to house more people without subdividing farmland or forest, without lengthening anyone’s commute, without extending the sewer mains.

This is a new kind of population growth for Onondaga County. It’s fiscally sound because it fosters growth without overextending municipal infrastructure. It’s environmentally sustainable because it accommodates new people without using up new land and without requiring people to spend an hour of everyday behind the wheel of a car. It’s exactly what our community needs in order to meet the challenges of the 21st century.

Public Parks and Climate Change

Climate change is here, and Syracuse is already feeling it. The last several summers have been some of the hottest on record, and new weather patterns are scrambling all our seasons. We need to do everything we can to stop climate change, of course—driving less, greening the grid—but in the meantime we also have to mitigate the negative effects of climate change that are already here. City parks are some of our best tools to do that. 

In a map of average temperature variation across the City, parks pop out as islands of cool. They are 10 to 20 degrees cooler than the rest of the city on average. This is because of their ample tree cover and the lack of heat retaining buildings, and it’s a big part of why people flock to parks in June, July, and August. In a town built for harsh winters where many houses have never had air conditioning, parks offer a respite in increasingly hot summers.

Public pools are a super-charged version of this same phenomenon. Many families and children build their summers around the public pool because it’s a fun, safe, affordable, guaranteed way to beat the heat. That’s why kids were so insistent that City Hall find a way to open up the pools last summer—we had a historically hot summer and there wasn’t anything else to do.

Climate change isn’t just about rising temperatures—it will also cause more rainfall. Parks can act as ‘green infrastructure’ that protects neighborhoods from flooding. On the Eastside, the Barry Park Detention Basin is a constructed wetland designed to keep Meadowbrook from flooding, and it’s worked. City Hall should construct a similar pond along Onondaga Creek to minimize flooding there too. And as an added bonus, people actually like living near Barry Park pond.

This is all wrapped up with racial segregation and economic inequality. Homes in richer whiter census tracts and more likely to have private backyard pools than homes in poorer blacker neighborhoods. Barry Park protects home values in a richer whiter area while the lack of similar protection has made it impossible to build wealth through homeownership in a poorer blacker neighborhood. This is environmental racism, It’s up to City Hall to combat it.

. . .

Parks are not just amenities. In the 21st century, in a warming world, they are necessary community infrastructure. It’s time we started acting like it.

Downtown’s suburban population

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.

Preparing for sustainable, equitable growth

A lot of people are pretty pessimistic about Syracuse’s prospects for future population growth. ‘Our best days are behind us,’ ‘this place is going nowhere fast,’ ‘who’d want to live somewhere with this weather?’ People who think this way are fatalists—they think Syracuse is fated to decline, and there’s nothing we can do about it.

But there are other fatalists who are more optimistic about Syracuse’s future. They think that Syracuse is fated to grow again because of some global phenomenon—usually climate change—is bound to draw people to the City in the future. We don’t have to do anything to make that happen, we just have to wait.

This optimistic fatalism has always been less popular than the pessimistic version, but covid is giving it something of a moment. Early on in the pandemic, Business Insider named Syracuse the 21st best city in America to live in after the pandemic. They cited the metro area’s low unemployment rate and the high share of jobs that could be worked from home. Local boosters also touted the region’s low population density, light car traffic, easy access to nature, and highly rated suburban school districts to make a sharp contrast with New York City where the virus was raging in the Spring and early Summer. And this past week, the Post Standard reported that at least a handful of households from New York City have actually relocated to Central New York because of the pandemic.

It’s easy to overstate these effects—nine new residents aren’t going to change the fate of a metropolitan area with two-thirds of a million people—but they highlight the problem with optimistic fatalism: population growth will only result in positive change for the entire community if we do the work to prepare for it ahead of time.

The Syracuse metro area’s most existential problem is uneven growth across a region riven by minor municipal borders. For the last 70 years, population and economic growth has occurred at the urban area’s fringe, and that fringe has been expanding ever outward. As the fringe passes through any particular city, village, town, or school district, it provides temporary prosperity and facilitates municipal expansion—so villages lay sewer lines, school district’s build athletic facilities, towns subsidize new subdivisions. But that fringe has always eventually moved on and left smaller populations and lower tax revenues in its wake.

This is why Syracuse can’t afford to repair its roads, it’s why Northern Lights is a ghost town, it’s why Liverpool is closing elementary schools, and—if this pattern is allowed to continue—it will be why Onondaga County struggles to maintain the massive sewer system that it’s building out now.

