This is the last in a series of five interviews with staffers at the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP), where the interviewer interned while pursuing a master’s degree in urban planning. Read the prior installments here, here, here and here.
Joel Alvarez is a member of DCP’s Population Division, the hub of demographic expertise in New York City. Here, Alvarez shares how to easily access NYC-specific Census data, what the city’s households will look like in the future, and why last year’s 1-percent growth rate is more significant than it sounds.
Next American City: A couple of weeks ago, DCP re-released the New York City Census FactFinder, updated with 2010 Census data. Could you introduce this resource?
Alvarez: It’s an online application, which allows users to search for small area population data within New York City using different geographic criteria. You can search by address, intersection or subway station, or just by going through a map. It also allows users to pick the general shape of their area of interest.
NAC: How is this application different from the American FactFinder on the Census Bureau’s site?
Alvarez: You don’t have a map initially when you’re working through the Census site. And I think our application is much simpler, especially since it’s specific to New York City. But it’s also a more intuitive site than the American FactFinder.
NAC: Were any changes made to the updated version?
Alvarez: We’ve improved it with each new release. With the 2010 Census, we’ve provided change over time, which really you can’t get from the Census Bureau’s site. And you couldn’t get it from our old site. The latest one has an enhanced mapping environment too. It relies on [the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications’] NYCityMap.
NAC: Who is the audience?
Alvarez: It gets approximately 45,000 site visits per year and appeals to planners, but also to community boards and to those with real estate interests. We put up data on vacancies, for example, which might help you say whether a location is or isn’t a desirable place to build.
NAC: And you can narrow that information down to an intersection?
Alvarez: Yes, but the geographic units that are used are census tracts, which are groupings of about 10 blocks.
NAC: Can any city create this application, or does New York have any advantages in terms of the data you used?
Alvarez: All of this is accessible Census data, which is free for everybody. The only difficulty for other municipalities would be the background map, but they could rely on a Google map very easily.
NAC: Beyond the Census site and DCP’s website, what are some good places to look for population data?
Alvarez: The New York State Data Center has information on population and housing and economic data specific to the state. There’s also the New York State GIS Clearinghouse. And the University of Virginia’s Historical Census Browser is good for data at a state and county level. My favorite is the University of Minnesota’s [National Historical] GIS site, where you can get really detailed historical population and geographic data. And if you’re an advanced user of Census data, there’s the University of Minnesota’s IPUMS [Integrated Public Use Microdata Series] site.
NAC: What are the population trends that you think will shape New York City in the years ahead?
Alvarez: It’s almost certain that the city as a whole will continue to age. The 65-and-over population was just under 1 million in 2010, which is 12 percent of the total population. In 2030, the elderly population could be 1.4 million, which would be 15 percent. That’s a big deal for social services.
And then there’s also an increase in [people living in] non-family households. You see that all over the city, but especially in Brooklyn where there was a 25-percent increase in [the population living in] non-family households between 2000 and 2010.
NAC: Where do current population estimates stand?
Alvarez: There was incredible growth between 2010 and 2011 of nearly 1 percent. If this were to continue, the city would grow by 10 percent over a decade. We’re at 8.244 million now, but, just to make it an easy number, if we were 10 million and had that growth over 10 years, it would mean a million new people. So that’s impressive. [Note: Alvarez clarified that growth is unlikely to continue at this pace.]
Bridget Moriarity is a journalist based in New York City. Her writing has been published in Travel + Leisure and Art + Auction, where she also worked as an editor, as well as in Time Out New York, I.D., Modern Painters and Sotheby’s at Auction.