So when we learned that nine people moved from New York City to Syracuse because of covid, and when we learned that one of them moved into the City while the other eight settled in Manlius at the current edge of the exurban fringe, it shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone. That’s just a continuation of the demographic processes that have been playing out in Onondaga County for 200 years.

And this is why optimistic fatalism about Syracuse’s future is so frustrating—metro level population growth, all on it’s own, is not a cause for optimism. We do need more people, and it is good that these three households moved to Central New York, but more than that we need to do the preparatory work to that will allow us to harness that population increase to help meet the community’s biggest challenges.

We need to figure out how to grow sustainably and equitably. How to accommodate new people while also preserving farmland and wilderness, how to bring new people into old neighborhoods without pushing out existing residents, how to reorient our transportation system so that it can move more people more efficiently, how to modernize our governments to meet the needs of a metropolitan community, how to secure the benefits of growth and prosperity for the people who need them most.

We should be optimistic because Syracuse’s best days are ahead of us, but we can’t be fatalists because there’s too much work to do to create that better future.

Demographic change between 2010-2019, part 3

Population is a function of two variables: the size of households and the number of households. If households get bigger, population will also grow even if the total number of households remains the same. And if the total number of households increases, population will also grow even if the average size of those households remains the same.

But although these two factors both influence the overall population count similarly, they have very different effects on the demographic reality that underlies that top line figure.

One of the main differences has to do with housing supply, demand, and pricing. If Syracuse’s population change was entirely the result of changing household size, that wouldn’t mean very much for housing prices—a three-person family that becomes a four-person family doesn’t necessarily need a new house, but a block that grows from three one-person households to four one-person households does. If that block doesn’t get a fourth house, then the household that gets left out is likely to be the one that can afford the least in rent.

This simple story played out over and over again across Syracuse between 2010 and 2019.

% change in the number of households by census tract.

Changes in the number of households largely reflect changes in the population across the City. Between 2010 and 2019, Syracuse’s overall population decreased by 1.3%, and the total number of households decreased by 2.1%

The neighborhoods that gained the most households (teal on the map) were Eastwood, the Eastside between Westcott and 690, Elmwood, University Hill, Downtown and Franklin Square. Neighborhoods that lost households (orange on the map) were the Southside along Midland Ave, the Westside along Onondaga and Geddes Streets, parts of the near Northside, and the vast majority of the Eastside.

% change in the number of housing units by census tract.

There was very little change in the total number of housing units in Syracuse (just a 3% increase overall) because the City is “built out” in the sense that it’s extremely difficult—from both a legal and financial standpoint—to construct new housing in old city neighborhoods.

Across the City, the vast majority of census tracts saw minor variations in available housing stock. A few dozen homes added to or removed from neighborhoods that house several thousand people. The only major areas of growth (purple on the map) were Franklin Square and University Hill, two neighborhoods that, taken together, saw a 32% increase in the number of housing units available between 2010 and 2019.

Decline was more widespread (yellow on the map), as would be expected in a City with a slightly shrinking population where it’s easier—and a matter of government policy—to demolish old buildings than it is to build new ones.

change in vacancy rate by census tract.

Combine those two measures—total number of households and total number of housing units—and you get the vacancy rate: the percentage of unoccupied housing units in an area. This map shows census tracts where the vacancy rate decreased in red, and those where it increased in brown. So much of the map is lightly shaded because changes in the number of households and housing units tracked pretty well across most of the city—where new families moved, new housing was built, where families left, housing was demolished. The City’s built environment adapted to its changing demographic reality.

A great example of this adaptation is Franklin Square. That census tract saw huge growth in the number of households over the last decade (54%), but it also saw a similarly large increase in the number of housing units (59%), so the vacancy rate barely changed (+3%).

The real outlier is Downtown, where the total number of households increased by 43%, but the number of housing units available only increased by 6%, so the vacancy rate decreased by 24%.

% change in median rent by census tract.

And changes in vacancy rate translate pretty well to changes in the cost of rent. Although Franklin Square and Downtown occupy a similar place in Syracuse’s housing market—in terms of who’s moving there, what kind of housing they’re looking for, the intensity of population growth—median rent in Franklin Square actually decreased by 5% between 2010 and 2019 relative to the rest of Syracuse, while median rent Downtown increased by 33% over that same time.

For the most part, this same pattern holds elsewhere: rents went up where the vacancy rate dropped, and dropped where the vacancy rate went up.

Demographic change between 2010-2019, part 2

Syracuse has long been one of the youngest municipalities in the county, and SCSD is one of the only districts that’s seen a growing enrollment in recent years. But over the last decade, Syracuse’s population started aging, and the total number of children decreased while the City’s adult population grew.

Like variations in total population, these changes were not even across neighborhoods. Their spatial distribution correlates with population gains and losses, and suggests that if Syracuse is going to achieve sustained growth, it will need to do better by the kids.

Change in median age

Median age is dropping fast (purple on the map) in the City’s center and in some outer neighborhoods like the far Northside, Eastwood, Elmwood, and the Valley. In general, these areas gained population over the last decade. Population in tracts where the median age decreased gained 2,473 people between 2010 and 2019.

Median age is rising ( pink on the map) across much of the Southside and in areas with large retirement homes like Ross Towers, Vinette Towers, Brighton Towers and Loretto. All together, census tracts where the median age increased lost 4,333 people over the last decade.

Change in percentage of population under 18 years old

In census tracts where the median age fell, children under the age of 18 tended to comprise a greater share of the population in 2019 than in 2010 (green on the map), and the reverse was true of tracts where the proportion of children fell (orange on the map).

Combined, census tracts where children under the age of 18 made up a smaller share of the population in 2019 than in 2010 shrank by 3588 people over that time. Census tracts where children accounted for a larger share of the population grew by 1728 over the same period.

Change in median household size

These trends make sense. If a family of three becomes a family of four, if an adult couple has their first child, or if a retired couple moves south and sells their house to a family with kids—if any of those changes occur, it will show up in the census data by lowering the median age, increasing the proportion of children to adults, and growing the overall population.

And so what you see pretty clearly is that the census tracts where the proportion of children to adults grew between 2010 and 2019 generally also saw rising household sizes (in blue on map) over that time.

Change in proportion of school-age to below school-age children

It’s an open question whether these trends will continue. In the parts of the City where kids are a growing share of the population, most of the growth (84%) came from census tracts where the population of children ages 0-5 (below school age, yellow on the map) outpaced the population of children 6-17 (school age, blue on the map). This increase in the proportion of young families could be a very good thing for Syracuse if it means that the City is gaining a stable cohort of long-term residents. But the increasing percentage of children below school age in growing neighborhoods could also signal something very bad—that families in growing neighborhoods are leaving the City when their kids start school.

Demographic change between 2010-2019, part 1

After years of precipitous decline, Syracuse’s overall population has held remarkably steady over the last decade. Between 2010 and 2019, the total number of people living in the City decreased by just 1,890 or 1.3%.

But look at the tract-level data, and it’s clear that Syracuse’s population has been anything but stable. Some neighborhoods boomed, others emptied out. And the compositions of those neighborhoods changed in ways that simple population counts can’t capture.

Change in population adjusted for area. Tracts shaded blue gained population, tracts shaded red lost population.

This map shows the change in population for each Syracuse census tract, adjusted for area. Tracts shaded red had fewer people in the 2019 than in 2010, and tracts shaded blue saw population growth.

Much of Eastwood and the Northside grew in the last decade, while the South, East, and West Sides all saw population loss.

The City’s center—Franklin Square, Downtown and University Hill—saw intense growth, but it is somewhat obscured in this map because much of SU’s student population gets counted South Campus and because Franklin Square is just a small part of a huge census tract that also includes the Inner Harbor, Mall, and part of Onondaga Lake.

Change in percentage of population that identifies as white. Areas shaded yellow got Whiter, areas shaded green got less White.

Syracuse became more diverse between 2010 and 2019. The White share of the city’s population decreased from 59% to 55% over that time. That decrease was driven by a combination of White flight and Black growth in outer neighborhoods on the North, West, and East sides, but it was counteracted by a combination of population loss in some neighborhoods with large Black populations and an increase in the White population in the City’s center.

Change in deviation from citywide racial composition. Areas shaded orange deviated further from the citywide average, areas shaded purple moved closer to the citywide average.

In the City’s center and the outer parts of the North, East, South and West sides, these changes have made neighborhoods more integrated—the racial makeup of those neighborhoods looks more like the City as a whole. But in a few pockets like the near Northside, Tipperary Hill, Park Avenue, the residential ring around Syracuse University, and the Southwest, neighborhoods have become more segregated over the last decade.

In the graph above, the thick black line represents the City’s population in the decade between 2010-2019. It barely moves from year to year, cutting a straight path across the screen and suggesting that Syracuse has achieved a measure of demographic stability.

All of the colored lines represent population change for each of the City’s 55 census tracts. They riot across the screen, painting a more complicated picture of demographic change. Looking at individual neighborhoods rather than the City as a while complicates the notions that Syracuse’s population has stabilized or that the entire City is trending in one direction or another, and it can point the way towards a future where Syracuse can sustain citywide population growth.